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Adobe InDesign Tips I Wish I’d Known When Starting Out

I love Adobe InDesign. For multi-page documents, it’s the most flexible and complete application out there. Yet I remember how counter-intuitive some things were when I was learning it for the first time. Here are some tips I wish I had known when starting out, as well as some answers to questions that others often ask me. This is not intended to be a manual; some good ones are already out there (although I personally learned by doing). Hopefully, these tips will help you make the best of your day-to-day use of InDesign.

Margins And Bleeds Link

If you are preparing a document for print, keep your margins and bleeds in mind from the beginning. Your printer will give you the measurements for the bleed, but generally 1/8 inch or 3 mm should suffice. Approximately the same area within the document should be kept free of text and important graphic elements (such as the logo). Set up your document for bleed in InDesign as you create it by selecting the correct settings in the document set-up box.


Master Pages Link

When you have a multiple-page document, such as a brochure or catalog, using master pages will save you time. Master pages are used to automatically insert layout elements on various pages. All elements of the master page are placed onto any page you choose, and these are by default not selectable, which allows you to further develop the page without worrying about accidentally modifying the pre-defined elements (such as page numbers, grids and guides, and graphic elements).

To set them up, bring up the Pages palette and double-click on “A-Master.”


Add all of the elements that are repeated throughout most of your document: guides, page numbers, a running text box, image frames, graphic elements, etc. You can have more than one set of master pages in a document, which is particularly useful for brochures, whose content often varies (for example, with a mostly textual introduction followed by image-heavy pages).

To apply your master page to new pages, simply drag it from the Master Pages pane onto the Pages pane in the palette. If you’ve already started working on layout elements but forgot to make a master page, you can turn any page into a master page. Just drag it from the Pages pane to the Master Pages pane.

And yes, you can modify master page elements on a particular page if you need to. Triple-click on the element — that is, click on it while holding down Shift +Command (on a Mac) or Shift + Control (Windows). Now you can select and edit it on the page you are working on while leaving it unchanged on all other pages.

Frames Link

InDesign places your content in frames. This goes for both text and images as well as databases and interactive content.

There are two types of frames: text and image.


The text frame is fairly self-explanatory. After creating the shape for a text frame (typically a rectangle, but it could be a circle or a custom shape drawn with the Pen tool), you have two options: either type directly in the frame or import content from another document. To import, go to the File menu and choose Place (or use the shortcut: Command + D on a Mac and Control + D on Windows).

Image frames work in a similar way. After creating an image frame (either by selecting one of the default shapes or drawing one yourself), you can fill it with color or place an image from your computer inside it. Again, this is done by going to FilePlace (or using the shortcut).

Another way to import images and text is to simply drag them onto the document (from Mac’s Finder or Windows Explorer). This will automatically create an image or text frame, import the content and create a link to that file. If you drag content on top of an existing frame, it will replace the existing content but leave the size and cropping intact.

Resizing Content in a Frame Link

The set of shortcuts for fitting an image to a frame is also useful, and with it you can easily adapt content the way you want. To keep the frame the same size and fit the content proportionally, press Command + Option + Shift + E. (Note that if the image and frame have different proportions, then some white space will be left.)

To fill the frame proportionally, use Command + Option + Shift + C. (If the image and frame have different proportions, then the image will be resized and end up larger than the frame, being cropped the edges.)

To center the content in the frame, use Command + Shift + E. And if you want the image to stay the same and resize the frame instead, then fit the frame to the content with Command + Option + C.

Selecting Frames Link

Selecting the top frame is easy, but if a lot of frames are overlapping or one is on top of the other, you can cycle through them by holding Command on Mac and Control on Windows and then clicking on the frames to select the lower one. Keep clicking to cycle through them if you have several frames.

Image Formats Link

InDesign can import many image formats (including JPEG, PNG, EPS, PICT, PDF, PSD and TIFF). If you are preparing a file for print, make sure the images are in an acceptable format. If you’re using a file format that allows for low-resolution settings, such as JPEG, check that the images have a resolution of 300 pixels per inch (PPI) and are saved in CMYK color mode.

Place images at no higher than 100% of their size. That is, if your original image is 3 × 5 inches, don’t blow it up to 12 × 20, because the results would be obviously pixelated.

To be on the safe side, avoid JPEG altogether, and stick with formats that are intended for print, such as EPS and TIFF.

Importing PSD Files Link

The PSD image format deserves special mention. Being able to import PSD files into InDesign is extremely useful when working with elaborate graphics that have transparent or semi-transparent elements, especially if they are to be placed over colored backgrounds or textures. Another useful feature is the ability to turn the layers in a PSD file on and off directly in InDesign (i.e. without having to open Photoshop).

