Posts Tagged ‘editorial design’

(Almost) Everything I Know About Magazine Design - part 3

Friday, December 18th, 2009

Okay, so it’s 6 months since I posted the last installment of my magazine / newspaper design tutorial series for InDesign users, which is way more of a gap than I intended, but I’d rather life got in the way of blogging than the other way round.

I have recently been working on a special secret publication which is due to be thrust into the world sometime in early 2010 and it has reminded me that I never got round to covering the do’s and don’ts of newspaper/mag design. Now seems as good a time as any to update the series, so let’s get on with the show with an article outlining common design pitfalls and how to avoid them, as well as a little look at workflow and some tips on how to give yourself a half-decent chance at getting the best print quality and reproduction on that wonderful no-frills paperstock they call newsprint…

Things you can’t do with a magazine on newsprint and other things to be aware of

Newspaper presses are designed to print large quantities cheaply and quickly - and they do this very well, but quality suffers as a result. You will never get the same reproductive quality from a newspaper press that you will from a high-end short-run press. Add to this the absorbent quality of newspaper softening the detail out of anything you print on it and you can begin to see the limitations of designing for a newspaper format magazine. This isn’t the same as designing for a heavy white stock with a nice finish which gives crisp repro and can be trimmed accurately, so different rules apply.

misregistered text (print)

8pt body copy is pretty small, and has thin lines. To ensure clearly readable articles in the magazine, text should always be set using only one colour, usually black, as cyan and magenta are only readable under the best of light, and yellow text on off-white paper would be a form of torture. If you start trying to print text at this size using a colour made up of 3 or 4 base colours (as in CMYK printing), the printing plates are going to struggle to line up accurately enough for each colour to land directly on top of each other, and the text will show ghosting and look fuzzy (as in the above image). Basically, stick to black body text and use colour to make things like the pull quotes stand off the main text.

misregistered text (inverted)

Equally, reversing white body text out of a dark background such as a photo is pretty much a no-no for the same reason. The slight mis-registering of printing plates will cause the background colours to fill in the unprinted space of the pale text, making it thinner and difficult to read, or pretty much invisible in the worst circumstances. (This is one thing on-screen proofing cannot account for). You can get away with doing this if your text is bold and above 10pt. Most fonts of 12pt or above will work fine without being bold, so it’s fine for headlines. 8pt body copy will disappear, though, and thin fonts often only work at much larger point sizes. It’s a game of millimetres and small things like this make a big difference to the end product.

printed dot gain example 1

Printed images in magazines are made up of tiny little dots of ink which your eye averages out and interprets as a recognisable picture (see exaggerated example of this in the pic above). The absorbent nature of newspaper causes some pretty severe dot-gain (the tiny dots of ink bleeding to a larger than intended size) which makes things print darker than intended (see comparison images below showing how the ink dots behave and the effect this has on print quality and image darkness - the left image shows how the dots are intended to print, the right image show how they end up printing once the newspaper absorbs the ink).

 printed dot gain example 2

This is something to bear in mind when using coloured textboxes for sidebars etc. neutral colour combos which have a tonal density of no more than 30% black seem to work best, especially if they contain no black themselves. Something like 15c/0m/20y/0k or 0c/10m/20y/0k will work against pretty much anything else you have on the page without colour clashing, and allows body text to stand out fine. If I want a grey box behind my text, I don’t use a tint of black, I’ll use equal amounts of CM&Y, something like 20c/20m/20y; it gives you a nicer looking grey than straight black and ensures your black layer (ie. your text layer) can be printed without any screening, making for crisp separation between the text and the grey background.

Try sticking to using colour combos which use only 2 inks when using coloured text and boxes; this stops the pages getting too inky (you know that nasty inky newspaper feeling) and also minimises registration problems, giving a sharper print. You can get a surprisingly wide array of colours. An old printing firm who produced a magazine I once worked on gave me a great swatch booklet containing every two colour CMYK combo in 5% increments on A5 oversize newsprint which was my bible for years. It’s now sadly lost and sorely missed - if you can get hold of one, do so; they are invaluable.

Formatting Images in Photoshop

I have always converted RGB images to CMYK before doing any tweaking on them, as that is the way I was taught - make the adjuments to images using the same colour colour space they will ultimately be printed in - it is more accurate. But, for this magazine, I have a CMYK profile from the printers which accounts for the dot gain and the other perculiarities of their newspaper press, so I use a different method.

