What Is an Online Proofing System?

Proofing, or to be exact, prepress proofing, is an essential aspect of various creative businesses that involve design products and printed products.

Proofing is as old as the printing industry itself: the proof typically serves as an agreement between the printer and the client that the product is ready to print (or, nowadays in this digital age, ready to publish online). 

Traditionally the prepress proofing is performed by providing the client with a smaller or lower-quality version of the final artwork. However, thanks to technology, the process evolved to show clients the artwork on color-accurate computer displays. 

In the age of the internet, however, the process evolved once more. We can easily send emails with high-res image files attached, and color-accurate displays are now widely available. 

However, the email-based proofing process is still not yet very efficient: those familiar with email-based approval should be familiar with the hassle of searching a specific file version in an email thread involving hundreds of emails. 

This is where online proofing, the next evolution of the proofing process, comes in. 

What Is Online Proofing?

Online proofing, as discussed, is the new form of proofing process utilizing online proofing software, allowing the whole proofing process to happen in a single cloud-based platform in real-time. 

While the actual process might vary slightly depending on how the online proofing system works, it has the following characteristics: 

  • The whole proofing process and revision cycles happen in a single cloud-based platform.
  • All parties involved can leave comments/feedback in real-time with annotation tools.
  • All parties involved do not need to download anything, or if any, the download and installation processes will be straightforward.

In short, online proofing focuses on two things: real-time collaboration and transparency. By having a centralized hub where we can easily track different file versions and feedbacks, we'll have a more efficient, accessible, and manageable way to review and approve creative projects. 

Online proofing will promote transparency for the whole project, accountability for all stakeholders involved in the proofing process, improve collaboration, and ensure projects are delivered on time and within budget. 

Do You Need an Online Proofing System?

A reliable, cloud-based online proofing software is the key to a successful online proofing process. 

If you are experiencing one or more of these following issues, then you might need to implement online proofing to automate your workflow

  • Overly lengthy approval process involving endless revision cycles
  • Too many emails and too many attachments for each project
  • Not having a centralized place to view feedbacks
  • Frequent disputes over a revision process (i.e., which version should be approved)
  • Frequent publication errors
  • Missed deadlines
  • Printed proofs getting lost or damaged during delivery
  • You can't track who has seen or not seen the deliverables
  • Confusion on which file version is the most recent
  • No clarity on different stakeholders' responsibilities during the approval process

By getting an online proofing system, you can resolve the above issues (and more) and streamline your approval process. 

In turn, you'll get the following benefits: 

  • Faster turnaround time, no more missed deadlines without compromising accuracy and quality
  • Removes repetitive administrative tasks from creative worker's responsibilities
  • Eliminates email-based approval process and paper-based hard proofing process
  • Avoid lengthy phone calls to clear disputes and have a full audit trail
  • Faster and more on-point engagement from stakeholders
  • Greater accuracy, eliminating risks of errors
  • Ensuring everyone involved in the project working on the same page

How Does an Online Proofing System Works?

Different online proofing system will work differently with their unique sets of features; however, here are the standard stages of an online proofing process:

Step 1: Uploading Content

When a creative worker has finished the initial deliverable, the file is exported into an acceptable format supported by the online proofing system. For example, you can upload a PDF to the online proofing system to start the online proofing cycle. 

Step 2: Assigning Roles

An essential aspect of the online proofing process is assigning roles to stakeholders and collaborators involved in the proofing process. By clearly giving roles and responsibilities, we can avoid confusion throughout the whole approval process and promote accountability. 

While it may vary depending on your project's needs, here is an example of role structure in an approval process: 

  • Reviewer/approver: this role can view proofs, submit comments, and upload files. 
  • Creative worker/designer: can do anything except signing proofs off
  • Observer: can view proofs but cannot submit any comments. 
  • Gatekeeper: assuming responsibility for the whole online proofing process, can add new collaborators, assign/change roles, and sign proofs off.

Step 3: Proofing Process

In this step, the actual proofing process happens. 

All stakeholders can view the proof in the centralized online proofing system, provide comments and feedback in real-time. At the same time, designers can also explain their intentions with each design decision with various markup tools to help get their points across. 

With the accurate and comprehensive feedback provided by the reviewers while using these markup tools, designers can have a clearer understanding of the context of the feedback. 

The proofing process and revision cycles continue as needed. 

Step 4: Approval

The last step is when the proof file is finally approved so the stakeholders can sign off the approved file version. This will effectively end the online proofing process.

Typically a review process can only be signed off by users assigned with the appropriate role (i.e., gatekeepers) to help prevent the proof from being published without correct authentication.  

End Words

Investing in an online proofing system can significantly streamline your organization's proofing and approval processes by allowing collaborators to get easy access to the centralized system where everyone can collaborate in real-time.

In turn, this will promote transparency and accountability to the proofing process, speeding up the processes and improving accuracy.

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