PSDs take up significant memory, which can sometime cause problems when exporting as PDF. I would recommend avoiding PSD files for simple images that could just as easily be flattened when saved as TIFF or EPS. But in cases where using a PSD file really solves a problem, make sure it is 300 PPI and in CMYK color mode, and keep it at its actual size. And when exporting to PDF, double-check that the transparency flattening is set to high.

Transparency Flattening Presets Link

You can create custom transparency settings by going to EditTransparency Flattener Presets:


In most cases, the “High Resolution” setting will suffice. You can make sure this preset is used when exporting to PDF by going to FileExport, selecting PDF and then clicking on the “Advanced” tab. You can now set the “Transparency Flattener” option to “High Resolution” by default.


Should You Copy And Paste? Link

One feature of the Adobe Creative Suite is the ability to copy and paste between its applications. But just because you can do this doesn’t mean you should. Vector files should still be created in Illustrator, and raster images should be saved in Photoshop. Not only will you be able to maintain control of these elements, but you’ll be saved from having to update every single occurrence of a given element in multi-page documents. Keep a given graphic in a separate Illustrator or Photoshop file, and you’ll be able to update all occurrences of it with one click.

Every image in an InDesign document can be viewed from the Links palette. Bring it up by going to WindowLinks or by pressing Command/Control + Shift + D.


You can update placed images or check their locations directly from the Links palette. To bring up the Links menu, select the name of the image and click on the arrow to the right.


Working With Color Link

InDesign is set up exactly like Illustrator in terms of using colors. You have the option of working with color sliders directly, and in either RGB or CMYK mode (remember to use CMYK if creating a document for print!). Press F5 to bring up the Color palette, and adjust the CMYK values in the sliders to change the color of the fill or stroke.


You could also select a color from the Swatches palette or add a new swatch. Bring up the Swatches palette by pressing F6. Saving a color as a swatch makes sense if you use it frequently. Alternatively, you could import swatches that you’ve already created in Illustrator or Photoshop.


You can also select spot colors from existing libraries, such as Pantone’s. But keep this in mind: if the document will be printed in CMYK only, without using Pantone colors, then you’re better off converting the colors to CMYK so that you get an accurate preview of the result.

Use The Right Black Link

There seems to be some confusion about the use of rich black, which is made up of all CMYK colors (for example, 40, 40, 30, 100). Rich black is excellent for large areas of black, such as logos and black backgrounds. It prevents fading (to a dull gray), which is especially useful for outdoor posters and flyers.

However, body text should always be in process black (i.e. 100% K) to avoid trapping problems. For the same reason, registration black (which is composed of 100% CMYK) should never be used for body text or thin lines.

Paragraph and Character Styles Link

The ability to create custom paragraph and character styles is an excellent time-saving feature. This pane is visible in the work area by default, and if you’ve hidden it for some reason, you can bring it up by pressing Command/Control + F11. You can create styles exactly to your liking using many options; and then you can apply them to a portion of text with just one click.


Character styles work in a similar way, but they don’t have to be separated by the paragraph indents. This is very useful for highlighting words and phrases in a paragraph. You can even embed a character style in a paragraph and then define variables to apply it to certain words or before certain characters.

Special Characters Link

Special characters — an apparently underused InDesign feature — include things like date, page numbers and the “page 1 of (x)” format. Special characters free you from having to insert this data by hand (or having to modify it by hand whenever significant changes are in order).

In small documents, minor changes are not a major undertaking, but imagine working on a 164-page catalog or a 200-page book. Manually changing all of the page numbers would be a big hassle (trust me: I know from personal experience). To insert special characters, go to the Edit menu.


Alternatively, simply right-click on active text to bring up the menu. Explore the options; you can insert a variety of symbols, dashes, spaces and indents through this menu, including the very useful “Indent to here.”

Glyphs Link

These are worth mentioning. With them, you can explore all of the characters in a font, which is handy when you’re looking for a particular symbol or working in a language that has accented characters.


Use Find/Change Link

Another extremely useful feature for text-heavy documents is Find/Change. I don’t know about you, but in my experience, the longer the text, the greater the chance that the client will ask me to replace all occurrences of a certain phrase or title. When you have a fully laid-out 192-page book with footnotes, glossary and index, the task of manually replacing phrases is rather daunting.

In such cases, smart use of Find/Change comes to the rescue. You can find it under the Edit menu or press Command/Control + F. If it’s an unusual phrase or title, this is fairly easy: type the original phrase and the new one, and hit “Replace all.” There are advanced options to replace hyphens, em dashes and quotation marks as well.


