Work flow for print design?
November 4, 2011 10:31 PM   Subscribe

Can you tell me which software tools graphic designers use when they do print design?

As an example, what might the work flow be to go from a blank screen to something like this:

(picture link)
(blog post on project)

I know apps like Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign exist, but I don't use them for my work so I don't know how they all fit together in a comprehensive work flow (or if there are other apps used frequently of which I'm unaware).
posted by sharkfu to Computers & Internet (16 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
It's pretty much those three alright. My housemate is a graphic/book designer —I'm not. So I'm sure others with much more experience in the field will shortly be here, but here's a summary:

Photoshop is for editing and manipulating raster images, like, well, photos.
Illustrator is for vector graphics & drawings -which naturally includes fonts,
and InDesign is mostly for page-setting and makeup, especially if it's going to be a multi-page thingy, like a book or a brochure...

For a "poster" job like the one you linked to, you'll probably only need Illustrator, since it is only a single page and doesn't involve raster images —should you need them, you'll probably wanna do that job in Photoshop, then import the file into Illustrator.
posted by procrastinator at 10:50 PM on November 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, and I hear that when it comes to actually printing it, the easiest and dependable way to go is to export the final work as a pdf file.
posted by procrastinator at 10:56 PM on November 4, 2011

If I was doing that project, I'd probably use InDesign to lay it out and Illustrator for the graphic bits. Most likely because I'm more familiar with it, I feel like InDesign does a far better job handling text.

As far as workflow goes, I'd probably lay out the sheet so as to figure out the holes where the art would go, then jump into Illustrator to create the art to fit. You can then place the Illustrator files directly in InDesign (and edit them later, if necessary) and finalize everything.

Some printers prefer PDFs (for a small project like this that would likely be the choice) though others like to have the packaged InDesign file (which pulls all the graphics and fonts and everything into a single folder, but the project itself is still an InDesign file).
posted by brentajones at 11:00 PM on November 4, 2011

Graphic designer here, mostly print work.

For a project like that, I'd probably do most (if not all) of the computer work in Illustrator. You've got some illustrations to be drawn, which Illustrator is the preferred choice for. It's a vector editor, which means you draw with lines and curves, rather than pixels. (A shape can scale from 1 inch to 100 inches without any loss or distortion, unlike a raster editor like Photoshop.) Then you've got some type layout, which can also be done easily in Illustrator. Set up a grid to align to, and shuffle things around. Tweak colors here and there. Look good? Perfect. Export as a PDF and send it to the print shop.

As for the other tools... InDesign's specialty is multi-page layouts, like books and brochures and the like. Photoshop is a beast that can be used for many things, but I really only use it for color correction of images -- or, rarely, design/illustration of stuff intended to only be shown on a computer screen (website mockups, digital art, etc.)

A typical "big project" workflow sees a lot of content creation (logos, illustrations, photos, etc.) in Photoshop/Illustrator, and then that content being pushed in to InDesign for page layout.
posted by bhayes82 at 11:02 PM on November 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

I work prepress at a small local print shop and do some design and layout as well. THe Holy Trinity of the printing world is Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign, as already mentioned. Some people use Quark, but I haven't seen a QXD in the wild in about a year and a half.

What to use? When and where? Photoshop is for raster images. It can handle type layout and vectors, but it does so very, very poorly. Similarly, Illustrator specializes in vector manipulations, and while it can do type layout and rasters, it does so very, very poorly. Lastly, InDesign (you can probably see where I'm going with this) can do vectors and rasters but does so very, very poorly. Use the different apps to their strengths.

To contrast with bhayes82, I would use InDesign to lay out the samples you linked to. Why?

Firstly, doing the layout allows me to keep content and presentation separate. You probably do the same in web design by using CSS.

Secondly, Illustrator and Photoshop can bog down because they constantly show the art at full fidelity, whereas InDesign streamlines by giving you low-res preview images while you're working. This is a feature, not a bug, especially if you're working on last year's computer.

