Such a thing as a Graphic Design "proofer"?

Hi, sorry if this is a stupid question…but I’m wondering if there is such a think as a graphic design “proofer”…a professional who can review a design file and check for alignment issues, typography errors, composition…etc. Does that make sense?

Just like a writer can benefit from a copy editor to proof their work, I sometimes with there was a designer who could proof my layouts and flag any mistakes or layout issues.

That’s often part of the responsibilities of an art director — at least at places large enough to have a creative staff.

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Thanks. I was thinking more in the freelance world.

At the usual rates? :slight_smile:

I’m damned good at proofreading and finding mistakes. I have a “red pen mentality” I’ve been told.


This is an excellent idea. Usually it’s a senior designer but sometimes it’s just good to have an extra set of eyes, especially if that someone does that type of proofing all day. Thing is with design is some of it can be subjective. Weird alignment might be a design feature rather than a design flaw. Of course, a design proofer should be able to tell the difference between the two.

If all else fails, you could post up in the forum for crit, but I totally understand wanting to pay a professional to do it discreetly, rather than posting WIP for the whole world to see.

Well, I’d be happy to pay the usual rates because I wouldn’t imagine it’d take too long to review a layout.

In all seriousness, why doesn’t this exist!? It’s a service I’d use regularly. So…if anyone is interested, let me know because I have some layouts ready for the red pen :slight_smile:

If you are freelancing and taking on paying clients, one should be able to assume you to have been in the business long enough that you would have, at least, the experience of an art director.

There has been no such thing as a graphic proofer because such a thing has not been needed. At least not until recently.


PrintDriver, would you say that to a senior copy writer? Because even the most senior writers have their work proofed as best practice. Your comment reads as condescending. Everyone is capable of mistakes and developing “blindness” to a project they’ve been working on for long enough.

I worked on a catalog that went through 3 rounds of professional proofing (copy) and it still made it to press with a glaring typo. We’re human, after all.

Sent you a PM.

Did the catalog go to press with any design layout errors?

No, I wouldn’t say that to a senior copywriter. The reason being, a mass of text isn’t a graphic layout. The human brain auto-fills text way too easily where even multiple proofers might make the same error of omission.

A graphic layout is basically a template for the content. Good ones don’t have too many moving parts. Do errors creep in, of course they do, but if care is taken in the initial design lock-up, they shouldn’t happen often, and when they do, they are fairly obvious because the errors fall outside the expected norm of the particular design.

I’m not sure what errors you expect a proofer to catch. Do you want them to argue with you about design decisions you have made or do you want them to point out simple errors in alignment and white gaps in image boxes?

You said, “I wouldn’t imagine it’d take too long to review a layout.” No, but it took years and years to gain the skills you would expect such a proofer to have. You would pay accordingly and learn nothing. (yeah, I stole that from an apocryphal story about Picasso.)

Save yourself some money. The easiest trick is to turn the layout upside down and look at it critically that way. You’ll get a few moments of clarity before the project “blindness” sets back in. Develop that critical designer’s eye. The one that can see something is out of alignment without having to drop a guide in, the one that can see typographical elements as part of the whole, not words on a page, the one that can detect nuances in color and shape.
Become that proofer.

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I think more than one set of eyes is a fine idea. Being human, mistakes do get past us, and it never hurts to have additional quality control.

There can be multiple reasons why it’s smart. A person can be overworked, sick, going through something major, any of which can contribute to missed errors.

What I read is the OP wants to be sure there aren’t misspellings and other clear errors. I wouldn’t think it would be necessary to debate design decisions, unless there’s a potential problem.

As someone who oversees the work of writers, copy editors and designers, there’s a difference between writing and design that would make a the concept of a freelance, remote design editor problematic.

Copy editing is mostly divided between checking for errors and clarity. The rules of grammar, usage, punctuation, style, etc., are consistent. If there’s a question, there’s a style guide with the answer. Things like clarity, brevity and tone are a bit more fluid, but even there, it’s reasonably obvious to a good copy editor when something can be written better.

Even in a freelance situation, those rules stay just about the same, and when they differ, they differ consistently from one country or style book to the next.

Design is different in the sense that it’s more subjective. Changes would entail more problematic procedures and consequences than adding a semicolon or tossing a period into a run-on sentence in a Word document.

Design files are also often printer-specific. One printer might require an eighth-inch bleed, while another might ask for a quarter inch. Various settings, like dot gain, need to be adjusted for different stocks and presses, but the editor wouldn’t have this kind of information unless the designer communicated it. Of course, the designer probably wouldn’t need the help of the design editor if she knew enough to tell the editor to check for it. Fonts would need to be sent, which gets into licensing issues. Software version compatibility would also be an issue.

