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Design A Print-Ready Promotional Ad Using Photoshop and Illustrator

Today, we’ll look at what it’s like to develop print material in cooperation with a major marketing company for top-name brands and retailers using Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. For anyone in the print industry, we’ll share methods and resources that you’ll hopefully find helpful. For others, this article will shed light on what it’s like to work for a design firm. You’ll gain in-depth insight not only into the methods of professional print designers but also into the marketing implications of their work.

You might be interested in the following related posts:

The World Of Print Promotional Advertising Link

Though many newcomers to the design industry lean towards Web design, professional print design is still very much a viable alternative. Despite declining print sales of magazines and newspapers, print-based marketing (such as for in-store signage, direct-mail campaigns and free-standing inserts) doesn’t seem to be going anywhere soon. If anything, the industry is eager to hire talent from the next generation to bring much-needed fresh ideas and innovation to the table.

Shopper Marketing 101 Link

The particular area of print design that we’ll be delving into today goes by several names: “shopper marketing,” “co-marketing,” etc. Whichever buzz term you prefer, what is basically meant is a kind of partnership between brands and retailers to better target customers across all fronts, both in-store and outside.

What this generally looks like is this: a given retailer, such as Wal-Mart, will partner with a given brand, such as Coke, to announce a sale, distribute a coupon, reveal a new product launch, etc. The practical and unfortunate implication of this partnership for you as a designer is that you now have two masters to please.


Every major brand name has a personality to go with it. A brand is typically made up of very specific messaging targeted to a specific audience, as well as a locked-in visual theme containing certain fonts, pre-built art, photography and packaged shots. Returning to the example above, Coke has one of the biggest brands on the planet and is very picky about how that brand is represented. Likewise, Wal-Mart is one of the biggest retailers on the planet, and no matter what the brand managers at Coke say, the Wal-Mart brand must also be presented in a very particular way.

As you can see, conflicts between the two are bound to arise in every area of the design. The job of a shopper marketing designer is to balance these often contradictory sets of rules and create something that pleases both parties.

The Job Link

Imagine you are sitting at your desk in the trendy office space of a marketing company in LA. A typical request will specify, among other things, the product to be featured, the retailer, the terms of the sale or offer and the print vendor. Today, you are given the following information:

  • Product: OangeSoda brand 12 oz bottles, original flavor
  • Retailer: BuyLots
  • Offer: Save $1 on purchase of three (with coupon)
  • Specs: Valassis full-page free-standing insert (FSI)

From this list, we can already glean several steps to get on our way. Let’s look at a few of these.

1. Obtain Resources Link

We will have to gather several resources before designing. In an ideal world, everything you need would be either located on a company server, to which you would be granted access, or already stored on your hard drive from recent jobs. However, this is not an ideal world, and you will rarely get everything so easily. Fortunately, there are a few places to go for help.

Product Shots Link

The Web’s best one-stop shop for free, high-resolution, manufacturer-approved product shots is Kwikee (from MultiAd). The website is the holy grail for print designers who work with notable brands, because it eliminates a ton of red tape in finding the right contact at an organization to obtain package shots.

Kwikee, free product images.

The sign-up process is simple and free, so if you ever work with consumer brands, be sure to check it out. Finding the right product is as easy as using a search engine and selecting a file format to download (usually EPS or JPG). One of the best things about Kwikee is that its files not only are high resolution but contain clipping paths as well, saving you plenty of tedious Pen Tool time when you’re up against a deadline.

Logos Link

The story with logos is the same as that of product shots. Sometimes you’ll already have them; much of the time you won’t. While Kwikee has many logos to accompany its stockpile of product shots, the first place I turn to for logos is Brands of the World.

Brands of the World: free vector logos.

Just like Kwikee, Brands of the World is a simple search engine. All downloads are free and nearly always in vector EPS or AI format (although you have to jump through some annoying hoops to find the download links). The quality varies greatly because many of the logos are provided by users and therefore are not official artwork. For the most part, the artwork is useable, with little to no clean up needed; occasionally you’ll come across an item that needs so much repair that you’d be better off starting from scratch.

Ad Specs Link

The requirements above call for a Valassis full-page FSI. (Valassis is a popular distributor of these types of marketing material.) To obtain the specs for this ad, just stop by its website and locate the production templates.

Page specs for Valassis, a popular advertising vendor.

In this case, we’re looking for the “Super Page” template. Clicking on this gives us the specs for the ad. We see from the resulting PDF that the trim size is 7″ x 10.25″. The live area is 6.75″ x 10″.

If you’re confused, the trim area is basically the ad size (i.e. what the paper will be trimmed to), and the live area is an invisible box inside which all of your art and text should stay to prevent them from getting too close to the edge. At this point, we could simply download and use the template, but we’ll build one from scratch instead.

Miscellaneous Brand Resources Link

Now that you’ve collected most of the things you need to get started, the only thing left to do is familiarize yourself with the brand you’ll be working on and obtain any necessary resources (spot colors, art, etc).

Many major brands have built a “brand bible” to aid designers through this process. This is usually a PDF or PowerPoint presentation that walks through the do’s and don’ts of working with the brand. If you don’t have this document, check out the brand’s website and/or get ahold of some recent ads to get a feel for how it markets itself.

For this project, the requirements for the “OangeSoda” brand are that the product shot must be the “hero” of the ad and placed on a black background. The messaging must be related to beverage’s ingredients and written in the approved OangeSoda font (which is ChunkFive). Similarly, the retailer’s requirements are that a store logo must be shown and that Helvetica must be used for all messaging and appear in the official BuyLots red (24, 100, 92, 20).

As you can see, we’re already looking at a potential conflict because both parties require their own font (the colors could also present complications). We’ll have to consider this as we design the ad and figure out a way to please both parties.

2. Lay Out The Ad Link

When you’re working with very specific rules, creating an ad is almost never as simple as opening Photoshop and getting started. The red tape and resource collection is a necessary part of the job and often overlooked. Now that we’ve completed these steps, we’re ready to start the ad-building process.

Customized Workflow Link

The workflow below has been heavily customized. While many advertising designers use InDesign for page layout, today we’ll use Illustrator. InDesign and Illustrator each has its pros and cons, and it comes down to preference and the specifics of the job.

