InDesign File Setup Print 101: Clarifying Margins, Bleeds & Slugs Oh My

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25 October 2016

When setting up your first new document in Adobe InDesign, the dialogue box can be a little overwhelming to say the least if you are a newcomer to the program.  You are presented with a vast amount of information and settings to modify all the specifics of the project you are wishing to create.

Let’s get a couple of the print terms out of the way from the start, to allow you to focus on the actual settings and how they are applicable to your project.

Bleed – Bleed refers to any graphic, background color or photograph you wish to extend ‘off’ of the page when the final piece is produced.   A standard setting for bleed is 1/8”.  Depending on the unit of measure you use in your document preferences, you will want to enter the equivalent value.  Bleed allows the file to have the desired finished look after the piece is cut to size.

Margin – Margin or Safety Margin, is the desired setting to ensure nothing important gets ‘trimmed off’ during the finishing process.  The margin is only for your visual reference in the program.  Most printers prefer a minimum of 1/8” margin.  I tend to error on the ‘more margin is a good thing’ side.  I personally use a .25”.  Depending on the printer you are using, there is a cutting tolerance that must be factored in.  As sometimes prints may slightly vary 1/16”.  So to account for that, I use .25” to be safe.

Slug – Slug is the most mysterious setting to new users of InDesign.  Slug refers to space ‘outside’ the print area.  The slug is commonly used to add notes to the printer about a particular spread or for confirmation information.  I personally use the slug area for InDesign variable information such as file name, creation and modification date, as well as the client information.

Gutter – Gutter is the ‘padding’ or space between columns in your layout.  By increasing the gutter, you allow more space between the columns of your document.  On the flip side, if you lower the gutter you decrease the space between the gutters.  When setting your gutter, keep in mind the end user.  Your goal is to have your piece be easy to read.  Having to narrow a gutter could lead to turning off some readers from continuing through your piece.  By choosing the ‘Preview’ checkbox while setting up your document, you can see the impact of the gutter.  You must have at least two columns to see the effect.

InDesign New Document Dialogue Box

InDesign New Document Dialogue Box

Setting the groundwork for the project you are looking to create.

“Presets are your best friend.  Use them to save time when setting up projects you create on a regular basis. ”

Now let’s take a look at the other options and how they impact your project.

Intent – The intent is meant to determine which way you are taking your project.  The ‘Print’ setting is the most commonly used since in most cases you are creating a piece you want to have printed.  This will have your swatches be CMYK and you unit of measure as you have declared.  The ‘Web’ setup switches your swatches to the RBG color palette since web colors are displayed in RGB.  Your unit of measure will also switch to pixels which is common for website dimensions.  ‘Digital Publishing’ will act very similar to web in that the color space and units of measure will be RGB and pixels respectively.  However, the Page Size Presets will change to reflect the common device sizes you are looking to target with your digital publication or E-pub.

Columns – Columns are a visual representation for you during your design process to get a better feel for where columns would line up based on your page size and margin.  The column grids do not actually print, they are for visual purposes only.  They are great for alignment of design elements and having certain parts of the piece span 7, 5, 3 or 1 column.

Document Presets – Presets are massive time savers.  When you find yourself creating marketing pieces over and over again, declaring a preset saves you the hassle of doing the setup from scratch each time.  Highly recommend setting your document presets as you continue to build projects.

Page Size – Page Size provides you with the most common document sizes based on your ‘Intent’ setting.  This does not mean you are locked into the presets.  You may manually enter any page size you want for your project.

Page Orientation– Orientation refers to having a landscape or a portrait style layout.  Choose your setting by clicking on the icon you prefer to use.  Doing so modifies the width and height accordingly.  For example, you have an 8 x 10 set up as portrait, if you switch to landscape it will then be a 10 x 8.

I hope you found this introduction information beneficial to you as you begin your quest into InDesign and allow your creativity take over.

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