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By Mike Rankin | Thursday, October 27, 2011

InDesign FX: Getting effects into print

Will it print?

Those three words almost inevitably follow any discussion of graphic effects. And with very good reason. If you are designing and producing layouts for print, Will it print? is the most important question. It’s where the rubber meets the road, or in the case of an offset printing press, where the rubber meets the paper.

I can totally understand the desire for caution and even a bit of apprehension associated with printing transparency FX. There’s no Undo button on a printing press. In everyone’s work, there are deadlines that must be met, and often a lot of money at stake, and things have to work. At one point in my career I worked as a prepress specialist for a large publisher. It was my job to process PDFs that were used to print our books using Kodak’s Prinergy system, which many commercial printers use. We bought Prinergy because we had very complex files and we had experienced difficulties in the past getting them printed the way we wanted. We decided to take full responsibility and control over everything print-related: transparency flattening, color management, overprinting, trapping, you name it. And it worked. We got the results we wanted, and it was exciting to have almost end-to-end control of the workflow, from prototype to printing press.

Obviously that was a pretty unusual situation. Almost all designers are going to rely on someone else to output their work. And every situation is different. There are different workflows, different design requirements, different RIPs, different printing hardware. So ultimately Will it print? is a question without a single answer. I can definitively state that everything shown in the InDesign FX series can be printed, on anything from a desktop inkjet to a printing press. But the real question people are asking isn’t Will it print? but How do I get it to print in my situation? or What steps do I have to take to get it to print? Getting high-quality print output is not a passive thing but an active thing. That is why I spend most of the time in this week’s video talking about how to work with your print vendor. I talk about communicating, testing, and proofing your work so you know that what’s on the page will come out right.

To put things in context, I often like to point out that transparency is not new, cutting edge stuff. We’re not beta testers. The underlying technology is older than some of the people who use it. Its roots in PostScript are more than 20 years old. Acrobat has supported live transparency for more than 10 years. Postscript 3 came out in 1997. The Adobe PDF Print engine came out in spring 2006 (when InDesign CS2 was the latest and greatest). So it’s OK to embrace this stuff and use it. Of course, even in this day and age, there are things that should be avoided, like applying blending modes to spot colored objects. That can lead to problems because the spot color will be separated where it blends, instead of staying where it belongs, on the spot plate. As long as there is ink and paper, there will be rules and best practices to follow. So as a bonus to accompany this week’s video, here are my Top 5 Tips for Getting FX to Print the Way You Want:

  1. Start with the end in mind and think through the steps in your output process. Create new documents with Print Intent. This sets the transparency blend space to CMYK and the swatches to CYMK. For some FX, you need to switch to RGB blend space, which complicates things. Everything on the spread is converted to RGB for the sake of consistent color blending. But this does not mean that you have to deliver RGB to your printer. You can convert to CMYK at output time. In some cases that will be when you export the PDF from InDesign, in other cases that may be afterward. If you have Adobe Acrobat Pro, you can analyze your PDFs for their prepress characteristics. You can see if black text is getting converted to rich black, which is usually undesirable. You can also use the preflight tools in Acrobat to process your PDFs, flattening transparency if necessary and converting to CMYK so your FX will print as expected on any device.
  2. Use InDesign’s output panels: Separations, Preflight, and Flattener Preview. With them, you can see and head off potential problems. For example, if a transparency effect is going to result in outlined or rasterized text, you can see that and move it above the blending to keep it as live text in the PDF.
  3. Don’t flatten transparency until you need to. When you flatten, you are choosing a specific set of output conditions, and setting the resolution of drop shadows, feathers, and glows. So the correct time to flatten is as close to the end product as possible. The Adobe PDF Print Engine can handle the flattening of transparency and optimize it for the specific conditions of the printer outputting your job. If your printer can handle PDF X-4, (which supports live transparency) you may not have to flatten at all.
  4. Talk to your printer and use the resources they give you. Many print vendors can give you PDF presets, preflight profiles, color profiles, and best practice documentation. Don’t be afraid to contact them with specific questions. They know what their equipment can and can’t do. In my experience, printers appreciate customers who ask questions and are willing to take the time to understand their press requirements and get the job right. As much as possible, work with printers who are using modern standards and equipment.
  5. Test and proof. Take some time to understand the complexities of proofing. What comes out of your office inkjet or laser printer may bear little resemblance to what will come out on a printing press and a RIP that uses entirely different software to process your files. Many things that look bad in low-res output will be undetectable on press. Before I recorded the FX video series, I sent my files to a friend of mine, James Wamser, who works at a commercial printer. James is also the lynda.com author of InDesign CS5 Print Production Guidelines. James was kind enough to run my PDFs through his system and give me the same contract proofs that he would supply to a real customer as a guarantee of how a job would output. So as I was recording the videos, and afterwards, when I took my InDesign FX show on the road, I could hold those proofs from James in my hand and say with confidence, “Yes, it will print.”

For lynda.com members, I have another new video this week exclusively in the Online Training Library® called Getting FX Into Ebooks.

And I’ll see you here again in two weeks with another InDesign effect.

• InDesign FX complete course • courses on InDesign in the Online Training Library® • courses by Mike Rankin in the Online Training Library®

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