Photoshop for compositors?
February 16, 2010 5:24 PM   Subscribe

I will be doing print layout for a photobook with text... using solely Adobe Photoshop. What technical secrets do I need to know to make sure that graphics, background AND text come out looking cohesive and snappy on the printed page?

I want to create a family cookbook using one of those photobook services (probably Shutterfly). Their built-in design software isn't very flexible, though, so instead of using the site's design engine, I'd like to do all the layout on my end, save entire pages (text + photos +background) as single graphic files, and upload those directly for use in the book. I'll be using Photoshop CS2, which I know is not optimal for this sort of thing, but there's really no budget for Illustrator or the equivalent right now.

I am very much a beginner at this, so I was wondering if any more graphic-savvy folk around here could offer any technical tips, suggestions or caveats for moving graphics and text successfully from the software to the printed page in the fashion I'm describing. For instance, I used Photoshop last month to assemble text, background and picture for a photo postcard, and while the layout looked great onscreen, when printed the text came out looking... somehow muddy and flat, compared to the preset photo cards from the same site. Also, some of the graphic elements had crisper edges than others, even though I'd tried to be careful about using the same settings throughout.

That's mostly what worries me-- the little technical details that might make something that looks perfectly nice onscreen translate to amateurish crap on the physical page. I do know to be careful to use sufficiently high-res files, but beyond that, is there anything I should know about use of color, CMYK vs. RGB, getting nice crisp text, edge-of-page cropping, black values, or any other hidden pitfalls to be aware of?
posted by Bardolph to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
getting nice crisp text

Use a page layout program. Seriously. If this is important to you, use a program that outputs sharp text by default. Scribus does page layout and it's free

edge-of-page cropping

You need to bleeds, i.e. instead the color of image 1/8in (.125) beyond the page and then send the page with the bleed to the printer. Example, if the page is 5x10 inches (just to keep it simple), you need to make send a page that is 5.50 by 10.25, which will include that .25in bleed for BOTH sides (5 inch width, plus .125in for the left side and .125in for the right side)
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:43 PM on February 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

This probably won't work. Books are printed with sharp text (usually 2400 dpi) and color halftones by separating CMYK plates. Those photobooks are going to separate your pictures into halftones, hence blurry text. I don't know from Shutterfly, but Apple's iPhoto books will let you add your own text. It would be a nightmare to design a cookbook in that, though. There probably is no good way to do what you want to do with the tools available. Sorry.
posted by rikschell at 5:52 PM on February 16, 2010

Best answer: While agreeing with the posters above re: Photoshop, can I also suggest Blurb instead of Shutterfly? prices look about the same and I know Blurb is where a lot of my professional designer/photographer friends go when they just need a quick one-off or two for the quality and flexibility. It looks like they have their own layout software if you so choose, as well.
posted by june made him a gemini at 6:15 PM on February 16, 2010

Don't do a layout in photoshop alone. InDesign is my favorite page layout program, but any page layout program is better than photoshop.
posted by dabitch at 6:17 PM on February 16, 2010

Best answer: Try the book design software for the Blurb service, which has competitively priced books. It's much more customisable than most; you can even create your own layouts. In contrast to Blurb, tools like iPhoto, Picaboo and many others are quite frustratingly limited. Only downside to the Blurb software is the watermarks if you try and print to your own printer.

I really recommend you do not try and "roll your own" book layout in photoshop. It's a tremendously difficult task to do well, even when using the "Right" tools.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:17 PM on February 16, 2010

Best answer: Here's a bit of background on page layout.

The goal of page layout software is act as a container for the various elements, art and text. Yes, you can do page layout in Photoshop, but since it's a program designed to manipulate raster images, it doesn't handle type well. You want to down type, especially type that supposed to be read in a book in a program that handles vector images. Why? 'cause Raster images are drawn using a grid of pixels or dots. If you make that grid fine enough, say 1200 or preferably 2400 dots per inch, then eye is fooled into thinking it's seeing sharp edges.

The recommended dots per inch when working in Photoshop is 300. Yes, you can make 1200 dpi pages in Photoshop, but that, on top of all the layers and CMYK color will be make really huge images. REALLY huge images. That's just asking for trouble, from uploading those images to a web service, to final output.

What's so great about vectors? It's all math that you don't have to worry about. Basically with vectors when the computer is drawing a letter, it's using a bunch of math formulas and to precisely draw that shape. All those math formulas are easy for the computer to handle and very precise, which guarantees, let me repeat, guarantees a sharp edge for your type, at size. You can make the letter "A" 2 pts or 2,000 points, doesn't matter, it'll come out looking clean and professional. This is why you want your type rendered using a vector program, i.e. page layout software. Illustrator is not page layout software, it's for illustration, but it does have a good type engine i.e. outputs vector type. But like Photoshop, it's not geared to doing page layout, so while it can be done in the program, it's not the best candidate for it.

Here is a list of page layout applications. Indesign, Quark and Framemaker are the heavy hitters, they're the expensive tools pros use. The others should be ok, except for Microsoft Publisher. It's shit and if I even get a whiff that you're using it, I will find you and take away all your RAM. Seriously, it's utter crap.

Page layout software can handle multiple pages in one layout. It includes styles sheets, for making sure your type looks consistent, master pages, which are like style sheets for pages and various tools for laying out blocks or pages of text.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:30 PM on February 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

You can download full trial versions of Illustrator and InDesign from Adobe's web site and use them for 30 days, so if you can get your book done quickly, you could conceivably pull this off without paying for software.
posted by MegoSteve at 6:38 PM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: And you can get vectors from Photoshop by doing "convert to shape" after your text layer is set up; you won't be able to edit text from that point, and all of your text in the converted shape will be converted to one color. It's a real pain in the ass.

Best advice I can give you that doesn't involve a ton of typing... whatever service you end up using to print your book, read their file specifications carefully BEFORE you begin setting up your pages.
posted by MegoSteve at 6:42 PM on February 16, 2010

Blurb lets up upload PDFs and their layout tool is actually pretty good. But, more important, they let you upload properly formatted PDFs. Much better results.
posted by GuyZero at 8:55 PM on February 16, 2010

ooohh... rereading the more inside, you still might want to check out Blurb's layout program which is free and not bad.
posted by GuyZero at 9:19 PM on February 16, 2010

Check out Inkscape, an open source vector graphics editor. It's probably not quite as suitable as Scribus for what you want to do, but I've always found it easier to use.
posted by primer_dimer at 2:06 AM on February 17, 2010

images look fine printed at 300 dpi, but text at that resolution looks like crap. you can't save text in a raster format for printing -- it's just not feasible. A typical letter-size page, in raster format, at 1200 dpi (for decent text): 9600 x 12000 pixels, or a roughly 115 megapixel image. Even at 600 dpi you're talking tens of megabytes per image; I doubt that a service like shutterfly would even allow it.
posted by Chris4d at 6:37 AM on February 17, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you so much, everyone, for all this amazingly useful information! I'm kind of embarrassed now to have embarked on the project with so little idea of what I was getting into, but it's wonderful to have a slightly better sense of how the whole process works. For now, I'll check out Blurb's book-design software, and if that doesn't work out I'll look into some of the freeware linked here, or see if I can get access to InDesign locally somehow. Many thanks!
posted by Bardolph at 10:32 AM on February 17, 2010

Hey, don't worry! There are plenty of "professionals" that are doing layout in Photoshop. ;)
posted by june made him a gemini at 1:00 PM on February 17, 2010

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