Thirdly, InDesign has a "Collect" feature which will suck all the fonts and links used in a layout and put it into a folder with a copy of the document you're working on. Neither Photoshop nor Illustrator do this, and it comes in handy for all sorts of reasons, which brings me to...

Ask your print shop whether they would rather have a PDF or the native files. Personally, I would always rather work from the native files because, nine time out of ten, a supplied PDF won't do what I need it to do. Contrary to what most people think, PDF does not stand for "Portable Document Format," it stands for "All Sales Final; No Refunds." If you give a printer a PDF, they will RIP and print it without looking at it. Sometimes this is fine, sometimes this means you have a fistful of paper you don't want, and a bill from the printer.
posted by lekvar at 11:32 PM on November 4, 2011 [5 favorites]

i'm a graphic designer, primarily print. i'd do this in illustrator. the type used in the example you gave should be considered a graphic element rather than text and illustrator is more flexible with type in this way. if it was text from a multi-page document, then i'd go indesign, but it's not. and because all the elements are simple vector element in this example, the file isn't going to take a lot of memory so lekvar's point about illustrator being bogged down is moot. this won't be a very big file. i'd convert all the type to outline so you won't have to worry about sending fonts to the printer.
posted by violetk at 12:31 AM on November 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Another designer; I'd do it all up in Illustrator.

I like InDesign for mostly text-based projects when I can just flow the copy in, but this is so simple. InDesign also doesn't give you as much flexibility with shapes/paths (or at least I didn't have much luck), so if you're going to end up flipping back and forth between the two, might as well just use the one that can do it all.

If you were a master at character/paragraph/list stylings it might be a cool way to do it, but unless it is being used as a template, it's kind of overkill.

Unlike lekvar above, Illustrator doesn't start bogging down for me until I start utilizing the more intensive filters -- 3D mostly. The biggest pain in the ass for this project was the typesetting, and that would have sucked

When you send Illustrator pieces off to press, the shop might allow you to send the AI with 'outlined' text (creating letterforms instead of an editable font) or some people are still asking for EPS. I want to like PDFs in theory, but they're entirely unreliable. Exporting from certain versions of program X yields unwanted results in Adobe Reader Y, cross-OS issues, etc.

I'm also assuming it was screenprinted, as it looks as though the red is offset strangely from the text in some areas.
posted by june made him a gemini at 12:42 AM on November 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

* .. and that would have sucked regardless.
posted by june made him a gemini at 12:43 AM on November 5, 2011

Lekvar: If you give a printer a PDF, they will RIP and print it without looking at it. Sometimes this is fine, sometimes this means you have a fistful of paper you don't want, and a bill from the printer.

I don't think that's true in all cases. In my old shop we would certainly look at the PDFs carefully for errors introduced in the conversion/export process. Sometimes it's pretty obvious that something has gone wrong. Sometimes it's not, though.

We preferred to receive both the PDF and the native file. And yeah, for this project I would expect it to have been created in Illustrator. As a printer I always much preferred to work from vector images than from raster ones. I think lots of people who are not really that knowledgeable about print design default to photoshop when it's really not the best tool for every job. One time a guy supplied a book that was laid out in photoshop -- he wanted us to print it by hiding and unhiding groups of dozens and dozens of layers. (A task much better suited to InDesign...)

I remember thumbing through this book and wishing more of my customers had read it. It's been a while but it I think it will teach you about things like bleeds, pantone, the difference between offset printing and laser printing and that kind of thing.
posted by ZeroDivides at 4:39 AM on November 5, 2011

Always, always ALWAYS, ask the press which level of PDF their RIP requires. I am constantly amazed at how many services can't reliably RIP anything above PDF 1.3. For those who aren't familiar with this, PDF 1.3 does not deal gracefully (if at all) with the more common transparency effects used in digital layout today, like simple drop shadows. And forget about complex gradient transparency masks.

