You left out your in-house proofer. And, because you are in an open-loop workflow, you're internal color matching is an important part of the matrix. You've basicly mentioned "soft-proofing" which, in itself, is a joke. That's my opinion and I'll stand by it. You can do a lot of research on adobe.com and check their color management white papers. I would recommend getting into a hard ware solution utilizing an x-rite colorimeter or similar. You can get by with what you've ordered for calibrating your monitor, which is a pretty good one. But, color management involves your application color settings, too. Should a print vendor forward to you their .icc profile, then absolutely use it in the application(s). Most will generally let you use a standard CMYK profile.
I'm surprised your "company" has not offered to purchase an internal proofer as part of their "company gone wild" approach to solving all of your problems. Forget the iMac, get the Mac Pro tower with at least 16g's of RAM. If they are really in the mood, get them to buy two Apple monitors side-by-side. Then you will have a good start to a rock solid work station: Mac Pro, twin monitors, and a Postscript level 3 RIPtomized inkjet proofer ( Epson Stylus Pro w/ Colorburst RIP ). Add the x-rite for calibrating the proofer. Otherwise, leave the heavy lifting to others.
Well, I never said I'm doing any soft proofing. Usually, our print providers handle our proofing. They bring me a hard copy, I look at it, then if the final print doesn't look like the proof, I send it back. Would you still recomend a internal proofer?
I don't want to get in a "soft-proofing" discussion (what that may mean to any particular user) because it means specific things to me, too,
but a good-quality display, a good-quality hardware-software monitor profiling package, and Photoshop gives you the tool to "PROOF" a source image faithfully on the monitor (provided the source image, too, is within a reasonable color gamut for the display).
That part of the process happens when (and if) your color-managed application (like Photoshop) reads an embedded profile (or the source image profile is correctly assigned, manually or assumed by default), and THEN the color management system CONVERTS Source Space to the monitor profile -- in Photoshop -- this Source Profile> Monitor Profile CONVERSION happens automatically behind the scenes (we can't turn it off, Photoshop is always displaying through the monitor profile).
At that point, I would argue you have a valid "contract proofer" in house, and I am not convinced the iMac is inadequate for that (especially if that machine otherwise serves your budget, environment and needs).
THE SECOND PART OF THE PROCESS -- printing an accurate "PROOF" on paper -- involves a printing work flow that sucessfully sets up and performs a Source Profile> Print Profile CONVERSION.
If your print providers are handing you back print proofs that don't 'match' your good Photoshop monitor, then you need to ask them why they aren't matching your monitor BECAUSE they are not proofing your Source Image faithfully -- your Photoshop monitor is the "proof".
The reason could be your print provider's work flow is screwed up...or you are sending them untagged files in the wrong color space, they are wrongly second guessing your files, or your files contain out-of-gamut colors that are being clipped/compressed (changed) during the Source> Print conversion.
It is hard to say or second guess anyone without having the file open in Photoshop with both proofs in hand to see what is happening, but your vendor prints should be very close to your monitor in theory.
I like to explain the basic theory like this (in other words):
Yes. I definitely would recommend it especially when the company is willing to do whatever it takes. I guess it has worked for me and has solved alot of problems upfront. But, I'm a studio that has to get approvals before going to press, so the hardcopy proof is important to me. And, in contrast to the way you handle proofing, I supply the "approved" proof to the print vendor along with the file / disk, so they know what the job looks like. And, should their proof not match my proof, the fix can be made before it goes to press, saving a few dollars for everybody. Obviously everyone signs off on a press sheet, too. Notice I have not used the word "computer monitor".
"Well, I never said I'm doing any soft proofing. Usually, our print providers handle our proofing. They bring me a hard copy, I look at it, then if the final print doesn't look like the proof, I send it back. Would you still recomend a internal proofer?"
You didn't have to. What you've just posted supports the need for a contract proof. Obviously if the press cannot match the contract proof, the mistake is on them. This is very common where, should you go in blind and expect a proof from the print provider, you're vulnerable. If you get a proof that can't be matched on press, how is it going to match your monitor? You've really got nothing to compare it to. The value of an internal proofer is that you will know what to expect and so will the pressman. The vendor's proof does not match the press because they have a non-calibrated workflow and, since we do not have specific information about that vendor, no one can make an accurate recommndation on what their problem(s) are.
You obviosly approved their proof. Their problem is they cannot match their proof. You liked the proof because it looked like the monitor? I rest my case.