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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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Archive for the ‘InDesign Software’ Category

Commercial Printing: Thoughts on a Printed Calendar

Thursday, August 9th, 2012

I have recently been designing a calendar for a client of mine. She is a professional photographer. She takes photos of beautiful flowers. In preparing the files and reviewing digital proofs today, I addressed a number of issues I thought you might find useful in your own design and custom printing work.

Backing Up the Press Sheet

The calendar will have a limited distribution, so the job will be printed on an Indigo digital press. The commercial printing vendor sent my client a final PDF for approval prior to proceeding, and my client came back to me with an interesting question. All of the calendar pages were upright, and all of the floral images were upside down. Why?

I knew this was a press imposition issue, but I didn’t immediately realize the obvious. When you look at a calendar that has been spiral bound, with a calendar page on the bottom and a photograph on the top, the photograph must be upside down on the press sheet. Otherwise it will be upside down on the final printed calendar.

Try it yourself. Check out a commercial, spiral bound calendar with the binding running horizontally between the upper photograph and the calendar grid. All photographic images will have been printed upside down on the back of the calendar pages.

Another Example: A Fold-Over Card

Here’s another example of how the obvious can trip you up. Imagine a horizontal fold-over card with an image on the front and text (perhaps a credit for the photo) on the back. When you lay out this card in InDesign, you will create a flat, two-page spread (one page above the other) for the inside of the card and another two-page spread for the outside of the card. (For instance, for a 5” x 7” card you would create a template 7” wide and 10” tall. This would then fold over horizontally to create the finished 5” x 7” card.)

The inside of the card might have a quotation on the bottom panel, and the top panel might be blank. There’s nothing complicated in that.

However, the outside of the card will have the photograph upright, taking up the bottom half of the 7” x 10” two-page panel (one page over the other to create the back and front of the card). The key to not making a bad mistake here is to flip over the photo credit (and whatever else goes on the back of the card) in InDesign and position it on the top half of this 7” x 10” panel.


Once the commercial printing supplier has printed, trimmed, and folded the card, all type will appear in the proper orientation—just like my client’s calendar pages. But unless you do this counter-intuitive step of flipping the type over, the finished, folded card will have upside down type on the back of the card.

What Does This Really Mean to You?

It means you have to be alert and think of the final, printed item as an object, not just a design. If you take a little time to make a physical mock up of a job like a calendar or fold-over card, you can see how the final, printed piece will operate in physical space. On the computer, something may make perfect sense but be entirely wrong.

One More Useful Step

My client found four typos in the proof (not photo coloration problems at this point, just typographic errors). Granted, this was the best time to find them, prior to the custom printing work. However, since only four text pages and no photo pages were involved, I elected to only distill PDF pages of the four affected pages to resend to the commercial printing vendor. I started to distill the entire document as a new, press-ready PDF, but I stopped short and changed my mind.

Here’s why.

  1. My client had already approved all other pages of a hard-copy proof provided by the custom printing supplier. The printer had already imposed the job for the press. Starting over with a complete file would have only added time and trouble to the process (and the potential for error).
  2. Since my client had approved (in writing) all other pages, matching these pages on press was now the printer’s responsibility. At this point, my client was only responsible for the four new type-only pages. Again, there was less room for error.

(After all, a new file may have inadvertently included new errors in one or more of the photo pages or other calendar pages. Accidents happen. We knew for sure that the printer’s copies of all other pages were absolutely correct, so it was prudent to only submit the four new pages.)

So when you get to this final proofing opportunity, my personal opinion is that it’s best to only provide individual press-ready pages in PDF format. Just a thought.

Custom Printing: What Is a RIP and What Does It Do?

Saturday, March 24th, 2012

I think it’s fair to say that a RIP is one of the more important elements of a successful commercial printer’s prepress workflow. A RIP translates the arcs and curves of PostScript code into a matrix of dots that can be printed by the custom printing vendor’s platesetter or imagesetter. It is a universal translator, a Rosetta Stone for printers. It can print the pages you compose in InDesign or Quark, or if your files are not created appropriately, the RIP can choke and not print your work.

A RIP in More Detail

The fonts and graphics in your page composition software are composed of Bezier curves. These are mathematically defined arcs that will be of the highest resolution possible when printed by the target imaging device. A 600 dpi laser printer will print the text at 600 dpi, while a 2400 dpi platesetter will print the same file at this higher resolution.

