For creative teams within brands and agencies, having an efficient content review and approval process is critical to managing outputting high volumes of accurate work, meeting client delivery timelines, and increasing project bandwidth. In this guide, we'll look at the key features to consider when evaluating online proofing software and compare the top solutions on the market today.
What is Online Proofing Software?
Online proofing software is a purpose-built, web-based solution for creative and marketing teams of all sizes that need to streamline and digitize the collaboration and content review and approval process. Selecting the right proofing solution for your organization depends on the size of your team, scale of your creative projects, and strategic goals.
Why Marketing and Creative Teams Need Online Proofing Tools
From project management and content management platforms to digital marketing solutions, there’s no shortage of content collaboration tools for creative team members to use to manage the creative process and save time.
Online proofing compliments creative production systems with a purpose-built solution specifically for creative review and approval.
Online Proofing Tools Makes Gathering Feedback Effortless — Without Using Email or Disjointed Collaboration Systems
Although creative, marketing and design teams and agencies have sophisticated systems in place to produce and syndicate creative assets for their audience, the internal review and approval process for these assets is still a bit, well, chaotic.
It’s time-consuming to distribute new assets and content to stakeholders for review, gather feedback, incorporate changes, and rinse-and-repeat across new versions and projects.
Without a proofing tool in place, creative teams are stuck managing and tracking down markups and discussions across email, chat apps, and project management tools. This chaos leads to confusion around implementing feedback, often leading to delays and errors in content production.
In fact, 55% of surveyed creative and marketing teams said vague or non-actionable feedback is a major setback to meeting their project deliverability timelines.
Online proofing tools centralize content feedback, review, and real-time collaboration in one accessible location. All feedback is actionable and visible in real-time, reducing confusion for creative teams implementing changes and creating new versions. The ability to review and approve decisions and statuses are transparent — no more confusion about whether someone has provided or added comments or requested changes.
Online Proofing Aligns Team Across Projects
Say goodbye to “silos” — with online proofing software, your team has visibility into every project and can see who’s working on specific tasks. You can also help teams focus on what’s important by restricting access to assets or projects that aren’t relevant for a particular team or individual.
Online Proofing Makes the Review and Approval Process More Efficient
Our research shows that creative projects that utilize online proofing workflow automation tend to have more comments, more asset versions, more decisions — but also much shorter project turnaround timelines. In short, online proofing enables creative teams to move through complex workflows faster than traditional methods allow and ultimately produce a greater volume of work.
54% of marketing leaders said their biggest cause of delays in creative production was having more projects/requests than their team could handle.
With control over the review process, creative teams can make decisions and revisions more quickly, freeing up time to take on more work.
Online Proofing Tools Automates Brand and Marketing Compliance
46% of surveyed creative leaders said compliance is a critical factor in their daily marketing activities, yet only 6% have some type of automation in place to manage brand and regulatory oversight in the creative production process.
Online proofing tools help simplify and automate complex, ongoing brand oversight and marketing compliance across teams. Markups, annotations, and detailed file accuracy ensure that no brand elements are overlooked or misused in brand and marketing materials. Customized review workflows streamline collaboration between creative teams and legal/regulatory teams and provide control over who can see and modify content at certain stages--ultimately helping to ensure that your organization is always following regulatory guidelines both within content itself and how that content is produced and handled internally.
Online proofing tools also offer a robust, automatic audit trail of all changes, decisions, conversions, versions, and content modifications without requiring any additional manual oversight or tracking by the creative team. WIth one click, the history of marketing activities and decisions can be exported and reviewed in full.
How to Choose the Best Online Proofing Software
When it comes to managing creative work, selecting the best online proofing tool that can efficiently handle the volume and structure of your team’s content, projects, collaborators, and review workflows.
When deciding on an online proofing solution, many teams consider if they should use project management, DAM, or compliance systems — which sometimes offer varying levels of proofing capabilities as part of a larger platform — to manage their creative review and approval process.
While these solutions can offer comprehensive teamwork tools, using a standalone proofing solution for review and approval is recommended for several reasons.
First, individual proofing systems are built specifically for high-volume creative collaboration. They offer more detailed, granular markups, comparisons, and version control options for the assets that creative teams work with most — design files, PDFs, videos, audio, product labels, and more. Workflows are tailored for task-heavy creative review, not just overall team project management.
