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Prepare for Print in InDesign, Illustrator & Photoshop

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Read Time: 19 min

The first time I attempted to prepare a document for print in InDesign, I spent hours perfecting the layout, only to discover upon printing that my images were blurry and the colors were dull.

In this course, I'll guide you through the process of preparing your documents for print using Illustrator, InDesign, and Photoshop.

Watch Prepare for Print in InDesign, Illustrator & Photoshop: Free Course

What You'll Learn

  • What you need to know about preparing for print
  • How to prepare a print-ready PDF in Illustrator
  • How to print from InDesign
  • How to prepare print-ready files in Photoshop

About Your Instructor

1. What You Need to Know About Preparing for Print 

Do you know how to prepare for print the right way? Preparing content for print can be a daunting task when you don't know or understand the components of a print-ready document. 

Knowing the basics of printing, such as bleed, margins, color modes, and resolution, will help you achieve that perfect print-ready result.

Bleed is the extra space on a page that is trimmed off during printing, while Margins provide the safe area where important content should not go past. Since we’re on the topic of printing, all of your documents should be set up in CMYK, which is where color modes come into play. CMYK is for printing, while RGB is for the web. Next, we have Resolution. Selecting the correct DPI or Dots Per Inch is vital and could make or break your design. This could be the difference between producing a poor, pixelated, rejected design or a crisp, high-resolution masterpiece. 

Bleed and margins documentBleed and margins documentBleed and margins document

1.1 Why Setting Up Your Document Correctly Is So Important 

Watch video lesson (2 mins) ↗

Setting up the document correctly for print is as important as the content itself, and it should not be taken lightly. If the document is not set up properly, it can lead to a variety of problems, such as pixelated images, inaccurate colors, and the one we all dread, which is the unsatisfied client. 

Image resolutionImage resolutionImage resolution

Let’s take document resolution, for example. In the example below, I have two images and a document, but one of the images is set for print and the other is set for the web. Visually they appear to be the same size, but they're not. The print version is set at 300 dpi (left panel), while the web version is at 72 dpi (right panel), which is standard. And here I have an image that I want to print (center panel). As you can see, the image fills the document for the web but is extremely small for print. And you might think, well, just stretch the image out. This is a big no-no and will likely result in a pixelated print.

Resolution exampleResolution exampleResolution example

2. How to Prepare a Print-Ready PDF in Illustrator 

In this section, I will show you how to print using Adobe Illustrator. Creating a new document starts with setting up the bleed, using the right resolution, and adjusting the Adobe Illustrator color settings for print. 

2.1 Illustrator Print-Ready Document Setup 

Watch video lesson (3 mins) ↗

Go to File > New and set your dimensions to 8.5 × 11 in, 0.125 in on each side, CMYK color mode, and 300 dpi for the Resolution.

New document in IllustratorNew document in IllustratorNew document in Illustrator

Turn on Rulers by going to View > Rulers > Show Rulers. Drag a guide from the top ruler to the top of the document. Change the Y Value in the top toolbar to 0.5 in. Repeat this process by dragging the guide from the ruler again, but this time change the Y Value to 10.5 in. Drag a guide from the left ruler and change the X Value to 0.5 in. Repeat this process again and change the X Value to 8 in. Lock your margin guides in place by going to View > Guides > Lock Guides

Locking your guides will prevent you from accidentally moving your margins throughout the design process.
Show Illustrator guidesShow Illustrator guidesShow Illustrator guides

2.2 How to Prepare Images and Text for Print in Illustrator 

Watch video lesson (2 mins) ↗

Before we export for print in Illustrator, let's learn more about raster images and text. Although Illustrator is known for creating vector graphics, you may want to include raster images in your print-ready PDF in Illustrator. Let me show you how by linking or embedding your images. Any placed or linked images must also follow proper CMYK color space requirements in order to produce accurate colors when printed. 

Open your image in Photoshop, convert it to CMYK, and change the resolution to 300. Save the image as a TIFF file.

Save file as a TIFFSave file as a TIFFSave file as a TIFF

Place the image into the Illustrator file by going to File > Place. You can take this a bit further by embedding your image into the file: select Embed in the top toolbar. Select Flatten Layers to a Single Image and click OK.

The difference between linking an image and embedding is that if you decide to embed an image, it becomes a part of the document. But if you use the link method, you can’t move or delete the TIFF file from the place you saved it. If you do so, the image will no longer appear in the document. 
Embed image in IllustratorEmbed image in IllustratorEmbed image in Illustrator

2.3 Outline Text

Watch video lesson (1 min) ↗

Outlining fonts helps to make sure that they appear correctly when printed. The printer you use may not have the license for the font or the font installed on their system, so it’s always a good idea to outline your text before exporting. Select the text you want to outline, and then select Type > Create Outlines.