The imaging device (laser printer, imagesetter, or platesetter), however, does not understand PostScript code. Therefore, the “vector” code of lines and arcs must be rendered into a fixed pattern of dots on a grid, a “raster” image. A Raster Image Processor, or RIP for short, does exactly this.

RIPs come in a variety of flavors. Some are dedicated hardware devices that come with the imagesetter or platesetter.

Other RIPS are firmware, built into the printer’s circuits (a laser printer might have such a RIP).

Finally, some RIPS are software only, and they can be used with a number of different printers. For example, if you buy an inkjet printer, you will also need to buy a software RIP if you wish to print out the complex graphics (EPS images and such) created by your PostScript software. (In the case of high-end inkjet proofing devices, however, the RIP—either hardware or software—may come bundled with the proofer.)

Sometimes There’s No RIP

In some cases you might not have a RIP at all. Instead, you might rely on a printer driver to allow the originating application to communicate with the destination printing device. This may be fine, but if you are producing complex documents, you will probably need a RIP, and if you just want added functionality, you may also want a RIP.

For instance, unlike a printer driver a RIP may add these additional capabilities to your commercial printer’s workflow:

  1. A RIP can collect and process a group of print jobs (known as a “queue”) and batch process these files while freeing up your computer to do other creative work. Offloading this task will keep your computer from slowing down while you do page composition and also keep your printer from slowing down or ruining your print job with artifacts or banding. (That is, when a computer must switch between two complex processes–printing and page composition–quality and speed will suffer in both cases.) A RIP takes the load off the computer.
  2. A RIP can handle imposition (placement of pages on a press sheet so that the sheet will have all the pages in the correct order when it has been folded and trimmed).
  3. A RIP can handle trapping (the adjustment of design elements to create a slight overlap where items of different colors touch one another, so that if the job is printed slightly out of register, there won’t be white lines between the colors).
  4. A RIP can handle color separations (breaking a 4-color image into separate cyan, magenta, yellow, and black printing plates) and halftone screening (simulating different shades of a color with screens made up of grids of larger or smaller halftone dots).

How to Avoid Problems with the RIP

Here are a few potential problems with RIPS that you may want to consider while you build your design files:

  1. Large files slow down a RIP. Therefore, simplify files where possible. Do not leave elements on the pasteboard (area around a page). Also, crop images in the photo editing program rather than the page composition software (Photoshop rather than InDesign). A portion of an image hidden by an InDesign picture box will still add to the size of the file and therefore lengthen the RIP’s processing time. Also avoid nesting one file in another (an EPS in another EPS, for instance).
  2. Keep in mind that not all RIPs are created equal. A PostScript Level 3 RIP will do more than a Level 2 RIP. Your file may need capabilities not built into your commercial printer’s RIP. So ask your custom printing vendor about his RIP level and its compatibility with your design software.
  3. Corrupt files or fonts will stop a RIP in its tracks. If you get error messages, you may need to rebuild the file, save it under a different name, or replace fonts that have become corrupted.
  4. To avoid both RIP compatibility issues and corrupted graphics or fonts (or problems with overly complex graphics), a good rule of thumb is that if the job cannot be printed on your laser printer, it won’t RIP properly on your custom printing vendor’s equipment. So test the document before you upload it to your commercial printer’s FTP site.
  5. InDesign and most other page composition software packages will include a limited array of preflight tools. Dedicated preflight applications will have even more preflight capabilities. Get in the habit of checking your files before submitting them to your custom printing supplier.
  6. Before you use TrueType fonts, make sure your printer can handle them. In addition, don’t mix Type 1 and True Type fonts in a single document.
  7. Distill your PDF files with Adobe Acrobat Distiller, not PDFWriter.

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Custom Printing Options for Creating and Proofing PDFs

Sunday, March 11th, 2012

We are inundated with PDFs today. Almost every application you own can create a Portable Document Format file, from OpenOffice to Microsoft Word to Adobe Acrobat. But if you are a graphic designer, how do you know that the PDF you are creating for your commercial printer is appropriate for the target offset or digital printing technology? How do you know your job won’t go horribly wrong?

What Is PDF/X, and How Does It Differ from PDF?

Those PDF files you can distill from standard office applications can include a multitude of options (including such features as hyperlinks or dynamic forms) that don’t pertain to custom printing. In the case of digital and offset printing, you actually need fewer rather than more features. You need to limit your options to ensure accurate results.

Enter PDF/X. PDF/X is a subset of standard PDF that addresses such graphics exchange issues as “output intent” (the conditions for the final custom printing device), color management, definition of the printable area including trim and bleed specifications, and “active content” issues (essentially the exclusion of rich media such as audio and video, and interactive features such as comments and forms).

