Ask any creator and they will tell you about the importance of proofs. But similar to other topics, this is just one of the many things vital to comic creation that the average comic reader might not know about. For those unaware, a proof is pretty much just a test of your book that the printer sends you before printing out the complete order. This is so that the creator (or what the printer will call the customer) can make sure everything is right in the book before printing out dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of copies that might potentially contain an error.
There are two basic forms of proofs. There’s a print proof and a digital proof. The differences are right in the name. A digital proof is essentially a PDF of the book that the printer will use to print. The benefit of a digital proof is that printing companies don’t typically charge for them and they can also be sent right away. The downside of a digital proof is that sometimes how a page looks on the screen is not the same as how will look on the printed page; particularly when it comes to colors. Also, for the sake of easy file transfer, some printers might compress the proof so the pages are not in a high resolution. That kind of defeats the purpose a little bit, but it will still allow the creator to look over the proof for errors such as spelling mistakes and out of order pages.
A print proof is an actual printed copy of the book that the printer sends you in the mail. Some printers might offer a print proof as complimentary. Most don’t. They charge a small fee to both print it out and ship it to you. The benefits of a print proof are obvious. You’re holding the physical copy of the book in your hands. You get to see what the end result of the product is going to be for yourself. The downsides of a print proof are pretty much the opposites of a digital proof. Printers will charge you for them and they take time to reach you. If you’re in a time-crunch to send out books to customers, or if you need them for a convention or signing, having the book printed out and shipped to you will delay your order.
Proofs become a little more complicated when you’re dealing with specialty details such as foil covers, chrome covers, or hard covers. These are books you might be a little more nervous about ordering as a creator, so you might be more inclined to getting a proof for them. But because they’re specialty and more expensive the proof will obviously be more expensive as well. Of course, the act of getting a physical proof becomes less and less pertinent the more you work with a printer. If you’re familiar with that printer and have ordered the same kind of products from them over and over you can trust their quality. In which case, a digital proof just for the sake of proofreading might be all you need. And, of course, big publishers who print tens of thousands of books every week operate with proofs on a completely different level.
Speaking from personal experience, I’ve dealt with proofs in all different situations. I’ve skipped a proof, only to have hundreds of books show up at my doorstep with the pages out of order. I’ve ordered specialty proofs. And I’ve also gotten digital proofs of all different qualities — some as a large, high-resolution print file and some as a compressed, low-resolution file. I can unequivocally state that proofs are an important part of comic creation, especially for new creators. But I can also state that it depends on what type of situation you’re in on which type of proof is best for you. There are a lot of different options as far as printers and the proofs that they offer. The good thing about being a comic creator though is that there’s a community of tremendous support that you can ask for help on which is best for you.