Comps in Graphic Design and Printing

Request a comp from a graphic designer to evaluate a design

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In graphic design and in commercial printing, the terms "composite" and "comprehensive" are used interchangeably to refer to a composite art layout, a comprehensive dummy, and a comprehensive color proof. Because all of these are referred to casually as "comps," you need to know what to expect before agreeing to review a comp from a graphic artist or commercial printer on a print job you are managing.

Comps in Graphic Design

A composite layout—usually referred to as a comp in graphic design—is a dummied presentation of a design proposal that a graphic artist or advertising agency present to a client. The comp shows the relative size and position of images and text even though the client's images and text are not yet available. The purpose is to ascertain whether the graphic designer is "on the right track" design-wise. Stock photos or illustrations may appear on the comp to represent the client's images, and "greeked" type—nonsense text—can represent the size, fonts and other treatment of body copy, headlines, and captions. 

A comp gives the client an opportunity to address any misunderstandings he feels the graphic artist may have regarding the client's wishes. If the comp is approved, it serves as a guide for the work going forward. A comp is never a final proof—just an early attempt to judge the worthiness of a design.

A comp is usually a digital file that is printed for the client's review. It is not a sketch of a graphic artist's ideas, although rough sketches may precede the creation of a comp, particularly when a logo design is involved.

Comps in Commercial Printing

Commercial printing companies that have in-house designers use comps in the same way that an independent graphic designer uses them—as composite layouts. However, they also have additional products or approaches to preparing a comp for a client.

A comprehensive dummy from a commercial printing company simulates the final printed piece. It includes the client's images and text and is formatted in accordance with instructions given when the first "dummied" comp prepared by the graphic artist was reviewed by the client. The comp may be backed up, folded, scored or perforated if the final piece will have these features. Positions of die cuts may be drawn in place or cut out. This type of comp is not a color-accurate proof or a press proof, but it gives the client a clear picture of how his printed piece will look.

In the case of a single color book, a comp dummy may be the only proof needed. It shows the order of the pages and the position of the text on those pages. The text prints all in one color, so no color proof is needed. However, if the book will have a color cover (and most do), a color proof is made of the cover.

A comprehensive color proof is a final digital color proof before printing. It reflects color accuracy and imposition. This high-end digital color proof is so accurate it replaces a press proof in most cases. When a client approves a composite color digital proof, the printing company is expected to deliver a printed product that matches it exactly.

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