Going to Press Efficiently
These best InDesign preflight practices will save you time and money.
by: Pariah S. Burke
InDesign has many uses, some of them surprising.
For many, InDesign long ago replaced PowerPoint
as a slide show creator—just export pages cum slide
deck to PDF, and use Acrobat's or Adobe Reader's
built-in presentation features to display it to an
audience. Many print-turned-Web-designers are
using InDesign to wireframe, or sketch, Web sites.
Features that allow embedding of multimedia, such
as QuickTime movies and sounds, and interactive
elements, like buttons with rollovers and actions,
have positioned InDesign as the tool of choice for
developing rich user experience PDFs. Thanks to
innovations in CS4, InDesign is even catching up to
its main competitor as the non-Flash-savvy-user's
Flash content creation tool.
All of these uses, whether expected or not, are
a testament to the versatility and ease of use of
InDesign. They also attest to the expansion of even
traditional print design workflows toward electronic
publishing. Still, despite the Web, PDF, and Flash, the
main purpose for which the majority of us employ
InDesign is to create materials destined to become
ink on paper.
It's startling, though, how little information
there is on the subject of going to press these days.
I don't mean how to use InDesign's Print dialog or
why you should use CMYK instead of RGB color
swatches. I'm referring to best practices for going to
press. My friend Sandee Cohen recently mentioned
that she'd met a woman who, within the last five
years, had graduated college with a graphic design
degree—which included at least one full year learning
in InDesign—but without any instructor ever having
defined the word "prepress" or having explained how
layouts get from InDesign to ink on substrate!
Some people don't even know why they should
avoid the default and undeletable Registration color
swatch; someone once said, "Don't use it," so they don't
use it, without knowing why.
In this edition of InTime, I'll try to fill a few of
those gaps. Hopefully even seasoned pressmen with
ink embedded beneath their fingernails will find
something herein to take away. And, I hope they'll
write in and share some of their wisdom and time tested
prepress truisms and techniques with me, so I
can pass along that information in a future InTime.
Consult the Wizard of Press
I'm often asked for my recommendation on the very
best resource to give a designer the information she
needs to send InDesign documents to press efficiently,
with the best quality, highest color fidelity, fewest
errors, and the least expense. Have you wondered
the same thing? If so, you might be surprised by my
answer because it isn't this magazine, a book, Web site,
or industry guru. Nor is the best resource Adobe itself.
The single most important resource you can
consult regarding your InDesign (or any) for-print
project is the printer who will output it for you. Your
printer knows all, your printer sees all, your printer
prints all. He can tell you more about your specific
document, how to format this and configure that,
than any of the gurus in this magazine. Why? Because
we're not RIPping and printing your job. We can give
you general advice, specific techniques we've learned
over the years, even best practices that will serve
you in many, perhaps even most, situations, but not
one of us can tell you precisely what will happen to
your specific document when it goes to a particular
print shop's prepress and then press stages. The only
one who can is the person who takes work like yours
and processes it day in and day out on those very
prepress and press systems.
So what should you ask your printer? Everything.
Pardon the banality of this, but it needs to be said: The
only dumb question is the one unasked. No matter
how much or how little experience you have in print
design and working with print providers, every printer
worth hiring will be happy to educate you about
his shop's unique processes, tell you what to do in
InDesign (and other applications), to ensure that your
job prints to the highest quality possible, on time, with
the least amount of stress for you and the printer's
personnel. If there's something you don't know about
the printing process, how to prepare your files for
press, how the printer wants them delivered, ask.
Then, after you deliver your project, go visit the
printer if possible. Watch the job RIPping and printing.
Do press checks—examining printed examples of
your job as they roll off the press to ensure output as
expected. Ask more questions.
Decide Before You Design
Before you can choose File > New Document you
must make crucial decisions about the content and
output of your printed design. The below, used as a
checklist, can help you ask yourself and your print
provider the right questions, make the right decisions,
and begin your project already halfway to producing
a top quality InDesign document efficiently before
you've even launched InDesign.
- What kind of paper are you printing on? Or are you printing on plastic, fabric, or another substrate? Each of these require special printing processes.
- What is the color of the substrate (see "White isn't Always White" below)?
- How heavy is the substrate?
- Is it coated or uncoated?
- What type(s) of ink will be used—process CMYK, premixed spot colors, Hexachrome, screenprint ink (typically for fabrics and other non-paper substrates), or another media?
- Will the final piece be flat paper, multi-dimensional (like a box printed flat and then folded), or non-flat (such as directly labeling a bottle or can)?
- If printed flat, will the final piece require folding or perforating?
- Do any colors touch the side of the page? If so, you'll have to set up a bleed.
- Will the final printed shape be a rectangle or will it require cutting dies?
- If the document will be bound, how will it be bound—perfect bound like a book, saddle stitched or -stapled like many magazines, wire- or GBC-bound to lay flat when opened, or another type of binding?
