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Design a Print-Ready Accordion Fold Document in Adobe InDesign

This post is part of a series called Design Essentials.
How to Create a See-through Information Graphic
Quick Tip: How to Make Tables With Rounded Corners in InDesign
Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

Walk through the creation of an Accordion Fold Document InDesign document. This tutorial is targeted at the beginner to intermediate level designer. Delve into the details of numerous settings and learn a professional workflow for exporting documents for print.

Ever get tired of creating documents that would be better suited for a different program than Adobe Illustrator? Then have a crack at Adobe InDesign! InDesign is used for large publications, invitations, ads and more. This tutorial is suited for the novice to mid-level user.


In this tutorial, we'll cover...

  • Setting up your document
  • Determining fold lines
  • Placing text boxes
  • Working efficiently with text boxes
  • Typography for extended text
  • Preparing and implementing printready images
  • Styling other text elements
  • Using images and text harmoniously
  • Working with CMYK and spot colors
  • Enhancing images with borders and effects
  • Fine-tuning lists
  • Aligning all your elements
  • Packaging the document for print

Before You Get Started

Throughout the course of this tutorial, I will be switching back and forth between the preview with NO guides and the preview WITH guides. The preview with NO guides gives you a better idea of what your layout looks like. The preview WITH guides is better when you're lining up objects. To quickly switch back and forth between preview and guide view press the W key.

When working with images that have high resolutions it tends to slow down the performance of a computer. InDesign handles this discrepancy by allowing you to display images in three different ways:

  1. Fast Display - You cannot see the image but a shape that represents the image.
  2. Typical Display - You see a low-resolution version of the image.
  3. High Quality Display - You see the image without any quality loss.

To change the view of your images go to View > Display Performance. In addition, you can apply object-level display performance by going to View > Display Performance > Allow Object-Level Display Settings. By default, this item should be checked. If this is enabled you can select a specific image and change it's display performance. This is helpful when you have many images inside a document and a particular image is very large in file size. This will allow you to achieve the optimal balance between speed and aesthetics.

Step 1 - Setting up your document

I have already determined that I want my document to fold down to the size of 8.5 inches by 11 inches. We'll begin by making a new document with a width of 34 inches and a height of 11 inches.
Click More Options if need be then enter 1/8 (0.125) inch for the Bleed. The bleed is the area that falls outside of the printable document (highlighted below in yellow.) Any artwork that needs to extend to the edge of the page, once printed, needs to touch or go past the red line. The red line is the bleed line.
The purple line is the margin (highlighted below) and is automatically set at 0.5. You can change this but it's not necessary.
Leave all the other options as they are and click OK.

Did You Know?

  • The folded document size is called the fold-to size.
  • The 34 in by 11 in size is called the flat-size.

Step 2

This is what your document should look like so far.

Step 3 - Determining Fold Lines

We'll need to identify four different areas that will be where the document folds. To do this first select the Rectangle Frame Tool (F) then click on the page. Enter 8.5 in by 11 in and click OK. An empty rectangle is placed inside the document. Repeat this step three times.

Step 4

Select the first rectangle using the Align Palette, then select Align to Page from the drop down, and click the options highlighted below. Select the next rectangle and align it to the right-hand side of the page, then align it horizontally.

Step 5

Select Align to Selection in the drop down, then select all four rectangles, and click Distribute Horizontal Centers. Now, all of your rectangles will be evenly aligned on the page.

Step 6

Add guides to the layout where the page will fold. To add guides click and drag from the ruler on the left-hand side of the page, much the same as in Adobe Illustrator. Place the guides where each rectangle meets the next. If you drag your guide from the ruler outside of the document (highlighted in yellow), then the guide will extend vertically across the entire document. If you drag a guide from the ruler within the document, then the guide will not be visible outside of the bleed area. Although, either method will work fine for this tutorial.

Step 7

Delete the rectangles by clicking on them and pressing the Delete key. This is what you will be left with. Your document is now segmented into four visual areas.

Step 8 - Placing text boxes

Needless to say, coming up with a design is sometimes tedious and trial-by-error. In an attempt to apply order to the chaos that is the creative process, start by adding text boxes to create a basic layout for where you would like your text to fall.
To add text boxes, select the Type Tool (T), then click and drag on the document and draw the shape as large or small as you like. Feel free to move the boxes around until you get a balance that feel right. Move the boxes around by using the Selection Tool.
You may work in a different manner than I, perhaps adding images or using guides to start your layout, but that is your choice. Do whatever works best for you to determined an overall flow of the document. Of course you will need to have the foresight to envision what the final outcome that you're looking to achieve is. That's what being a designer is all about.

