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You've taken the time and effort to learn how to make awesome effects in InDesign. You've carefully crafted beautiful designs, but all of that work will be wasted if you can't actually reproduce those effects in your output. The good news is you can produce high quality print output from InDesign's effects. You just have to understand some things about transparency and how it fits into your workflow. For starters, the most important piece of advice I'd give anyone concerned with how their effects will look in print is to get in touch with your printer. Contact the customer service rep and have a conversation. Ask specific questions and keep the responses on hand for reference.
You should ask if they have PDF presets, preflight profiles, or color profiles that you should be using. Some printers will give you a set of best practices to follow when preparing documents for their presses. If these are available to you, use them. It's much easier to set things up right initially so you get what you want the first time than it is to try to fix things after some thing has gone wrong and to figure out whose fault it was. Submit samples and review the results in either hard or soft proofs. Unless you really know your way around color management, don't rely on output from your devices as proofs.
What you see on screen and out of your desktop printer may not reflect how something will come out on press. I'd also advise you to check out Adobe's materials on transparency. You can download the Adobe guide to transparency and print production from their web site. All that said, you do have a great deal of control over how your effects will print. The two most important issues are what is your transparency blend space and what kind of PDF are you outputting? If your document uses RGB Blend Space, everything on spreads containing transparency will be converted to the document's working RGB space.
You won't likely see much of a change on the page due to RGB's larger color gamut. Let me show you. So here I have a document with some flowers and I've used all the different blending modes to blend a blue swatch with the flowers and I also have a page with some RGB swatches and an RGB placed Photoshop file and which transparency blend space I use is going to greatly affect how these swatches come out in print. So first I will check my transparency blend space. I will go to my Edit menu and choose Transparency Blend Space and I am using Document RGB.
So I am going to introduce some transparency into this page by selecting the black swatch and going to my Effects panel and I'll just reduce its opacity from 100% to 99%. And I don't see any change at all really and that's to be expected. These are RGB swatches and I am using an RGB blend space. So all the colors fit but what if I change my blend space? I'll choose Edit > Transparency Blend Space > Document CMYK and now I will introduce some transparency to the spread, and I see a pretty dramatic change.
That's because InDesign is now on-the- fly converting these colors to CMYK to blend them and I can see my reds are getting dulled and dark and my greens and so forth. I am seeing a big change. So your transparency blend space will make a big difference in your print output. So given that larger color gamut, you may think that using RGB blend space is always the way to go, but some caution is advised. If you output to CMYK, everything on the spread containing transparency will have been converted to RGB first and then to CMYK.
Now for many colors this may not produce any noticeable color shift, but there is a drawback and that is black. Black text will be converted like everything else and in the PDF it'll be 4-color black. 4-color blacks especially on small text are to be avoided because any mis-registration on press will be noticeable. There are prepress tools that will help you fix rich black text. For example, you could use Acrobat Professional's Convert Colors tool. But if you don't have a strategy for dealing with rich black text, you might want to avoid RGB blend space.
The second big issue after Blend Space is flattening. If you output to PDF 1.4, which is Acrobat 5 or higher, transparency is not flattened. Let's look at this in the Export dialog box. So I will export this document to a PDF and I'll choose Print and I can choose a compatibility. Here I have Acrobat 5. Now if I output Acrobat 5 or any of these higher standards, I will have live transparency in my PDF, but if I go to Acrobat 4 or PDF 1.3, this is going to flatten my transparency and flatten my effects.
And in my Advanced tab, I can see there's a transparency flattener that's going to be used. I can choose from the Preset menu. There are three choices, Low, Medium and High, and we will look at these in a second. But it's something to be aware of. If you can deliver unflattened transparency, there are a lot of advantages. Your PDFs will be smaller in size and then the resolution of your effects can be set at output time. So your print service provider can actually target the resolution of those effects to their output devices, but if you have to flatten transparency in InDesign then that responsibility is yours.
So let's look at those flattener presets. I will go to the Edit menu and choose Transparency Flattener Presets, and here's Low, Medium, and High resolution. I will just click on High and click on New so I can see the settings. And first we have Raster/Vector Balance. So when InDesign mixes objects due to changes in opacity or blending mode, it chops them up into small pieces and it can decide whether to rasterize a region or to keep it as vectors and this slider controls how much of your document will be basically converted into a picture, be rasterized, or will stay as paths, become vectors.
You can also choose resolution for Text and Line Art and you can set this resolution, Gradient and Mesh, and this is really important when it comes to your effects. The Gradient and Mesh Resolution is the resolution that your transparency effects will be output at in flattened PDF. So those drop shadows and bevels, those regions where you've applied a blending mode other than normal or reduced opacity, this is the resolution they are going to be output at. So in this example, it's 300 PPI. So, if I use that high quality PDF preset, it uses this high-resolution transparency flattener preset and my effects will be output at 300 PPI.
Now there is a couple of settings for converting text and strokes to outlines and you might wonder why would I want to force convert text all to outlines. Well, I'll show you. We will cancel out of these dialog boxes and I'll go back to the first page of my document and here I have the flower with all the different blending modes. Now if I choose from the Window menu, Output > Flattener Preview, I can see which regions of the page are going to be affected by transparency flattening. I will choose from the Highlight menu and I'll choose All Affected Objects.
And right now I can see where I have the 15 blending modes other than normal. They are highlighted in red. So they're going to be flattened, but these areas up here are unflattened, they are unaffected. But what if I take the large flower and I apply an effect to it? So I'll give it a huge Outer Glow of, say, 30 pixels. I'll go back to the flattener preview and refresh my highlight and now look at my text. The first two lines of my text and then this little attribution down here are now highlighted in red.
So InDesign is telling me that these are going to be affected by transparency flattening. They could either be rasterized or they could be converted to outlines. Now in either case, I am not too happy about that. I like to avoid it. In most cases, there's an easy solution to this problem and you just click on the text frame itself and choose Object > Arrange > Bring to Front. I will refresh the flattener and now I can see the text is no longer in red. So it's sitting above the flattening and it's not going to be converted to outlines or rasterized.
But if this was on a lower layer than the picture of the flower with the Outer Glow, I couldn't exactly bring it above. so it would still be involved in the flattening and this is what that's setting was for in the transparency flattener. I could force all the text to be converted to outlines so at least it has a consistent look in my text. It wouldn't look like some letters were thicker than others. If your layouts are destined for print, it's important that you understand how to make your effects print the way you want them to. Use the Flattener Preview to avoid things like rasterized text and don't flatten transparency unless you need to.
Talk to your printer and test your files so you know in advance that you'll get quality results.
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