Here are some of the options explained one at a time. A book could be written about this information, so consider this just a starting point for discussion with your commercial printer.

  1. Printing Conditions: This includes color and ink data targets, one of which might be “CGATS TR 001 SWOP,” which refers to a specific collection of “Specifications for Web Offset Publications” (SWOP). These standards addresses such custom printing issues as color separation, screen angles, total area coverage of ink, undercolor removal, gray component replacement, color and ink data targets, and proofing processes, to name just a few. In short, these variables address how your final job will look and with what technology it will be printed.
  2. Color Management: This specification focuses on the color space of the print job, including whether it is CMYK and whether it includes spot color information. Data on the ICC profiles (i.e., the color profiles for the custom printing job) can be addressed as well, along with any information on calibrated (color managed) RGB elements (in most cases, of course, your offset job will be CMYK and/or a spot color rather than RGB).
  3. Definition of the Printable Area: This specification includes information on the “Media Box, Trim Box, Art Box, and Bleed Box.” All of these pertain to the job size and format and whether and how the ink will bleed off the page.
  4. Active Content: PDF/X will omit the following from your print-ready files: embedded audio and video, signatures, interactive forms and comments, and other PDF features that are appropriate for the exchange of inter-office documents or forms but that don’t pertain to offset and digital custom printing.

Flavors of PDF/X

To complicate matters within this technical arena, PDF/X comes in many varieties (including PDF/X-1a, PDF/X-3, PDF/X-4, and PDF/X-5g. Most of the variables used in determining which of these sub-specifications to use involve:

  1. whether the transfer from the designer to the commercial printer is “blind,” (i.e., requires no intervention by the printer)
  2. the extent of the acceptable color information (CMYK plus spot colors, vs. other color spaces)
  3. issues such as transparency
  4. issues such as whether the PDF can reference graphics outside the PDF (usually, the PDF includes all fonts and graphics, but some of the alternative PDF/X formats allow printer replacement of graphics).

Ask Your Commercial Printer for Help

In most cases, you will probably only distill PDF files for print as PDF/X-1a compliant. You will probably also limit the color space in your job to only CMYK plus spot color. And you will probably embed all fonts.

It is essential that you discuss the various PDF options (PDF/X-1a, PDF/X-3, and such) with your commercial printer to make sure you set up your PDF document correctly. Different printers use different PDF workflows for various kinds of work (offset printing vs. digital printing vs. packaging printing). Finding a trusted and knowledgeable prepress operator within your custom printing vendor’s shop can save you stress and disappointment. In addition, your commercial printer can preflight your files to ensure that they are PDF/X compliant.

Reviewing a PDF Proof

Many people ask me what the difference is between the PDF they submit to their printer and the PDF proof they see if they request only a screen proof (virtual proof).

The difference between your PDF and the proof is that the proof has passed through the printer’s RIP (raster image processor) and has been converted from the curves and arcs of PostScript into a bitmapped format understandable by the platesetter.

To ensure accuracy, when you review a PDF proof from your commercial printer, you will need to check any logos you have placed in the file as well as any special type characters (such as the trademark symbol ™ and copyright symbol). You will also need to confirm that there was no reflow of copy (i.e., none of the type has moved from column to column or from page to page).

Beyond this list of things to check, your job should be fine as long as you have correctly embedded all fonts in the distilled PDF file. (Basically, any problems introduced between the submission of your PDF file and your receipt of the commercial printer‘s PDF proof should be confined to these areas.)

Custom Printing and Digital Copyright

Sunday, January 29th, 2012

I recently designed a print book of poems for a local writer, and a print book of flower photographs for a local photographer. In an attempt to solicit more design work from another potential client, I considered emailing the prospective client PDF samples of the two books I had just completed. After all, I considered this akin to showing a digital portfolio, just as I used to open my physical portfolio and display printed copies of my design work. Fortunately, I paused before acting. I then sent emails to both the poet and the photographer asking permission to share their work.

Both Custom Printing Clients Plan to Sell Their Books.

I heard back from both clients. Both would approve my sharing their work, but they wanted me to only show potential clients a PDF of the cover and one text spread of their respective print books. I could not share the samples indiscriminately. I had to show them individually to potential new clients. In addition to my citing attribution for her photos, one of the two clients asked that I also send my potential new client a web link to her photography website.

The clarity and precision of both clients’ responses got me thinking, as did a comment from another associate, who is a writer and who noted that the copyrights on most of her books and articles had been violated.

