April 2010 ArticlesApril 2010 Articles

15 Apr

InDesign for Large Format - Bad Idea!

I work in InDesign but my printer wants Illustrator files. What do I do?

InDesign is a great application for page layout, but not so good for large format. I haven't found a large format printer who will accept inDesign files. Illustrator is the perferred layout application for large format printing.

If you design with inDesign there are a few options.

Export to PDF
Export your final design as a high-res .pdf file. Check with your printer first. Make sure they will accept your high-res .pdf (most will). Also, find out what settings they want you to use. You will need to know resolution, color space, and whether or not to apply bleed and marks.

Export to EPS
Export your file to EPS. Again check with your printer first to confirm they will accept your file.

PDF Risks
If your inDesign file contains shadows and glows they may do weird things to your .pdf. If the shadow goes over a placed image, the .pdf may slice up the image. Most of the time the .pdf file will print just fine, and you won't see where the image was sliced up.

Gradients created in inDesign are likely to band when printed from your .pdf.

Typical .pdf files have a 200" file size limit. InDesign's file size limit is 216". If you your document is between 200-216" you won't be able to export to .pdf without first scaling the document.

Your printer will not be able to edit your file. You may think this is a good thing. Sometimes it is, but what if the finishing option changed after you sent the file and you didn't include enough bleed? Your printer's prepress department will usually fix something like this.

EPS Risks
You may have font problems with the EPS file. Make sure to outline your fonts in inDesign before exporting your eps file.

If you design with a lot of images, your exported eps file may be hugh. In effect your final file will be larger than needed and include more pixel information than the printer really needs. See article Managing File Sizes.

Same as the .pdf, your printer will not be able to edit your file.

Other InDesign Pitfalls

InDesign makes it really easy to design with all types of images and collateral, but you won't be able to tell if your linked files are the best quality for large format output. Previewing your design in high-res will help, but it's not a perfect indicator of image quality. Combining images in Photoshop is a much better workflow because it gives you a "what you see is what you get" approach to design. See article Large Format File Resolution.

Designing with InDesign denies you the option to supply your printer with a file they can preflight and edit if needed. Many printers still manually edit pantone CMYK mixes. Designing with pantone colors in InDesign prevents their ability to dial in your colors to match the appropriate press.

The bottom line is that InDesign is a page layout application. It is not intended for large format.


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13 Apr

Trippy Self Portrait

Create a portrait with a custom illustrated pattern

image of self portrain

Step 1
Draw a cool pattern. I drew mine the old fashioned way - with pencil and paper. The finished drawing was then scanned so I could color it in Photoshop.

pencil drawn pattern

Step 2
Open the scanned illustration in Photoshop and double click on the layer to change it from a flattened "background" layer to a floating layer. Set the layer blend style to multiply. Add a new layer below the illustration and start painting in the colors.

illustration layers

Flatten the completed painted pattern and save the file to be used with your portrait picture.

painted pattern

Step 3
Photograph your subject. Have your subject wear white and place them in front of a white backdrop.

portrait original

Step 4
Create a displacement map file. This file will be used to warp the illustration to the shapes in your portrait. In effect it will model the illustration to the wrinkles in the blouse.

Convert your portrait to Grayscale, Image>Mode>Grayscale. Blur the image, Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur. The amount of blur will depend on the resolution of your file. Follow the sample image below as a guide.

Now press Command-L (PC:Ctrl-L) to bring up the Levels dialog box. Adjust the levels for contrast. More contrast will give you more displacement.

adjust displacement map with levels

Step 5
Save the displacement map file as a new .psd. Name the file "Portrait-Displacment.psd" and save it in a place where you can easily find it later. You will use this file multiple times to create your finished portrait.

displacement map psd

Step 6
Open the portrait image and your illustration image. Drag the illustration image into the portrait file. Save a layered working .psd file. You can title it something like "Trippy-Portait-tutorial.psd"

Step 7
Now the creative fun begins. Crop a portion of the illustration pattern for use on the blouse. Make sure that the crop portion fills the whole area and then some. Use the marque tool to select a piece of the pattern. Press Command-C (PC:Cntrl-C) to copy the selection. Press Command-V (PC:Cntrl-V) to paste into a new layer. Move the layer until it positions nicely over the blouse.

pattern sized to fit blouse

Make sure the new crop layer is selected. Go to menu Filter>Distort>Displace. Use the default settings to start. If you are unhappy with the settings you can adjust the Horizontal and Vertical scale. Larger numbers will displace more for deeper creavices and wrinkles, smaller numbers less. Clicking "okay" brings up a navigation window to find your displacement map file. Choose the psd file created in Step 5 and click "open" to apply the filter.