FWIW, the nominal default for saving as a PDF in Illustrator 5 is PDF 1.5. The latest version is PDF 1.8, I believe.

My basic work tools are Illustrator and Photoshop, and have been for almost 20 years. That, and a pencil and sketchbook.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:26 AM on November 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Not a graphic designer per se, but have done jobs with a design component. This one's easy: lay out the structure in InDesign, make the vector graphics in Illustrator, import into the InDesign file, get everything 100%, PROOF IT FIRST, export to a PDF and boom. (It could theoretically be done in Illustrator, but the whole thing broken up into enough separate components that it'd play to InDesign's strengths.)

Quark is its own circle of hell. If you're asked to use it, weep and gnash teeth.
posted by dekathelon at 8:31 AM on November 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, and, if you are sending the file to an actual, for-real printer, make sure everything in the file is CMYK. Never send your print guy a mix of CMYK and RGB in one file. It also saves a lot of grief if all of your placed images are 300dpi, and not web-rez 72dpi.

One more thing, and I'll get off my soapbox...Use Photoshop to properly re-size and re-sample images to the actual size they will print at. For instance, I see so many people taking some huge 100meg image that might have a physical size of, say, 8x10", and placing it into the Illustrator layout and then simply scaling it down 30% to fit the layout. And they'll have a page full of images handled this way. This makes for a huge file and a sloooowwwwwww RIP. If you need an image at 3x4 in your layout, re-size it correctly in Photoshop and save the re-sized version as a separate file to be placed in the layout.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:35 AM on November 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Can you tell me which software tools graphic designers use when they do print design?

The software tools are the most boring part, in my opinion. Indesign, Illustrator or even in the right hands, Photoshop*, could have been used for this project. I personally would have used Indesign to layout the various piece and then imported images from Illustrator or Photoshop. A few things, such as the home tag, clocks or medallion would have pretty easy to draw in InDesign, some would prefer Illustrator. No biggie, whatever works.

But the interesting part, which isn't on display, would be the thinking process, which might have been down with a bunch of thumbnail comps or worked out the program. The creator had to decide what events she wanted to use and which ones she want use graphics with. I guarantee you that a lot of the art is clip art. That map of the world is probably a vector stock image, which they placed the red dots on whatever program they were using.

I Tweeted the designer about this post, so hopefully she'll show up at some point and give the OP the skinny on how it was all done.

*Photoshop isn't optimal for this time of project, but I've seen it used and used well for text heavy layouts.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:40 AM on November 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Here's a time lapse demo of someone creating a poster entirely in Adobe Illustrator. It's more graphic dominated than the poster you linked to OP, but it offers some insight into how this sort of thing is done. The key point is that most of the design is going on in the person's head, they're justing using the software as a tool. The other interesting aspect is that you get to see how much their idea changes throughout the process.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:01 AM on November 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Thorzdad (respek knuckles, Td) brings up some good additional points. Beyond the tools you'll be using, there are some technical details that separate web design from print. Are you familiar with spot colors? RGB vs. CMYK? Bleed? The fact that print and web photos have different resolution requirements? There's a lot of info, but I don't want to belabor the point if this is stuff you're already familiar with.

Also, I'm going to say what I always say in these threads: Talk to your printer. Any printer worth doing business will be happy to discuss your project with you. They may have advice or perspective to share.
posted by lekvar at 11:45 AM on November 5, 2011

print designer here. I would probably lay out the page in InDesign, then import the vector graphics from illustrator. Export it as a press-ready PDF, and voila...

While I agree with the previous comments about discussing projects with printer, I would add the caveat that this looks to be a 2-color job (K and a spot, probably. If not a spot, then the designer should have thought through(and been questioned about) why he/she needed to spend the extra cash for 4-color here). Any printer who had issues handling such a simple job as this would immediately go down to the bottom of the list of those I would deal with in the future.
posted by Chrischris at 7:00 PM on November 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

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