The key here is that the poet and the photographer plan to sell their print books. In years past, when soliciting new design work, I would take the print books and brochure printing samples out of my portfolio, show them to a potential client, and take them away with me when I left the interview. But a PDF can be printed rather easily compared to a hard-copy of a book that I might have inadvertently left behind after an interview. An unscrupulous person might photocopy the physical print book sample and share the poetry with others for a small fee, but the output would be of marginal quality—hardly salable at the same price as the original.

In contrast, if I had distributed complete PDFs of the photo book or poetry book, even if my goal had been merely to demonstrate my graphic design skill and get more work, I would have left behind a digital document that could have been either published on the Internet or printed by an offset or digital printer. The printed quality of the pirated job would have been far superior to a photocopy of a sample print book.

Hypothetically, even digital copies of the two books could eat into the authors’ potential sales. After all, why buy the photo book or the poetry book when you can see the photos or read the poems online for free? This would be true even if the PDF of the books never made it into physical form as pirated print books. So my clients, who had already paid for the design work and the physical, custom printing would then have a smaller universe of potential buyers for their books.

What About Protection for Photos?

Photo agencies have a similar exposure to digital piracy. Think about it. If you are a graphic designer scanning images in online photo databases, you might be tempted to download a photo for free. It’s a simple action: right click on the mouse and hit the “save image as” command.

Fortunately, digital photographers, who might also lose innumerable sales to such piracy, have recourse. The photos that can be downloaded for use in mock-ups usually have digital watermarks (the name of the agency splayed across the image). This defacement of the downloadable copy gives the designer just enough picture information to create a mock-up but not enough to create a press-ready file for duplication.

In addition, owners of online picture agencies have a second line of defense in protecting the intellectual property rights of their photographers. That is, the images downloadable with a right-click of the mouse are very small and of low resolution. If enlarged, they immediately become pixellated and blurred. So potential digital pirates will be dissuaded from downloading images and using them for free. When the designer has purchased the rights to use the image, the website will allow the actual download of the high-resolution photo in a large-sized format without any digital watermark information obscuring the image. The designer can then use the downloaded image file as final art for the commercial printer.

Think Twice Before You Share PDFs.

I almost made a big mistake—unwittingly and only to show the design work I had just completed. But that still might have taken sales away from my clients. Fortunately I thought twice and asked permission, and requested parameters for sharing the PDFs.

It is possible to easily and even unwittingly copy—or cause to be copied, or fail to prevent from being copied—the work of visual and literary artists who depend on the originality of their work, and on the control of its distribution, to eat and pay their bills. Piracy costs you nothing (if you don’t get caught and prosecuted—or sued by the visual or literary artist), but it costs the artists dearly.

So be considerate, and thoughtful, and ask before using.

Book Printing: How to Make Illegible Type Legible

Sunday, January 1st, 2012

A client of mine just produced a “galley” of her book, 100 digitally-printed reader’s copies for her reviewers to critique before the final offset custom printing run. She loves it, but her husband thinks the type is too small.

The timing is actually perfect. Think of the “galley” as a digital, on-demand book proof that many people—not just one client—will review. If the type is too small, now is the time to fix it.

What Is My Client’s Husband Really Saying about the Type?

Basically he’s saying that it’s hard to read. When he points to a print book that he likes—a book that he wrote–I take note. He likes the body copy type. It’s easier to read. While the target audience for his wife’s book will range from age 20 to 80 and above, those in their 40s and older will have a harder time reading the body copy in her book than in his. And people who have difficulty reading something will not enjoy the experience and will eventually stop.

What Goes into Making Text Copy Readable in a Print Book?

Type has a number of characteristics. Among these are:

  1. Type size (height of the type)
  2. Leading (the space between lines of type)
  3. Measure (column width)
  4. Weight (lightness or darkness of a block of type on the page)
  5. “x” height (the height of a lower-case “x” in a typeface). This will correspond to any other character that has no ascenders or descenders: i.e., portions of type that extend upward from the top of the x-height or downward from the baseline (“l” vs. “g” or “j,” for instance).
  6. Style (light, bold, roman, italic)
  7. Serif, sans serif, slab serif, display, script, etc.

All of these attributes work together to improve or diminish legibility, which is the first requirement of type. It has to be easily readable, particularly in a book.

How Do You Fix Type That’s Hard to Read?