InDesign would be a wise choice if you are designing something that has 10 or more pages. Working with multiple art boards and files in Illustrator can be more trouble than doing it in a simple multi-page InDesign document. Fortunately today, we’re building only a single-page ad, so Illustrator will be perfect.

Design professionals also tend to keep all of their resources as separate files, which they then place into the page layout document. For instance, they’ll have bottle.psd for the product, logo.eps for the retailer logo, background.psd for the background layer, etc. While this simplifies the layout process because all of the elements can be shuffled in a single application, it usually results in an Illustrator (or InDesign) file that is cluttered with externally linked files. When they send the job to a printer, someone has to manually locate and relink all of the separate files to ensure that everything is present.

Although this is the industry-standard way of doing things, it’s a bit sloppy. Today, we’ll take the high road and build one single Photoshop document, which we’ll place as a linked file in one Illustrator document. This will no doubt feel strange to designers who are used to the traditional way, but it keeps things far tidier and makes print vendors incredibly happy.

Build the Template in Illustrator Link

The ad requirements specify a trim size of 7″ x 10.25″ and a live area of 6.75″ x 10″. Go into Illustrator and create a document with these specs.

Create a 7″ x 10.25″ Illustrator document.

Notice that I’ve thrown in a 1/8th-inch bleed as well. Most of the time when building an FSI, a bleed is not necessary, but we’ll include one just to be thorough.

Now, go into the Layers palette and set up three layers: Text&Art, Guides and PSD. If you’re used to working with Photoshop, you might think that everything should be on its own layer. But that’s simply not a good way to work with vectors or page layout elements. Grouping everything onto only a few different layers makes organization easier to follow.

Create three layers.

With the Guides layer selected, grab the Rectangle Tool (M) and click once on the art board. Use the resulting dialog to create a box the size of our live area.

Make a rectangle for the live area.

Center this box on the page and convert it to a guide using ⌘ + 5 (Control + 5 on a PC).

Center the rectangle on the art board.

The final step in setting up the template is to create a little informational tag to serve as a reference for anyone who opens the file. Place this just outside the art board and bleed area.

Write a quick reference line with document specs.

Almost everything in here is self-explanatory. Include some basic information on the file, the trim size, the specs and the current date. The “4/0 CMYK” part tells the print vendor that the ad will be printed in CMYK and is single-sided (i.e. four colors on one side, zero on the other). Now save this file and open up Photoshop.

Create the Photoshop Template Link

Go into Photoshop and create a document that is big enough to accommodate the bleed. In this case, we’ll need a 7.25″ x 10.5″ canvas. Make sure you’re building at 300 DPI and in CMYK; both are standard in print (unless you’re printing in large format, in which case the DPI tends to be closer to 150).

Create the PSD.

Set up some guides in Photoshop for the trim and live area to help you stay within the required space of your design. After you put the guides in place, fill the background with a rich black (e.g. 75, 68, 67, 90), and save the file.

Place the PSD in Illustrator Link

Now go back to Illustrator, select the PSD layer, and go to File → Place. Navigate to the folder where you put the PSD, and center it in the Illustrator art board. Make sure to add the file as a “link” so that it updates in Illustrator as we edit in Photoshop.

Place the PSD in the Illustrator file.

Illustrator vs. Photoshop Link

As you know, Photoshop is for raster artwork, while Illustrator is for vector. This will determine what we build in each program. We’ll use Illustrator for text and custom vectors, while keeping product shots in Photoshop.

Still, these clear lines will need to be crossed in a few places, particularly when our Photoshop art has to go over our vector art. In such cases, we’ll build the element in Illustrator and then import it into Photoshop as a Smart Object. This will make more sense later as we get into the design.

Create the Coupon Area Link

Next, in Illustrator, create a white rectangle that’s a little narrower than the live area and about 2.45″ tall. Then add a dashed black stroke to the rectangle.

Create a dashed rectangle for the coupon.

A few elements are found in just about every manufacturer’s coupon. These include a bar code, legal copy and an expiration date. These are all very situation-specific and would be provided with the job information. For our purposes, we’ll throw in some placeholder elements there. Keep in mind that these elements have strict size restrictions. While they vary by company and brand, barcodes are usually not scaled down (bar code software creates them at the correct size), and legal copy is often set at 6 points or larger.

Arrange the standard coupon elements.

Next, we’ll go through the seemingly strange step of cutting and pasting that coupon box (just the box, not the other elements) into Photoshop. Try to position it in roughly the same spot so that your coupon elements align right. We’re doing this so that placing images on top later will be easier.

Paste the coupon box into Photoshop as a vector Smart Object.

Now, save the Photoshop job and jump back to Illustrator to make sure everything is aligned correctly. Again, this workflow might seem a little wonky at first, but in the end it’s quite orderly and makes good sense.

Add the Product Shot Link

Next on the to-do list is throwing your Kwikee product shot over the coupon. Remember that the ad specs require the product to be the hero, so it has to be as large as possible. Below, I’ve doctored a fake OangeSoda bottle from a Flickr image that I found.

(Image source6)

Notice that I’ve made the product quite large within the available space, while still giving it ample breathing room on all sides.

Add Some Flair Link

To visually emphasize the focus on natural ingredients, we’ll add some organic-looking graphics. To accomplish this, go into Illustrator and draw a small circle. Then grab the right-most point of the circle and drag it right a bit. Finally, convert it from a curve to a point, using the button in the menu shown below.

Create the shape above and drag it to the brushes palette.

Now, drag this little graphic to your brushes palette and then apply the settings below.

Create the shape above and drag it to the brushes palette.

Finally, use the spiral tool in conjunction with the brush that you just made to make some curly vine shapes. Make a few of different sizes, expand the strokes, and connect them using the pathfinder (make a couple of variations). Granted, oranges grow on trees, not vines, but the point is to emphasize the beverage’s naturalness, so anything that could be branches or leaves will work.

Use these options for the brush.

Now go into Photoshop and place your swirly branches behind the bottle as smart objects. This retains the editable vector aspect while giving you the ability to layer it with Photoshop art. Use color overlays and inner shadows to give it the dark sinister look below.

Place the branches behind the bottle and add layer effects.