Step 9

As you can see, I've decided that the first section will have a few different areas of text. In my mind, these different areas could be headlines, images or large sections of text. At this stage I have not narrowed that down, I just like the balance and layout. The other panels will be less involved as too much segmenting in each panel will make the overall piece look disjointed.

Step 10 - Working Efficiently with Text Boxes

We'll be working with a large amount of text to create this document. Instead of copying and pasting text into each text box you can link all the boxes together so the text flows from one box to the next. This is especially important when you need to make changes that span multiple text boxes or even pages. We'll be using the exact text that I used to create my document. First, copy the text from the placeholder_text.txt file in the source download, and paste it into the first text box. You'll notice that the text is cutoff since it is so long. Cutoff text is denoted by a red plus in the corner of a text box. Click the plus then click the next text box that you would like the text to flow to.

Did You Know?

If you want to use your own text, or are designing a layout for a client that doesn't have the final text, you can use placeholder text in the interim. Placeholder text is text that is not real words. Placeholder text commonly starts off with the words Lorem Ipsum. To apply placeholder text Command-click on a text box and select Fill with Placeholder Text. My text file uses a combination of real text and placeholder text.

Step 11

Your text now flows from one text box to the next. Continue to link all the text boxes to one another.

Step 12

As you'll notice, right now the text does not flow all the way through to the last page. This is because we have not added any formatting or images.
When viewing your document a a very reduced size the text becomes small gray boxes. This speeds up the time it takes to display everything. You can change this option in the preferences panel but I would recommend keeping it as it is.

Step 13 - Typography for Extended Text

When working with large amounts of text, in brochures especially, it's critical to ensure your text is easy on the eyes. You should experiment with different text styles to see what looks best. It's commonplace to use a serif font (like Times or Garamond) for large amounts of text. It is said that serif type is easier to read when the viewer will be starring at length at printed material.
Observe below that there are four different options I'm considering. The leading, (highlighted right, pronounced LED-ING) is the space between the lines of text. Leading should NEVER be any less than 2 points larger than your type size. For example, if you are using a 12 point type, your leading should be 14 points or larger. Any smaller and the paragraph becomes unsightly and arguably illegible.
I'm going for a clean look so I've decided to use Adobe Garamond at 12 points with 20 leading.
TIP: Use a serif type other than Times to give your document a more professional look.

Step 14

Select all of your text by clicking in the first text box and pressing Command + A. Select your desired font and apply the leading that you decided on. Here you'll see that applying 20 point leading will make the text more expansive.

Step 15 - Preparing and Implementing Print-Ready Images

Any time you're working with images or graphics that will need to be printed you have to make sure they're correctly formatted. Make sure your images are:

  • 300 dpi (for raster images)
  • CMYK, grayscale, duotone or bitmap (NO RGB)
  • Saved as EPS or TIFF (for raster images)
  • Saved as EPS (for vector images)

To place an image inside Adobe InDesign, click on the Rectangle Frame Tool, then go to File > Place. Navigate to the image you want to place and click OK.
If any part of your image is cutoff simply Control-click on the image, go down to fitting, then select Fit Frame To Content. After that, click the Selection Tool and hold down Command-shift to resize the image to the size you want it to be.
Be aware that if your image exceeds 100% of its original size the final printed quality will be compromised. To determine the size that the image has been scaled to click the Direct Selection Tool (A) and click the image. Look toward the top of your screen to see what the number highlighted reads. Going a little over 100% won't hurt too much. I've even gone as far as 150% but it depends on how picky the client is. A 300dpi image at 150% effectively reduces the dpi to 150 (half the optimal image quality size.)

Step 16

Place your images on the pages throughout the layout. I know that each page section will display one main website so I use that idea as a jumping-off point.
NOTE: You may also notice that the image below has a transparent drop-shadow, this is because I used a transparent PNG while I was determining the layout, the final image cannot be a transparent PNG. We will, however, apply a drop shadow later in the tutorial.

Step 17

On the next section I decided to use several small photos. Place your photos in separate boxes and align them using the Align palette.

Step 18

The image on this page is off to the lower-right. You can play with where the images are placed to give the layout a more organic look.

Step 19

No images on this page. I'm envisioning using a block of text that occupies the same visual space as an image.

Step 20 - Styling Other Text Elements

Next, we'll apply formatting to other elements. I want the headline to be large and dominant. Highlight the first sentence and in your Character Palette change the text size to 29 and apply Leading of 33.

Step 21

Your text should now assume the space of the first rectangle. If you still have some smaller text inside the box, or if the headline is moving to the next box, simply adjust the size of the text box by grabbing a corner and adjusting it.

Step 22

Select the other text and apply the same styling to it. You'll notice that your headline may span two text boxes. Since we want the headline to start on the VECTORTUTS page press return until the entire headline is on the same page.