If it’s something complex, such as a word that has to be changed only in titles, you can use the advanced options to isolate some distinguishing feature. For example, if the titles are in a different font than the body text, you can use that. Use the font options in the “Find format” box.

You could include things like empty spaces and paragraph breaks in your search if you know, for example, that the word that has to change is followed by a space. Insert these special characters by clicking the “@” arrow to the right of the Find box, or search for a particular glyph by going to the Glyph tab. Replacing glyphs one by one might be best, so that you can monitor your work and progress.

You can even search for objects by using specific formatting options. For example, if all of your frames have a black stroke, and would like to remove the stroke, you can do so by selecting the appropriate options in the Object tab of the Find/Change box.

Of course, if you use Object Styles, which work like Paragraph Styles, then you don’t need this feature. Still, it’s the fastest way to do it if you’ve forgotten to save the style, or if you’re working on a document created by someone else or if you want to change one detail that’s common to several different saved styles.


Toggle The Preview Link

Instead of hiding all the guides, you can hit the W key (make sure the text tool isn’t active) to quickly toggle between the document view and the working (or “Normal”) view, which has all of the margins, guides and outlines. I frequently use it for composition checks, because guides tend to distract from the big picture.

Data Import Feature Link

Few people think this feature is handy. Yet many of us frequently work with tables given to us by clients. The one I run into most often is the Excel spreadsheet of price listings and item features, which I have to make presentable for a catalog or sales collateral. Many designers recreate these tables from scratch to make them clean and attractive, but this can be time-consuming, especially with large tables.

There is a better way. InDesign has an “Import table” feature. You can import the client’s table from Excel and style it however you want. Use the “Place file” option in the File menu (or Command/Control + D), select “Show import options,” and you’ll be able to define the cells to import on the next screen and then style them as a group.


Learn By Doing Link

Theory is great, and articles like this one can give you quick useful tips, but the best way to learn is by practice. If you are new to InDesign, try this: use an existing layout as a guide (anything you want: a page from a magazine, a poster or a business card), and try to recreate it from scratch. Familiarize yourself with the tools, menus and options. If you get stuck, you can always search for tips and tutorials or ask a friend.

Adobe InDesign is a versatile application, and there is always something new to learn. Have fun exploring it!

Want To Know More? Link

Here are a few articles that go into more detail on some of the topics we just covered:


Footnotes Link

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In addition to Italian, Russian and Dutch, Lisa speaks fluent Advertising and Design, and is happy to translate any concepts and terms into plain English. Lisa is on a mission to reduce the amount of ordinary, mediocre communication and marketing materials. And -- why not? -- to make the world a happier place. One beautiful communication piece at a time. Lisa has 10+ years of design and advertising experience, both in Europe and the US. In her free time, she rescues puppies, grows her own tomatoes, dances, and hangs out on Twitter.

  1. 1

    I love Indesign, thanks for the article.

  2. 2

    el gato de alien

    March 17, 2011 2:38 am

    I’m just starting out with InDesign and this article seems to be very helpful. Thanks Lisa.

  3. 3

    Thank you, this is an incredible piece for any beginner or just ID user!

  4. 4

    Clarence Johnson

    March 17, 2011 3:06 am

    Thank you for this … great read.

  5. 5

    Great list! Here are a few additional things that I think might trip up novices/might be helpful to know:

    1) Preferences: In InDesign, setting preferences requires that you DON’T have a document open. If you do, your changes will only affect the current document. If you create a new one or open another, they will be back to where they were. One instance where this comes up a lot is changing your measurement units. If you change them with a document open, you’ll go insane wondering why InDesign resets them all the time (by the way, you can change them quickly by right-clicking the rulers).

    To permanently change preferences, close all open documents, then change the settings you want. This is not limited to regular preferences, you can also change the swatches (delete the default RGBCMY swatches and replace them with your own for instance), margins & columns settings etc.

    2) InDesign still does not color manage grayscale image AT ALL. If you place a grayscale image, InDesign will render the pixel values in your files roughly as if they were sRGB luminance data. Or at least similar. Never trust InDesign’s preview of grayscale images. Never. You can check them in Photoshop, or you can export a PDF of your InDesign document and then softproof that in Acrobat.

    3) Don’t use the color picker dialog box you get when double clicking the color pot in the toolbar. It tends to mess up your color values. Use the color panel, or double click a swatch in the swatches panel.

    4) Don’t be alarmed when the PDFs you export from InDesign have white lines going through them when viewed in Acrobat. As long as they don’t get thicker when you zoom in, they are a rendering error caused by InDesign splitting images into multiple chunks (happens for a variety of reasons, such as transparency flattening etc).