My client’s husband had a point. The type was too small. It was just under the threshold of comfortable reading. But the problem didn’t stop there. Here are some things I noticed:

  1. Compared to the type in her husband’s print book, my client’s type had a low x-height. It was a serif face (the ones with short strokes–like tails—at the ends of the letterforms). This is good, since serif fonts are easier to read in large blocks of copy than sans serif faces (the ones without the little strokes).
  2. It was a complex typeface, more suited to display type (large point sizes within short blocks of copy like headlines and callouts or large pull quotes) than to text copy. The letterforms were ornate and had dramatic contrast between the thick and thin strokes of the letterforms. It was actually classified as a “Modern” typeface because of these qualities. I suggested a typeface with a larger x-height. The designer had provided a sample page set in Century Schoolbook, which has a large x-height, pronounced serifs, and less contrast between the thick and thin portions of the letterforms. All of these qualities improve legibility in a print book. I also suggested increasing the size of the type by one point.
  3. We considered adding leading to the type (more space between lines). This is a good way to improve legibility.
  4. We discussed the fact that increasing the point size and the leading would make the book longer. Obviously this would add to the cost of the project, since more book pages would consume more paper and ink. There would also be more signatures and therefore more time on press at the commercial printer’s shop. It would be an expensive proposition.
  5. As an alternative I suggested “Old Style” typefaces, such as Garamond, which would have less contrast between thick and thin portions of the type than Modern typefaces but would take up less room than Century Schoolbook. Garamond is an Old Style serif face. It would be more readable than a sans serif typeface. In addition, Garamond even comes in a condensed face (narrower letterforms). Garamond Condensed is highly legible but takes up less space than many other typefaces, yielding more characters per inch and hence a shorter book.

I suggested producing laser printed samples of a page in a number of different typefaces to check readability. In the final analysis, the subjective experience of reading trumps any technical characteristics a typeface may have. (Is it readable? Always check with a number of people if you’re designing a print book.)

In addition, I suggested that my client’s designer produce a complete chapter and compare the length of that chapter in the new typeface to the length of the chapter in the old typeface that had been hard to read. This would give a rough idea of the extent to which the new typeface would increase the length of the book.

Laser Printing Doesn’t Always Match the Look of Ink On Paper

Ink printed on paper, particularly the absorbent uncoated stock often used for books, does not always match the printed output from a laser proofing device. Actual ink often spreads a bit (dot gain) as it flows into the paper fibers. In contrast, laser toner sits up on the surface more, since it is a powder and not a liquid. Therefore, it would be wise to show your commercial printer samples of the type and ask his opinion of how the final output will look when actually printed in ink.

Commercial Printing: Making Corrections to Your Files at the Proof Stage

Saturday, December 31st, 2011

I recently received a digital proof for a small poetry book I had designed for a client. The following paragraphs describe the items I looked for in checking the proof. You may want to take a similar approach in reviewing your proofs.

The Proofing Method

First of all, my proof was a single copy produced on an HP Indigo press as a prototype for a longer press run. The Indigo is a xerographic digital press. Think “ultra-high-end color xerox.” The commercial printer produced the proof on this equipment because the rest of the run would also be produced on this press. It was a prototype, exactly matching the remainder of the run.

In your case, you may (or may not) be printing via offset lithography instead of digital technology. If this is true, you will most likely receive an inkjet proof instead of a xerographic proof. In either case your custom printing vendor will have “fingerprinted” the proof to the final press output. That is, the two will match as closely as possible. In the first case, the digital xerographic proof from the Indigo is exactly the same as all successive copies of the press run. In the case of the offset job, the inkjet proof closely resembles the final output from the offset press.

The Substrate Used for the Proof

“Substrate” is printer’s lingo for the paper on which the job will be produced. If you are printing a digital job on an Indigo or other xerographic press, you can request that your commercial printer produce the proof on the exact stock on which the final job will be printed. This is prudent. For instance, if you decide at the proof stage that the job would look better on a coated or uncoated stock, or perhaps a heavier stock, you can make these changes without incurring additional expense.

If your job will be printed on an offset press, your proof will probably not be produced on the same stock as the final job. Commercial printers usually have only a limited selection of paper stocks for their inkjet proofing devices. Often you can request a coated or uncoated sheet, but the proof may not be provided on a paper that will be as thick as the stock used for the actual press run. Don’t worry. Just bring it to your custom printing supplier’s attention, and he will explain whether it is a mistake or just an example of the limits of the proofing device.

