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Printing Industry Exchange ( is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Custom Printing: InDesign and Photoshop Tips

I have been doing more freelance design work recently, working in Photoshop and InDesign, preparing layouts for commercial printers. I have learned, or relearned, a number of tips and tricks that you might find helpful in your design work. Here they are, listed in no particular order but separated into two categories: Photoshop and InDesign.


  1. As I have noted in prior blog articles, don’t trust your computer monitor, particularly if you have not calibrated it and the ambient light in your workspace fluctuates. In addition, LCD monitors tend to make colors look lighter and brighter than they will print.
  2. To be safe, adjust your photos in the RGB (red, green, blue) as opposed to CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) color space. Use the “Info” window and eyedropper tool to show you the percentages of red, green, and blue. (Look for a neutral white registering 0 percent red, 0 percent green, and 0 percent blue.) This will yield an image without a color cast. If you see an imbalance, you can increase or decrease color in one of the three channels (R, G, or B).
  3. When your images look right on the screen, lighten them slightly using the curves or levels tools. Have your commercial printer check samples of your work to make sure the final output will be as you expect.
  4. Do your cropping, sizing, and rotating of images in Photoshop, not InDesign. This will allow the RIP in the custom printing vendor’s prepress department to process your files more quickly.
  5. When in doubt, send sample files to your custom printing service. It’s better to catch problems prior to hard-copy proofing. That said, it’s still cheaper to catch an error in a proof than to find it after the commercial printer has delivered your job (necessitating a reprint).
  6. Remember to convert your files from RGB to CMYK prior to placing the images in your InDesign layout. Your commercial printer will need four separate plates for offset printing. It’s better that you do the conversion and see any problems rather than have your custom printing vendor do the conversion. You will have more control over the results.


  1. If you are placing a lot of images in your art files, you may like this little InDesign tool: “Fit content proportionately.” You can find it under the Object heading, under Fitting. If you place a photo and then use this command, the image will be enlarged or reduced to fit the photo box you have drawn.
  2. Don’t confuse this with “Fit content to frame” in the same menu. This will not adjust the size of the image proportionately, as the former command will do. What this means is that your photo may be the correct height, but it may be a little too wide or too narrow. The distortion could be slight. You might miss it at first, and then see a “fat” flower or a “skinny” person after your commercial printer has delivered the job.
  3. Here’s a quick way to create inside front and back covers that will complement the colors on the outside front cover. In Photoshop, choose a color that occurs infrequently on the cover image. Using the eyedropper tool and making sure the Info palette is open (look under the Window menu), you will see the CMYK percentages that are directly under the eyedropper. Write these numbers down. You can then open your InDesign art file, create a new color swatch using these percentages, and apply the color to the inside front and back covers. (You are essentially using a “digital densitometer,” similar to the ones your printing companies use on press. Unlike the monitor, you can trust the numbers provided by the Info palette. Learn to use this tool regularly.)
  4. Using the pointer tool, drag text (perhaps a headline) around the InDesign pasteboard as you decide where to place it. When you do this, colored alignment rules will appear from time to time alerting you when your text box aligns with other graphic elements on the page. This is especially useful when you are centering type on a page, since you don’t need to measure the distance to the right and left margins. InDesign does this for you automatically.

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