Why do a scatter proof?

Posted by on Sep 25, 2019 in , , | 2 Comments

Proofing print artwork is an important part of the print design process. What you see on screen is not what you will see when printed – there are a myriad of variables between the digital file and the finished article. Seeing an example of the final reproduction in your hands, before pressing the button, can both reassure the client and designer that the right choices were made, and flag issues that need rectifying before spending thousands of pounds on stacks of boxes of high-end brochures.

Proofs can come in a variety of forms:

Digital proofs

…..are simply a must. Normally sent in PDF form from the printer to the designer, these don’t appear hugely different from the final PDF that a client might have viewed for sign-off, nor indeed the final PDF sent to the printers in the first place. They are mainly used for final on-screen sign-off to ensure that nothing has gone awry after the artwork file has gone through the printer’s software (or ‘RIP’), which preps and interprets the file for the press. It’s a last chance saloon to spot that typo too.

The next proofs fall into the category of what we call a ‘hard proof’; a physical print that you can hold in your hand.


Inkjet proof

…also referred to as plotter proofs are a good low-cost option and can be used mainly for checking layouts and pagination, as these are more cost-effectively mocked up in booklets or brochures to check if anything is out of place. But don’t expect a representative reproduction of the artwork or accuracy of colours.


Sherpa proofs or Digitally printed proofs

…are the closest reproduction that you can get without opting for a ‘wet’ proof (that comes next). These offer a high quality finish that provides an excellent idea of how the printed item will look off the press. You can check the image quality and the finer details and to a degree see if colours are what you intended. Different paper stocks can be ‘simulated’ in the print too, although these are never quite accurate. As they are colour calibrated, they can be used for colour-matching by the printer. However as this won’t be on the final substrate, nor using the same lithographic ink-based process, accuracy will not be 100% – and furthermore, no special papers or special inks can be used.

If you intend on printing the final article digitally, the digital proof may essentially be a case of providing an example of the final product itself – a print run of x1. That’s a benefit of digital printing, you can produce a single copy, without having to run hundreds of sheets through to get a machine up to speed for ink density and accurate reproduction. This also means you can experiment with digital paper stocks too – although these are limited compared to litho options, as are speciality inks.


Wet proofs

…are the ultimate option for checking artwork and experimenting with finish and papers before you commit to an expensive print-run. These are more costly as they are run straight off the press, as a sample of the final product. It’s akin to a ‘press-pass’ (which is done at the printer’s on the final run), but ahead of time, to allow for changes and reflection.

A wet proof needn’t be the whole document too, and the opportunity can be taken to run different paper stocks, inks, adjust the calibration of the press to target specific colours or density and experiment at the production stage. Because inks are opaque and papers have different finishes, paper makes a huge difference to colour of tints, the hue of colours and how the ink rests on it (uncoated, gloss, silk etc), so here specialist papers can be experimented with to realise those design unknowns. Want to see what that silver ink looks like on a bright white coated paper, versus a high white uncoated stock, or even experiment with different paper-weights? A wet proof is your only true litho print option.

However as a wet proof is essentially the full print-run process (but stopping after the press is up to speed and enough copies have been produced to view) it therefore is an expensive option, and also depending on the specifications of your print run and the cost of the papers you’re testing these are passed on from the printer.


So what is a scatter proof?

A scatter proof is a great compromise. It’s a short-run wet proof, usually of a single page of artwork that has been specifically created to encompass all of the key elements of the full job, and to test every aspect. It’s like a buffet platter of text, colours, images and details, on a single sheet that can be run off the press as a wet proof, but that doesn’t have all the pages of a brochure.

With a scatter proof, you can set paragraphs of text at different sizes or tints to see optimum reproduction, review different colour variations or shades, test the legibility of type in a variety of shades of a colour. You can also check various colour grading on images, or how a logo holds up at multiple sizes – all on different papers and all with confidence that the final output would be true to it.

For our latest brochure for London-based Gold Bullion broker Sharps Pixley, we produced a scatter proof that highlighted the need for change in tints and colours as well as reaffirming that the paper stock would reproduce the imagery as intended. Whatever you’re getting printed, if it’s the first time for a new brand or there are any unknowns, a proof is a must for designers.


  1. Alan
    3rd July 2021

    I apologize for the layman question. But with scatter proof, you only print an artificially created image collection, right? The individual elements are not visible in the final location “in situ”. Doesn’t that mean you have to run wet proof to be absolutely sure anyway?

    • Drive Team
      Drive Team
      5th October 2021

      Hi Alan,

      The point of a scatter proof is to take a collection of items you may have some reservations about or want to see variations of, and print these together on a sheet (sometimes of multiple paper types), thus allowing you to get a good sense of your final output without having to run out a full brochure which would be much more costly.

      This would be a wet proof to accurately simulate the final output, and then is used as a visual guideline for the final print run by print production.

      We have used scatter proofs to test CMYK mixes and tints of colours, as well as image reproduction and retouches, on a number of paper stocks to assess the results. So depending on the overall cost of the final item you may wish to run a full wet proof of the final document, though you would never want to be testing these kinds of things at that stage. We find, overall the scatter proof provides reassurance so that your printer can take on the final project without further proofing and match to what has been agreed.



Leave a Reply