I make all my adjustments to the images in RGB mode, then once they look how I want on screen, I load the printer profile into Photoshop and convert them to CMYK, which makes them go much paler and look horrible. It’s fine though - the lightness compensates for the afore-mentioned dot gain; the images print much better for it and come back looking as intended in the final product.

Take the cover image below for example; the version on the left is the RGB file without the CMYK print profile applied to the image into Photoshop. This is how I want the cover to look in print, but if I send it to the printers like this, it will print too dark due to dot gain. Loading in the CMYK print profile changes the file to the image on the right - way too light when viewed on screen (look at the magazine logo, which should be black) but, when printed, looks like the image on the left.

(This is not something you want to blindly guess at - you will need your printer’s profile and it will also take a couple of instances of seeing how the files you send your printers come back in print before you can start getting a feel for how much dot-gain compensation you need to take into account - every combination of paperstock and printing press will yeild different results, so tread carefully.)

magazine print density variation

A typical Photoshop workflow on an image I’m going to import into inDesign is as follows:
Open image in RGB mode and assess what needs doing to it.

Open Curves and draw an S-shape to bring up the contrast / tonal range as needed, making sure that the whites and blacks don’t blow out (unless I actually want them to) (most images tend to need a bit of lightening and extra contrast, some need colour correction which can be done by applying curves to individual colour channels).

Fix/erase any bits which require attention (hopefully none).

Load printer profile and convert to CMYK

Add an unsharp mask of approx 80-120 threshold (adjust to suit each image), px value: always 1. This adds sharpness to the image to the point where it looks oversharp - this is to compensate the image softening which is caused by the printing process / paper stock.

Save file at the size I need it (or slightly larger), 200DPI.

Close file and place it into InDesign.

Exporting PDFs for print from InDesign

This is pretty straightforward, tbh. The printers LeftLion use like to receive the files as single pages with 5mm bleed on all edges and no printer’s marks. So choose the ‘press’ option in InDesign’s PDF export options, then tweak a few settings:

Tick the ‘view PDF after export’ box so that you can check the file once it’s done.

Change the CMYK export setting to ‘leave unchanged’ (This will stop InDesign’s CMYK profile overriding the printer profile applied to the images in Photoshop).

Uncheck all printer’s marks boxes (the printers of this magazine add their own print marks. Some printers perfer you to add them to the file).

Put 5mm in all four bleed boxes.

Save this as a custom export setting to be re-used on all pages of the magazine.

A few seconds after exporting, a nice PDF of the page should pop up on your screen. If there are any fonts missing, InDesign should flag them up so you can go back and deal with them, then export again.

I’m sure there’s plenty of things I have forgotten to mention, so if you think I haven’t covered something well, or at all, let me know and I’ll expand it where appropriate.

LeftLion Issue 31

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

*UPDATE: LeftLion came top of the pile in the Writing & Publishing category of the annual Nottingham Creative Business Awards last week. Well done to everybody involved. Sights are now firmly set on winning the Creative Business of the Year award in 2010!

LeftLion issue 31 cover

Wow; has it really been two months since I last posted on this blog? I find it hard to believe, but the dateline on the last post tells me it’s true. The lack of updates recently is not because I’ve been slack; quite the opposite - I’ve been too busy to put in any time at the computer beyond clearing work and hitting deadlines. It can all get a bit much sometimes, you know, being a designer and spending many lonely hours staring at a monitor, so I let the blogging slide for a few weeks in favour of meeting deadlines and staying sane.

There was also some sunshine to enjoy and a bit of server downtime to knock my blogging rhythm, but at least I have plenty of new work to share with you over the next few weeks. Firstly, the latest edition of LeftLion magazine is out on the streets of Nottingham, so keep your eyes peeled for the latest bi-monthly installment of local cultural goodness lurking in various shops and pubs in the city. Big shout to Rob White for the cover illustration and Alan Gilby for his tidy page layouts - good work, sirs!

magazine covers montage

Also on the LeftLion tip, the previous issue featured a centrefold pullout of the covers from all 30 issues. That’s five years’ worth of cover designs on one page. It is great for me personally to be able to see all these commissions presented together - I remember every single one of them, which means my brain isn’t showing any signs of aging just yet. It is also nice to see such an array of styles used among the covers without any of them looking out of place or belonging to a different title; the LeftLion identity just seems to go from strength to strength. I hope you enjoy looking through them.

Click here to see a larger version, and feel free to download any of the individual issues here.

(Almost) Everything I Know About Magazine Design - part 2

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

*This is part 2 in a series outlining my process for designing a bi-monthly magaazine in full-colour tabloid format. For part 1, covering document and template setup , see here.