Step 23

This is what your layout will look like.

Step 24 - Using Images and Text Harmoniously

At this point, your images overlap the text. To make your text reflow around the images, select the image, and open the Text Wrap panel by going to Window > Text Wrap. Select Wrap Around Object Shape. Adjust the distance the text stands away from the image by using the option highlighted below.

Step 25

Apply the same wrapping to the other image.

Step 26

In addition, you can apply a wrap to text boxes!
Select the text starting at "With a similar... and ending with June 2008" and paste it into it's own text box. Place the text box over the main text in the last panel and apply wrapping to it. You can also adjust the distance on each side of an item that has text wrapped around it (as highlighted below.)

Step 27

Fine-tune your layout by dragging the highlighted area down a little bit to make room for the logo that we'll place above the text. When you do this, you'll notice that some of the paragraph text is now at the top of this text box. Delete the unnecessary dashes (---------) throughout the whole document to remedy this.

Step 28

This is what this section will look like right now.

Step 29

We'll add a small caption under each large photo. However, the text wrap affects text in as close of a proximity as a caption usually falls. To account for this go to the top and select InDesign > Preferences > Composition. Check Text Wrap Only Affects Text Beneath.

Step 30

Draw a small text box and enter a caption. Bring the caption to the front by selecting it with the Selection Tool and going to Object > Arrange > Bring to Front.

Step 31

Draw another small text box that would contain the page number and something along the lines of a tagline. Place this small box at the bottom of the page.
NOTE: The text wrap is not affecting this nor the next step. I'm simply indicating some of the details that you can add.

Step 32

Place the Envato logo in the bottom corner too.

Step 33 - Working with CMYK and Spot Colors

CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black. Spot colors are special colors that can be used to enhance a printed piece. Spot colors usually add a small amount of cost to a printing job but if you are going after a particular color that cannot vary it's critical to use a spot color and not a CMYK color. You can even use a metallic ink when printing using spot color!
Viewing any color on your screen will always be different than its printed counterpart. When you designate a spot color it's important to have a physical Pantone book to reference what the final color will look like.
InDesign will have a list of colors by default, that show up in the Swatches Palette. Select your headline using the Text Tool (then, make sure the small T is selected, as highlighted below.) In the Swatches Palette select the green color below. CMYK colors are denoted by a small icon on the right-hand side of the Swatches Palette that looks like four colored triangles coming to a point.

Step 34

Lets pretend that VECTORTUTS has a specific blue color that always needs to look the same on anything printed. Sort of how McDonald's uses the same yellow color whenever you see their logo. This is one of the functions of a spot color.
We'll pretend that VECTORTUTS corporate color is Pantone 2746C. To use Pantone 2746C click on the flyout menu (highlighted below) then click on New Color Swatch. Change your Color Type to Spot and the Color Mode to Pantone Solid Coated.
NOTE: Pantone colors end in different letters depending upon the use of the color. I'm intending this document to be printed on coated paper (paper with a smooth coating) so the Color Mode is "Coated (C)." If the final document were to be printed on uncoated paper my Color Mode might be Pantone Solid Uncoated... something like 2746U. Click Add, then click OK.

Step 35

Apply the new spot color to the headline. Observe the highlighted area below has a small dot next to the triangles. This lets you know that the color is not CMYK but a spot color.

Step 36

Draw a box using the Rectangle Tool and fill it with green. Use the guides so the green shape is perfectly situated. Since the box will bleed off the page you need to make sure it touches or extends past the red line.

Step 37

Move the green box behind the text and images by going to Object > Arrange > Send to Back.

Step 38

Using the Type Tool select the black text on this section and make it white by selecting Paper from the Swatches list.
TIP: If your paper were an off-white color for example, and you selected Paper from the Swatches list, your final printed document would have off-white text, not white text. When you select Paper, you're specifying that there is essentially no color in that area. So, the actual paper color is what your printed document will look like.
By default InDesign uses the black highlighted below. Registration black is a whole other topic that requires it's own tutorial!

Step 39 - Enhancing Images with Borders and Effects

You can apply different corner effects to photos by going to Object > Corner Options. Select Rounded and enter a Size. You can use the up and down arrows to change this value too.

Step 40

You can apply other effects like drop shadows and glows. We'll apply a drop shadow by going to Object > Effects > Drop Shadow. This dialog is similar to Adobe Photoshop's dialog. Simply select the options you want then click OK.

Step 41

Apply a border by selecting the image with the Selection Tool, then in the Swatches Palette select Paper. Be sure so select the border option highlighted below.

