If there’s something strange… in InDesign… who you gonna call?

It is nice to be known as a go-to person concerning questions about InDesign, but often there are questions about InDesign that I simply have no answers for. When questions concerning InDesign arise, that is when it is time for me to:

  • Ask a colleague
  • Look at some of the manuals on my desk
  • Use the help menu of InDesign itself
  • Go onto the internet

Normally the latter happens more often than asking a colleague or referencing the books. The sites that are typically visited first are:


The Adobe InDesign forum (above) and InDesignSecrets’ own forum are both fantastic resources that often hold the answers to questions that may arise.

Prior to asking the question straight away in a forum, use the search facilities in case a similar issue was answered already. If there is no joy using the search, then ask the question, ensuring the following are stated:

  • The operating system
  • Version of InDesign
  • (if scripting) the script language being used
  • The actual question

Stating all of this saves a lot of time for people who may have the answer to the question. Simply stating “help me”, “won’t work” or “this sucks” in the headline won’t tell a potential respondent what the specific issue is, and in many cases responders will just move onto the next post that has a descriptive headline.

Each forum has its own rules but I like to think that the following should apply to ANY advice website (and it should go without saying to use appropriate “netiquette”):

  • Be nice! Forums are typically user to user, so save any frustration about the product to those who made the software, not other users who likely share the frustration. This also means that anyone answering a post is doing so in their own time and are doing so on a voluntary basis… bear this in mind.
  • Mark as answered! If a forum has answered the question and there is a facility on a forum to mark a question as helpful or answered, please do so. It tells any respondent that their help was useful; it tells other users what the answer may be, and it lets future respondents know that the question has been answered and they can then invest their time in unanswered questions. Specifically on the Adobe forums, it gives the poster of the correct or helpful question “points” that shows their status within the forums. More information on Adobe forums points can be found here.
  • Don’t hijack threads for unrelated issues. Contributing to a post is one thing, taking over and redirecting the thread is another.
  • Be patient! Don’t “bump” old posts of yours… unless there is new vital information that may help any respondent.
  • Have reasonable expectations of the forums. There is a sub-thread of the InDesign forums dedicated to scripting within InDesign and it is there to serve people who write their own scripts whilst using InDesign. While the contributors to this forum are happy to help out with specific scripting queries, it is unlikely they will write a script from scratch for a specific issue.
  • Detail. If there is a specific issue, set out the steps that were taken that led up to the issue and use screengrabs if possible. This gives future respondents a chance to identify the fault, or try to attempt to replicate the fault on their own machine to see if it is a user-specific issue or if it affects every user. It doesn’t need to be War and Peace, but it needs to have more detail than a Twitter tweet.

Social Media

Twitter is great for the purpose of keeping up to date with new developments as regular forum posters and providers of good information often tweet news on updates, bugs and other developments.

Reddit also has a sub-reddit for indesign = r/indesign (as well as r/creativecloud etc) and the rules follow normal Reddit and forum rules. Admittedly it is not the first place that one would assume would have an appropriate answer, but the sub-reddit is useful and does have an “answered” feature similar to the Adobe Forums.

Youtube can be an unlikely source of answers for InDesign questions. There are hundreds of tutorial videos made by InDesign users and bloggers that may answer more common questions. It is also a source of “lifted” material from paid sites, but I have no doubt that the owners of the original content will take the time to search for their own titles on youtube that shouldn’t be there, and make copyright claims in due course.

Specific Sources

There are some unlikely sources of InDesign information. Some are via scripting resources such as:

  • Github
  • Sourceforge
  • Macscripter
  • Stackoverflow

There are also dedicated learning sites such as Lynda.com that are well worth the subscription, and feature lessons from InDesignSecrets contributors amongst other professionals.

Spot “color” of bother

Why converting spot colour to process on process artwork is not such a good idea.

Ever had a supplier make contact to say that there are spot colours in the artwork supplied, and wondered “Why don’t they just convert it and leave me alone? Why are you bothering me with such a simple thing?”

1) Possible breakdown in communication

For the art department of the supplier, this will normally be the first time that they have seen the artwork and be totally unaware of its history or construction. All the art department will normally be concerned with is that the details on the docket match the artwork, and that the artwork meets the mechanical specifications for the press, such as correct colours, bleeds, page size, etc.

For a prepress operator, observing a spot colour in addition to process artwork raises red flags such as:

  • Is the artwork actually meant to be CMYK+spot?
  • Is the artwork meant to be all spot colour?

