How to set up an InDesign file for print

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.

Learn to Design a Letterhead – Free Beginners Course

If you are just starting out in design or are thinking about learning, you might want to check out my FREE – Learn to Design a Letterhead Course.

In this free letterhead design course you will learn about

  • Common positioning of letterhead elements
  • How to sketch out your letterhead ideas
  • How to add small details that add that extra something to your design
  • Some tricks of the graphic design trade
  • How to get your letterhead ready for print

You will also get a downloadable pdf with each section that you can keep and use for reference.

By the end of the course you will be able to design a letterhead from sketch to sending it out for print

Visit to get free access to the course.

Logo Design Tutorial Exercise 3 for Complete Beginners

For more tips on learning design straight to your inbox click here

When you are working on a logo design project:

1. First you will have taken a design brief

Read Why is a Design Brief so Important

2. Then done some research and started brainstorming

You can read a bit about doing some basic research in Logo Design Tutorial to Design a Charity Logo
See an example of brainstorming in one of the the previous Logo Design Tutorials

3. Sometimes a moodboard will help you find the right feel for a logo

Logo design Mood Board

You may find the odd project where you really struggle for ideas or to work out the right sort of “feel” for the logo. This is where moodboards can come in.

If you haven’t heard of moodboards before they are traditionally big boards (pieces of mountboard or card) which are filled with images, bits of type, perhaps colours and anything which you feel is in the direction of the type of design you are trying to achieve.

When I produce moodboards I generally get together any leaflets I have lying around, buy magazines which I feel fit with the type of market or niche I am designing for and rip out bits and pieces that I like and then paste them on to a big board. I might also include images, logos and type that I find online and print out. There is something about the act of getting away from the computer and really looking at other images that really helps to get you mind going again. Once the moodboard/s are complete you can then use them alongside your brainstorms to stimulate logo ideas. Perhaps you might really like the way a piece of typography works or a colour combination on some of the bits you have torn out.

If you are pushed for time (and I use this method too) you can always create digital moodboards or image collections. The simplest way is to simply collect together images you find on the web download them to a folder on your machine and then pull them all in to a program like iphoto so you can view them all at once (a bit like a moodboard). If you prefer you could alternatively drop the images into layout design software, or if you are using an iPhone or ipad use an app like the aptly named Moodboard.

ipadd app moodboard

Still stuck?

Try out some of these other creative exercises

See Also

Logo Design Tutorial 1
Logo Design Tutorial 2

learn logo design online

Logo Design Tutorial Exercise 2 for Complete Beginners

For more tips on learning design straight to your inbox click here

This is the second logo design tutorial, which is again aimed at complete beginners. The exercises are designed to break down the thinking behind designing a logo into bite size chunks. Don’t forget to check out the first logo tutorial too.

This logo design exercise will allow you to concentrate on another important aspect of logo design which is to start looking for suitable fonts/typefaces. As with the first logo tutorial we are again going to use the two words we used previously. If you didn’t do the previous exercise choose 2 words which are different to each other (ie. Dog and cat, angel and devil)

Logo Design Tutorial Exercise 2

1. Think about what sort of typeface/font might represent the words well.

Taking the word “angel” for example we might look for typefaces/fonts which are very round, or light weight or simple. The word “devil” on the other hand conjures up a much harsher, perhaps heavier or angular typeface/font.

2. Try out different fonts

You can of course look through the fonts on your machine and test out different fonts, but for this exercise I am going to suggest you go over to which offers variety of fonts free to download. The great thing about Dafont is that it allows you go type in your chosen words (you have to first choose from one of the type categories) and then see how they look in each of the fonts.

looking for fonts to for Angel Logo Tutorial

3. Always remember as with most things simple is generally best

You can see below some more unusual fonts used to spell out Devil. Some look really interesting in themselves, but remember to use them sparingly. In most cases it’s best to avoid crazy over the top fonts, especially especially Comic Sans and stick with much simpler ones.

Fancy fonts for Devil logo

4. Download a selection of the best fonts

Once you have found several fonts you feel are appropriate download them and test them out in Illustrator (Inkscape is free vector software you can use and an alternative.) Why not also experiment to see if you can combine them with some of the elements from the first logo tutorial.

Hopefully this exercise has got you thinking more about choosing appropriate fonts. There is much more we can delve into regarding using fonts in future logo design exercises.