Step 42

Instead of using a gray color you can optionally change the opacity of an object. Select the text box shown below and in the Effects Palette (Window > Effects) enter 30 for the Opacity.

Step 43

Another small element is the green rectangle that extends off the page. Use the Rectangle Tool to accomplish this. It's OK to use both the Rectangle Tool and the Free Frame Tool to create this shape.

Step 44 - Fine-Tuning Lists

We'll indent the list to make it stand apart from the rest of the text. Select all of the text then press Command + Shift + T to bring up the Tabs dialog. Click on the white space directly above the Ruler to add a tab. Deselect your text. Make sure there is a space (a.k.a. hard return) before the list starts and after it ends. Place your cursor just before the first bullet, on the same line, then press the tab key once. The first line will be indented. Continue down the row of bullets, placing your cursor before the first bullet of each line and press tab once.

Step 45

Notice how one of the bullets extends to two lines. Simply pressing tab at the beginning of the second line would make the line flush with the beginning of the bullet when what we're trying to achieve is the second line being flush with the text after the bullet. To accomplish this place the cursor before the F (highlighted below) then press Command + vertical slash (located under the delete key.)

Step 46

Your text will now be aligned as shown below!

Step 47

Give the text an italic style using the Character Palette.

Step 48 - Aligning All Your Elements

Now that the overall layout is decided upon you can draw more guides to make sure everything lines up perfectly. There is no real method to where the guides are drawn. You of course want items to be equal distances from the edge of the page. Use the guides and the Align Palette to complete this task.

Step 49

Select all the small images below and click Distribute Vertical Centers to make sure the space between each image is consistent.

Step 50 - Packaging the Document for Print

Once your design is all aligned perfectly you can package it to be printed. Packaging a document for print collects all of the images, graphics and fonts that were used. This way, you don't have to go hunting for each element individually. Once your design is packaged, that's the file that you send to the printer.
To package the document save it and go to File > Package. If you have done everything correctly you will see the dialog in Step 53. However, if there is something that InDesign determines as a problem you will be alerted. Click View info to see what the problem may be.

Step 51

Notice that 9 of my images are RGB. You cannot send a document to print with RGB images! The images need to be:

  • 300 dpi (for raster images)
  • CMYK, grayscale, duotone or bitmap (NO RGB
  • Saved as eps or tiff (for raster images)
  • Saved as eps (for vector images)

You can also click through the other options on the left side of the list to see any other issues there may be. The only issue with this document is that the images are RGB. So click cancel and change the images to the appropriate format in Photoshop. Then, back in InDesign, open your Links Palette, and one at a time click each image that needs to be replaced, followed by clicking the flyout triangle, then select Relink... and choose the new image. Save your document and go to File > Package...

Step 52

You should be taken right to this dialog upon successfully eliminating all potential errors. You can enter information on this screen for the printing facility to reference.
NOTE: You'll be prompted to save the packaged file to a location. Save it to where ever appropriate, perhaps your desktop.

Step 53

You'll get a message basically stating that fonts cannot be freely distributed unless you're sending the document to be printed. Click OK.

Step 54

Your document will be packaged into the following categories. "Fonts," "Instructions," "Layout" (your document) and "Links."

Step 55

Here's the view inside of the "Fonts" folder. To print a document you will need two versions of the font, a printer font and a screen font. InDesign automatically packages both versions for you. There may look like more fonts than you used for the document, but even selecting a different weight (like bold), or style (like italics), will require its own printer and screen fonts.

Step 56

This is what the "instructions.txt" file looks like. This information is automatically generated and gives the person printing the job a complete overview of how the file was created.

Step 57

You can also send a PDF of a design for client review or to be printed. However, I find it more comforting to send a packaged file to be printed, so if there are any small changes that need to be made the printer can make them. Of course, they will verify with you before they make any changes.
To make a PDF, with your document open, go to File > Export and choose PDF from the drop down list at the bottom of the page, then choose a location to save the PDF. After that, you will be presented with the following dialog. You can specify a multitude of options. As you can see, I've saved a Preset so making PDF's is quick.

Step 58

My Client Approval preset is designed to save PDF's at a smaller resolution than is required to be sent to a printer. This preset works well for emailing the design for approval. Highlighted below is the Bicubic Downsampling set to 150. The lower this number, the smaller the file size.

Step 59

Under the category Marks and Bleeds you can select the information under All Printer's Marks to achieve the look in the next image. Printer marks are used to determine where the page will be cut for example along with a variety of other information. Quite frankly, most clients don't want to see that information, but if you're printing a test version (comp) for yourself then it helps to have all the marks on there so you can trim off the excess area precisely.
The options are many and much too expansive to cover in this tutorial, so you'll have to take a look around and see all the options available to you. Click Export to complete the PDF.

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