Similarly, if a prepress operator receives artwork with instructions that the artwork is to print in Pantone Red 032 for example, but the file is prepared in Pantone Warm Red, the prepress operator will ask the question: is the colour being printed on the docket correct, or is the ink in the customer’s artwork correct? This is not uncommon problem in a printing business and is a great way of delaying proofs and creating confusion.

2) How the conversion is done

“Converting” a spot colour all depends on how the conversion to process is done. Take for example the color Pantone Red 032. Depending on which application made the PDF, the colour can appear with several breakdowns:

  • Adobe InDesign 5.0 (Pantone Solid Coated Library) – C0 M90 Y86 K0
  • Adobe InDesign 5.0 (Pantone Color Bridge Library) – C0 M90 Y60 K0
  • Quark Xpress 8.0 – Solid Coated Library OR Color Bridge (using the CMYK output) – C0 M90 Y60 K0
  • Quark Xpress 8.0 (using the CMYK and spot/As Is methods) – LAB colour

In addition to this, the printer’s RIP also has the ability to convert spot colours to process in a PDF based on the alternate value within the PDF, or a value based on a spot-to-LAB-to-CMYK conversion.

Furthermore, a customer’s corporate stylesheet may have several colours of a logo depending on the circumstance that the artwork is being used, such as:

  • if appearing in newsprint in process, use this breakdown;
  • if appearing on glossy stock in process, use this breakdown;
  • if appearing in newsprint in spot, use this spot colour;
  • if appearing on glossy stock in spot, use this spot colour;

3) If the PDF has transparencies, drop-shadows or the like.

If the PDF has been made to Acrobat 4 compatibility (1.3) and features drop shadows or any effects above a spot colour which was flattened once the PDF was made, then a spot to process conversion may not even be possible. Areas which were flattened will become white, as demonstrated in the illustration below.

4) The client’s expectations of spot v process

Some spot colours such as metallics, fluoroescences, pastels etc convert terribly to process, regardless of which method to convert them was used. If the client has chosen spot colours from a swatch book with no process equivalent next to the swatches, and expects these colours to reproduce out of process colours and look identical to the swatch book, then they are setting themselves up for failure.

Some swatch books (such as Pantone Color Bridge) does display its swatches with the spot colour on the left and how it appears converted to process on the right.

However, if a customer is shown a swatch using the book and it is not made clear between the difference in colour between spot and process, the customer will be disappointed once again.

The bottom line?

If artwork is to print process, prepare the artwork using process colours only. If the artwork is to print in spot colours, make sure that the spot colours in the document are going to be the same spot colours going to press. If your client has supplied you spot colour artwork which should be process, ask them to supply process artwork. If they complain and ask why, point them to this article.

The proof is in… your email?

Lately, my employer has seen an increase in the amount of clients who are now insisting on seeing PDF proofs of their artwork only. The irony is that the clients had provided PDF art to begin with, and in many instances, the same file sent to the printer is literally emailed straight back to the client.

This is a dangerous practice. Proofs like this will not:

  • determine whether the artwork was imposed or double-sided correctly by the printer;
  • show the colour quality of a printed proof;
  • reveal any corruptions, incorrect trapping or unwanted overprints which have been either created or processed by the printer’s RIP;

It also assumes that the client is going to view the PDF in Adobe Acrobat Reader or Pro. How about if the client chooses to open the PDF:

  • Using Mac’s Preview software; or
  • Nitro PDF (or any other third party PDF developer); or
  • within an internet browser such as Safari or Internet Explorer?

It further assumes that the client is viewing the PDF in conditions identical to that of the author, such as overprint preview being enabled.

Here is an example to demonstrate how the same PDF can look differently with something as simple as “overprint preview” being enabled. Download this PDF and try to view the PDF:

  • Using Adobe Acrobat Professional with Output Preview turned on;
  • Using Adobe Acrobat Reader (only the default settings);
  • within any internet browser; and
  • Using Mac’s Preview software.

Did the image look like:

or did the PDF look like

The bottom example is how the table would have likely printed, given that it had fill overprints enabled in the table setup:

But it is more likely that the file actually looked like the first example in Acrobat Reader or via Mac’s Preview option.

Yes, customers can be given instructions to make sure that when they are looking at PDF proofs (using Acrobat Reader) to ensure that their overprint preview is turned on… if you can find it. It seems to be in a different menu or dialog depending which version and operating system they are using. It also assumes that an overprint preview option is available… what if they are viewing the PDF via an internet browser or mac preview – where is overprint preview there?

[EDIT: 9 February 2012]: The VIGC (Flemish Innovation Center for Graphic Communication) has posted an article which echoes the sentiments posted in this one concerning PDF previewers for print purposes. Click here to read the full article.

Nowadays, with many providers being interstate or overseas, printed proofs are not always an option or convenience.