How to Check a Proof

  1. Check for complete copy. Match the proof to your final laser copy to make sure nothing has been inadvertently lost.
  2. Check the photos. Make sure they are neither too light nor too dark. Check their cropping. Check their color accuracy.
  3. Check the margins, page numbers, and running headers and footers. Is everything placed on the page as you had intended? Do images bleed as intended? Are the pages in the proper order?
  4. Check any solid colors or screens. Should the type be in color? Is the color accurate? Compare the color to your PMS swatch book. Keep in mind that a digital proofing device will print spot colors as 4-color process builds. Therefore, the color may differ from a PMS ink mixed for an offset press run. If there are problems with color on a digital xerographic proof used for an Indigo press, that’s important to note, since your proof is exactly what your final job will be (and since both the proof and the final job are usually produced with only cyan, magenta, yellow, and black inks rather than PMS colors).

Usually your proof will flawlessly match your last PDF of the job. (In fact, it’s wise to send a PDF of the job to your custom printing vendor along with the native InDesign file. This way your commercial printer will know exactly how you want the final job to look.) However, if there are any glitches introduced inadvertently by the printer’s equipment—or if there are any emergency edits—now is the time to make corrections.

If you have sent your commercial printer a high-res PDF of the job instead of a native InDesign file, it would be extremely rare for this file not to print exactly as expected. Occasionally, however, things do happen—hiccups during the RIPing process (the conversion of PostScript code into into a grid of printer dots imaged on the proof or the printing plates). Don’t assume anything. Check everything carefully. Once you have signed off on the proof, any errors you missed are your responsibility, not your custom printing supplier‘s. If you waive the option of a proof altogether, any error is your responsibility.

Uploading Corrections

If you catch errors, make corrections in your native file. Save the file under a different name (“File v1,” “File v2,” and so forth, to indicate different versions). Or, use another naming convention as long as it is clear that you are submitting a new file.

Ask for a complete second proof (not just selected pages). Probably a PDF will suffice. After all, you will have seen the photos, solids, and area screens on the first proof. However, if your corrections involve photos (particularly color photos), you will probably want a hard-copy proof of these individual pages. But still ask for a complete PDF proof as well. Why? Just to ensure that no other errors have crept into the process. If you get a PDF of the entire job for the second proof, you can be sure that all pages are in place and accurate in the second proof as well as the first. You never know. It’s better to be safe.

Custom Printing: Preparing Your Printing Job for Commercial Printers

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

You have found the custom printing vendor‘s FTP site and you’re about to send your files to press. With bated breath, you hope that you caught all the errors, formatted all the files correctly, and didn’t make any mistakes that will be expensive to fix. Before you push the send button, here are some things to check.

Check the Fonts and Links

Make sure that you are using the proper fonts. Specifically, use the bold or italic font for a particular type family. Don’t use the (pseudo)-bold or (pseudo)-italic button to alter the type.

In InDesign, you can go to the “Type” menu, then go to “Find Font,” and you will see a list of all the fonts you are using, including the font family, weight, and whether the type is condensed or expanded (for example, Helvetica Light Condensed). You can also see whether the typeface is Adobe Type 1, OpenType, or TrueType. (Some commercial printers I’ve worked with have had problems with TrueType used on a Mac, so check with your custom printing provider before sending a file that uses TrueType fonts.) If you don’t like what you see in the list of fonts, you can do a “search and replace” from this menu item to change fonts, either one instance at a time or globally.

Also, check “Links” under the “Window” menu. It will show you any TIFF or EPS images you have placed in your InDesign art file. You can see the color space (RGB or CMYK, for instance), format (such as TIFF) and page number on which the image appears. If you have altered the original Photoshop image file, you can also update the links to replace the old version with the new version.

Color Space

Speaking of color space, make sure you have changed the images from the RGB color space to the CMYK color space if you will produce the custom printing job on an offset or digital press. You would only use RGB for a Web document that would appear on a computer monitor. As mentioned before, the color space is also noted in the “Links” window.


Make sure you pull the picture boxes 1/8” beyond the trim of your print job in InDesign (or any similar program). This part of the image must extend beyond the “trim” line of your document page, so your commercial printer can cut this portion away in the bindery to give the impression that the photo bleeds off the page.


InDesign calls the collection of fonts, images, and art files their “Package” function. This function can be found under the “File” menu. Quark has a similar attribute called “Collect for Output,” also under the “File” menu. Both programs allow you to collect in one folder all that you will need to send to the custom printing supplier.


The Package, or Collect for Output, function will create a folder on your desktop. If you are using a Macintosh, it is prudent to compress this folder to protect it in transit over your broadband connection to your commercial printer. Select the file folder and right click on your mouse. Drag down several menu items and you will see “Compress” and the name of your file or folder.

