Flatten Me! I want to be printed!

 Jan 16, 2014

It’s amazing what artists and designers can create using digital design programs such as Adobe Illustrator and InDesign. Unfortunately, when it comes to printing, these masterpieces of imagination and design may suffer from the tricky issue of how to translate all that beauty into print. Today, I’ll share some tips on flattening images in Illustrator and InDesign.

Let’s say, in your brilliant layout, you have a drop shadow or perhaps a few semi-transparent objects overlapping. Perchance there’s a beautiful glow creeping across the landscape. Fantastic design, but before sending a PDF to your printer/service provider, ask them if they would prefer a flattened or unflattened PDF. The printing press needs your layout in opaque values and will not dine well on the overlapping semi-see-through inspired piece you've created. Depending on the workflow, your service provider may or may not want you to flatten your files. If they do want you to flatten your files, it’s easy to implement. Before we begin to flatten images, you can preview the areas affected by transparency in both programs by doing the following.

  • Illustrator: 'Window' tab in the menu bar > 'Flattener Preview'
  • InDesign:  'Window' tab in the menu bar > 'Output' > 'Flattener Preview'

Flattening layouts in Illustrator and InDesign

1. Choose or create the settings for flattening in both Illustrator and InDesign Flatten Layouts in IllustratorTo do this, go to the 'Edit' tab in the menu bar then select 'Transparency Flattener Presets.' Note that high resolution is generally for press printing, medium resolution for in-house desktop proofs and low resolution for web and low end grey-scale printing. Additionally, you can convert all text and strokes to outlines when creating a custom preset. The main advantages in creating a preset are its reusability and the option to export and share your settings with colleagues. 2. Set Transparency Blend Space in InDesign When creating any type of PDF, InDesign requires you choose the appropriate 'Transparency Blend Space.' To do this, go to the 'Edit' tab in the menu bar, select 'Transparency Blend Space' and select either 'Document CMYK' or 'Document RGB. CMYK is typically used for press printing environments while RGB is for web-based and non-press environments. Don't worry if you set the wrong choice as InDesign will warn you and allow you to cancel the process until you change the setting. 3. Print file to PDF Before printing, select your flattening setting or customise it on the spot through the advanced settings. To do this, go to the 'File' tab in your menu bar, select 'Print' and in the dialogue box, select 'Advanced.'

Flatten Layouts in Illustrator

In order to flatten your layout, you need to print to PDF from InDesign or Illustrator. The 'Export' option in InDesign and the 'Save As' option in Illustrator will not allow you to choose to flatten your file unless you create a very old Acrobat 4 file. Of course, using the print dialogue demands a full version of Acrobat is installed on your system. If you do not have this, then the other options to export and save are still available, but you or your service provider will need to flatten your file later in the printing workflow. Please keep in mind, that the process of creating a PDF will take longer when you print with the high resolution flattening setting and/or with text and strokes to be outlined. However, outlining text and strokes can be worth the extra time as it helps to fix inconsistencies in appearance of text and line art which flows through transparency effected areas. More details about flattening layouts and solutions to other printing needs in InDesign and Illustrator are available on the Adobe website. For endless fun and learning in Adobe Illustrator and InDesign, be sure to take a look at New Horizons' Graphic Design courses.

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About the Author:

Katherine Davis  

With over 15 years of experience, Kate is one of New Horizons most knowledgeable and skilled Desktop Applications and Graphic Design trainers. She approaches each training event with an understanding of the student’s perspective and with their learning goals in mind. Her extensive knowledge and dynamic training style enables her to engage users of all varying skills levels and ensure that each student’s learning goals are achieved. Kate is especially well known around the New Horizons office for her creative flair and talent in using the Adobe suite. She takes a genuine satisfaction from helping students solve issues and always makes an extra effort to ensure that students have an enjoyable learning experience.

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