3. Add Text Link

Almost there! Next, let’s go into Illustrator and add some text to our Text&Art layer. First, go to FontSquirrel and download ChunkFive7, the font specified in the instructions.

To make both parties (the retailer and the OangeSoda brand) happy, we’ll apply each set of directions to the most appropriate part of the ad. For the coupon, we’ll use the BuyLots font, color and logo because this is where the retail aspect of the ad has the most focus. For the branding portion that we worked on above, we’ll stick to the OangeSoda font and colors.

Using the ChunkFive font, type some copy in the top-right and bottom-left of the bottle. Use size and color to differentiate keywords.

Place text at the top and bottom of the bottle.

Finally, add the terms of the offer and the retailer logo to the coupon (remember to use Helvetica and the BuyLots red).

Add the terms of the offer and the retailer logo to the coupon.

Coupon Product Shots Link

To finish the coupon, go into Photoshop and duplicate the bottle image. Make the new bottle layer small and place it on the right side of the coupon, above the barcode area. Duplicate this layer twice. Because the offer is good only when you buy three bottles, showing three bottles will make for a quicker visual read of the coupon.

Finish the coupon with some product shots.

Save the Photoshop file and look at Illustrator for the final effect. Notice that I’ve intentionally intruded on the coupon space a bit. This is one of those circumstances where breaking a rule is okay if it is intentional and purposeful. Popping the bottles out of the coupon makes for a bit of a visual distraction that brings the eye down to the coupon.

Final Image Link

The final product.

With that, our design is finished! Below is a quick visual guide to what we did in Illustrator and what we did in Photoshop, and how we brought them together to create the result.

Illustrator vs. Photoshop elements.

The trick here is turning very specific and even conflicting instructions into something attractive and creative, and using only two files (plus fonts), which will be collected to be sent out.

4. Prepare For Launch Link

After the initial design, the artwork will be sent off as a JPG or PDF to various parties to be inspected for approval. After a few rounds of changes, the files will be ready to send to the printer. Printers commonly request files in one of two ways: as fully layered files or as a print-ready PDF. Let’s look at the easiest one first.

Many print vendors choose to forgo the complications of folders full of files and simply print from a high-resolution PDF. This is a wonderfully simple method that works just fine.

To make a print-ready PDF in Illustrator, go to the “Save As” dialog and choose PDF as the file type. Then hit “Save.” The next window that pops up will display various settings related to the quality of the PDF. Fortunately, Illustrator is built with a perfect print-ready PDF preset. Just select “Press Quality” from the drop-down menu at the top and save the file. This single PDF can now be sent to the printer all by itself, with no fonts, links or other external files.

Layered Files Link

As proof that Adobe doesn’t really believe that many designers use Illustrator for page layout, it has neglected to include a “Collect for Output” feature as you would find in InDesign. You could manually prepare all the files in a few minutes, but if you want a better solution and use a Mac, check out Art Files8 from Code-Line. This amazingly simple application allows you to just drag an AI file to the open window, and it automatically collects any related fonts and placed images.

Art Files, the missing Illustrator “Collect for Output.”

Notice that the resulting collection is very basic. When the printer or another designer opens the ZIP file, they’ll see one Illustrator file, one Photoshop file and some font files. No clutter to speak of.

A simple, easy-to-grasp file hierarchy.

This is the same principle followed by website coders when they advocate for clean, organized code that is easily sortable by future maintainers. Print designers should apply this principle to their layering methods in both Photoshop and Illustrator (i.e. in naming and organizing all of the layers), as well as to the resulting file hierarchy. The simpler the system, the less time you’ll waste answering questions and trouble-shooting for anyone who wants to work on your files.

Conclusion Link

We’ve looked briefly at the world of print-based retail marketing. We saw that promotional print designers must deal with several complications beyond design, including resource gathering and working with multiple partners. Finally, we examined common print practices regarding ad layout, and we presented a unique method of integrating and organizing files using Photoshop and Illustrator synergistically. Hopefully now, you feel more confident creating your own print-ready promotional ad.

Helpful Resources Link


Footnotes Link

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Josh Johnson is the Product Manager for Creative Market. He's also a writer, designer, and photographer, and currently lives in Phoenix.

  1. 1

    Great article. An even simpler method would be to do everything in Photoshop, including the copy, then when saving the print-ready PDF un-check “layers” and make sure to “include vector data.” Any fonts and vector “shapes” created in Photoshop will retain their vector crispness in the PDF. You can copy/paste vector shapes from illustrator to PS and retain vector data as well, however PS will rasterize any created “vector objects” when saving the PDF copy, so you have to paste as a shape to keep the vector data. But the main lesson is you CAN have a very efficient Photoshop-only ad workflow, I’ve done it for my magazine for at least the last five years and my printer loves the simplicity!

    • 2

      It’s far more efficient using the correct app rather than using Photoshop because it’s familiar. It’ll do the job, hell I’m sure if you have the time you could use Word and Paint (maybe not) but the get my point.

      Photoshop hasn’t been designed for layouts, grids, typography (particularly in bulk).

      I think it also come down to experience i.e being a trained/qualified designer vs self taught and fully understanding the reasons behind soing certain things in particular art direction and typography.

    • 3

      I too have been publishing magazines for over 5 years and design all my ads in Photoshop.
      Once you get used to the quirky typography issue it becomes easier and you never have to worry about font issues with printers. I save all my ads as flattened eps’s and import them to Quark (old user who hasn’t switched), then save the overall magazine as a pdf to be sent to the printer. Watch out for black or dark text on white or light colored background if you are have your stuff printed on a web press as the cmyk and can cause registration issues. Those are best done as a spot color or designed in your page layout.

  2. 4

    Great Tut. I use Illustrator for layout myself on most things with less than 3 pages. It does confuse me when some “graphic artists” insist illustrator is not for layout and insist we use indesign. So I should create in illustrator then place in indesign just for fun when indesign isn’t necessary?
    Honestly, if you don’t understand why InDesign, Illustrator, and occasionally Photoshop are used beyond what Adobe labels then as; you should really seek another line of work.

    • 5

      I think sometimes people get too wrapped up in their own processes and personal best practices. They can forget that these programs are just tools to do a job. I have created ads in purely photoshop, purely illustrator, purely indesign, even quark, and every combination therein. And you know what, they all turned out just fine. It comes down to the quality of the work and the design, the tool is just a tool.

