• Price: 95 . 395 . tbc

  • Company: FFEI

  • Pros: Realistic 3D visualizations of inks, special finishes and substrates; far less expensive and quicker than inkjet proofing in the long term.

  • Cons: Lacks flexibility; requires 3D graphics card; file-naming defaults require attention.

  • Our Rating: We rate this 8 out of 10 We rate this 8 out of 10

Pre-press hard proofing is a pain in the neck, involving time, effort, expense and, all too often, frustration at inconclusive results. Anything that helps in this area is to be welcomed with open arms.

Until recently, one product reigned supreme in this field – and it wasn’t RealVue3D. This package’s publisher, FFEI, must be clicking its heels for joy at the moment: Stonecube, which had previously dominated the ultra-specialized print-finish visualizer market, recently sold up to Esko, the major pre-press software player.

Stonecube’s product, PrintDevizor, was terrific, allowing one to view standard print, special inks and decorative finishes in photo-realistic 3D environments with true lighting conditions. Esko, though, has subsumed PrintDevizor’s tasty technologies into a piece of product-design visualization software called Visualizer, and in the process has jettisoned Stonecube’s print-design focused visualization features. This means that FFEI’s RealVue 3D has now clambered to the top of this highly specialised market.


Where PrintDevizor was a stand-alone application, RealVue3D is a modular plug-in for Acrobat Professional that produces platform-independent Java files, allowing any computer user to display the print document. It is based on a PDF workflow, and built to meet the pre-press visualization needs of design studios, creative agencies, in-house marketing departments, printers and publishers.

Its functionality includes: a full range of paper texture and weight (from 80 to 400gsm); colour simulations; folding options; different choices of lighting (ambient, spot, colour, temperature), background colour and binding options; control over spot colour; varnish simulation with controllable density; and embossing, foil and metallic ink simulation.


Until the middle of January, RealVue Designer was £795, which might have proved prohibitively pricey for many. However, a Pro version of RealVue is due for imminent release, adding the ability to simulate complex fold designs. FFEI has also repositioned Designer, pricing it at £395, which should bring it within the reach of a larger audience. A wise move.

The ‘big sell’ from the creators of RealVue 3D is that it “dramatically improves the communication, time and sales effectiveness of job pitching and print expectation”, and in essence this is true.

RealVue’s 3D viewing features are what you pay for here: its 3D representation of a given PDF can be rotated in all directions, allowing the viewer to analyze how chosen print effects (such as spot varnishes) will behave in certain lighting conditions. Having control over lighting conditions is important with this kind of simulation software, and RealVue offers indoor and outdoor lighting options.

Being able to visualize how a print finish behaves while ‘thumbing’ through a publication is a nice touch, and for additional ease of access individual pages can be accessed from a Mac OS X-style dock.


RealVue3D can also import multiple PDFs into a single simulation document, so users can demonstrate across-the-board design and marketing solutions (such as brochures, print adverts and direct mailings) to clients. It could also be used as a PDF soft-proofing tool, for checking bleeds, image placement and the like.

The other major plus of RealVue3D Designer is that its simulations are software-independent Java files, so you’ll never encounter compatibility problems when sending mock-ups electronically for clients to view. Clients can also access all of RealVue’s features for viewing the publication, such as page turning, rotation and zoom. This is great for designers and printers, as it enables them to demonstrate the pros and cons of various print options to clients.

One area in which we feel RealVue3D Designer falls short is its inflexibility. Owners of PrintDevizor are unlikely to be impressed; RealVue costs £200 more, yet it merely enables one to view a print product in 3D against a solid-colour background.

PrintDevizor, though, allowed users to quickly and easily stack and re-stack a dizzying array of print finishes against immersive, photo-realistic backgrounds – including offices, airports and outdoors – thus painting real-world 3D pictures of how almost any print product would appear in key environments. In short, PrintDevizor was a pre-press prism, allowing for speedy, immersive print-effects experimentation, while RealVue3D is simply a mirror, reflecting a single set of print options.

That said, much of what was good about PrintDevizor is also present in RealVue – not least the ability to view how a publication with a given print finish and paper weight will appear in certain lighting conditions. Being able to view multi-page PDFs is a boon, too.

We did experience some technical difficulties, because the graphics card in our review machine was unable to handle RealVue’s 3D requirements, meaning Java simulations were broken up, even at the smallest viewing sizes.

This makes us wonder if many of RealVue’s potential customers will experience the same problem, because our review machine (a two-year-old 2.1GHz iMac G5 iMac with an ATI Radeon X600 XT graphics card) will be similar to those used by many of RealVue’s target audience. The only option is to invest in a 3D graphics card – the extra effort and expense is unlikely to delight many users.

What’s more, the clients of RealVue’s users also need a machine with a 3D graphics card to view the Java simulations. How many clients are likely to react warmly when you suggest they invest in new graphics cards because they can’t view your fancy 3D soft proofs?

There was also an annoying file-naming glitch: when creating a new Java visualization, the file name reverts to that of the first Java visualization created in the session, instead of being based on the file name of the parent PDF: this resulted in a number of unwanted before we realized what was happening.

But let’s put quibbles about functionality and glitches to one side, because the bottom line is that relying on RIPs for pre-press proofing is an expensive and time-consuming affair. With PrintDevizor’s demise, RealVue is the only pre-press publication visualization software to offer an affordable and flexible alternative to hard proofing. On this basis, we commend it to you.