A bigger problem, still, would be the liability issues of a botched print job. When a freelance copy editor sends back edited copy, the client is expected to read through it, then sign a statement acknowledging that all changes meet with the writer’s or publisher’s approval. This would be problematic for a designer checking the work of the design editor, since the designer wouldn’t know what to check.

An experienced designer wouldn’t need this kind of design service anyway. There are only a few dozen things to check for to make sure files are set up correctly, and most good, experienced designers know those things in an out. With writing, however, there are millions of potential problems, and even the best writers need a second and third look through their work.

I don’t think the concept of a freelance design editor/proofer is out of the question, but it comes with more problems and gotchas than editing a few pages of copy.


This article was in my LinkedIn newsfeed just now. What timing, given this discussion, right?

Thank you B. You explained that far more eloquently than I could manage.

The rule here where I work is “never read the copy, never criticize the design, and if you make a mistake fess up fast so it can be remediated before it gets to a client.”
Proofreading is an add-on service and design is the job of the designer.
In fact, if you wanted to pay us as your print service to do a “design check” and wouldn’t be offended by a comment here or there, we would do that too. I bet any print vendor would, if you asked.

Sure if I see something, I say something. But it’s rare.
I am in a weird corner of the industry though. Most of the stuff we print has gone through so many layers of approval, it’s odd to see an error. But they do happen even with all that. We just make sure we have sign off on the proof. Contrary to that article, if it’s the client’s fault, it has to be noted at least to the point that we aren’t doing a free reprint. Might cut them a break (ie “second print” charge or no set-up etc.)
Mistakes happen all the time. Learn and move on.

Copy editing issues are far more objective than layout issues. There’s no such thing as a subjective mistake. A subjective proofer is not a proofer. It’s an art critic. Call it what it is.

As someone who has been copy editing for two decades and has also designed book covers, brochures etc. I wouldn’t completely dismiss the idea of a proofreader for text-heavy design jobs.

I think the need for a proofreader would depend on the nature of what is being produced/designed. And I’m only talking in terms of text and text formatting here. Usually a proofreader does not have the expertise to comment on design.

If it’s a logo or a label with minimal amount of text, I would suppose all errors can be taken care of between the client and designer before the final files are handed over.

If it’s something that has more text, like a brochure or book cover or flyer, then unless either the designer or client has a proofreader on staff (or in their freelance database), chances are mistakes will creep in. And these mistakes might not necessarily be typos, but issues with consistency, use of quotation marks, italics, punctuation – basically things that only a trained eye will be able to pick up.

This is usually true. And I don’t claim to be a professional proofreader. But as a designer, I also happen to have that red pen mentality.

I don’t think the OP is debating whether or not to hire a proofreader. With copy heavy design that can sorta go without saying.

At issue here is a design proofer. Or as more aptly suggested, an art critic (art director.) Someone who will catch the mistakes a designer isn’t supposed to be making.

I don’t know why I get this persistent feeling this is a means of foisting responsibility on others and failure to own one’s work. Designers are supposed to be paying attention to details. That is what they are being paid for. If they want to pay someone else to do it, I suppose that is ok. But if something goes wrong, who gets to take the blame? The one who missed it in review or the one who made it to begin with?

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I just want to clarify a few things because I think i’ve created some confusion. I’m really talking about my own personal projects–I’ve been creating print keepsakes for my family and am doing it really just for us (illustrated family trees, infographic style visualizations of my daughter’s year…etc). I guess what I’m talking about is more along the lines of an “art critic” because I just don’t feel objective about my own work at this point after working on it for so long. It’s also a little outside of the realm of the types of projects I typically do (it’s my first time incorporating my own illustrations in). I can’t even tell if it looks good anymore–I don’t feel this way about professional, paid projects because those aren’t personal to me and I know very well how to pre-flight designs and have a great relationship with the printers I work with. It’s funny that personal projects bring me outside of my comfort zone even though there’s nothing at stake. I’ve never felt a desire for these services in a professional context or needed them. There’s just a lot of emotional weight attached to the personal projects I’m doing and I want my daughter to love it someday and for it to be completely perfect. I don’t think I’m capable of being my own art director.

I see your point, PD. But graphic design isn’t as simple as it used to be, as I’m sure you know.

These days, some companies try to hire designer/developers. I think this is ridiculous, but it’s one example of where a second design-proofing set of eyes could be worth the extra expense as an additional level of quality control. It depends on the circumstances; the clients, the project, the designer, the setting, the company…

Also, I don’t mean critiquing the subjective design decisions. (Well, unless a developer did the design!) But mainly calling out potential technical issues that could cause errors or issues.

We’re human, and a second set of eyes could prevent costly mistakes.

This is a crucial question, glad you mentioned it. If I was proofing, it would be as a service, but not legally for final output.

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