      With that said, I still think inDesign would be the preferred way to put the ad together, but I’m not going to hold it against the author for not doing so.

  3. 7

    Joshua Johnson

    May 14, 2010 10:19 am

    Wow, I knew I’d get some comments from the hard core InDesign crowd but I didn’t think there would be THIS many! I completely agree that InDesign is the industry standard page layout program. It is specifically designed for this purpose and therefore does an excellent job.

    However, I will always maintain that Illustrator rocks at page layout as well. It’s not better than ID, just different. I frequently hear complaints about the text engine but I’ve never experienced any problems, even with multi-column text (easily accomplished in Ai).

    Further, I assure you that the biggest print vendors in the US all gladly accept Ai files. Many of them provide templates as Ai files, some even strictly require Ai.

    On a separate note, many pointed out that outlining fonts simplifies things. This is definitely true but usually only necessary when your printer really has no idea what he’s doing. I can’t count the number of times I’ve sent a job to the printer and the client wanted to change a single date or registration mark minutes before the job is to print. Making this change myself, collecting and zipping the files and reuploading to the printer could literally take hours depending on the file size and upload speed. In these circumstances, I’ve often let the printer make the small change and email me a PDF to make sure all is well. With outlined fonts, this luxury would be gone.

    On the other hand, some printers meddle with files that they shouldn’t so outlining fonts could be a nice preventive measure if you work with one of these types!

    Thanks a ton for all the feedback guys. Glad to see there are some still some print lovers out there!

    • 8

      That’s what you get when you post a print design article on a web design blog… don’t you love how everyone is right!

      It’s a great article man, a good representation of how one person can create artwork for this purpose – just as you promised. A great starting point for the web-designer who wants some info on print.

      There obviously is no definitive “right way” to do any of this… It all comes down to how you work, what programs allow you to have the most creative control and what your printers need.

      Good job

    • 9

      well, Ai isn’t bad. the only thing is that later it needs to be converted to a postscript file so it can be processed by RIP server. so it becomes a PDF, PS etc. sooner or later.
      however, some pre-press studios like to have more control over the converting process itself – how the postscript will be read by RIP is often server specific. thus, that’s why some like to have a source file rather than the postscript, because they convert it the way they need it to be, according to the tech specification or server-corresponding drivers. (keeping it up to the specs other than dimensions is a thing that many designers avoid or ignore).
      and, basing on previous experience in the prepress studio, from time to time it’s way better to get a source file because designers often tend to have no knowledge of printing/processing of the image they’ve created and make tons of errors… errors they don’t want to correct because they think it’s all good (there’s nothing more irritating than a self-assured designer). having only a PDF file, without add-on like Pitstop, leaves the files quite useless, if not corrected by the author.

  4. 10

    nice work Joshua. For a web guy [like me] who generally feels dazed and confused when clients ask for print work, tuts like these are gold. Gracias!

  5. 13

    Lee Coursey

    May 14, 2010 5:25 am

    That looks awesome! I can’t find the OangeSoda website though. It’s looks and sounds great so I wanted to try it. How do I find a retailer near me?

    Happy Friday…

  6. 17

    james victory

    May 14, 2010 5:31 am

    Thanks for the tutorial. In Nigeria, Coreldraw is used for 90% of graphic designs and i’ve always had problems doing print jobs with vectors and text on my mac. I love using photoshop a lot and don’t really like coreldraw (though i use to design print jobs most times). With this I feel I can combine photoshop and illustrator to create great print projects without the hassle of always importing the jobs to coreldraw and adding text and vectors.

  7. 18

    Hi, hope you don’t mind but for the pdf bit, you can also outline the text and save it as an eps file – no need for fonts and the images used are embedded, then use distiller to create the pdf. Have noticed that sometimes illustrator creates larger press quality pdfs compared to distiller.

  8. 19

    Very nice article.

    My only suggestion is that when I layout my print ready files, I save my files from photoshop as a jpeg and embed them inside my AI file so that I do not have to send a folder with my links to the printer. I used to compile my links in a folder and send a zip file, but doing this keeps it to one document and I haven’t had any problems with print quality.

    Also you shout outline your text to eliminate any possible font problems.

    I really like to see other designer’s workflow. I really enjoyed this article and think there needs to be more like this!

    • 20

      Just a question. Why would you export for print using a lossy format like jpg? No offense but that seems ill-advised. If you are going to export your images out of photoshop, use a lossless format like Tiff to avoid any unintended artifacts or color shifts.

      • 21

        Don’t worry, even hi res PDF output from Indesign use jpeg (maximum quality). This is a finished piece of art and the image won’t be re-saved (adding another pass of jpeg compression) so there is no problem.

    • 22

      Ray VanDerLinden

      May 15, 2010 7:47 am

      The problem with Jpeg is it sometimes throws up red flags during pre-press. TIF is the best way to go when linking to files, even though it is larger than a.jpg, a flattened tif offers the best quality and usually no hassle during pre press, I used to design for a print company, clients would send in all kinds of crazy art that I would have to pick through and fix before the pre-press software would allow it to be prepared for print. I always save my PSD with all layers in the job folder then flatten and save as a separate .TIF file for linking in the final document. Also PSD files do not render text very well for printing. AI and Indesign is best. Indesign is always the best option if it is available.

      • 23

        Red flags? What do you mean? As like simply “RIP errors”? Or over-inkage / out of CMYK gamut space? If that’s the thing then the problem is not in the file format – the problem is the design itself or a strange profile attached to it.

        But basically yeah – .tif will produce a higher quality image than .jpg. It is especially visible in color gradients and such. However – I’ve never seen an artifact on-print coming from a .jpg file. Those are high resolution images (I mean basing on the idea that they are at least 250 dpi) and there are no printing machines so precise to actually make the artifacts visible. But, like I’ve said, I also prefer .tif in use for printing.