Secondly, we find relying on proofing tools embedded into a different system often slows down the creative review process. Creative teams simply don’t need all the bells and whistles of other systems. Using a standalone proofing solution enables creative teams to log in, work with content, and make and mark quick approval decisions in real-time, without being bogged down with additional features that don’t directly contribute to proofing and review tasks.
By using a standalone proofing software:
- Proof and content are always available. With a single proofing solution, you’re not relying on the structure, performance, or availability of a larger system to access and work with your creative content. When you need to quickly approve creative projects, reliability is key. Standalone proofing software offers a nimble, flexible environment just for review, collaboration, and approval.
- No installs are required, allowing your team to start automating reviews right away across working groups. Deployment is fast and straightforward.
- Review processes can be implemented and scaled easily. A comprehensive proofing tool should make it easy to add both internal stakeholders and outside reviewers — such as clients and brand partners — to your existing review processes and proofs with minimal effort. Content approval workflow templates can be applied across projects and teams, making it easy to control and standardize complex review tasks in one place.
- Product enhancements are prioritized. With a standalone proofing system, you’ll get product updates straight from the source. Product development is prioritized — no waiting for proofing enhancements to come as part of a larger system update.
Overall, using a standalone proofing solution offers creative teams the flexibility, scalability, responsiveness, and accessibility to facilitate complex and volume-heavy review and approvals quickly with few system implementation and maintenance “roadblocks.”
Key Features and Functions
There are several core features to look for when researching the best online proofing tools and software options. The vendor you select should offer the full range of the following capabilities.
Support for Many Media Types
Marketing team members work with thousands of different types of assets, and those format types are ever-evolving. Rarely does a marketing campaign or creative project include just one type of content.
The advantage of using online proofing over format-specific solutions — like video proofing, Adobe products, or Google Docs — for content review is that you can review, markup, and approve the most recent version of all file types in one place.
Whatever online proofing software you use should be able to intake and turn almost any type of content into a proof for review. A leading proofing environment will include support for:
- Static image formats such as AI, PSD, ESP, JPG, JPEG, BMP, PNG, TIF, TIFF, GIF
- HTML5, animated GIFs, and other rich media
- Live and static websites
- Video file formats
- Audio file formats
Additionally, your proofing system should support a proofing process for internal document types like DOC, DOCX, XLS, XLSX, PPT, and PPTX. This allows your team to review not just creative assets in one place, but also internal presentations, proposals, financial reports, and more.
This is especially important for industries such as financial services, investing, healthcare, and manufacturing that need to implement compliance control over internal decisions and business practices.
With wide-ranging file support, your creative and business teams will be able to proof a campaign or project end-to-end, from the first project brief to final asset.
Robust Markup and Content Collaboration Tools
Online proofing software improves the quality of internal and external feedback. Users can make comments and link them to a specific part of a file or image, so your team understands exactly what changes to make. If a markup or comment is unclear, a real-time chat feature lets your team immediately request clarification.
Comprehensive Version Management
Ensure that legacy files are never accidentally released into the wild — with version controls, you can keep previous iterations for reference and allow access only to the most recent versions.
Automated Review Workflows
Set up automation for workflow approvals, and team members and clients will receive notifications when it’s time for them to review an asset or compare versions. Online proofing platforms allow you to set custom triggers for notifications that help you keep tasks moving smoothly through the pipeline.
Detailed Status Tracking
When a client or stakeholder wants a status update, you can quickly find the details you need in your online proofing platform. Access details such as task status, which user is currently working on a task, who needs to provide approval, and whether a project is on-track to meet a deadline.
Brand Governance and Compliance Readiness
In addition to the standard proofing features listed above, the controls around brand and marketing compliance and governance are important but often undervalued features to look for in a proofing solution.
Brand governance features to look for include:
- Version control and user permissions
- The ability to generate a history of approval decisions with attached comments
- Audit trails
The platform itself should also include compliance features, such as SOC2-certification.
Availability and Performance
When you’re on deadline, you don’t have time for sluggish load times or server errors. Unreliable connectivity and slow load speeds delay the review process, defeating the purpose of a proofing tool. Look for an online proofing platform that stores creative assets in the cloud, for fast and easy access from any location.
Integrating online proofing with your marketing stack helps sync all your content across working groups and systems, reducing file and task management and automating repetitive tasks.
When you integrate your online proofing tool with your project management system, client services platform, and your own web properties, you can increase overall efficiency.