    5) Make sure non-closed paths with dotted line styles don’t have a fill assigned, otherwise you’ll get a continuous line that runs through them.

    6) In the flyout menu of the Transform panel, there is a setting that determines whether you stroke is scaled when your objects are scaled. If you want, say, consistent 0.2 pt contours around all your images for instance, turn that off or the stroke width will change every time you scale an image up or down.

    7) The input fields can all do simple math. For instance, you can create a guide on an A4 page, the enter “297mm/2” into the y position field, and it’s going to be at the exact center of your page.

    8) If you use the right indent tab (Type > Insert special character > Other > Right Indent Tab), and you want to assign a leader for it (like a dot pattern for a TOC), you can’t do it the regular way because the right indent tab won’t show up as a regular tabstop in the Tabs panel. Hower, you can simply create a regular tabstop beyond your right column edge and assign a leader to that, and the right indent tab will use that leader.

    9) Adobe InCopy ( is an awesome companion tool you should at least know about. You can use the equally awesome and free Dropbox ( to collaborate on smaller InDesign/InCopy projects.

    Hope that was helpful to some of you. I wish I had known this stuff a lot earlier instead of having to figure it all out for myself …

    • 6

      Alvaro Carrilho (Lisbon-Portugal)

      March 17, 2011 2:33 pm

      Peter, you’re in the top shelf. You gave me a good reason to explore incopy with dropbox. Thks, ThksLisa & Thks Smashing

    • 7

      Lisa Valuyskaya

      March 19, 2011 1:47 pm

      Peter, thank you! That is an excellent list. You should write the follow up article for intermediates. :)

  6. 8

    There’s some inaccurate, or at least misleading information in this article in regards to print production. The most glaring is the recommendation to create files destined for print at 300ppi. The rule of thumb would be to create files that are between 2 – 2.5 times the halftone screen frequency. The output method designates what the halftone screen frequency will be so ask the company printing the document for that info. Anything less will very well produce haggles

  7. 9

    This is an excellent article and wish I knew starting out too. I figured most of this out the hard way.

  8. 10

    This is really fresh and helpful, thank you for sharing, learned something new to me.

  9. 11

    Nice article, thanks :)

    Should also note that Paragraph styles are invaluable when you come to adding a table of contents (or contents page) to a document. Being able to automate and then easily update it by specifying which paragraph styles to include is a huge time saver!



    • 12

      Lisa Valuyskaya

      March 19, 2011 1:45 pm

      Thanks for that addition, Doug! Yes, for long documents that’s a must!
      I tried to keep this one to the very basics, as it was meant for beginners, but excellent tip for a follow-up.

  10. 13

    Nice article for a beginner – although these are mostly things that any designer creating work for print should be doing, regardless of what programme they use, although InDesign definitely does it best.

    The three things that I wish I had known when I started using InDesign, and that I think should be included in the above, are:

    1) Grids and the ability to align text to a grid.

    2) Automatic page numbering! When you’re designing a 100+ page document, this comes in reeeeally handy!!

    3) Preflight Panel – the ability to create a print profile (eg. 300dpi CMYK) that will preflight your document as you are working on it. Saves you a lot of time and headaches.

    • 14

      Lisa Valuyskaya

      March 19, 2011 2:01 pm

      Thanks Alice! Many of those things were the most commonly asked questions/common issues in a few studios I worked for as they switched to InDesign. (Auto page numbering is mentioned in the article.)

  11. 15

    (I just tried posting off an iPhone and had it crash in the middle of my comment, so here goes again)

    There’s some inaccuracies to what’s suggested for outputting for print. The two most notable are the suggestions to output at 300ppi and the suggestions to converting files to CMYK.

    The rule of thumb for print production is that your images be between 2 – 2.5 times the halftone screen frequency of the output (LPI). The halftone screen frequency is dictated by the hardware used for the RIP, which means this number is available by asking he production house running the job. Anything less than that may result in jaggies and anything more is a waste of file size that will slow down the RIP or often times crash it. Printers generally, push for the lowest number that looks decent because it makes the pressman’s job far easier when he’s making ready and dialing in color, which means less time = cheaper costs. Fact is that the higher the LPI, the closer the job looks to a continuous tone image, as the dots in teh halftone become harder to see.

    The second inaccuracy has to do with converting files to CMYK. This used to be the case many moons ago, but once digital workflows took over and everything converted to PDF output the rules are now that you leave files in RGB and do a one time conversion across the entire document. RGB has a wider color gamut than CMYK, which means more color information. Therefore you always edit images in RBG. Generally you would create a custom profile per image so that the color space conversion kept the integrity of the color as true as possible and you’d save a version of the file in each color space in case you had to re-edit. These days it’s generally that you’ll edit your RGB images to what they need to be (Photoshop allows you to see CMYK data without the change in color space so you can easily dial in densities and color value) and then import the RGB versions into inDesign. Once converting to PDF you’ll create a custom color profile and do a document wide conversion to CMYK. This saves a ton of time and disk space and generally how it’s done.