You can also right-click the font and select Create Outlines
Outline text in IllustratorOutline text in IllustratorOutline text in Illustrator
Make sure you save a version of the document with the text not outlined.

2.4 CMYK vs. Pantone

Watch video lesson (2 mins) ↗

CMYK and Pantone colors are two of the most widely used color standards in print media. Each one has its own set of benefits, depending on your needs. It is important to understand when to use each one for the best results.

Adobe and Pantone recently parted ways, and certain Pantone Color Books are no longer available in Adobe Creative Cloud. So what’s a designer to do? Don’t worry, I've got some solutions for you.

The first option is to use Pantone Connect. Designers will need to purchase a Pantone Connect subscription to access Pantone colors in Adobe Creative Cloud products. From here, you can add the Pantone Connect Extension from the Stock & Marketplace tab in Adobe Creative Cloud.

Pantone Connect Pantone Connect Pantone Connect

The second option is to use different Pantone color books. After November 2022, you can still use some Pantone libraries like CMYK Coated, CMYK Uncoated, and Metallic Coated. 

Pantone Color BooksPantone Color BooksPantone Color Books

The last option is to try using CMYK Colors instead. If you don’t mind slight color variations when printing, then CMYK is the route to take. 

CMYK swatchesCMYK swatchesCMYK swatches
You’re probably thinking, how will this affect my designs where I’m already using Pantone Colors? According to Pantone.com, colors will render and function as expected in Photoshop, InDesign, and Illustrator. You can find more detailed information on their website.

2.5 How to Perform Quality Checks in Illustrator 

Watch video lesson (3 mins) ↗

Before we export for print in Illustrator, we must perform some quality checks to ensure our design meets the desired output. 

Let’s check our document for any spelling errors. Go to Edit > Spelling > Check Spelling. You can automate this process by turning on Auto Spell Check (Edit > Spelling > Auto Spell Check). You will now see a red underline underneath the words that need attention.

Check spellingCheck spellingCheck spelling

Since we’re on the topic of spelling, let’s show hidden characters. These are invisible characters that we can’t see in our document when it’s printed. Some examples of hidden characters are spaces, line breaks, and tabs. To show hidden characters, go to Type > Show Hidden Characters. Take the time to go through your document and find any errors you may see, like double spaces.

Another way you can remove double spaces is by going to Edit > Find and Replace. Use the Find field and type out a double space, and in the Replace With field, type a single space. Now you can go through your document and replace. Click Done when you’re finished.

Find & Replace in IllustratorFind & Replace in IllustratorFind & Replace in Illustrator

Before sending your document off to print, it’s always a good idea to remove any unnecessary designs, text, or colors from your artwork. To avoid any mishaps in the exporting process, let’s remove all of the unused swatches. To do this, go to the Swatches panel and, in the top-right corner, select the hamburger menu and click Select All Unused. Now you can delete the swatches using the trash icon at the bottom of the panel.

You can always check your Adobe Illustrator color settings for print by going to File > Document Color Mode and File > Document Setup.
Select unused swatchesSelect unused swatchesSelect unused swatches

2.6 How to Export for Print in Illustrator

Watch video lesson (2 mins) ↗

The first thing to do is go to File > Save As. Select Adobe PDF from the Format section. Click Save. Go to the Marks and Bleeds section, and select All Printer’s Marks and Use Document Bleed Settings. Adjust these settings according to your printer’s specifications. Some printers prefer registration marks, while others don’t. To avoid having to do this multiple times, you can create a preset from the settings you selected by clicking the Preset icon in the top-right corner. Give the preset a name that you will remember so that you can easily find it in the Adobe PDF Preset list. 

Now that you've learned how to print in Adobe Illustrator, we will move on to how to print from InDesign.

Export high resolution pdfExport high resolution pdfExport high resolution pdf

3. How to Print From InDesign

In InDesign, you can create just about anything from posters to magazines, brochures, and flyers. But in order for these designs to be printed, they first need to be exported as print-ready files in the correct format. 

3.1 InDesign Print-Ready Document Setup 

Watch video lesson (1 min) ↗

Let’s start off by creating a new document for our poster. Go to File > New > Document. Set your dimensions to 11×17, using inches for the Units. Change the Margins to 0.5 for Top, Bottom, Inside, and Outside. Adjust the Bleed settings to 0.125 in on each side. Now we’re ready to design our print-ready poster.