At a minimum, an online proofing system should offer integrations for:
- Project management (for Jira, Asana, Microsoft Teams, Basecamp, and other platforms)
- Cloud storage (for Google Drive and Dropbox)
- Digital asset management (Widen, Tenovos, Brandfolder, etc)
In addition, if you want to embed proofing functions in your own application, look for a platform that offers an API.
Efficient collaboration also includes controlling who can see, access, and modify content. Online proofing solutions should offer your team and your clients a secure environment that includes:
- Secure guest reviewing
- Public/private commenting and discussion.
- The ability to mask comments
- Crowdstrike Protection
Platform and Performance Innovation
It’s important to work with an online proofing software vendor that is continually developing new and updated capabilities. Without regular innovation, you might be stuck using a platform that quickly becomes outdated, and making it difficult to modify review workflows, work with new types of content, or maintain performance speed.
Look for vendors that offer:
- Regular product updates and feature releases. Proofing options need to keep pace with marketing innovation and collaboration needs. At Ziflow, we issue new product releases every two weeks to maintain innovation for our proofing users. Product releases cover everything from performance and availability enhancements to new proofing features and customer-requested capabilities.
- Connectivity with new applications. As discussed above, innovation around integration capabilities are key for getting all your assets from their content production systems into a proofing environment. Since marketing applications and content types are continually evolving, use a proofing vendor that regularly releases both new integration options and updates their proofing environment to align with advancements in other content production systems, such as video editing applications, design tools, cloud storage, and more.
- Proofing enhancements for new and evolving file types. Online proofing software should also continually be building out options. For instance, if your team produces video content, you’ll want a proofing system that offers robust granular side-by-side version comparison, safe zones, and other video proofing details. If you rely on PDF formats, your proofing environment should be able to handle large files with ease. Ideally, your proofing vendor will offer proofing for all file types — but also look for a vendor who is actively pumping development resources into the platform’s performance.
Customer Satisfaction & User Ratings
Online proofing tools needs to be reliable and easy for your content producers and creative teams to deploy and configure. Creative workers are often the system administrators of their proofing environment — an easy-to-use proofing tool enables them to focus on producing high-quality content, not configuring the proofing environment. Creating proofs, setting up review workflows, reviewing user roles, and proof settings should be simple and straightforward for system administrators.
Your proofing environment should also be as easy as possible to use for all stakeholders involved in the review and approval process, including external users like clients, suppliers, and brand partners. Reviewers inside and outside the organization should be able to log in, work with content, and provide approvals with minimal levels of technology savviness.
There are several online review sites that offer insights into the usability of each potential online proofing platform. G2.com, for example, offers a rolling scoring system for online proofing vendors.
Another helpful online proofing software review site is Capterra, which also ranks online proofing vendors.
Check out G2 and Capterra’s average user ratings for top online proofing vendors for 2021 in this video below:
Reliable customer support is also a major consideration when selecting an online proofing tool. An excellent customer service team can simplify onboarding and setup, helping you configure the most efficient review workflows and tailor your proof settings to your organization’s specific needs, and troubleshoot any questions your team has about review and approval best practices. Look for:
- Deployment and integration assistance in configuring your proof settings.
- Rapid and priority response. Review deadlines are usually fast-moving and time-sensitive. If you encounter any issues with a proof or have questions about a proof, it’s imperative to have access to immediate support.
- Regular updates that expand the functionality of the platform.
Best Online Proofing Tools in 2021
Whether your team wants to move away from email-based approvals to using online proofing tools for the first time, or you’re looking to transition into a new proofing solution, there are a few top proofing vendors to consider.
Following in an interactive list of the top 2021 online proofing platforms, as ranked by G2’s user reviews. Click on each vendor for ratings, reviews, and more information.
Ziflow is the only stand-alone proofing solution available for teams of all sizes.
With a secure, enterprise-ready environment and support for over 1,200+ media types, any piece of creative content can easily be reviewed from anywhere. Ziflow connects people and systems throughout the review and approval process to ensure exceptional work that achieves brand governance and compliance. Flexible, configurable workflow capabilities allow creative teams to tailor review processes and steps to their exact needs.