PDF or Native Files

Some custom printing vendors will ask that you send them native InDesign or Quark files, particularly for book covers and other complex art. Others will request PDF files. Native files are easier for the commercial printer to alter in an emergency. Although tools do exist to edit PDFs, these files are essentially “locked down.”

If you send PDF files, ask your custom printing provider how he wants the files created. There are a lot of options, and different commercial printers will ask you to set the multitude of preferences differently.

Use the Printer’s FTP Site

When you upload a large document, such as a book with a number of photos, you are transferring a huge amount of data to your commercial printer. Attaching a file to an email won’t work for these large files. (Even after compression, a small booklet with its corresponding 4-color images might be well over 60 MB). Find someone in your printer’s prepress department to help you with this, since you may need a user name and password. Other commercial printer’s websites may just let you upload files without a password.

Email Your Printer to Let Him Know That You Have Uploaded a File

Many people forget to do this. I’ve been guilty as well. When you upload your job to the commercial printer‘s website, send him an email with the name of the files you have uploaded. It wouldn’t hurt to also include the printing specifications for the job in this email. Otherwise your printer may not know to look for your job on his FTP server.

If You Send Corrections

If you send corrections to the printer after reviewing the proof, rename the file. Something as simple as “PrintJob” and “PrintJob v2 (version 2) will help your commercial printer know which version of the file(s) to use.

Custom Printing: InDesign and Photoshop Tips

Monday, December 12th, 2011

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.

Book Printing with Digital Printing Companies: Holding Detail in Highlights and Shadows

Thursday, August 18th, 2011

A client of mine is preparing a high school textbook for custom printing with an online printing company. The layout is complete, and she has turned her attention to adjusting the cover and text photos. Today she asked for the “dot range” the business printing provider could hold on press.

While this sounds esoteric, it really can be broken down into a relatively easy concept, and it is very important to understand this concept if you are preparing your own photos for an offset custom printing vendor (which in most cases you will be doing).

What about black-only photographs?

When I spoke with the prepress department at the digital printing company, I learned that they could hold a 2 percent dot for highlights and a 94 percent dot for shadows. What this means is that within a grid of halftone dots (an inch by an inch square), the total area covered by black halftone dots would be 2 percent. Since the line screen for this press would be upwards of 150 lines per inch (150 rows of halftone dots), the dots in this one inch by one inch space would be very, very small. The digital printing service could still maintain fine detail within the halftone screen at this level. Everything lighter than this would be the white of the book printing paper stock.

Conversely, the digital printing company could hold a 94 percent dot in the shadows. That is, within a one inch by one inch square, assuming a line screen of 150 lpi or higher, 94 percent of the area would be filled with halftone dots. As halftone dots go, these would be rather large. Anything darker than this would become solid black. One reason for this is that my client’s book will be printed on an absorbent, uncoated stock (70# Finch Opaque), which soaks up ink. Using a percentage halftone dot higher than 94 percent would cause the ink to spread on the press sheet and fill the entire area with black ink.

(Keep in mind that offset custom printing is a binary process. In any given area, there is either ink or no ink. Within a black-only textbook, this means either black ink is present or absent. When reproducing halftones, the business printing vendor can simulate shades of gray by printing halftone dots of different sizes within a regular halftone grid pattern. The percentages we are discussing pertain to this halftoning technology.)

How does this work for full-color images?

My client’s black and white textbook has a cover, which will be printed on a gloss coated press sheet. This paper will have better ink hold-out than the uncoated paper inside the book (that is, ink will sit up on the surface and not seep into the paper fibers). Therefore, the halftone screen for the four photos on the cover will probably be finer than for the text. More than likely, the business printing vendor will employ halftone screens with rulings upwards of 175 lines per inch.

The digital printing service informed me that the press can hold a 3-2-2 dot at 270 percent. Let’s break this down.

Full-color printing is done with halftone screens, but unlike the black and white images in the textbook, the cover is printed with four halftone screens at different angles to one another: one halftone screen on each of the press units (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black). Assuming that the 3-2-2 refers to highlights (because the numbers are so low), we can read these as 3 percent Cyan, 2 percent Magenta, 2 percent Yellow, and 0 percent Black (because the business printing vendor confessed that 3-2-2 was really 3-2-2-0; Black has no number and hence is zero).

At the other end of the spectrum (the shadows), the total ink coverage cannot exceed 270 percent. This gives the designer leeway. Let’s assume that all four process colors at 100 percent density would equal 400 percent coverage (C, M, Y, and K x 100 percent each). This would be far too much ink. The press sheets would stick together. It would be a mess.

