The most popular program for preparing materials for print is Adobe’s InDesign, part of the Adobe Creative Suite (CS) version 4. Since building InDesign to compete with Quark Xpress, Adobe has integrated the program tightly with its CS teammates, Photoshop, Illustrator, and Acrobat Pro. It’s generally referred to as a page layout program.
The Old Way
The layout artist of old would gather the necessary elements for his project from their originators, before sitting down to prepare his artwork. This might include:
- Photographs and photostats sized to the final reproduction size,
- Galleys of type from the typesetter,
- Artwork and photostats sized to the final reproduction size, from the stat house as well as the client’s art department,
- Standard layout elements like company logos, taglines, typographic ornaments or company branding.
Then, armed with light tables, t-squares, glue pots and razor blades, the mechanical artwork would be painstakingly assembled and sent to the printer or litho house to be photographed for reproduction.
Now We Have Software
Although some people use InDesign as a place to create artwork, its most common function mirrors that of the layout artist. Here I gather the various pieces of the publication on which I’m working:
- The text files, cleaned and prepped for import,
- Graphics files, sized and prepped in Photoshop or Illustrator,
- Standard layout elements like image files of company logos, stock photography, patterns, frames, backgrounds and so on.
InDesign excels at handling all these kinds of files, and at giving the layout artist tremendous precision and control. In the old days, we struggled to align little bits of paper so they would look straight. Now InDesign increments spacing at ten-thousandths of an inch, can use thousands of fonts, and can just as easily be used for a fine-art book as for a catalog or magazine.
As InDesign has matured, it has kept adding features and capabilities literally unknown just a short time ago. We can now export in the ePub format, send layout pages to clients as JPG files, or create numerous different PDF formats.
Vast Array of Features and Capabilities, with Automation
Adobe keeps putting more and more automation into InDesign as well. Recently they added the capability to automatically format repetitive copy, assigning styles to subsequent pieces of copy based on conditions you establish. When designing catalogs and listings, this is an incredible time saver.
I have to admit that I have no idea how wide the scope of this program is, because I will likely never use many of its features—maybe no one person could. To the novice, it can be overwhelming due to the sheer number of control palettes, options, refinements, features, and settings that are available.
Almost all I use it for is book and cover design, and the amount to learn in just this one application of InDesign is formidable. It’s truly a jack-of-all trades and the software on which my business runs.
Learning Curve Ahead
When I hear authors who are contemplating self-publishing talk about InDesign, it makes me uneasy. Not that you can’t learn the program, anyone can. But if you start off with no experience with design, or with fonts, file formats, scanning, color correction, reproduction requirements of various printers, you have to understand that you have set yourself a gigantic task.
And it often seems counter-productive to learn all you would need to know about the program to just do one book. Self-publishing has a strong do-it-yourself tradition, but sometimes it’s quite a bit smarter to get somebody else to do-it-themselves.
I guess you can tell I’m a big fan of InDesign, but that’s because I started out with the t-square and the glue pot. I progressed through Ventura Design, Page Maker, and QuarkXPress to get to this point. Each was radical and amazing in its time, and now is the time for InDesign.
If you use this software or one of its competitors, I’d love to hear from you. Leave me a comment.
[Book cover from Rob Giampietro’s Lined & Unlined]