    Granted these have less to do with inDesign than basic production workflow, but since the author brought it up, I figured I should interject. In any case, most of the other info is helpful.

    Good read.

    • 16

      Interesting… never heard this before. Although since it literally takes less than a second to convert to CMYK in Photoshop, why wouldn’t you switch to CMYK just so you can see how everything will look? I would rather check every file individually (because there are big variations between RGB and CMYK – especially when dealing with neon bright colours) and be happy with it in detail, rather than just letting my PDF output sweep over it with a big colour-flattening hand.

      I also 300dpi is a perfectly good rule of thumb. Why over-complicate things? I have worked for printing companies since I was 17 and have never had any problems at 300dpi or above… unless you are making fine art prints or something then I think (for general print, brochures, magazines etc) 300dpi is fine.

      • 17

        You can check how everything looks by using the Proof Colors command in Photoshop’s view menu. No need to convert back and forth between RGB and CMYK, you can toggle the preview on and off, and you can also use something called gamut warning, which will show you which colors can’t be represented in your CMYK color space. Just make sure you selected the correct CMYK color profile in the proof settings and if you’re using the “Working CMYK”, also in your color management settings.
        Since somewhere around CS4 you can even choose color blindness profiles in addition to CMYK profiles to check how color blind people will see your images.

        InDesign also has a proof option that even allows you to see what will end up on the individual plates, which is extremely useful if you want to check if graphics are separated correctly (i.e. black text should end up only on the black plate and nowhere else etc.), and you can also keep an eye on your ink limit (a function Photoshop still lacks), which may be critical if you have something that is set to overprint or sometimes even if you using one of the transparency blend modes.

        If precise control over the CMYK image is needed, I still do it the old way, i.e. converting every image to CMYK in Photoshop and then importing it into InDesign. That way you can control the rendering intent for the conversion of each image, and you can use tools like Selective Color to tweak the CMYK values directly if need be. But be careful when manipulating CMYK images directly, you may excceed your ink limit and stuff like that if you don’t know exactly what you are doing.

        • 18

          Building off Peter’s comment, you also need to remember we’re discussing long documents. As such you’re almost always dealing with signatures and therefore impositioning. As such you have color contamination to deal with (ie: heavy density in a channel at the head of a sheet infecting the color at the tail of the sheet). Even if you dial in the color perfectly on screen, besides adjusting for the fact that a display simply cannot reproduce color the same way as a printed sheet (additive vs subtractive color), you contend with contamination, the color & brightness of the stock itself (brighter paper pops color), the affect of the finish applied if any (gloss coats pop color vs dull coats flattening color), and probably most substantial (beyond the affect of impositioning) is the finish on the stock itself and any subsequent dot gain resulting from the hardness of a stocks surface coating that also plays into the density of a channel (which you can view values for in Photoshop, but is not really possible to view in a reactive manner on screen)

      • 19

        True you can convert to CMYK in a second, but generally ICC profiles are very carefully considered so that the outcome can be predicted. When you get to color critical print production, it would be blasphemous to go with some stock profile and hope the color space converts to what you want. Also, often times keeping color consistent takes precedent to color accuracy, or at least is super important. Let’s say you have a book with 5000 images… testing each one would be a monumental effort when in a modern workflow, you might have a body of shots where you can calibrate the first, apply the settings across the board and then fine tune them if needed. Create a single, well considered profile and convert all your assets. That’s the beauty of apps like LightRoom and colorcards and one of the strengths of PDF outputs.

        300dpi is not a good rule of thumb. Most work I print (books) are printed at 200LPI and even sometimes at 400LPI. 300dpi would not allow for good reproduction at that line screen. Likewise, plenty of printing is still done at 133LPI which means conceivably your wasting a lot of disk space on a job with a significant amount of assets and slowing down the RIP, which probably means the printer will either charge you more if your files take appreciably longer to RIP or down sample all your assets which I imagine they’d charge for even if it was as simple as automating it.

      • 21

        Lisa Valuyskaya

        March 19, 2011 2:32 pm

        Thank you Alice, and agreed with you on both points.

    • 22

      In a professional print design and prepress workflow you work with CMYK files from start to finish. You convert the RGB files as soon as you get them (but keep the originals just in case) and make all the necessary colour corrections on them. RGB to CMYK conversion should never be an automated process and the worst possible thing you can do is to leave it to the end of the workflow (PDF creation).

