Hello people! It has been a while since I wrote a post on the printing aspects of illustration so I took the opportunity with the launch of my NEW square postcards added to my shop to explain a little bit more about how I create the files that I would normally send to the printer. As a graphic designer, this is a process that I repeated many times but that it is utterly important in order to ensure a good quality result. Thus, on this post I wanted to cover a very important part of the printing process which is creating a pdf file that will preserve the quality and colour range of your illustrations as close to the original piece as possible. I will be covering a few aspects and tricks that will help you create foolproof pdfs to send confidently to any printer. This is a crucial method that I have used over and over again professionally while overseeing the printing results of magazines, books and even comic books! Therefore, I would like to share here my process using InDesign and again some tips I have used along the way. I will be using the file of my square postcards as an example. Although advantageous, there is no need for you to have a previous command of InDesign to follow this post since I will walk you through the process every step of the way. I hope you find it useful!
First off, let’s start by making sure that you have high resolution scans of your artwork, usually from 720 dpi to 300 dpi, at the lowest, for printing purposes –even online printing. The format I normally use is PSD, for Photoshop file but I also work a lot with JPEG, for lower compression and lower size files. I will not extend on scanning presets or file types, as I intend to focus on the creation of a PDF for printing purposes. However if you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment or drop me a line!
step 1 - set up the document
Once we have our scanned images, we will start by opening InDesign and clicking in Create New > Document. A new interface then displays with all the parameters that will determine the document characteristics. At this point you have to know the size and final purpose of the document (either printing, web or digital publishing), primarily.
As you can see in the above picture, the key aspects to define your basic document will be:
Purpose and number of pages. You would select Facing Pages if you were creating a book so you would have spreads but since, for this post I am working with postcards as final document, I won’t be selecting this option. Thus, we will be working with individual pages. It is important to consider this option depending on the document purpose. You can also add, at this point, the number of pages you need. In my case, it was 6 pages (one for the back of the postcard and 5 different front illustrations).
Size. You can set the Page Size to the dimensions you intend to print the document on or the size at which the content will be displayed. The Width and Height parameters define that size. You can choose from standard paper sizes such as A4 or you can customize a specific size. This is what we will do here, I chose 140 x 140 mm for my square postcards (as per printer requirements).
Margins. These values will determine the area where you will be placing the artwork and text within the document. Those values can be changed as you work on the document but it is always useful to set them beforehand. Notice the little chain icon in the middle of the four text fields which will make all values stay the same. You don’t need to worry much about Columns since we won’t be working with text or complex compositions in this case. In this instance, I chose margins of 15 mm (1,5 cm) for each postcard.
Bleed and Slug. This is a important parameter to set since it will affect directly the printing of the document (we will see this later on too). In printing, bleed represents the area of the document that goes beyond the edge of document’s real size. To simplify that concept, the bleed is that extra area that will trimmed off in the printing process and that gives the printer a small amount of space to account for movement of the paper, for instance. This is basically to ensure that no matter the printer movement, your design or artwork will show as you intend. Life-saving process for your document and breathing space for the printer! Normally, we would set this at 5 mm at least.
STEP 2 - import the artwork
At this stage, we have already set up our document and now it is just a matter of importing or placing our artwork, illustrations into our file. I will begin by explaining how to import your artwork into the document as it will be the most important part of the process and lastly I will explain what I did with the text for the back of my postcards.
When importing images –meaning artwork or illustrations in this case– to our document, the two steps we will need to take care of will be placing the image and, most frequently, adjusting the size and/or position of the image. Let’s start by the first one:
The most common two ways of importing and placing an image would be either placing it into an existing frame (see blue rectangle in the gif above) or placing it directly to the document (without having selected any existing frame). The first option is usually best as you would already have established the size and position where you want your image to be displayed. If you start a new document, as we have, a default frame matching your document margins would be automatically created so you can work with that.
For the actual “placing” of the image, you have to select your frame and the go to File > Place (Cmd + D or Control + D). Then browse and select the image or illustration you want and hit Open, as you can see in the gif above.