- Unlimited workspaces and folders
- Multiple integrations
- In-app chat feature
- Status tracking
- Custom notifications
- Comment & proof activity history
- Permission controls 24/7 support
- Bulk proof actions
- Side-by-side comparisons
- SOC2 compliance
Ziflow’s configurability and scalability shine for teams that need the flexibility to tailor their review workflows and create any combination of steps, content, and processes. Compared to other standalone proofing vendors, Ziflow’s robust workflow automation and integration capability enable teams to review any content using any workflow in one environment. Ziflow offers a client-friendly interface that makes adoption by internal users and reviewers simple and deployment easy. It’s a great choice for overall flexibility to meet any team’s review, approval, and collaboration needs:
Trial: 14-day free trial.
Pricing: Ziflow has a range of subscription plans starting from $9/user/month.
ProofHQ/Workfront (Now Adode)
As one of the first online proofing vendors, ProofHQ was considered a market leader for online proofing for many years. It was acquired by Workfront in 2015, and Adobe acquired Workfront in 2020, so it’s now part of the Adobe Experience Cloud.
ProofHQ’s founders went on to found Ziflow, and quickly built the platform into the #1 ProofHQ alternative for enterprise brands and agencies. Ziflow allows for the easy transfer of proofs from ProofHQ.
- Integrates with other Adobe products
- Multiple integrations
- Budget management features
- Productivity analysis
For teams that need a full-scale enterprise project management solution, using the Adobe Experience Cloud offers a broad menu of enterprise collaboration solutions beyond online proofing. It’s a good option for teams that want to connect their marketing workflows to the Adobe Cloud and a larger digital work infrastructure. Users also have access to the Adobe support team.
A series of acquisitions has made the proofing platform outdated and lacking development, which has made it a challenge to increase adoption internally. Users report no product updates and limited customer support for proofing features. Required use of Adobe’s enterprise project management platform is often too costly and feature-heavy for teams that need a reliable proofing solution.
Pricing: Available upon request only.
This user-friendly platform functions similarly to Ziflow, although the real-time feedback and team chat options are not as robust. While PageProof is a solid option for smaller businesses, it doesn’t scale as well for enterprise brands and larger agencies that require a platform to securely manage large volumes of content, many external collaborators, multi-stage marketing processes, and strict compliance requirements.
- Multiple integrations
- Automated workflows
- Free access for reviewers
- Unlimited workflow templates
PageProof offers an intuitive platform with standard proofing features that users find easy to navigate and set up. As a standalone proofing solution, customer service tends to be more responsive.
Compared to other standalone proofing solutions, PageProof offers a limited range in content types that can be proofed. Workflows can be difficult to set up, leading to a lack of configurability and flexibility for teams that need to review any content type using any workflow. Excessive notifications can also hinder useability.
Trial: 7-day free trial.
Pricing: Team plans start at $199//month. Enterprise pricing is available upon request.
Wrike is a project management platform with a minimal set of online proofing capabilities. It offers a holistic, flexible project management solution with resource management capabilities that can support cross-functional teams. Its structure is also simple enough and its visualization capabilities flexible enough to be useful for other types of work.
- Kanban boards and Gantt charts
- Multiple integrations
- Analytics integration
Like Adobe, Wrike offers robust features for project management and task administration. It’s an appealing option for project-focused teams that rely heavily on project plans beyond content and media types.
As a project management platform, it lacks robust approval process and content collaboration features like visual markup and text annotation, rich discussion threads, and approval workflows. Smaller teams also report having more trouble with set-up than they expect. The entry pricing structure may also be a concern for teams that want to scale to full deployment.
Trial: 14-day free trial.
Pricing: Free basic subscription, with starter plans at $9.80 per user/month. Enterprise pricing available upon request.
GoProof is an online proofing platform that includes features specifically for account managers. Creative teams can share projects in GoProof with account managers, and account managers can review work before sharing it with the client.
- Adobe Creative Cloud integration
- Unlimited collaborators
- Custom avatars
- Time-stamped comments
- Notification emails
GoProof offers simple workflows and a range of standard features that are ideal for smaller teams that need to get up and running with proofing right away.
Automation and approvals workflow are not supported in GoProof, and the platform doesn’t support the widest range of content types typically found in other standalone proofing solutions. There are also a considerable number of complaints about general speed and glitches. The platform also does not offer SOC2 compliance.
Trial: Yes (duration not stated).
Pricing: Not stated.
Online Proofing Resources
Interested in learning more about how to implement online proofing? Check out these free resources:
- What is Online Proofing?
- The Definitive Guide to Online Proofing
- Top 10 Best Practices for Optimizing Your Review and Approval Process
- Checklist for Choosing the Best Online Proofing Solution
- Building the Business Case for Online Proofing