* be warned: this is a long article - you might want to bookmark it as there is a lot of information crammed into it.

Laying out content (basics)

A handful of pages are regular features and are laid out to a set template. I leave this template in place from the previous issue, deleting the old content and making the necessary tweaks once the new content has been placed.

One thing of note: InDesign has a layers system like Photoshop and many people use it in the same way, but I don’t - I do everything on one layer. Don’t even pay any attention to the layers menu palette; there’s no need to use it on a magazine of this size - you can move elements on the same layer in front or behind one another by using the ‘arrangement’ function - things are much more managable on one layer. (so why does it exist? you’re probably wondering… well, it has it’s uses in the design of publications of high page count or when special inking methods are required, but the design of small-ish standard publications doesn’t really need to be concerned with this function.)

The bulk of the feature content is usually one page interviews comprising of a photo/illustration, headline, standfirst, contributor credits, body text punctuated with a pull quote and a footer with further information and a weblink. I’ll walk you through my process by using a sample page from the magazine - it’s not the most visually exciting page I’ve ever done, but works as a good example for covering pretty much everything you need to be aware of…

layout step 1

My usual method is to wait until I have both the images and text before laying out a page, unless I know exactly what to expect. This way I know what I have to work with and don’t waste time on layouts which the contents don’t fit. I’ll draw two content boxes on the page and import the main image into one and the text document into the other. Then I cut and paste the headline, standfirst and pull quotes from the text into their own text boxes. Next, i’ll set the body text to 8pt Serifa in a text box of full page width with 3 coumns, to give me a starting point (see image above). This gives me a good idea with how much space the text takes up, and what I have left to play with for the image, headline and standfirst. In the case of this page, I knew I was getting a portrait image, so designed the layout accordingly…


I’ll usually sit the pull quote somewhere inside the body copy, one column wide (sometimes two), to visually break up the main article. By putting a text wrap on the box the quote is in, the body copy will flow round it (see screenshot of pull quote box and text wrap menu below - you can pad out the spacing above and below the pull quote to even out the gaps in the body text . In this case I didn’t need to make any adjustments so the padding is set to zero. This is very rare; just put in whatever numbers work best in each situation and go by eye - between 1 and 5mm usually works) . I try to place the quote so that it falls in the break between two paragraphs, as it is a point which provides a natural pause for the reader.


My aim is to always lay the text out in a way which means the reader has to move their eye as little as possible when reading a page. This makes it easier for them to follow the piece without expending too much mental energy trying to follow the layout. There’s plenty of studies out there showing that difficult text layouts cause readers to struggle to retain the information in a piece, or even read it in the first place. I generally place the text in the bottom half of the page to keep it compact and use the image and headline in the top half. Don’t just look at the page design, try actually reading the article once you’ve laid it out and see if it feels akward at any point.

Try to avoid making the reader having to make their eyes jump from the bottom of a page at the end of one column all the way to the top of the page for the start of the next column - this is one of the reasons why I usually set the text in the bottom half the page; this way the reader only ever has to scan half the height of the page to get from one column to the next.

layout step 3

My usual approach is to use one image as large as fits best on the page - we have a good selection of photographers and illustrators, so I like to use their work as large and untouched as possible (just tweaking for optimum output on newsprint) to let it sing on the page. Then I’ll adjust the number of body text columns to give the best alignment of image and text. In this case I left the column count at 3, as this allowed the image to be used as large as possible and line up nicely with the left edge of the middle column.

The image will usually go at the top of the page, but can be anywhere which works - footers and cornerpieces which bleed off the edge are pretty effective (The photo here is bleeding off the top and right edges of the page). Headlines have a free reign; sometimes they sit at the top of the page, sometimes below the main image directly above the text, or to the side of a portrait image, or they can be ran overlaying or as part of an image.

Having the headline in advance of the layout is pretty crucial for me - you know how many words you have to play with and how they can break to fit different spaces, and they often give you ideas for design approaches which echo the sentiment of the headline (knowing the headline on this page was just two short words allowed me to use this layout as I could fit the headline next to the image using the width of only one column. A longer headline would have probably forced me to run it acros the full width of the page). Marrying image and design with content so they communicate an idea in a unified clear way is the holy grail of mag design, so always aim to play the two off each other where you can.

