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…
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.
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.
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 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).
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.
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.)
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.
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.