Preparing Your Document

Begin the project by composing and editing all text in a word processing program such as Microsoft Word. Once the text is complete, import it into a desktop publishing application such as InDesign.

Word processing programs shouldn’t be used as desktop publishing programs. Although some word processing programs have layout features found in desktop publishing programs (creating columns, importing graphics, etc.), problems arise when a project finalized in a word processing program reaches a commercial printer. Likewise, avoid layout of multipage documents in draw programs such as Illustrator.

When choosing between desktop publishing programs, know InDesign is considered the industry standard for print page layout. If you can choose which platform to use, consider that Macintosh has proved more reliable than Windows in desktop publishing in terms of graphics, fonts and printing.

Page Dimensions

When setting up document size in the desktop publishing program, make the page dimensions the same size as the final trim size. Avoid creating a document in a larger, default-size document by manually adding registration marks. One exception is page elements that bleed; they extend 1/8 of an inch beyond the page boundary. However, avoid using the desktop publishing program’s predetermined hairline rule. This width varies between programs, and results differ on printers and imagesetters.


Bold, italics, etc.: Choose the actual font, (e.g., Times Bold) for the text in question instead of highlighting the text and hitting the bold or italics button.

Type effects: Use graphics programs such as Illustrator or Photoshop to manipulate type effects then import the type into the document as a graphic.

Number of fonts: Limit the number of fonts to three or four complementing ones; for example, one for the main text, another for headlines, another for captions or inserts. This provides consistency and easy recognition rather than a jumble of type styles, which can create confusion for the reader.

Other printer preferences include:

  • Avoid rule lines less than .25 point size
  • Use tabs rather than spaces to align columns and indent paragraphs
  • Use a single space after periods
  • Know your dashes (en dash vs. em dash)
  • Eliminate widows and orphans (dangling words and lines)
  • Proofread all copy carefully

A good rule of thumb is to supply the printer with all the fonts used on a project. Some fonts have more than one version. Sticking to PostScript type 1 fonts and supplying the printer with all fonts used (even ones the printer probably already has) will help avoid any potential reflow or repagination problems.


Preferable file formats for graphics are TIFF and EPS. TIFF is good for halftones (graphics with many shades of gray or color gradations – like scanned photos) and for B&W clipart (scanned and saved in 1200 dpi bitmap. TIFF files should not be saved in a compressed format. Save color TIFFs as CMYK (as opposed to RGB); save B&W TIFFs as grayscale.

EPS is recommended for charts, illustrations and other graphics created or edited in vector applications such as Illustrator. A resolution of 1200 dpi is the industry standard for these graphics. Other file formats such as PICT, JPEG and GIF don’t perform well in desktop publishing applications. If possible, convert these files to TIFF or EPS before using them.

Manipulate the graphics in the program in which they were created, rather than in the desktop publishing application. Though it is possible to adjust an image’s levels (contrast, light, dark, etc.) in InDesign, the commercially printed results may not match the intended adjustments.

Name the graphics used with the appropriate file extension. Additionally, do not rename the graphics once they have been placed in the desktop publishing document. If a graphic must be renamed, be sure to return to the desktop publishing program and relink the document with the renamed graphic.

Desktop publishing applications do not embed graphics into the document; they merely link to where those graphics are stored elsewhere on the computer. The printer will need to save those graphics files for the links to work.

Time To Print

When the completed project is ready for the printer, provide your printer contact with a hard copy printout of the final document and all layout files, graphics and fonts. If possible, have the final proof printed on a PostScript laser printer.

Review the printer’s proofs and bluelines carefully, and cross-reference them to the original hard copy.

Following these guidelines will give your document a professional look and help distinguish it from an amateur effort.