Luckily, any printer worth their salt will be able to provide PDF proofs generated by their respective RIPs which will reveal any issues raised in the third bullet point above. PDFs proofed in this fashion typically display a rasterised file of how the artwork was interpreted by the RIP. If clients are familiar with impositions, this method may also solve the issues raised in the first bullet point. In terms of proofing colour… a printed proof will always be better.

Ultimately, if your hand is forced by your client, insist that the printer provide imposed proofs generated by the RIP rather than PDFs which had been sent to the printer in the first place.

Be on the same page

Working in prepress can be challenging, but what can complicate matters is poor communication.

To illustrate how instructions can be misinterpreted, it is important to illustrate what happens to instructions once given to the sales representative of a commercial printer:

  • client to sales representative, then;
  • sales representative to production manager; then
  • production manager down the line to prepress manager and prepress operators;

Write it down

Anyone familiar with the term “chinese whispers” will understand when instructions are relayed again and again from different people. On that note it is important to make sure that any communication with the printer is clear, easily understood, and documented.

Ask questions…

There is no such thing as a stupid question. Prepress staff would rather hear and answer a “stupid question” instead of having to fix an enormous problem which could have been avoided. One suggestion that i’d give people though would be is before asking a question, have two answers which could possibly answer the question first.

… But read the manual first!

While a prepress operator uses a computer in their line of work, that does not mean they are experts at using computers, building computers, or identifying software or hardware faults. When having problems with software or hardware, please try to remedy the problem with the troubleshooting guide of the manual which came with the software/hardware, contact the manufacturer’s telephone support line, or visit the manufacturer’s website.

Tunnel vision

After working in prepress for a while, it’s easy to get “tunnel vision” or “mac-blindness” and forget that clients submitting files are not necessarily as familiar with the design software or prepress concepts as we are. With this mindset, it is easy for a prepress operator to go off in a world of jargon such as JPGs, TIFFs, RIPs, CTP, etc. On the other hand, it is easy for a client to forget that a prepress operator is not necessarily as familiar with the artwork as they are. Ultimately it is important that both parties communicate clearly, politely and professionally.

Correction Marks

If providing alterations for artwork, please try to use metric or imperial measurements when referring to distances. Colloquial measurements such as “tads”, “whiskers”, “smidges” and “bits” are open to wide interpretation and could see artwork constantly being reproofed (and billed!). Similarly, measurements should also be used to identify any increases in size of fonts (e.g. make the heading 20pt Palatino-Bold, 100% Black).

In a perfect world, recognised printer’s correction marks would be ideal on proofs but in general, so long as the corrections are clear enough to be understood and are written in a sensible and legible fashion, they should acceptable.

For those interested, a list of proofreaders marks can be found at here.

Nobody is Perfect

One detail that no business will ever admit is that they have made mistakes in the past or that they have run late from time to time. Just like any other business, printers and bureaux are not infallible. Their machinery can break down, may require colour calibration, may run out of materials necessary to complete the artwork, have staff on leave, etc. Prepress operators do make mistakes and are not necessarily familiar with all prepress applications on the market. Just like any other work environment, breakdowns of communication do occur between staff and clients (or indeed between staff) and things do get misplaced or lost. There is no doubt printers/bureaux do attempt to prepare artwork by a set deadline but it is important to remember that they are not perfect.

Keep Your Cool

Prepress operators are constantly under stress from their managers and customers to meet deadlines; trying to determine prepress issues preventing a file from successfully printing; attempting to fix, repair, maintain or calibrate machinery necessary for the output of films or plates; and in some cases having to answer the phone and the reception desk. The majority of prepress operators do their best to keep their emotions in check, but just like anybody under stress, they have their limits. These are normally stretched to breaking point by yelling, swearing or insults, threats (e.g. “i’ll take my account somewhere else!”) or constant interruptions (e.g. telephoning every 10 minutes to see if the artwork is ready for collection).

Tell The Customer What’s Going On

It is not uncommon for sales representatives to instruct prepress staff to correct known errors in artwork in an effort to save the customer any inconvenience or delay in the output of their artwork. Often done without the knowledge of the customer, this can be anything from fixing an emboldening issue to replacing all of their low resolution graphics with high quality EPS images which are stored on the printer/bureau’s computer archive.

This is a dangerous practice as it often gives the customer the illusion that their artwork is flawless (and hence they will keep making the same mistakes time and time again and potentially not billed for it). It also relies on the same personnel at the printer/bureau to be aware of the alterations, given that any absence or turnover in staff may see the alterations not performed, performed incorrectly or may even inform the client of inhouse procedures which would normally be kept confidential.


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