        • 24

          Ray VanDerLinden

          May 19, 2010 9:24 am

          Sorry, I should have expounded. The pre press software that I used was CREO and company bought out by kodak. Yes Jpeg will work but is not a best practice. Sometimes especially when using older software when saving a jpeg I would run into the jpegs that I saved as 300dpi would go to 299dpi. I would open it in photoshop, it would say 300dpi. I would throw it through pre press and it would say ” You Suck, your file is 299dpi Red Flag, we will not send color separations to plates until it is fixed.” Keep in mind I was using an old mac with old and mish mashed adobe software & Quark 7 to save my postscript files. I could literally spend hours trying to fix problems that should have only taken minutes or seconds. So now when I design I always keep in mind that the pre-press guy might not have the most up-to-date software. Trust me pre press sucks. Red flags suck. Keep that in mind when designing.

  9. 25

    Who loves orange soda? KEL LOVES ORANGE SODA!

    Nice tut!

  10. 26

    I’m confused as to why you are using illustrator and not indesign. Indesign is for page layout not illustrator.

    • 27

      Brice Bohrer

      May 14, 2010 9:54 am

      Amen. Why on earth would you not be in InDesign as your layout tool. Especially for your fine tuning of any body copy…

      this baffles me. The article seems to be written by someone who only does stuff online…

      • 28

        Joshua Johnson

        May 14, 2010 10:33 am

        Ha, quite the opposite! I’ve only recently jumped into the web foray and have been designing print ads for major brands (M&Ms, Snickers, Pedigree, Splenda) for nearly seven years :)

        • 29

          sean carter

          May 15, 2010 12:27 am

          As one with experience in advertising, here’s my two cents. First the earlier guy who commented on using Jpegs is giving bad advice. But it was brought up why, lossy format. Regarding Illustrator and InDesign. Both are used. Many prefer to use Illustrator, which is normal, especially with single page layouts. It’s more of a personal preference thing. As far as the text, it’s always a good idea to include live text and fonts, but the idea of creating Outlines is a great piece of advice. I like to save that as another layer in my work. The biggest reason for this, is I also worked in large format printing before I got into advertising. It’s amazing how many printers don’t interpret the text so well. After spending all the necessary time to work on the text, with your kerning and letting, then have the printer destroy it can be detrimental. In the end you want to ensure that the end result is print ready, but always be ready to make changes. Because clients, printers, etc. love to have changes.

          just my two cents.

          Great article, and thank you for the resources never heard of Kwikee.

          • 30

            InDesign is superior in every way for layouts. The only reason anyone would use Illustrator over InDesign is because they don’t know how to use InDesign properly. For a layout such as this, completely absent of any complex vector graphics and Illustrator-specific effects, there is no question that InDesign would be the superior program to use.

            Nothing against the author (you have a strong name, son!) I just wish people would spend half the time and effort that they spend on programs like Photoshop and Illustrator getting to know InDesign so they could realise how truly awesome it is.

          • 31

            @Josh I completely agree. I even saw a tutorial once on doing multi-page documents in illustrator and I could not understand why. I knew someone who did a 90 page document in photoshop. I think you’re right, its just a matter of people choosing not to learn the awesomeness of inDesign. I don’t care how many pages there are, I always prefer to work in InDesign for layouts. I use illustrator for illustrating, logos, etc, but I get so frustrated doing layouts in that program.

          • 32

            What specific technical advantages would InDesign offer over Illustrator in this specific layout? I’m really drawing a blank and consider myself an expert in both applications.

      • 33

        I only use InDesign with realtively large amount of texts. So in this case, I would use Illustrator as well.

  11. 34

    That was really nice and a good change from the usual web stuff. One problem though is your rich black – that is rgb rich black which you should never use for commercial print work, the density is too high and the k level isn’t 100%, the press operator would scream at you! Always check with the printer but a better mix would be 40,30,30,100 (cmyk)

    • 35

      yep, or C50,M0,Y0,K100 – minimizes registration issues – especially if you’re going to have white text on your black

  12. 36

    Web designers have a MUCH easier time adjusting to print design, than print designers moving toward web. The learning curve for print is relatively flat compared to the coding, testing and other technologies you have to know for making sites and apps.

    And it’s gotten a WHOLE LOT easier (or lazier, take your pick): RGB files sep and print just fine now, thanks to advanced RIPs — unless you’re doing specialized offset (like comicbooks and posters), silkscreen or spot color work — it’s a walk in the park compared to how it was just 5 years ago.

    You’ll want to max out your ram and CPU, tho. Print design files can turn into Kraken-sized beasts. :-)

    • 37

      Joshua Johnson

      May 14, 2010 10:35 am

      So true about the RAM. Building hi-res files is incredibly taxing on your system!

    • 38

      speaking of that, I’m interested in those color separation RIP’s, software or plugins. Which ones do you use?

  13. 39

    I agree with Eric — I was a little confused on the Illustrator vs InDesign as well. Maybe you presented the tutorial like this because non-experienced people would find it easier to start in Illustrator instead of InDesign? Overall nice tut.

    • 40

      Illustrator is surely the better platform for an ad like this. It’s one page. InDesign is more suited to multi page docs, like a magazine, newsletter, etc…. There is way more design control in Illustrator. Think of it as a design tool, and InDesign as a layout tool. (Don’t get fooled by the word “design” in the program :) )

      • 41

        You need to take into consideration flexibility, typography, grids etc all the things print designers need to know, It’s far easier to create print layouts in InDesign than Illustrator.

        You’re right there is a lot of control with Illustrator but you need a solid grid in order to correctly align the elements, i.e. art direct the page. Most of the fancy stuff will be done in Illustrator but the composition should be created in InDesign.

        • 42

          For a single page ad it really does come down to personal preference – and I’m speaking from a technical “what the printers want you to send them” angle here.

          Pixel art should be prepared in Photoshop, vector art is best prepared in Illustrator (although Photoshop now supports vectors a lot better than it used to – but it’s much easier in Illustrator) and your text elements can be done in Illustrator or InDesign. Definitely don’t do text in Photoshop.

          You could even make this ad in Illustrator, Photoshop AND InDesign – often designers will prepare all their print ready pdf’s in InDesign as we get used to it’s easy workflow and it’s really easy to save advanced pdf settings in InDesign…

      • 43

        ” (Don’t get fooled by the word “design” in the program :) )”

        I would say you need to brush up on the program if you think that way ;-)

        Illustrator is only a better platform for a page like this if you don’t know how to use/don’t like using (because you don’t know how to use) InDesign.