Step 8
Add a mask to the pattern crop layer for the blouse. It's important that you apply the displace filter before you apply the layer mask will screw up the displace filter.

displaced pattern on blouse

Step 9
Take a close look at the blouse. Think like a seamstress. How many pieces of fabric did it take to sew this blouse? It has front panels, sleeves, cuffs, collars and button hole hems. Simply adding the pattern in a single piece to the entire blouse doesn't look too realistic. A blouse isn't made out of a single piece of fabric. If your subject is wearing a tee-shirt the work will be easier but you still have a front, collar and two sleeves, and each should be treated independently.

Repeat Steps 7 & 8 for every section of the blouse. Choose different crops of the pattern and rotate them if necessary. The more you vary the use of the pattern, the more real the final picture will look.

Here are the layers created for my self portrait.

blouse layers

Step 10
Apply the displace filter again to the original illustration layer for your background. I also applied a canvas texture to my background. Go to menu Filter Gallery>Texture>Texturizer>Canvas. Adjust the light and depth to suit your taste.

Step 11
Add a layer mask to the original portrait layer. Place the texturized background layer under the original portait layer. Add a slight drop shadow to the portrait layer. Collect all of the blouse layers into a folder so your layers are organized.

texturized background

Step 12
Our picture is almost there;  we still need to add some highlights and shadows back into the blouse for a realistic appearance. Select the original portrait layer and duplicate it. Remove the drop shadow layer effect. Convert the new layer to grayscale. Press Command-U (PC: Cntrl-U) to bring up the Hue Saturation dialog. Take the saturation slider all the way to the left. Click "okay." Press Command-L (PC: Cntrl-L) to bring up the Levels dialog box. Slide the right- most arrow to the left until you get lots of completely white areas in the image. Click "okay." Move this layer to the top-most priority, and set the blend mode to "multiply.' Create a layer mask that removes everything but areas with the pattern.

Click the original portrait layer and duplicate it again. Follow the same steps but this time use the levels to create a much darker and contrasted grayscale image. See sample below. Move this layer to the top priority and set the blending mode to overlay. Create a layer mask for the blouse only.

You may have to play with the levels controls on both of these layers to get the shape and contrast that works for your image. Adjustment layers are great for this kind of creative control. I recommend using them if you know how.

Here is the finished image and the layers used to create it.

final picture

Good luck and have fun creating your own.


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08 Apr

Working With Really Large Files

My project has over 1 gig of files. Can I reduce this without sacrificing image quality?

YES! Following these steps will significantly reduce the final size of your production files. I will illustrate using examples from a 40-foot trailer wrap project.

Start by making sure your image resolution is no more than you need it to be. See article Large Format File Resolution.

Step One

Gather your high resolution collateral and total up the file sizes. This project began with 1.13 GB of image files.

working file sizes total 1.13 GB

The first and most important step is to combine the image files into a single photoshop layout at the correct print size and resolution (See article Large Format File Resolution.) This step alone will significantly reduce the amount of bytes used for your project. Combining the original high-res files in a Photoshop layout (built to scale) takes the total byte size for this project down to 668 MB. We have already reduced our production file size by 462 megs.

Composite layered psd is 462 MG

But wait, there's more...

Step Two
Save a copy of your layered working Photoshop file to a .tiff format. Make sure Layers option is turned off. Also deselect Embed Color Profile unless your printer has specified a specific profile.

save as tiff file step 1

The second dialog box controls the size of your .tiff file. Under image compression choose LZW. This will compress areas in your design with solid color areas. If your layout has large areas of flat solid color you will see the most significant image compression. (I don’t use LZW compression for offset printing but find it works great for large format images.) Also make sure you are saving a copy by flattening your layers.

save as tiff file step 2

The compressed .tiff file is only 80.9 MG. Remember we started with image files that totaled 1.13 GB. We have reduced the image size of this project by nearly 1400%.

