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OK, so far in this series we’ve properly prepared and set up our document, and we’ve constructed our file with the utmost of care. So we’re out of the woods, right? We just copy the file and send it off to the printer, right?

Wrong. There’s still a couple of major steps that needs to be accomplished before it’s Miller time. You need to “pre-flight” and “package” your document for your print shop.

All airplane pilots have a detailed pre-flight checklist they go through before they fly. It’s best to find any errors while you’re still on the ground, instead of when you’re in the air. Your commercial printer is fully capable of finding any technical errors in your InDesign document and taking care of them for you, but generally corrections made by the printer carry a hefty price tag. It’s far better to troubleshoot your document yourself and pass on to your printer a document that’s ready to go without any expensive intervention of their part.

InDesign has come a long way in being able to detect and report these technical glitches to you, making it easy for you to address the issues before the file is printed. It can generate a pre-flight “report card” showing actual and potential problems with your file that may cause printing problems. There are a couple of ways to access this pre-flight report. The easiest is to go to the very bottom border of your InDesign window.

In the bottom left corner you’ll find a number in a drop-down box that is so subtle you might not have ever noticed it. That’s your current page number. (Open the drop-down box and click on any other page number to jump there immediately. Free tip! You’re welcome.)

InDesign Status Bar

To the right of the page number drop-down box is the pre-flight drop-down box. If you see a green dot there, all is well — you’re ready to rock. But if you see a red dot, it will also have a number showing the number of problems that InDesign is tracking for you. Click on the drop-down arrow to open the pre-flight menu and then select Preflight Panel. While you’re here (and before you select Preflight Panel), it would be a good idea to make sure that both boxes for “Preflight Document” and “Enable Preflight for All Documents” are checked. An alternate way of accessing the Preflight Panel if you can’t find the drop-down box I’ve described is to press Ctrl-Shift-Alt-F.

There are a lot of possible types of errors that could creep into your InDesign file, but the most common ones fall into four categories: links, graphics, fonts, and overset text. InDesign (and your commercial printer) are fussy about these things. If they can’t be found where they’re expected to be, you have a problem.

Links After you’ve placed a graphic in your InDesign file you might have moved it to a different folder (or sub-directory), or maybe you renamed it at some point during the time that you were constructing your document. Either of those situations creates a broken link between InDesign and your placed graphic. You need to tell InDesign where to find the file to repair the link.

Graphics There are a number of different ways to display the spectrum of colors used in creating a document. The “color model” used by computer and projector screens is called RGB. It builds every color of the rainbow out of some combination of the colors Red, Green, and Blue. If you are creating a document that will only be displayed on monitors or from a projector, your graphics should all be defined as RGB files. But if your file is going to be printed in color, either by a commercial print shop or by a color laser or inkjet printer, the graphics should be set up as CMYK graphics. This color model builds colors from a combination of Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black (designated by a K because B was already taken by blue in RGB). These color models aren’t fully compatible. You should convert your files to the proper color model for the final output that your document has been created for. This isn’t absolutely necessary, because the software that files are printed from will try to compensate for either color model, but your colors might not come out quite like you were hoping. Some color correction in Photoshop will likely be required after conversion to get the colors to look right in the new color model. A rich and vibrant blue, for example, might come out looking faded and muddy after conversion and need to be tweaked to bring it back to its original condition. Since this is a series of blogs about making your final product look the way you were expecting, we need to address these kinds of issues so there are no expensive surprises for you when the document is printed.

Fonts Just as placed graphics can get moved and the links between InDesign and the graphic file get broken, fonts can get lost, too. The most common way these errors creep in is when a document is worked on from different workstations within a computer network. Mary creates the file on her computer and Tom does some edits to it on his. If Tom doesn’t have all the fonts installed on his computer that Mary used in the document, it will create an error condition. Needless to say, if your commercial print shop doesn’t have one of the fonts used in your file, that will create a problem, too. Pre-flighting will identify these issues and give you the opportunity to correct them before you send the file off to your printer.

Overset Text InDesign puts your text in “frames” that can be reshaped and resized at will. That’s a good thing. It makes your documents flexible and fluid. But if your frame isn’t big enough to hold all the contents you’ve placed in it, that creates a situation call “overset” text. Your frame is overflowing. How can you tell? Well, besides the fact that not all of your text is displaying, when you select your text frame with the Selection (pointer) tool, near the bottom right corner of your frame you’ll see a red plus sign.

InDesign Overset Text Symbol

That indicates the contents of your frame is greater than the size of your frame. You can resize the frame or edit your text to get the overflowing text to display, or you can click on the red plus sign to load up your cursor and click and drag a new text frame that will be linked to your existing frame and will continue to flow the overset text into the new frame. However you fix it, it has to be fixed so that all of your text prints and doesn’t get clipped off.

Pre-flighting your file is Step #1 in prepping your file for the printer. At this point we’re assured that your InDesign file is cohesive and well-behaved.

Step #2 is to revisit a step taken at the very beginning of the document set-up process: Communicate with your print shop to see how they want your files prepared for their equipment and software. If you need to make any changes, make sure that your pre-flight status stays green — no errors.

OK, final pre-flighting is finished and InDesign has given you the green light. What’s next?

Step #3 is that you need to “package” your files for your print shop. Packaging assembles all of the bits and pieces that make up your document and copies them to a new folder in an orderly fashion that will make sense to your print shop. The new folder will have sub-folders for linked graphics and for fonts, and will include a fresh copy of your InDesign file with all of the graphics and fonts relinked to it. Three cautions here:

  • InDesign will only package the graphics that are linked to your InDesign file. For example, if you use CorelDRAW to create a graphic, it creates a native .CDR file that you will export as an .EPS, .TIF or .JPG for importing into your InDesign file. The .EPS (or whatever) that you have linked would become part of your new Links folder when InDesign packages your files for the print shop. The native .CDR file that the .EPS was created from doesn’t get included. You’ll have to copy that file into your packaged folders yourself.
  • InDesign will not include in the package any graphics that you’ve placed on the pasteboard, so if you moved something off your page but don’t want to lose it, you’ll need to copy that image file into the packaged folders.
  • The file that is open and displaying on your screen after packaging is NOT the packaged InDesign file — it is the file you packaged from. So always close that file, open the InDesign file in the packaged subdirectory and take all future actions from there. Otherwise, you are likely to encounter what we call “version control” problems — you have multiple copies of a file on your system and you make some changes to one file and other changes to another. At that point, any file you open holds only some of your desired changes. Always immediately close the file you packaged from and open the newly packaged file so that should you find even the smallest error you want to correct, it gets corrected in the file you’re going to be providing to your printer, archiving and using in the future.

Once your files are packaged, they’re ready to go! Your commercial print shop will know exactly what to do because you’ve communicated with them at the start of the process and confirmed all expectations near the end of the process. You’ve pro-flighted the daylights out of your file and ensured that there aren’t any glaring errors with how the document it set up. You’ve packaged all the bits and pieces in a way that will be very familiar to your print shop and sent the entire package (including any native graphics files) on their way.

Now, my friend, it’s Miller time.

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