        Anyway I would probably use all three, or skip illustrator all together. The only thing you need Illustrator for is making the little embellishments if you really wanted those to be vector based.

  14. 44

    I’m with Jenny and Eric. Surely the text should be done in InDesign? Also I don’t know where the spiral tool is… other wise a very help tut.

    • 45

      If you click and hold on the line tool in the toolbox you’ll find the spiral tool. Just use the up/down arrow keys to adjust the spiral-ness of it.

  15. 46

    Nice Tut! Very useful.

  16. 47

    It is always best practice for print to create outlines in your final PDF. This ensures the fonts will not change over at the printer. To do this, select all the text (CTRL-A) and go to the “Type” menu, and “Create Outlines”. This will save you a lot of headaches and back and forth.

    • 48

      PDF’s embed fonts. It’s still good practice to do so for final pieces i guess. On the Illustrator v. InDesign, It really just depends what your more comfortable with. I work with InDesign nearly everyday and would use it over Illustrator any day. They are very, very similar with they way they handle certain things, (pen tool, gradients, objects). InDesign has a useful thingamajig to ‘package’ your file so that when you go to work on a different computer or turn your files to the printer, your images, fonts, and file are all placed neatly into a folder :)

    • 49

      Fonts should be embedded within the PDF therefore outlining is not necessary.

      • 50

        It’s absolutely necessary to create outlines, even for PDF, I’m not sure who told you different. I am the layout artists at a print shop, and constantly need to fix customer supplied artwork in order to get it set up for print. Other times they request a small change to art another designer created. Those changes aren’t possible without the text coming to me in outlines (unless i have that font). Try taking a PDF, that has a font not installed on your system, with no outlines into AI and see what happens for yourself.

  17. 52

    Why do you use Illustrator ?? Why not Indesign ?

    • 53

      That was going to be my question as well. I’ve had printers request we recreate Photoshop files in InDesign before they would print them.


  18. 54

    John Skinner

    May 14, 2010 7:33 am

    I would definitely advocate using InDesign over Illustrator for layout work. Illustrator is not set up for working with column/baseline grids, has no preflight features to speak of and typographic controls are more limited.

    Adobe has a suite of products built for specific reasons. There is cross-over between them but if you use each for what it is intended for then your workflow will generally be more streamlined:

    Photoshop: photo-editing and re-touching
    Illustrator: vector graphics
    InDesign: print layout
    Fireworks: web mockups (trust me – stop using Photoshop for this!)

    • 55

      Brice Bohrer

      May 14, 2010 9:56 am

      thanks, I responded too soon up above.

      Everyone seems to be getting this point.

      • 56

        I’m afraid Fireworks only appeals to print-designers turned web. It’s web-friendly functions are about 10 years out of date.

  19. 57

    Why are we arguing about Illustrator vs. InDesign? To each his own in that regard. As for “Creating Outlines”, you must have missed the part where he mentioned future editing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to hunt for a font because the previous designer created outlines without including the font information!

    Great article….and yes, Kel would LOVE this ad!

  20. 58

    Hahaha, program wars going on here!!! He uses illustrator instead of indesign because that’s how he works. I would do the same if it was a single page ad. It’s not the wrong way, nor is it the right way :-) Just a way.

    This tut was amazing on so many levels. I’m recently getting back into design after a 5 year hiatus and it’s been hell!! So many changes to the programs (and I wasn’t the best with them to begin with) it’s hard to re-integrate but like I said, this tut helped a lot! I always wondered how to do those swirly sinister looking things behind the bottle in the ad and now I know! I also enjoyed the step by step workflow thing using smart objects. A “new” feature to me I’m still trying to get use to.

  21. 59

    Nice to see a print design article here…good work. I noticed all the “Why not InDesign” comments. As a veteran print designer, I always use InD for the final layout. In InD 4 you have the advantage of live grid lines which makes visual layout blazing fast. Type edits (which happen every 3 seconds or so in the print design workflow!!) can be handled quicker and more efficiently. Printers prefer working with InD files as the files can be RIPed much more efficiently. If you’re worried about fonts, you can convert all your type to outlines in InD (and you can do lots of other nifty Illustrator things too). PDF conversion gives you many, many more options too such as: saving a small file size for proofing purposes right up to producing a PDFX:1a or PDFX:3a file for high end output.

  22. 60

    Sarah Nichols

    May 14, 2010 9:16 am

    Hey there, this is a seriously great tutorial. I read every word! Thanks for all the help, I love Smashing Magazine!

  23. 61

    I would personally use InDesign for laying anything like this out. There’s no hard and fast rules of course, but surely it makes sense to use InDesign because of preflight alone.

    Everything that has been shown in this tutorial can be done using InDesign. Get it opened up and learn to love it, it’s the bomb.

  24. 62

    Pixeno Web Host

    May 14, 2010 9:30 am

    Thanks Smashing Magazine. Such a unique tutorial.

    Might put some of my Photoshop skills into the finished design.

  25. 63

    Jesse McFarlane

    May 14, 2010 9:36 am

    Speaking as both a long-time print designer and as a professional prepress tech, Indesign is definitely the preferred working method even for one page designs such as this. You’ll make your print shop much happier working with Indesign and you’ll end up with files that are easier to work with in the long run and much more flexible.

    That said it’s great to see a print tutorial on Smashing and hopefully there are more to come!

  26. 64

    For one page Illustrator it is ok. Illustrator actually lends itself to a more expressive path to completion with a broader array of tools to manipulate text and vectors that inDesign does not have. For a single ad, it’s completely adequate. For a multi-page doc, inDesign is the more logical choice. The only real issue I can see with it is the packaging issue. Not so much for the vendor, because they’ll most likely be fine with a .pdf. But, for your peers later on down the road who might need to re-purpose the ad, it might be a bit frustrating if you forget to include an image or font in an archive, convert text to outlines, etc. It just takes some diligence on the creator’s part to properly archive the file when they are done.

  27. 65

    David Appleyard

    May 14, 2010 10:17 am

    Awesome article, Josh. That’s one pretty finished design!

