The Catalogue Proofing Saga

Logically you should proof before you build a catalogue.

If you are building a house or designing a product you start with a mockup. Building a catalogue is not like that because it takes weeks or months to get to the first proof. By that point everything has been planned and decided upon, it’s in the right place and all you are being asked to do is spot copy mistakes or find a wrong image.

The pre-proof I am proposing is highly productive and completely removes the blockages that lead to publication delays. It also reduces the reluctance to decide on a new catalogue. It does not resolve the difficult decisions over what goes in or comes out and who gets what space. It is easy to talk about a linear process but it never happens that way and Murphy’s law will dictate that a hero product is stuck in the Suez canal or the French border.

Everybody knows that it will take a long time to get to proof stage and there will be substantial changes in the interim. To compound the inevitable problem, there is always a reluctance to proof until the full-colour proofs are released. Everybody knows there will be changes and that they can be expensive.

If it is all happening “in-house” there is an established process. There will be pressure on the person proofing, even a senior manager, not to suggest adding or removing products. They have learned that an Adobe InDesign document is not like a word processing document and it doesn’t just flow on or around. Adding or removing from an early page impacts every subsequent page and can lead to adding or removing pages and therefore spreads. A nightmarish thought.

If it is being produced externally the person managing the catalogue project may know nothing about page makeup or even much about the print/proof/publish process. They do know that proofing can be where the big costs are incurred.

Generally, the next catalogue is in the same order as the last so at least the sequence of the sections is known. There is generally a budget in place for such a big expense so the number of pages is limited and finite, give or take 8, 16, 32 pages depending on the press. The rest is also like last year and about 20 per cent of the content will be replaced.

If your catalogue is new or completely different and you don’t have this predictability what I am suggesting is even more appropriate. Crazy as it may sound, proofing before building pages can work. You could even do it before the budget so you know how many pages you will need. This is what we do:- 

  • All the products are held in groups comprising the same or similar products but different sizes or colours, diameter, power, etc.
  • All groups have categories All categories are in a section
  • The sections are in a pre-determined order and appear in the chosen sequence.
  • Some publications like sale catalogues break out of their sequence and need to be manually positioned or have sort codes. 

I could delve into more detail but you can imagine that we now have a list of content in the order of the eventual catalogue. You will be thinking that this is a long way from a proof. Here we have to take the big leap by thinking in terms of space on the page to decide the prominence given to a product group on a page.

You don’t know which page but so long as it is in sequence it doesn’t matter at this stage. Let’s do the space thing in a simple way, think half-page or quarter-page or any other fraction you like. Decide what space you want the product to have, initially, like classified advertising used to be planned. Catalogues are a lot harder because the product group could have 5 or 20 products in a table, or more. We can now allocate a space to each group of products or single products.

Now that we have a sequence and a space needed per product group, we have all the elements to do the geometry fitting content to pages, call it AI. We can compute the pages and display them as a proof with no InDesign involvement. Of course, it is not topped and tailed like the final page but is close enough, especially for initial proofing. You could do this by hand. In a sense that is what a graphic designer is doing. With a few exceptions, the designer does not know the products or what is in the minds of product managers. It is an iterative and frustrating process. Designers design and product managers attend to detail so it needs to be a team effort.

At the point where the data crunching is complete and the sequence and space has been allocated, the system can output pages to rough proofs or pre-proofs as PDFs. At any point, content can be moved up or down the visual tree for repositioning. Content can be added or removed and the publication re-paginated in part or completely.

The importance of what we are proposing is that it is non-linear and has all manner of sophistication like place holders, auto styles that are section specific. There is also the index and table of contents to consider, which by the way, can be automated. 

Here is a video that shows how the software works

If you’d like to know more, please contact Peter Ritchie or visit

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