LZW tiff file size is 80.9 MB

Step Three

Create an illustrator layout at the same print size as your Photoshop file. LINK your Photoshop.tiff file to your Illustrator layout. You can place text, logos and other vector files on top of the linked tiff file. I like to use separate layers for each.

Save a working copy of your illustrator file, retaining all your text as fonts (just in case you need to come back and make copy edtis).

Step Four
Outline all of your fonts and save a copy of your file for print. Save your file as a native illustrator ai. file. In the save dialog box uncheck the first option "Create PDF Compatible File."

save ai without PDF compatibility

Illustrator default saves a PDF compatible file. Turning this option off will siginificantly reduce the size of your file. It will not change or damage your file in anyway. You will loose the pict preview that allows you to view it from your desktop, create a .pdf from Acrobat or place it into inDesign, but you don't need these options for your final print file. The megabytes you will save is more than worth losing the pict preview.

Why not save the final layout as an eps?
Many printers will ask for eps files because they need an eps file for their RIP. The truth is that any good prepress department is going to open your layout file and examine it before sending it to print. If they are going to open your file,then why not have them save the eps file? Saving ai files without .pdf compatibility siginificantly reduces overall file sizes saving transfer times on both the upload and the download. Your ai file will also open much faster for your printer saving their preflight department time as well.

The sample trailer file saved as an eps file is 353.2 MB. The native ai file without PDF comaptibility is only 213 KB.

native ai file is much smaller than eps file

You are ready to send your project to the printer. All the printer needs is your Illustrator layout and the Photoshop tiff file. This project started with over a gig of information and now the print ready files total less than 100 MB. With todays high speed connections, a job this size will only take a matter of minutes to upload or download, saving you and your printer valuable time.


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08 Apr

Large Format File Resolution

Just how big do my files need to be for large format printing?

It depends on the substrate for your final output and viewing distance. A building graphic or a vehicle graphic does not require the same resolution as a retail banner. In any case you'll probably be surprised at just how low a resolution you can get away with.

Design with vector

You should design with vector art when ever possible. Vector files are infinitely scalable without sacrificing image quality. Obviously this isn't always possible, so if your design requires the use of images here are some resolution guidelines.

Vehicle Wraps, Building Graphics and Window Perf

Most laminated large format applications require the least amount of pixels. Start your design by taking accurate measurements for your project. Add at least five inches of bleed to all sides. (Your printer can mask some of the bleed out if it's not needed. It's always best to provide too much bleed than none at all.) Now take your total size with bleed and divide by four. This gives you a working file size at quarter scale. The resolution needed at this file size for this application is 150 dpi. Make sure to let your printer know the scale factor of your file so they can scale it at the RIP. The image quality will be excellent as long as you started with good quality images.


40 foot trailer side graphic
trailer side measures at 370" x 89"
add bleed for a final print size of 380" x 99"
quarter scale file size is 95" x 24.75"
resolution 150 dpi

Laying out your design

Create a new photoshop document at the quarter scale size with a resolution of 150 dpi. Open any images used in your design. Drag each image into your new document. You will know right away if the image resolution is big enough. Combine all of your images and effects to your new Photoshop document. The completed photoshop design can then be linked to illustrator where you can set type and place logos or other vector art elements.

Guidelines for other large format applications.

Dye-sub to fabric - over 8 feet
25% print file size
200 dpi

Dye-sub to fabric - smaller sizes
100% Print file size

Direct digital print to fabric
25% print file size
200 dpi

Direct Digital to Vinyl Banner Material - over 8 feet
25% print file size
200 dpi

Dye-sub to fabric - smaller sizes
100% Print file size

Working with too much file resolution is just as costly as having too little resolution. Large files slow your work down, take longer to transfer or burn to disk and slow your printer down as well. Sometimes really large files will fail at the RIP, costing everyone time and money. Follow these resolution guidelines for excellent output results and managble working file sizes.


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