Print Design For Everyone
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Print design: a little harder to teach than digital
Recently, I’ve spent some time in both print and digital environments with first-time InDesign users. There’s a marked difference in how easy its been to teach people to use InDesign for digital environments vs. print. InDesign has always felt like a steeper learning curve than other programs I’ve used – it took 13+ iterations and two failed proof rounds for me to get my first menu design finalized back in 2011.
Print design requires a little more technical understanding and consideration, whereas most people can make relatively decent digital creatives out-of-the-box with programs like Canva. With digital, you know your content is ending up on some kind of screen so (beyond the usual design considerations) all you really need to worry about is the resolution you’re designing at.
Print is a different ballgame because the challenge is in translating your on-screen work to physical textures and objects. Is your design going on a mug? Now you need to work around curved surfaces. Is it going on a banner? Paper? Plastic? Textiles? Packaging? A car? Glued on to billboards? Wrought-iron signage? Keyrings? The possibilities are endless.
So, being around print first-timers reminded me of the hiccups I experienced when first getting into print design. I would’ve wanted a guide like this.
Common print design mistakes
Something is Missing, Alas Why
Adobe InDesign, like its sibling Photoshop, works with layers. Users migrating from a digital environment to print are generally comfortable with this concept, but first-time designers are often confused when something is missing from their design (literally, a layer is missing).
A really easy way to make sure you include absolutely everything is to ask Adobe InDesign to export all layers, visible or not.
I Can See Printer Dot Patterns
So you have some vector illustrations and assets that are all high-res, in the correct file format, same color profile as your doc. You’ve exported a proof, it looks good. But you’re looking at the print right now and its either…faded, or there’s a ton of cyan, magenta and yellow dots visible to your naked eye.
If you’ve been here, you’ve probably designed at too low PPI, resulting in too low DPI when printing. There are too few dots on your page to give you the ink coverage you want. Design at 300 DPI as a minimum.
Always check objects contained in your .indd file are of a similar resolution. It doesn’t have to be exact but if something is particularly low-res in comparison, it’ll print blurry. The resolution of objects used is relative to the final size of your printed design, but go high where you can.
There Are White Lines Around My Design
So, you’ve created a design to be printed on A5, and you wanted the design to extend to the edges of the paper. The proof PDF looked fine, but when you’re looking at the final product, you’ve got ugly and potentially irregular width lines around extending past your design.
You missed bleeds! Bleeds marks protect against misalignment when your paper is cut, i.e. if you don’t get an exact cut, your design will still extend to the edges of the paper. 3mm is fairly standard for flyers, posters and the like. I personally increase this to 5mm for atypical paper sizes.
Wait, Why Is There A White Border Around This Object
If your exported PDF has odd-looking white borders around objects imported into your .indd file, it’s likely InDesign doesn’t know where the linked file is. Ideally you should see a preflight error message, i.e. a warning popup before you export. As a fetus designer in 2013, I completely ignored these warnings, but they’re here to help.
All you need to do is double tap the object that has a yellow hazard sign next to it. If this doesn’t relink it, you can manually tell InDesign where in the Links Directory this file is located (in the same way you’d select a file to upload).
Also, please have a links directory set up. This is a folder that contains all objects imported into your .indd design that haven’t been created directly in InDesign. This is a companion folder that goes wherever your .indd file goes.
Slightly interesting print design mistakes
The Color I’m Seeing Is Not What It Should Be
Color spaces are a relatively technical aspect of print design. Beyond the basics of CMYK for print, and RGB for digital, I didn’t really pay much attention to color management until Apple came out with the P3 color space (a really great short video explanation from WWDC 2017). Unsurprisingly, a working knowledge of color management is actually really important for print designers! Suddenly, I understood why colors ‘looked off’ even when the CMYK values were what I intended for them to be. I now pay a lot of attention to color management, and I’ve even written a mini guide for myself on this topic.
A lot of first-time print designers tend to grab assets from the web or take screenshots off their phones and stick these directly into their .indd file and links directory. Sometimes they’ll go the extra mile and convert the asset to a .tiff. Unfortunately unless the asset you’re using shares a color space and profile with your InDesign document, you’re not going to see the colors you want to. I see a lot of frustration when a vivid RGB object like a logo or photo looks “greyed out” once printed. This is simply because of the difference in color space from RGB to CMYK.
So, how do you fix this? Set your color settings in InDesign to the default for your printer or region (I use Coated FOGRA39 ISO 12647 -2:2004 unless I know my destination printer wants something else). Then either create assets directly in this color space in InDesign or another program, or convert imported object files into the correct color space. The latter is not technically a perfect solution, but its so close the untrained eye won’t be able to spot the difference. If you’re importing .eps or .ai objects in directly, make sure they were created in the same color space and share a profile with your .indd doc.
Make it your life’s mission to use color values, so CMYK, RGB or hexademicemal values. Avoid color sample or picker tools at all costs.
I once worked with a company where the .eps logo was designed in sRGB with a slightly incorrect hex value for their primary color. A junior designer converted this logo to a .tiff, in the CMYK space for a print flyer. When paired with copy, also in their primary color, in the design – the color of the logo and copy didn’t match. But they had the same CMYK value! To understand why, I inspected the source file of the company’s color logo, only to find the original logo designer had got the primary color wrong in the actual .eps. They’d color picked it from the website, with the color picker tool. Don’t be that logo designer.
P.S. I like this website for paper size dimensions and this one for sneaky tips on using InDesign
“MS Paint and a humble HP LaserJet are as valid design tools as InDesign and a risograph”