Therefore, the business printing vendor has learned through experience that the press used to print my client’s book cover can hold a shadow within a 4-color image of up to 270 percent ink coverage. Depending on the color composition of each of the four full-color images in my client’s cover design, any one area of shadow might be made up of (for instance) C-80, M-20, Y-15, and K-120—or any other combination of screened percentages not exceeding a total of 270 percent.

Color halftones are still halftones.

Remember that color halftones are still halftones. Each of these numbers represents a screened percentage within an inch by inch space. The halftone screen is higher (175 lpi or above), and the screens are set at angles to one another, but they’re still screens, just like the halftone screens for the black ink images inside the textbook the book printer is producing.

Brochure Printing: From Paste-up to Computer Design

Monday, August 15th, 2011

A colleague who started designing art files for book printing a few years ago asked me to distinguish between layout and paste-up. The question brought to mind all of the changes in the field of design and custom printing over the 34 years I have been in the business. I’ll provide an answer for the question my colleague asked, but I will go further to mention some of the other changes I have witnessed.

What is layout? What is paste-up?

First of all, I think of layout as the arrangement of visual elements on a page. It is the artistic component of the design and production process, which includes the choice of formats (whether you have chosen a book printing or brochure printing format, for instance), size and number of folds (whether the job is a wrap fold or accordion fold), type faces and point sizes and placement and treatment of images, whether the job will be 2-color or 4-color, and color placement. This is just a short list. I’m sure I’m missing many elements. Basically, layout is the organization of visual information on a page or in an entire book. It is now done on a computer, but when I started in the business, it was a physical process done on an art board.

Paste-up, in contrast (which is now defunct), involved physically positioning strips of type galleys, rule lines, and patches of “rubylith” (as placeholders for photos) on a sheet of layout paper. The designer used rubber cement (or, when I started doing paste-up, the adhesive was wax that was heated and rolled out onto the back of the sheets of type) to affix and immobilize the pieces of the type galleys (paragraphs and headlines on photosensitive, resin-coated paper). Everything had to be straight, precisely aligned. Any flaws would be visible on the negatives, the plates, and especially the final printed job delivered by the custom printing service.

From art boards to negatives to printing plates

Each printed page had a physical paste-up board, which was photographed by the custom printing vendor using a huge, horizontal camera. The negative film the printer used to capture the image on the paste-up board was placed on chemically treated metal and exposed to light to yield a press-ready printing plate. Light went through the transparent portions of the negative to chemically alter the plate below, while the opaque portions of the negative blocked the light. A chemical development process yielded the final custom printing plate.

Whether the final product was a blueline proof (blue type and images on thick paper used as a proof to show placement of all graphic elements) or a negative, the process was photographic in nature. It was also mechanical, insofar as custom printing plant staff had to assemble all the negatives of rules, type, and images on “goldenrod” sheets (“flats”) in preparation for the photographic exposure of the plates.

Design and production tasks have moved to the computer

Now, all of this is done by computer. The designer no longer receives galleys of type from a dedicated typesetter (long strips of photosensitive type paper with a single column of type interspersed with headlines). He or she no longer pastes these up by hand to create art boards (which were also called “mechanicals”). The designer uses a computer to complete many of the tasks that used to be the purview of the custom printing provider’s prepress department. Then the designer hands off the file electronically to the printer (with no actual galleys and no physical “mechanicals” ever made).

The business printing provider skips the stripping stage, no longer assembling photographic negatives of images and type onto the goldenrod flats. Having abandoned the negative stage entirely, the printer images the custom printing plate directly from the computer.

Where does publication design go from here?

At it’s most extreme, the designer’s computer (the page composition and image editing software) drives the platesetter by proxy (the same art files transmitted to the custom printing shop, once electronically imposed, drive the business printing vendor’s platesetter).

One step further down the road would be printing directly to the press (which is how digital printing works, whether it is ink-jet or high-end xerography on a HP Indigo digital press). Instead of, or at least in addition to, printing multiple copies of one master, the digital process allows for mass customization (infinitely differing copies all printed by one digital press).

At the final extreme, we omit paper entirely and publish directly to the Internet. Which, according to numerous marketing studies, will not happen any time soon because people still love to open and read their physical mail. Direct mail is growing, not diminishing, and is taking a complementary position to Web marketing. Like radio and TV, custom printing and the Internet will continue to coexist and complement one another for the foreseeable future.


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