General Workflow

I like to get a few pages laid out roughly so that i can get a feel for the pacing of the magazine, then I’ll go back and add the design touches - choosing headline fonts, colour schemes and page order on a magazine-wide basis rather than a page at a time. My style is pretty minimal; I work to a grid and use colour sparingly, mainly to highlight things I want to draw attention to. I’ll wait until I have most of the images for the mag on the page before deciding on which colour scheme to use for headlines and design flourishes, sticking to only a couple of prominent colours which complement the overall feel of the issue best.

My type choices are pretty narrow these days. I used to use all kinds of crazy fonts, wanting to mix things up as much as possible. Now I go for quiet harmony and balance, aiming to present the text and images in an easily digestable visually balanced and aethetically pleasing way without the design getting in the way of the content.

All body copy is set in 8pt Serifa throughout the mag. Questions in bold, body copy in roman, and things like film or record title in italics. It’s best to keep the same body copy font and point size throught the mag for consistency - changing font can work, but is tricky to get right; changing point size looks fine on individual pages, but looks unprofessional when it keeps changing in a magazine for no real reason. I spent a long time experimenting with different fonts and point sizes before settling on the current scheme and I’m still happy with it five years later. I even know of a local design agency Creative Director who uses my pages as a studio reference guide on how to type set, so it definitely works.

layout step 5

I usually use the same typeface for standfirsts too, set in 14-21pt depending on the amount of text and size of the article. It works great for headlines too, title case or caps, and you could feasibly do a very tidy mag using it as the only font, but it is obviously better to break it up a bit and add some other fonts to the mix. I like to use bold serif or textured fonts on the headlines and contrast them with more elegant headline typefaces where appropriate. I sometimes use the headline font for the standfirst when I think it fits (as in the case of this example page). Printing a headline out, tracing it by hand and scanning it back in is a good trick to get some texture on the page.

One thing that really helps is to print the pages out once they are in a reputable state and put them up on a wall, in order, so you can see the magazine structure.  This helps you make changes in the context of the overall publication, helping you achieve consistency, repetition and rhythm. Things I think about when looking at the prinouts are: How do the images and colours flow through the mag? Is the use of fonts balanced? Do the pages work as spreads? Are any backgrounds/boxes too dark? Is everything legible?

layout quote 2

Once I get a few pages in shape, I’ll send them to the editor for approval before tightening up the details and making amendments. When I get to the amendments stage and know things like the headline won’t change, I’ll start tweaking the details of the page, like kerning the headlines. It’s very rare to get a headline which doesn’t need kerning to some degree - they pretty much always need some adjustment - even if it’s just one pair - and I hate to see a bad one in print, so I always pay attention to this. This headline needed some reduced kerning to squeeze it in at the desired point size. I used an italic font so the slope of the N in ‘prawN‘ matched the angle of the fish next to it. I also incresed the size of the quote marks in the pull quote as they make a nice decorative feature and help make the quote a visual element, not just a block of text.

Tip: Watch out for ‘widowlines’ - single lines of text on their own - tinker with the layout to make sure the offending line either connects back with the paragraph it belongs to, or that another line is pushed over to the next column so that there are two lines together, rather than one on its own. Similarly, watch out for ‘widows’ - single words on their own line at the end of a paragraph - either shrink or expand the letterspacing in the para to pull the word back onto the line of text above, or push a word or two over onto the bottom line. Try not to make adjustments to the letterspacing of a para by more than +/- 10-15% - it starts imparing the legibility and becomes easily noticeable in relation to the rest of the body copy.

layout step 6

The other thing I look for is making sure each page looks balanced and isn’t too cramped or too loose. Here the page was a little loose and bland for my liking, so I added the illustration of the fish falling in and out of the fishseller’s basket, which adds visual interest and works as a border with the fish bleeding off the page edges. To stop the text running into the fish illustration, I traced round the outline of the fish border with the pen tool to create a solid shape with no stroke or fill, then added a text wrap to it in the same way I did for the pull quote.

I also coloured the headline and pull quote pink to echo the prawn-y sentiment of the headline. There’s no page number on this example page, as it would have been hidden by the border (I’m not fussed about having a page number on every page - one on every spread is enough, I think; nobody is gonna get lost).  With hindsight I should have had a page  number on there anyway, poking out from behind the border, partly obscured by the fish. Tricks like this add the illusion of depth to the flat format of the printed page; even the subtlest details can make a big difference. Here’s the finished page:

finished page

I think that’s about it in terms of general page layout duties. I haven’t really addressed any technical issues with preparing artwork for print, as I’ll cover that later in the series along with do and dont’s, more tips on good practice and pre-press setup and other useful bits and bobs. Until such time, I bid you adieu.