A guest post by José Calvo, writing on behalf of South East Labels

Creating media ready for professional printing is something that many vaguely wonder about, but never actually do. While it’s all well and good having the skills to generate eye-catching posters or super-slick brochures, to make them pay you also need the ability to set up the files properly. Happily, for users of InDesign, this process is relatively easy.

Getting the colour right

Start by choosing CMYK colour mode when creating a document. This is necessary because many of the colours created in RGB mode aren’t achievable using the standard four-colour printing process. Using CMYK thus gives a more accurate representation of the final printed product.

In dealings with a printer, designers might hear the term ‘four over four’ or ‘4/4’. This simply refers to four colours on the front and four colours on the back – a typically request for a flyer. A poster on the other hand would typically need 4/0 as there are no colours on the back.

Those new to the printing game would be wise to avoid lavishly coloured designs for their first few jobs. It’s far cheaper to create 2/0 sheet labels or business cards, and there’s consequently less to lose if something goes wrong.

new indesign document

Press “Ctrl + n” or “Command + n”. Within the new document dialog box, choose the “Print” option

Variations on black

There are two types of black that can be used when printing black. The standard ‘Rich black’ is defined as 40 C 40 M 40 Y 100 K, and should be used for printing blocks of black. ‘Black’ is 0 C 0 M 0 Y 100 K, and creates a flatter tone more suited for body copy and barcodes.

black and rick black for print

Important: Some print shops specify a different mix for the Rich Black

Understanding layout

Printers like to be given a margin of error, which is known as ‘bleed’. It’s an extension of a design that is intended to be cut off. Artwork should extend into the bleed area to ensure that no unprinted edges occur when the document is finally trimmed to size. The minimum bleed needed for a printed piece is 0.125 in (1/8in), but check with the printer beforehand.

Within the bleed area is the ‘live area’. This is where the essential body of the artwork is placed. Anything beyond the edge of the live area may or may not be lost, so make sure to stay within the boundaries. The trim line is between the bleed area and the live area, and indicates where the final cuts will be made.

The best way to become familiar with the terms described here is to play with some of the various templates that can be downloaded for free.

bleed and slug in print

The “bleed and slug” option becomes available when you click on “More options”, within the “New document” window. All these settings can be adjusted later wshortcut CTRL + Alt + P).

Choosing images

While getting the aesthetic right is obviously important, don’t be tempted to opt for images with a low resolution just because they look good. Commercial printers typically require higher resolution images than those viewed only on a monitor. It’s best to err on the side of caution and only deal with images of at least 225 ppi. Use the ‘Info panel’ tool to check image resolution.

Making a package

To package files using InDesign, go to ‘Package’ in the ‘File’ menu (shortcut Alt + Shift + Ctrl + P). This will make a summary screen appear, where the designer can check the colours, image sizes, fonts etc. If all looks well, click on the ‘Package’ button. All that’s left to do then is zip up the folder and send it off to the printer.

package in Indesign

Final words

The printing process is initially often nerve-wracking, as mistakes can be costly. First-timers should contact their printer from the outset to clarify exactly what’s required. Companies such as South East Labels are happy to offer pre-press advice.