Normally, if the image has been scanned at a large resolution, the image will be bigger than the established frame so now it is the turn to adjust its size to fit it. To do this you would go to Object > Fitting and choose between one of the options. You will want to focus in the first two, either “Fill Frame Proportionally” (Cmd + Shift + Alt + C or Control + Shift + Alt + C) or “Fit Content Proportionally” (Cmd + Shift + Alt + E or Control + Shift + Alt + E). Both will resize the image to fill the entire frame but have either the frame or the image as main focus. Try them and see for yourself. You will find also the icons in the upper right side of the InDesign interface as show in the image below:
In addition to that you might also need to alter the dimensions of the image to fit the margins you set up for the document or simply because you want to make it bigger or smaller. To resize the artwork, but not the frame, double click on the image. A brown frame will appear around the artwork. The Shift-drag a corner handle of this frame to resize the artwork proportionately. You can also change the dimensions (‘W’ for width and ‘H’ for height) proportionally and its position (‘X’ and ‘Y’) through the top bar, as shown in the image below. Again, hitting the chain icon will ensure that all dimension will be proportional to its actual size.
As far as the text is concerned, I copied it and pasted it from a previous file so I won’t extend on text in this post. If you have any questions about it, please let me know in the comments.
STEP 3 - create the pdf file
To create a high quality pdf file, before we actually export the document, it is very important that we make sure that images and text are at their optimal state for printing purposes. Here are two considerations:
Regarding images we must double-check their resolution and color mode. You want to make sure that all your images are, at least, 300 dpi –preferably 600 dpi for art prints and that are in CMYK color mode which you can convert through Photoshop. Most printer will work with CMYK and will convert your RBG images to CMYK anyway. By doing it yourself you have more control over the result. However, it is always useful to check the printer’s specifications (either online or offline printers) so that you have all the information on how to adjust your images.
As far as text goes, I will try not to complicate things too much for you on this post. Again, it would be useful to ask the printer how to handle fonts since, in some instances, a print company would want you to supply the fonts you have used (if they are not standard fonts) or to have your fonts outlined in order to still be able to print the document without having the font installed on their systems. This last step, at least from my experience was the norm to ensure fonts don’t change during the printing process. If you have ever experienced that kind of errors, you might want to outline the fonts. This is a process that transforms any font into basically graphic vectors so that it is no longer editable text. If you do this, please make sure that you save an editable version of your file in case you need to make any changes in the text. The process then is quite simple, you select all the text and then click Type > Create Outlines (Cmd + Shift + O or Control + Shift + O). Here is an example of what it would look like:
At this stage, we are now ready to FINALLY create the pdf file 🎉We will now select File > Export (Cmd + E or Control + E) and also select Format: Adobe PDF (Print) before we hit Save. Here is the interface that will appear:
You will be shown the parameters of your document and options for your PDF. So, before you hit Export, we should go through some standard specifications.
First, at the top of this window, you will see Adobe PDF Preset. A preset is a group of predefined settings that define the PDF characteristics. These settings are designed to balance file size with quality, depending on how the PDF is used. In this case, I chose ‘High Quality Print’ to ensure good definition and result. This would automatically create a PDF in which images will have at least 300 dpi resolution.
Then, in the category ‘General’, you must make sure that ‘All’ and ‘Pages’ are selected. Unless you are exporting a book or magazine, you don’t need spreads and, unless you want to print just a portion of the document, you should have all the pages as a default setting.
Another category to check would be ‘Marks and Bleeds’ as an important part of the printing process. These marks and bleeds will help the printer know where the document ends and how the paper should be cut into the measures you desire. To ensure that, double check that at least ‘Crop Marks’ are selected and that you are either using your document’s bleed measures (which we established in the beginning) or that you have at least have 3 mm (preferably 5 mm) in all margins of the document.
Again the main reason for the bleed is that printers cannot print all the way to the edge of the paper. So for a job to be accurately printed we must add an extended area past the final size of the document so that if the printing machine goes off by a fraction of a millimeter when it cuts the paper, there won’t be any white edges showing.
Once that we double checked that, we can again FINALLY hit Export. We made it! We created a PDF!
Here is a basic example of what it should look like:
And here is the final result. Not bad, huh? 😜
As I mentioned in the beginning, I hope you found this Step by Step post helpful with your PDFs. I tried to include as many explanations as possible so that you could get proper information to support each step. I know it is a long post but the creation of PDFs is no pickle! This is a simpler process, as it can get even more complicated for larger publications or documents. It is a process that I repeated many many times throughout my graphic designer career so that I am sharing all I learnt from that experience.
If you want to further asses the quality of my PDFs you can order one of these lovely postcards!
Thank you for reading!