  28. 66

    richard hellyer

    May 14, 2010 11:05 am

    This is an excellent tutorial. So much different and better than the typical ‘click here, now do this, now do that’ kind of lessons that one often gets on sites. This gave me an excellent insight into the pros and cons of using illustrator and indesign, and how to think about workflow and the final print delivery vehicle. My only regret is that I didn’t read this before I recently did a trifold brochure for a client! Thanks again and I look forward to more tutorials of this quality.

  29. 67

    I’ve worked as a graphic designer for a full service print vendor (design and print) for over ten years. While I was glad to see a detailed tutorial such as this available, I agree with many of the comments siting issues with compressed files (jpg), ink density, fonts and layout. Print vendors like to be able to have “the guts” of your job available for many reasons, most of which is optimization. Don’t forget paper plays a large part in what your final piece will look like and having access to the files lets us ensure a quality product.

    note: WE LOVE PRESS OPTIMIZED pdfs, but we love efficiently designed jobs created with a layout program like InDesign that are THEN exported as a PDF (where we’ll have full control of bleeds, ink coverage, fonts, and trap with software like Pitstop) even more.

  30. 69



  31. 70

    unfortunately, this isn’t too informative. there are many things that should have been mentioned in the article, if it was meant to be any help to anyone. example: barcodes should be filled with only K (otherwise additional colors will disrupt the barcodes scanner, as it is an optical device).
    you’ve placed the general info, thus – generally this article is not wrong, but it covers the very basics of the subject, the basics that can be found anywhere. that’s low, right?

  32. 71

    Good article. Covers the basics, and anyone looking for more should be researching more than just one location for information. Great bit about Art files, for those just starting out it is a nice piece of information.

  33. 72

    Laying out an ad in Illustrator is fine especially when the same design is required in several different sizes, so much easier to resize in Illustrator than InDesign or Quark. When you’re faced with a looming deadline, you’ll be happy you did!

  34. 73

    To be honest there’s no big difference between using Ai or InDesign for print design – it’s user or project specific. If you’re making a locked-alike layout with constant columns then it is easier to do it in InDesign but it doesn’t mean that you can’t do the same with Ai. But, according to the topic, we’re making an ad, which is a bit less technical or strict than the newspaper layout. Thus Ai is a good choice, in this matter.
    Anyways, it makes no difference when you export it do PDF – both Ai and InDesign use the same engine. And if you’re not exporting it then it’s also no big difference – any self-respecting prepress studio out there has the full Adobe suite, so not having Ai or In isn’t a problem.

  35. 74

    What a gem on Smashing! Thanks for sharing this valuable information, I’m still a student and normally I’m involved in lots of event works so prints are what I do in my University.

    Usually before I start any print works, I would reconfirm with the print vendor by calling them on the document settings on which to do and not to do before I proceed. Should have put more info on file preparation before sending it to the vendor, like how to package the file altogether and ask whether the print company needed an example of the output or even the file naming (12′ x 4′ 300DPI Oange Banner).

    I suggest the next post should be something to do with print knowledge! :D

  36. 75

    Good article. Anyway, I just don’t agree with the procedure. Old school.

    Sure you can do this with AI, Corel Draw, Freehand… But sorry, they are not meant to produce this kind of job. It’s out of question.

    I work on print design since 1985 and have seen this incorrect use of applications for as long. There is a deep and painful ignorance of the subject. Photoshop is for images. AI (Freehand & Corel Draw) is for vector graphics. Use InDesign or Quark to layout whenever there are images, illustrations and/or possibly editable text. Period.

    Just look at the tools each program offer.

    Answer this simple mystery: Can you place InDesign documents in AI or PS? No.
    Can you place AI or PS documents in InDesign? Yes.
    Guess why?

    This sentence: “Laying out an ad in Illustrator is fine especially when the same design is required in several different sizes, so much easier to resize in Illustrator than InDesign or Quark.” is plain silly. Bad, technically wrong and, sorry but, a lazy designer comment. I’ve heard it a million times. Different sizes, different formats… Stretch it and done? Come on man, WORK it out.

  37. 76


  38. 77


  39. 78

    I really don’t get why some of you propose that the only right choice for creating a layout is InDesign. Even Adobe seems to share the opinion, that Illustrator is perfectly fine for creating single-page layouts. Otherwise they wouldn’t include a movie poster template in the Illustrator extras.

    Other templates, included in Illustrator extras are: postcards, envelopes, tickets, business cards, CD/DVD labels and covers etc.

    So, by saying Illustrator should not be used for layouts, you’re also saying that Adobe got the purpose of their own software wrong.

    • 79

      Joshua Johnson

      May 19, 2010 7:45 am

      Thanks for pointing out the page layout templates, I had the same thought!

    • 80

      Microsoft Word also has several “templates” but that doesn’t mean that it is the most appropriate program to use. Sorry.

      • 81

        I guess you just should read my comment again. Its not about the pure presence of templates. And what is that Word comparison all about? Word would be more or less InDesign’s counterpart not Illustrator’s.

        Next point: Illustrator is able to create 100% print ready PDF files. At least here in Germany we make heavy use of the PDF/X-files, mostly PDF/X-3 as it doesn’t contain any transparency. Illustrator creates them just as fine as InDesign does.
        I prefer Illustrator over InDesign because you have much more tools effects and filters available than within InDesign. IMHO InDesign is the tool of choice if you create books or magazines. Illustrator is perfect for creative single-page layouts.

  40. 82

    One BIG lesson – proofreading before sending to print. It’s not a big deal spelling mistake in web job, but print is different matter.

  41. 83

    well done!

  42. 84

    Nicole Bauer

    May 17, 2010 2:02 am

    Thank you! That was very helpful! I’m just about to create a postcard for a print ad campaign, so great timing with the article! ;) The Kwikee Link will save me a lot of time in the future!

  43. 85

    Joe Duhamel

    May 17, 2010 4:30 am

    Great job. The only “fault” I see is in using Illustrator’s dash-line feature. In your example (black dash on a black background) it’s fine, but when it’s black dash on a white background, the fault is obvious – the corners don’t look professional. That’s where a pattern brush is necessary. But that’s another tutorial.

  44. 88


    May 17, 2010 7:12 am

    I wish you had the option to save these articles as PDF’s. That would be awesome!

    • 89

      If you can save PDFs on your system, you can save this article as a PDF. Don’t know what OS or browser you are using, but try going into the print dialog on this page and instead of hitting print look for a PDF menu to save this page as a PDF.