InDesign new documentInDesign new documentInDesign new document

Watch video lesson (4 mins) ↗

With our poster designed and ready for print, we now need to talk about the big 3. I’m referring to the Links, Layers, and Swatches panels. Each panel provides a different set of tools that you can use to improve the look of your project. The Links panel allows you to link files like TIFFs. The Layers panel lets you organize your layer by footer, images, text, and other layer options. Finally, the Swatches panel consists of all the colors you’ve used in your document. With these three panels, you will have more control over your design project and will be able to create better results.

Links, layers and swatches panelLinks, layers and swatches panelLinks, layers and swatches panel

First up, let's look at the Links panel. Locate it by going to Window > Links if it’s not showing in the right toolbar. We need to customize our Links panel so that we can check for any errors. Select the hamburger menu in the top-right corner and select Panel Options. This is where we will adjust our tabs that are within the Links panel. Under Show Column, check the following boxes: Status, Page, Size, Color Space, Actual PPI, and Scale. Let me give you a quick overview of why we need to add these options.

Links panel optionsLinks panel optionsLinks panel options

The Status feature will alert you to any missing or broken links you may have in your document. Page refers to the page number that the image or graphic is placed on. If your image is not placed on a page, then the initials "PB" may appear. This refers to the Pasteboard. Size is pretty much self-explanatory: it is the size of the image. It’s a good idea to add this tab so you can gauge the final size of your document because the larger the link size, the larger your final document size will be. Color Space will show you whether the file you linked is in CMYK or RGB. Make sure your linked file is set to CMYK if you’re printing. Actual PPI will let you know if your document is high or low resolution. Always shoot for 300 dpi and above for print work. And finally, Scale refers to the percentage at which your image is scaled. You want to make sure that this stays within 100%. If you decide to go above this amount, then you run the risk of exporting a pixelated document.

Links panelLinks panelLinks panel

Now that we've got our Links panel all squared away, we'll go over the Layers panel and the settings you should pay attention to. Bring up the Layers panel in the right toolbar, or you can go to Window > Layers. Double-click one of the layers to bring up the Layer Options. For my poster, I want to select Show Layer, Print Layer, and Show Guides. Showing the layer makes all the components visible. Selecting the print layer makes the design viewable when you export for print. Showing guides sets them to be visible when in use.

Layer optionsLayer optionsLayer options

3.3 How to Perform Quality Checks in InDesign 

Watch video lesson (3 mins) ↗

The first thing we’re going to check for is if we have any spelling errors. To locate them, go to Edit > Spelling > Check Spelling. Go through the document and fix any spelling mistakes that you may find. Next, let’s remove any double spaces via the Find/Change feature. Go to Edit > Find/Change. Adjust Find What to include double spaces and Change to to a single space. 

Check spelling in InDesignCheck spelling in InDesignCheck spelling in InDesign

One of my favorite features when it comes to creating a print-ready document in InDesign is the Preflight panel. This panel will notify you if you have any overset text, i.e. text that is not visible within a text frame. It will show up as a red error in the corner of the text frame and within the Preflight panel itself. But text errors are not the only thing this panel shows. It will also give you a heads-up if image links are broken or missing. The Preflight panel has an Info section that goes into detail on what type of error your document contains and ways to remedy the situation. Correct any errors you may find, and move on to getting rid of unused swatches.

Preflight panel Preflight panel Preflight panel

In this step, we need to make sure that we're using CMYK swatches before I show you how to export in CMYK using InDesign. Locate the Swatches panel and click the hamburger menu in the top-right corner. This is very similar to what we did earlier in Illustrator. After clicking the hamburger menu, click Select All Unused. Click the Trash icon to get rid of the unused swatches. With our quality checks taken care of, we will now export our poster to a print-ready PDF.

Unused swatches in InDesignUnused swatches in InDesignUnused swatches in InDesign

3.4 How to Export From InDesign to a PDF for Print

Watch video lesson (2 mins) ↗

Before I show you how to export CMYK in InDesign, let’s take a look at some screen modes. InDesign’s Print Preview is my go-to when I want to see my artwork without viewing any graphics or text on the pasteboard. You can achieve this by pressing the letter W on your keyboard or going to View > Screen Mode > Preview

InDesign print previewInDesign print previewInDesign print preview

To export from InDesign to PDF for print, go to File > Export. Select Adobe PDF Print from the format dropdown. From the General tab, you need to pay attention to the Pages sections. If you’re printing a magazine or book, then go with the option of printing Spreads. Since we’re printing a poster, let’s stick with Pages. Under the Marks and Bleeds tab, select All Printer’s Marks and Use Document Bleed Settings. Save this as a Preset to avoid having to repeat these steps in future. Click Export to view your print-ready document.