      You need to think in CMYK throughout the whole process, define and use colours wisely. For eg. use the fewest possible ink components for solid colours when you define swatches. Avoid leaving just 1-2 percent of any colour component, it will only increase noise. Try to use 100% of at least any one of the components for thin lines or light text to decrease rasterisation.

      You should “think” in CMYK, it’s also much easier to define shades and colour variations if you use rounded percentages of CMYK values. Working in print production involves lots of compromises and knowing and using CMYK is the best way to make it a reliable and fun process.

      • 23

        That may have been the case in the analog days, or at least pre PDF workflow, but it’s been years since I’ve operated like this and I publish books and catalogs professionally and have clients randing from Nike to Chopard, as well as production that spans from California to China.

        Indeed, the end result is CMYK, but operating in that color space has become that last step. Again, we’re discussing long documents that potentially have thousands of assets. The tools to maximize file integrity, color accuracy and overall reproduction have really taken big leaps in the last decade, so hearing people convert files one at a time hoping they nail the conversion kinda makes me think of assembling files in QuarkExpress3. No need for either, when there’s far better tools and methods available.

        • 24

          In the world of printing, we’re still in the “analog days”. The inks are analog, so is the paper.

          Your workflow is faster and more convenient. However, there are still assignments that need higher precision and more manual control where working in CMYK is beneficial, convenient and fun. We don’t mind colour correcting images one by one in quality brochures and catalogues and I rarely see images that do not need at least minor corrections after conversion. Automated tools are not sufficient for that.

          On the other hand, designing for print is usually much more than placing images onto pages. As I mentioned earlier there are lots of design related decisions to make in the CMYK world that could further improve quality when printing. So staying and feeling comfortable in the CMYK space can be highly rewarding.

          But I see your point and appreciate your arguments.

        • 25

          Lisa Valuyskaya

          March 19, 2011 2:37 pm

          Just a quick sidenote: long documents (books) have a whole bunch of considerations that I think merit a separate article. Maybe you should write one? :)

      • 26

        Lisa Valuyskaya

        March 19, 2011 2:35 pm

        Chris — yes, exactly! “You should think in CMYK” expresses it perfectly. I still think that’s the best way to learn. And if someone want to call me old-fashioned due to that… well, I guess I am.

      • 27

        David Cooke A.C.E.

        April 1, 2011 3:31 am

        Actually, this practice is a bit out of date these days. RGB has a wider gamut and file sizes are smaller. Plus 99% of images supplied will be RGB. I’d normally recommend to design companies I work with to leave everything in RGB until it comes to ripping the PDF. The engine for CMYK conversion is the same as Photoshop’s anyway.

        Even better still is if their printers are using the latest Adobe Print Engine. This allows them to output PDF’s to the X-4:2008 standard which means the conversion doesn’t take place until it reached the image setter which is significantly better than any PC system.
        The only real difficulty is matching screen colours to print but this is still a problem in any workflow.

        • 28

          +1 for wider gamut, why would you throw away image imformation before you need to?

    • 29

      “Once converting to PDF you’ll create a custom color profile and do a document wide conversion to CMYK.”
      This is not always the best way to convert images. I know by experience that gradients in images do not convert well from Indesign. This is especially the case with with light shades on white. In these cases it’s vital to make the rgb-cmyk conversion in Photoshop.

      I agree with Alice to not overcomplicate things with the resolution. 300 DPI is fine. Same goes for color profiles. I’ve always had perfectly good results with the standard color RGB profile and previewing the CMYK output in Photoshop.

    • 30

      Lisa Valuyskaya

      March 19, 2011 2:25 pm

      About 98% printers I have worked with, talked with and requested quotes from have 300 ppi as their standard tech spec. Clearly, if you are working on some very particular, intricate project, you would check with your printer beforehand anyway — or at least I hope so! But since this article is meant for beginners, 300 ppi is a good rule of thumb.
      I did make the assumption that the beginners would be working on simple projects such as business cards and brochures — that is usually where most people start, but I could be biased by my own background, so if it more common nowadays to start with books (as you mention further down), please let me know so I can keep that in mind for other articles.

      As for CMYK vs RGB… I’m sorry, but the Photoshop preview of RGB files doesn’t come close to what actually prints. Again, my own background does influence this, and as a print designer, I hae been taught to convert to CMYK as soon as an image comes in, and tweak from there (in print design studios/departments of agencies, RGB image may be kept as original, but is rarely used for anything else). I have also seen some very unhappy clients and bosses when a coworker tried doing the conversion you describe.