Note: If in future you intend to use any of the fonts from Dafont for paid commercial use make sure you check the licenses on the fonts – not all fonts may be used for commercial work without permission.

learn logo design online

Logo Design Tutorial Exercise 1 for Complete Beginners

If you are a complete beginner looking for logo design tutorials you probably have found a few different blog posts on the logo design process and even a few walk through tutorials showing the start and finish point of logo design. This is all very well but if you are anything like I was when I first started learning graphic design (years and years ago) it’s all a bit overwhelming. One of the things that could help you is to break down the logo design process into small exercises where you don’t feel pressured and you don’t have to show anyone (including a client) your logo design results.

Here’s one logo design tutorial exercise which could start your mind thinking more in the way a designer does when they are working on logo designs.

Logo Design Tutorial Exercise 1

1. Start by thinking of a couple of words, ideally that are the opposite or very different from each other
For example Dog and Cat or Devil and Angel

2. Quickly brainstorm each word – using mind mapping techniques.
You can do this by starting with your word written in the middle of the page and then spring off of that other related words. So in the case of the word Angel, I might have wings, halo harp etc etc. If you prefer you can use mind mapping software to do a similar exercise. You can also try other creative techniques to generate more ideas.

Angel logo design tutorial mindmap

3. Take these two words and sketch them very basically on a piece of paper or type them in on the computer if you prefer

4. Now by adding just one or two shapes or lines make these words have some resemblance or association to what they are.
These do not need to be polished, they can just be very rough and sketchy as mine are below 🙂 . You are simply using this exercise to work out the logo ideas for your own benefit, just as a graphic designer would create rough ideas that the client would never see before they moved on to the more polished options they would present

Angel devil logo design sketches for tutorial

5. Repeat the exercise above to see how many options you can create. As a slight variance try to use just the first letter of the words in the same way.

6. Take your favourite logo options, scan them into your computer and have a go at working them up using a vector program such as illustrator
If you are looking for free vector software try Inkscape.

Don’t worry about using fancy typefaces, just use something basic for now like Arial or Helvetica. This gives you less to worry about and allows you to concentrate on the shapes. When you get more experienced you can experiment with fonts but keep it simple for now and concentrate on one thing at a time. Start in black and white and only when you are completely happy you can choose then to use one or two colours.

logo tutorial options worked up on computer

If you likes this logo design exercise you may want to check out my logo design course

Beginners may also want to check out the sample logo design briefs I have put together:

Design Exercise: Logo Design/Redesign
Sample Brief: Design a Garden Centre Logo

Posts with Logo Design Tutorials from around the Blogosphere

Smashing Magazine’s 60+ Beautiful Logo Design Tutorials And Resources
Logo Design Process and Walkthrough for Vivid Ways
The Logo Design Process of Top Logo Designers
Step by Step Logo

Learning Graphic Design Online From Home Without Spending A Fortune

Learning graphic design online from home without spending a fortune is now far more feasible than it was a few years ago. There are several online colleges offering graphic design courses but the problem with a lot of these are they are very expensive. If you can’t afford or haven’t got the time available to study graphic design at college or university there are now cost effective options.

Learning graphic design online from home with video training

If you want to learn logo design check out my video course for beginners now offers video training in Graphic Design NOT JUST how to use the Software

learning logo design video

You may have already heard of they have been offering video based courses in many different design programs which is great but they didn’t really have anything to teach you the principles of design. Fortunately this has all changed and they now include courses such as

Along with this they also feature videos of creative inspirations where artists and designers discuss their work. offers subscriptions starting at $25 month where you can watch their entire video library. is available on a subscription basis of $25 month to watch all their video collection. You can get a free 24 hour pass to here

Learning graphic design using sample design briefs

Once you have a good understanding of design and layout the best thing to do is start practicing, on graphic design blog I have a section with sample design briefs which you can try or alternatively you can write your own briefs.

Graphic design software

Try to learn the main graphic design packages if you can afford to, most give educational dicounts or at least let you download trial versions. For print Quark or Indesign, Photoshop and Illustrator. For Web you might look at Dreamweaver or Flash or just use a text editor. If you can’t afford the main packages you could look at open source options shown in the video below.

Getting help learning graphic design

There are a few graphic design forums if you need someone to help you. Take a look at my design resources page (near the bottom of the page) where you will find a list of design forums. My design resources page also has a good list of places you can find cheap and free royalty free images to use in your designs.

Keeping up with what’s happening in graphic design

There are a lot of great graphic design blogs that provide excellent information to help you learn graphic design as do graphic design books. Also don’t forget printed magazines, the majority include tutorials Computer Arts, Net Magazine, Web Designer Magazine, Creative Review (inspiration rather than tutorials).

With a lot of hard work you can teach yourself graphic design