- Because of the binding method, what are the required inside and outside margins?
- If the artwork will run ink-to-edge (bleed), what size bleed guide do you need—how far out from the page edge will you need to extend your artwork?
- What is the required live area inset? (That is, how close to the edge of the page is it okay to print text or important details?)
- Will you need a slug area, and, if so, what will be its dimensions?
- What is the ideal image resolution?
- Does the printer have a PDF Print Engine (such as APPE) which can handle native transparency, or will you need to supply a flattened PDF version?
Files to Get
Before you begin each project, ask your printer for the
files listed below. The printer will have at least some
of them ready, though you may not need the rest,
depending upon your output options and file delivery
- The ICC/ICM color profile for the output device
and selected substrate. This is updated frequently,
so get a fresh copy for every job, for every different
medium you're printing on.
- While few printers want PostScript files anymore (it
was an old 90s thing), if they do, ask for the output
device's PPD (PostScript Printer Definition file).
- If you'll be sending a PDF instead, ask for a custom
PDF preset. If your printer doesn't have one, he
or she should be able to tell you what settings
to use in the Export to Adobe PDF dialog box.
Alternately, they might tell you to use PDF/X1-a,
X3, or X4, which are standard presets that ship
- A trap preset file. It's pretty rare that the printer
would have one of these for you, as they will likely
prefer to handle trapping themselves, usually in-
RIP. But it never hurts to ask.
There is No Generic Color Profile
If I had a dollar for every time I'm asked for the best
color profile for "general use" I'd probably own Adobe
Systems by now (and I'd have built in an option to
hide that darn Registration color swatch). There is
no best, ideal, default, or generic general use setting
when it comes to sending documents to press. There
are guidelines, though. For example, most printers in
North America are used to receiving documents and
images saved with the U.S. Web Coated (SWOP) v1
CMYK color profile (part of the North America General
Purpose 2 preset in Creative Suite). That's actually
strange, because most printing is done on sheetfed
presses, not web presses. If you're printing to sheetfed,
consider using the Coated GRACoL 2006 profile, which
ships with CS4, as it will likely give you better results.
But these kinds of guidelines are if you don't
know have an accurate picture of how a document
will be printed (which actual printing press, which
inks, which paper, and so on). If you can find those
things out, you could use a color profile generated
specifically for that particular output device. The
point of color management is that there are no typical
settings. Every device renders color differently, and
the entire purpose of color managing a file is to target
your document's colors to a specific device's unique
color rendering characteristics.
Where do you get the color profile for your output
device? Your printer. A good printer profiles his
output devices, generating custom ICC profiles. They
should gladly send them to you free, and then, with a
properly calibrated monitor, you can be confident that
what you see on screen is pretty darn close what you'll
see in print.
White Isn't Always White
To paraphrase Bruce Willis in the Last Boy Scout, we
all know that water's wet, the sky's blue, and paper is
white, right? Well, no, not always. Frozen water isn't
wet, the sky changes color, and so does paper. Some
white paper is whiter or brighter than others. Thus,
not only will the unprinted "white" of your jobs differ
from one stock to the next, so will the colors of your
inks because the color of the paper will mix with
them, tinting them (Figure 1). For that reason, you
should proof your work from time to time onscreen
using a color profile targeted not only to a particular
output device but also to the specific substrate
you've chosen. Once you have it (from your printer
again), here's how to use it.
- With InDesign closed, install the ICC/ICM file into
the following path:
- Open your document in InDesign.
- From the View menu, choose Proof Setup >
- Select the newly installed profile from the Device
to Simulate dropdown menu and check Simulate
Paper Color, which will also automatically check
Simulate Black Ink. Click OK and, if your monitor
is properly calibrated (with a device such as the
Datacolor Spyder or an Xrite Eye-One), you'll see
onscreen colors very close to what you'll get off
the printing press.
Changing the options in the Customize Proof
Condition dialog automatically turns on color
proofing. To turn it off, just toggle the View > Proof
Use Best of Breed Printers
Like designers, printers tend to specialize in certain
areas. A printer who cranks out the most beautiful
magazines, catalogs, and brochures may not be
equipped to do the best job on your promotional
posters, business cards, or signage. Some may not
print jobs outside their specialties at all, others will
offer "full service printing" to augment their primary
projects income or as a convenience to clients
who need something outside the norm once in a
while. Many of both types will vend out the job to
other printers. This is particularly true of the highly
specialized business card printing business. Few print
shops actually do business cards; most vend them out
to a handful of boutique business card printers. And,
sometimes, you can get better quality and price by
cutting out the middle man.
Unless you're always producing the same types of
printed projects, establish a stable of print vendors
and vend to them only the jobs at which they excel in
producing. That said, cultivate relationships with your
printers. Gifts help. Bruce Fraser, the late co-author of
Real World Photoshop, recommended offering a "pint of
Haagen-Dazs sorbet or, for really big favors, Laphroiag."