      Granted, when one has experience with that workflow — as I assume you do — you will probably have found workarounds to prevent the common problems and don’t even think about it. The only times I have witnessed this conversion used though yielded some rather terrifying results… That’s why I don’t think it’s a good idea to suggest beginners use it, as the traditional way allows them to learn the differences, and what to watch out for, as they work — rather than at the end of a project with a deadline looming.

      Thanks for an interesting discussion though!

  12. 31

    Whats your view on creating outlines of text before exporting for print?

    Does it still need to be done?

    • 32

      I believe InDesign embeds fonts when exporting to PDF, so it would be unnecessary and makes your text uneditable. I don’t suggest for general documents it unless you want to save two InDesign files – one for print and one working file.

      If your worried about not getting all the fonts to your printer, you can always package your InDesign document with all the fonts and links by going to File>Package. You’ll end up with a folder that includes the InDesign file, a print instruction page, a fonts folder and a links folder. It’s very handy for file management too. :)

      The only reason I can think of for creating outlines of text would be for logos or the like…

    • 33

      Lisa Valuyskaya

      March 19, 2011 2:51 pm

      Yes, Trish is right, InDesign does embed fonts when exporting to PDF, so there is usually no need to convert to outlines. Or you can choose to subset it (only include the characters used) rather than embedding the entire font.
      Creating outlines is usually reserved for more graphic work, like logos — and situations where there is a known issue with embedding. (only happened once in my experience) Even then, you don’t have to do it manually; you can create a custom transparency flattener preset, checking the “convert text to outlines” option, and export to PDF using that.

  13. 34

    After reading great Photoshop articles on SM recently I was a bit disappointed when I got to the end of this article on InDesign, which I felt was made up of 60% images and 40% text. These tips are hardly hidden away from the first time user. These are pretty much the first things you do and find out when starting with InDesign and I think it is a bit lame to call these tip “something you’d wish you had known”…

    When you start with InDesign you should first read up on the following issues (as they will bite you in the back otherwise) but you will definitely not find anything about these issues in this “the basic most basic intro to InDesign” article. Instead, look up some articles/tutorials on the following:

    – Books (save your life when designing 50+ page documents)
    – Master Text Frames (see above)
    – Object Styles (oh yes!)
    – Table of Contents / Footnotes
    – Proper bullet points
    – Correct usage of white space
    – Fitting Content to Frame and vice versa
    – Display Performance settings (especially when working with PSD files as suggested)
    – Styling tables in Indesign
    – Text wrap do’s and don’ts
    – Intro and set up of baseline grids
    – Variable data in Indesign

  14. 35

    Thanks a lot for the tips! I especially like importing excel spreedsheets straight into InDesign. How useful!

  15. 37

    Glad I knew all that when I was starting out, way back with InDesign CS. Thank you Total Training.

  16. 38

    Greg Treadwell

    March 17, 2011 5:40 am

    I like this article, it contains everything I’ve been teaching my students in 1 place, definitely going to share this with them.
    I have found one error I’d like to point out: Special Characters is found under the Type menu, not the Edit menu.
    As for the CMYK/RGB debate, I find with students it’s easier for them to grain control over their colours if they convert to CMYK – it forces them to be aware of the shifts that can happen when converting colour spaces.

    • 39

      Lisa Valuyskaya

      March 19, 2011 2:57 pm

      Thanks Greg! I’ll see if I can fix the error without accidentally unpublishing it.

      And yes, the way you teach your students is the way I was taught as well, and it’s that hands-on experience with conversion shifts that makes you learn quickly what to adjust and when.

  17. 40

    Lucid Theory

    March 17, 2011 5:53 am

    300dpi is perfectly fine for images, unless they have flattened text, which plates and prints fine @ 600dpi.

    Rich black was also mentioned, but not really answered properly. A good rich black would be made up of either 30% cyan or magenta and 100% black. Anything more is just unnecessary and the printed sheets will take longer to dry.

    And I would always outline text before exporting as a pdf, it simply stops quite a lot of possible font issues when the printers plate the job – one of which being they may need to adjust three page and will struggle if they have fonts missing.

    • 41

      Process black is mostly dependent on the stock and production hardware. On a hard coated sheet you’ll get an entirely different result than on an uncoated sheet. Likewise, sheet fed production generally runs more dense than web press production for example.

      Also, the drying time is also subject to finishing. If you have an inline UV for example, you can run a really wet sheet and it’ll be sealed in with the finish instantly. Likewise, an absorbent sheet with no coating will ‘ghost’ if you run it wetter (denser) if you aren’t careful.

