Build Your Own Color Viewing Booth, Cheap and Easy

Feb 18, 2011

booth.jpg If you’ve ever been on a press check at a printing company, you’ve seen those neutral gray proofing booths with the special lighting. These booths can be found at the delivery end of any press and in other locations of the plant where folks need to have a critical look at press sheets. They cost several thousand dollars each.

I’d like to share with you some simple plans on how I put together a great proofing station and it’s very easy and not that expensive. A viewing booth like this is excellent for looking at proofs, press sheets, prints and color comps without being subtly distracted by your surroundings.

The booth itself is simple, designed to sit on top of an existing table, old desk, etc., with a footprint of 43 x 28”. It’s large enough to look at big 26 x 40” proofs or press forms, or to spread things out for comparison. The booth itself can be easily made with just one single 4×8′ sheet of white Melamine® board (a type of particle board with a plastic coating; strong and easy to clean).

Why bother?

If your work involves looking at prepress proofs, then you need to make sure you’re in the proper lighting: the one that the proofs were prepared to be viewed under, and the same that they use at the printing company. Any lighting other than this can cause unpredictable shifts in the color and tone, and risk making your observations invalid or any revision requests baseless. Some people boldly object: “My printed piece is going to be viewed under regular office lighting, so I’m just going to look at these proofs under my office fluorescent lights”.

The problem is that these proofs, special papers and pigments weren’t designed to be viewed under other lighting. They don’t behave the same as a press sheet and printing press ink, so you can also forget comparing the two under the wrong lights. ISO 3664:2009 specifies viewing conditions with standard D50 lighting for critical color proofing and comparison.

Begin to see daylight

Many experts agree that the SoLux 4700K is the light that best simulates the D50 standard. Used in many galleries and museums, SoLux is the only daylight simulation product emitting a full and even spectral power distribution equivalent to daylight. Color Rendering Index (CRI) is a rating of the ability to simulate daylight, and a CRI of 100 is considered perfect. The SoLux 4700K Natural Daylight Lamp has a nearly perfect CRI 99. This makes SoLux the best light for our project.

I’ve seen the light!

For the lighting hardware, I recommend simply purchasing the “The Color Proofing Light Kit” from Tailored Lighting, Inc., and select the SoLux 4700K (D50) bulbs option. Kit is available in black or white. It consists of a cord, a four-foot section of low voltage 12 volt track-lighting, SoLux 4700K (D50) 50 Watt MR16 type bulbs and four track lamp heads. Standard in this kit, you get the special bulbs featuring the black back (BB), which helps eliminate the escape of stray light of the wrong color. Though not required, I also bought four of their optional “Plano Plano Diffusers” which go inside the lamp heads to give a wonderful soft lighting.

The four-foot track is not attached, but merely rests on top of the booth.

Everything (except the SoLux Color Proofing Light Kit and optional diffusers) came from my local Home Depot. Luckily, the folks there were happy to make the two cuts needed on the big sheet of Melamine and it fit right into my car. While you’re there, you’ll want to pick up the screws, a quart of neutral gray paint for the inside of the booth, and the other items listed in the plans. I checked a bunch of their paint swatches (using a spectrophotometer), and went with Glidden® “Winter Evening” which was the closest in terms of brightness and neutral color.

I am no handyman, but it was a very easy project. This booth can be easily disassembled for moving or storage. If you don’t need a viewing booth this large, you can easily change the final size according to your needs and available space.

THE VIEWING BOOTH PLANS pdficon_small.gif (free, direct download PDF 2.4mb)

Thank you for your interest in my plans. Please read and understand all directions before proceeding, and you’ll only have one trip to the store. You can make any changes to suit your own circumstances. Be sure you have a bench, table or desk available to seat the finished unit.

Total cost of materials (2/2011) came to $302 plus $27 for the optional swing-up-out-of-the-way shelf (recommended).