Cash Off the Top
Did you know that you can often pay 10-15% less
for your print job? If the job is for you—your identity
package or marketing material, say—you must pay full
price. However, if you're bringing a client job to press,
you are acting as a print broker, not as a print client.
Many print shops will therefore charge you 10-15%
less for the job. Why? So that you can make some money
on the print job without having to raise the price. If your
client calls the print shop directly, she'll be quoted the
full retail price, which is what you charge back to her,
keeping the 10-15% difference for yourself. The print
broker discount is a way to help you recuperate the
costs of working with the printer on your client's behalf
and spending time checking proofs and transporting
files and the printed job. Just let your print provider
know at the time of order that you're brokering the job
for your client, and then ask for the discount.
Full disclosure: InDesign Magazine's parent company,
PrintingForLess.com, offers a print broker program
called PFL Pro. Learn More
Why You Shouldn't Use Registration Color
As we all know, the InDesign Swatches panel includes
four undeletable swatches. Their names are bracketed
and three of them have an obvious purpose—None
is no color; Black is black; Paper is effectively no color,
allowing the color of the paper or substrate to shine
through or knockout ink. The fourth undeletable
swatch is Registration, and, surprisingly, not many
people know what it's for, just that they should never
use it for any object to appear on the printed page
unless instructed by their printer.
Simply put, the Registration color is a magic swatch
that will print on every ink plate. If you're working
strictly in CMYK, any object set in 100% Registration
will print out at 100% of cyan, magenta, yellow, and
black. If that's cool to you, think again. The result
is usually not a nice rich black but rather the color
of old mud. Worse, ink is tacky and that much of it
aggregating in too large of a place will make your
printer very unhappy. If you're working in CYMK and
two spot colors, your Registration-colored object will
print out in six colors. (That's even uglier.)
So what is the point of the Registration swatch? To
create such things as registration marks, those little
cross hairs that enable press workers to identify when
one or more colors don't match up, indicating that
something is misaligned on the printing press. The
color is also used for other information or structures
that need to print on all plates—usually in the slug
area—such as the client name, job number, and other
specific information. The easiest way to include that
information on the film is to set it in the slug area, in
the Registration color swatch.
PDF or INDD?
Most prepress pros are firmly in favor of sending only
PDFs to the printer. Many printers are firmly in favor
of you sending them the native InDesign document
(packaged to include images and fonts). So which
is correct? Send the PDF first. After all, the most
common prepress problems, such as font embedding
issues, alteration of trap and overprint settings, can be
fixed directly in the PDF. That's a whole lot better than
the printer opening your file and possibly introducing
accidental major changes like text reflow. But be
prepared to package and send the InDesign file if the
print shop insists on it.
Multiple Instances of Spot Colors
Working in a layout application like InDesign you often
combine image assets from various sources, even
different decades, into a single document. Well, if you
haven't noticed, ink libraries differ from application to
application, one time period to another. An EPS image
exported 10 years ago from QuarkXPress may contain
a PANTONE color with a slightly different name than
the same color added into the Photoshop PSD file last
week. Placing both images into InDesign will bring
in that same color as two separate color swatches—
and it will output them as two separate color plates,
doubling the cost and work involved in printing that
How do you resolve such a situation? You can't
delete one swatch and replace it with the other, not
if the spot color is part of a linked image. Should you
pull the EPS into Illustrator or PSD into Photoshop and
fix the mismatched ink there? Sure, you could, if you're
comfortable with those applications, but it's not the
most efficient way to fix the problem—particularly if
you have multiple assets using the same conflicting
spot colors. Instead, configure InDesign to overcome
the problem internally, at print or export time.
- From the Swatches panel flyout menu, choose Ink
Manager (Figure 2).
- In the Ink Manager dialog highlight the first
duplicate ink, preferably the one with the older,
more obscure, or otherwise undesirable name.
- From the Ink Alias dropdown menu select the
other instance of the spot color, the one with the
name you do want to keep. Click OK.
The first ink is now aliased or mapped to the
second. All instances of either spot color will now
output on the same plate, as the same ink.
Time and Money
Going to press efficiently—which includes preparing
to design the right way—will save you time and
expense. Maybe we should call this column InTime
and InExpense? I'll bring you more tips and techniques
for going to press efficiently in future installments of
InTime. In the meantime, open the April/May 2009
issue of this magazine for some great related advice
from Steve Werner in "Will it Print? 10 Tips for Creating
an InDesign File that Prints Perfectly."
Pariah S. Burke is the author of Mastering InDesign CS3 for
Print Design and Production (Sybex, 2007), and other books; a freelance graphic designer; and the publisher of the Web sites
GurusUnleashed.com, WorkflowFreelance.com, and CreativesAre.com. Pariah lives in Portland, OR, where he writes (a lot) and creates
(many) publications and projects for Empowering, Informing, and Connecting Creative Professionals.
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