  45. 90

    Corey Zeimen- Omaha Web Design

    May 17, 2010 8:37 pm

    Yes, many of my customers have wanted something they can take off the website I develop for them to use for their print advertising. Really, the most important thing to a customer is their time, as most are lazy as hell.

  46. 91

    Joann Sondy

    May 18, 2010 6:34 am

    InDesign would have been my choice. Extensive tutorial for an assignment that an art director would have expected turned around in a few hours. I spotted a comment about RIPs working with RGB files… wrong for high-end printing. This maybe the case for a quality digital copier but not for ANY computer-to-plate production.

    • 92

      High-end printing may use 6-8 color ink systems that include luminecent inks that extend graphics beyond any CMYK profile. If this is the case, an RGB file can take full advantage of that expanded gamut.

      • 93

        6-8 inks is not RGB or only CMYK. Believing the RIP RGB-to-CMYK conversion is like believing in purple sheep.

  47. 94

    Hmmm, I’ve done many print layouts like this, and Illustrator, converting text to outlines, imbedding all bitmaps (LZW tiffts), saving as EPS files, and converting to press-ready PDF’s with Distiller has always worked perfectly for me.

    With all the strong advocates of InDesign, maybe I need to learn it? :)

  48. 95

    Thanks for this, I very rarely have to create a print layout so it always takes time to work out what I’m doing again – this is very helpful.

  49. 96

    Great tutorial! I am a web person and this tutorial was done in a way that is very understandable. I will definitely use this workflow on my next print project.

    Thank you very much for taking the time.

  50. 97


    May 19, 2010 10:01 am

    This is a good article, especially for beginners (I do agree with using Indesign over Illustrator for all page layout -My preference), the only thing I would suggest changing is instead of save as PDF you should make it a practice to print a postscript file then drag the .ps file into Acobat Distiller.

    Save as PDF can cause some unwanted effects that distiller fixes (especially with drop shadows and transparencies) When you save as PDF you can not change the Overprint and Transparency Flattener settings off of Medium Resolution. You should change this drop down to High Resolution when printing a postscript file.

    I would also say that you have to be careful with brands of the world. Sometimes their logos are incorrect/and or unsanctioned.

    • 98

      Nathanael McMillan

      February 19, 2014 2:00 pm

      This is a really helpful comment, been trying to improve the quality of transparencies and drop shadows while printing on a Flatbed, showing the client this way of saving compared to just saving as a PDF really increased the quality of the print.

  51. 99

    I agree with a lot of other comments about using Indesign. It’s a far superior layout tool than Illustrator. The only time I use Illustrator for a layout is if it’s single page and ALL artwork is vector.

    On a side note, I think people more familiar with web would relate the Indesign much more. Indesign is basically the Dreamweaver of print. You “link/place” images and build text and paragraph “styles” similar to css styles although in a different manner. Who knows, maybe I’m crazy.

  52. 100

    Christopher Anderton

    May 20, 2010 12:12 am

    Kwikee is US only…

  53. 101

    Mark Taylor

    May 20, 2010 2:25 am

    Some nice points to get people started. Brands of the World is a nice source and just checked out Kwikee but not a US resident. Any idea of an international version?

    Another reference I use a bit is for Lorum Ipsum, sizes and safe zones etc. Good for on and offline stuff.

  54. 102

    yet another way i’ve found to get official company logos is by accessing the ‘investor relations’, ‘media inquiries’ or ‘press room’ sections of most major corporate websites. you will find annual reports and sometimes actual product brochures and other collateral ready for download in PDF. many of these are produced for high-res print then ported to their websites and can be opened in Acrobat Pro, Photoshop or Illustrator to extract any elements needed.

    • 103

      And a third way: Sometimes, I download logos from Wikipedia. Most of them are available as SVG-files.

  55. 104

    Great article, now as you mentioned Kwikee, I did try to open an account, but since I am not living in the USA, they can not open me an account!!! Believe it or not, its like if internet and offshore contracts didn’t exist for these people!!
    Com on Kwikee … its 2010!!!!

    “Unfortunately, per the Legal Agreement we have with our participating manufacturers, the use and access of this art is limited to the USA Only. However, we thank you for your interest in Kwikee Systems.”

  56. 105

    Poor inDesign….Adobe’s forgotten son. His skills are so mighty, but quickly dismissed because it is not as easy to use as photoshop or illustrator from the start.

    • 106

      Oh, I don’t know about that. The first vector-alike program I’ve worked on was CorelDRAW. Switching to AI was hard as hell. But, after some time, I’ve found my way ;)

  57. 107

    I’m pretty green as far as graphics design is concerned considering I have no training. I have been experimenting on and off for a few years with basic windows programs. Currently I’m using Illustrator CS4 to create cover art for my cd, while learning on the fly. I do believe I’m on the right path with the help of various tutorials. However, I’m curious to know if there is a similar technique or program such as “ART FILES” for windows to assist me in gather my linked files in preparation for print?

  58. 108

    Are there any tools that will take your AI design created on a PC and transfer it to a MAC ready file? I am using CS4 for windows

  59. 109

    I have an multilingual electronic tattoo magazine and I am looking to get it printed, but as I am only ok with photoshop, and knowing no that it is far more complicated when it comes to designing for press, I am looking for a experienced magazine designer for a Tattoo magazine, and I want to know a good forum to post an add? i did a google search but didnt find an specific one.

    Thank you

  60. 110

    I am a beginner, just started emails design. I recently heard that print ads design is a different job & i found this tutorial very help full. Thanx all

  61. 111

    rajesh jadhav

    July 11, 2011 5:40 am

    g8 article.I dont want to give my opinion on specific software. I just enjoyed this article. Thnx.

  62. 112

    Very helpful thank you, I think this workflow is great for that kind of project.
    About who is right or wrong about Indesign / AI, wtv this is foolish; RESULT is still the most important hahaha.

  63. 113

    Super! Thank so much for sharing!


  64. 114

    nice and thanks for sharing.

  65. 115

    Where can i get the PSD samples of this?


  66. 116

    I would like to see a B2B example of this. There is so much information on B2C print ads and very little meaningful insight and examples for B2B. Thanks

  67. 117



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