That's It! We're ready to jump into the next section, which is all about Photoshop's print settings.

Export pdf InDesignExport pdf InDesignExport pdf InDesign

4. How to Prepare Print-Ready Files in Photoshop 

It is important to understand the basics of setting up documents and selecting the right Photoshop color profiles for print. With a few simple steps, you can ensure that your print documents are perfectly prepared for printing.

4.1 Photoshop Settings for Print

Watch video lesson (2 mins) ↗

Photoshop is similar to Illustrator in regards to the document setup, especially when it comes to margins. Let’s dive in. To create a new document, go to File > New. Change your Photoshop settings for print to 7 × 5 in, but here we need to add the bleed to our dimensions, so instead of 7 × 5, our document will be 7.25 × 5.25. Change the print resolution in Photoshop to 300, and the Photoshop color profile for print needs to be set to CMYK. Click Create.

Photoshop new documentPhotoshop new documentPhotoshop new document

We need to set up our margins to mark the safe area in which our content will be placed. Go to View > Guides > New Guide Layout. Select Margin and change the values to 0.25 in on each side. We need to add some guides for the bleed as well. Repeat the previous steps, but this time change the values to 0.125 in. Now that you have set up your document for print, you can go ahead and work on your design.

Photoshop new guide layoutPhotoshop new guide layoutPhotoshop new guide layout

4.2 How to Perform Quality Checks in Photoshop

Watch video lesson (2 mins) ↗

Let’s start off with spelling errors. Go to Edit > Check Spelling. Fix any spelling mistakes that you may find. Now we need to tackle the resolution. There are a couple of ways to do this. The first is via the Zoom Tool. Select the Zoom Tool and zoom in to 100%. You can view the percentage in the lower left corner. Look over the graphics within the document to check for any pixelation.

Photoshop spell checkPhotoshop spell checkPhotoshop spell check

Another way to check the print resolution in Photoshop is to go to Image > Image Size and check that your document is set to 300 for the Resolution. Now let’s analyze our Photoshop color profile for print. You can tell what color mode you’re in by the name of the file. You can also see your color profile by going to Image > Mode

Photoshop Image resolutionPhotoshop Image resolutionPhotoshop Image resolution

4.3 How to Export a Print-Ready PDF Using Photoshop Print Settings

Watch video lesson (3 mins) ↗

Go to File > Save As. Save the file as a Photoshop PDF in the Format menu. From the General tab, if you decide that you want to keep the file layers intact, then keep the Preserve Photoshop Editing Capabilities box selected. But keep in mind that if you keep this option selected, your PDF file size will be larger. Select the Compression tab and make sure Image Quality is set to Maximum. Just like in Illustrator and InDesign, save this as a preset to speed up the export process. Select Save PDF.

Photoshop export pdfPhotoshop export pdfPhotoshop export pdf

One more thing: if there comes a time when you absolutely need registration marks, then there are a couple of workarounds that you can use. You can save your file as a TIFF and create the same size document in InDesign and Place your file there. From here, you can export your document as a PDF with All Printer’s Marks.

Crops and bleedsCrops and bleedsCrops and bleeds

Another way to add registration marks in Photoshop is by doing it manually. Take the Crop Tool and extend the art space. Use the Rectangle Tool to create four crosses on each side of the document. Follow the same steps to create crop marks using the Rectangle Tool.

Photoshop manual crop marksPhotoshop manual crop marksPhotoshop manual crop marks

You're Ready to Print!

You’re all set to create print-ready documents in Illustrator, InDesign, and Photoshop! During this course, you gained knowledge about the four crucial elements necessary for a print-ready document: bleed, margin, resolution, and color mode.

From there, we dived into how to adjust the Adobe Illustrator color settings for print. We even discussed the breakup between Adobe and Pantone and how that may affect your workflow. Next, we learned how to print from InDesign and how to use InDesign’s print preview. Lastly, we discussed Photoshop’s settings for print and how to create crop marks manually. 

For this course, I used creative assets from Envato Elements, a subscription-based marketplace with unlimited graphic templates, print templates, fonts, photos, and more. Be sure to check it out if you want unlimited downloads of creative assets for your printing projects.

Discover More About Adobe InDesign and Unlock Its Full Potential

Are you interested in expanding your knowledge of InDesign? The Envato Tuts+ YouTube channel offers an extensive collection of tutorials geared towards beginners. Check out these additional videos to enhance your understanding:

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