      And again, there’s no broad rule on resolution. The formula isn’t rocket science… Files are submitted at 2 – 2.5 times the screen frequency. I think this is important to note if we’re discussing real production. If your a newbie, chances are you aren’t sending a book off to press. If you are, you’d be best served having the resolution proper before potentially screwing up a job that I’d imagine would be a significant sum of money in most situations.

    • 42

      Martin SIlvertant

      March 17, 2011 3:04 pm

      I’m not sure if you voted AKANYC’s comment down or someone else did, but to everyone reading this, AKANYC is correct. I must admit I always use 300dpi myself, but it’s a risk you will take. This is what Wikipedia says:

      “The resolution of a halftone screen is measured in lines per inch (lpi). This is the number of lines of dots in one inch, measured parallel with the screen’s angle. Known as the screen ruling, the resolution of a screen is written either with the suffix lpi or a hash mark; for example, “150 lpi” or “150#”.
      The higher the pixel resolution of a source file, the greater the detail that can be reproduced. However, such increase also requires a corresponding increase in screen ruling or the output will suffer from posterization. Therefore file resolution is matched to the output resolution.”

      I’ve never had posterization before, but you will definitely risk that if you blindly use 300dpi. It’s definitely best to ask your printer first. Sadly enough not all printers are equally competent, and many probably won’t even know what LPI is.

      • 43

        Lisa Valuyskaya

        March 19, 2011 3:29 pm

        Martin, I’m not sure if you were talking to me, but I was out of town and didn’t even know the article was published until today — so any voting up and down by me is happening now, not before. ;)

        I would look for links that talk about dpi, ppi, and professional printer output, but it is midnight over here, so I hope you will forgive me if I leave it for another time… 300 ppi stays a good rule of thumb — a starting place, especially for someone new to designing for print. And you have to admit, it’s much easier to start with a higher quality file and adjust down, rather than getting a 72ppi one to look decent. Because the most common mistake is still sending low-res files for print, and most certainly not the other way around.

    • 44

      Lisa Valuyskaya

      March 19, 2011 3:07 pm

      Rich black values depend on the job, the printer and the desired result. There really isn’t a formula.

      You would outline the text rather than embed it or subset it? I usually hear the opposite, and outlining tends to be a last-resort solution if there are errors or something — but maybe I am misunderstanding and you were talking about some specific issue. In any case, no need to do it before exporting; you can just use a custom transparency flattener to outline as you export.

      • 45

        David Cooke A.C.E.

        April 1, 2011 3:41 am

        True. It’s a matter of taste. Some want a warm black others a cool one. The problem is that it’s almost impossible to proof these things so designers often just stick to one!

    • 46

      David Cooke A.C.E.

      April 1, 2011 3:46 am

      Converting text to outlines is not something I’d usually recommend as it increases file size and can have unpredictable outcomes with smaller fonts. Just the thoughts of converting a 200 page book to outlines is making me break out in a sweat :)

      The only time I consider it is when I use truetype fonts or display fonts that I don’t wish to embed.

  18. 47

    very usefull explanations and very clear! you should write more about InDesign functions!! I really appreciate this article

  19. 48

    John Mindiola III

    March 17, 2011 6:21 am

    From my experience, outlining text should only be reserved for logos and other special graphics. The text will render out smoother and as intended if the text is left editable and the font files are sent with the INDD file (all in a package with the images).

    Even if creating your own PDFs and sending those to the printer, sending the font files is still a good idea.

    I also have never heard that RGB files are good/okay to use for print production. However, I know it is common to globally convert color to grayscale during the PDFing process, so perhaps global RGB>CMYK isn’t such a bad idea.

    • 49

      Lisa Valuyskaya

      March 19, 2011 3:34 pm

      Hi John,

      Agreed on the text (though usually not necessary to include font files with PDF if they’re already embedded).

      As far as global conversion, I stand by my old fashioned views: I like adjusting manually, and I think it’s the best way to see the difference and learn to work with it — for anyone who want to learn, that is.

      Thanks for your comment!

  20. 50

    Excellent resource on InDesign, I’m printing this and keeping it handy. It’s taken me years to unearth many of these functions, they just don’t show you some of this in any course on InDesign. Any chance on a “what experts in InDesign may not know” followup? :)

    Thank you,
    Rod Salm

    • 51

      Martin SIlvertant

      March 17, 2011 2:36 pm

      “they just don’t show you some of this in any course on InDesign”

      What about the Help section of InDesign? If that isn’t the most complete handbook, I don’t know what is…

    • 52

      Lisa Valuyskaya

      March 19, 2011 3:36 pm

      Thanks Rod! Any suggestions on what to include in the follow up? Because I’m not sure what it is that the experts may not know. ;)


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