I'm just curious: do any of you supply letterpress-printed proofs? We don't, given the costs and time involved (we don't have time to stop the presses and wait for approval), but given how frequently we're asked to provide them I wondered if it was actually standard to do so. Any thoughts?
A lot would depend on your composition imposition process. If you are running polymer and working with a digital front end, then digital proofs should be more than sufficient. However, on a high end job, or using a "new" brand of paper/ink/plate, proofs would be valuable in evaluating results in house, or to spec with customers.
If you outsource your platemaking, proofs would be a good way to ensure there are no plate defects, before the job gets down to deadline and you find out the fine lines in that script face got washed out.
In a metal shop (which is what I do) I find proofing (an old Challenge roller press) to be invaluable for proofing linecast composition. It is also the only mechanism I have for making customer proofs. Before I got that press, I didn't do much proofing, and I made a lot more mistakes.
If you are a one press shop, and that happens to be a cylinder proof press (Vandy, Challenge, etc) there is the challenge of creating a proof without tying up the press. For that, I'd suggest getting some chases and try to develop a process flow where forms can be built on a stone/galley/etc and are not on the press.
Proofing (digital or actual) is the first and most effective defense against rerunning jobs, and is the cheapest means of testing job integrity. It should be a part of the process flow for every shop.
I should note that I am talking about copy proofing (check of spelling, image laydown, etc). I am not referring to a full press proof--which would be an extra cost item (customer must be present at presstime as well). Education is required to ensure the customer knows the difference between the two--proofs are not identical to the final product (except the image should be).
Quality Letterpress Printing
I often get asked for letterpress proofs and I tell them it costs $200 to mix the ink, set up the press, set up the plate, pull a print, clean the press, etc... (the more tasks I list the more they get that it's a lot of work.) Occasionally someone does it, but usually I just overload them with pre-printed samples of things that are similar to their piece and they are content with their digital proof and their imagination.
When I get a very anxious person I will schedule a press check to soothe their fears. But I've learned to be very careful and manage expectations by explaining to them that ink can change over time on the press and the first print does not always look exactly the same as the last print.