5 Tips for Document Construction

Document construction can be a tedious task.  It helps to know some of the best practices for producing print ready files that can be accepted pretty much anywhere you go.  Feel free to check out our list of document construction tips and add a few of your own in the comment section below.

1. Choosing Software

While current word processors are capable of producing a wide variety of page designs and layouts, and some are capable of exporting PDF files, we strongly recommend publications being produced using software dedicated to page layout. QuarkXPress and InDesign, for example, offer capabilities that streamline document construction.

Different software packages have different strengths and weaknesses. Some are more difficult to master than others. Matching the type of publication you plan to produce to the appropriate software will make the entire process more successful.

2. Using Software for Document Construction

Some features offered in page layout programs can include:

Master Pages and Templates

Use master pages and templates to place repeating items such as running heads, footers, and folios.

Control Palettes

Control palettes give the precise mathematical coordinates of any item on a page. A small variance in the position of the running head will not be obvious on a monitor, but can be detected using the coordinates given in the control palette.

Style Sheets

Use to establish a publications library and keep font usage consistent.

These features help establish and maintain standards even with multiple documents and even with multiple authors. By deciding at the beginning of a project what these parameters should look like, you have set clear guidelines, which helps to assure final PDF files will have a greater degree of consistency.

3. Managing Fonts

Always use an actual font face as opposed to applying the software styles to the font. For example, rather than applying bold to Times Roman from the style menus or shortcuts, choose to use the font Times Roman Bold. Stylized fonts may appear correctly on your monitor, but can be substituted during PDF creation.

By using a type manager to load and unload fonts as you work on a publication and removing similarly named fonts from your system, you can avoid font substitution and reflow when creating your final PDF.

4. Managing Color

When designing with color always be conservative when selecting your color pallet. Using too many colors or multiple colors with the same name can force bad color interpretation by the imagesetters, and may result in colors dropping out of the printed book.

Make sure your colors are set up correctly. Do not mix Pantone colors and CMYK builds. Make sure that gradients and blends remain the colors intended, as many programs will create CMYK builds of Pantone colors for these effects.

Verify that any screens of a color are considered screens of that color by the software, and not separate colors. For example 40% black should be a 40% value of the color black, not a separate spot color with a 40% black value.

Black or darker colors should usually be set to overprint lighter inks, unless there are areas where the darker color is used as the background for lighter text or graphics “reversing” out of the color.

Trapping is an area where a lighter color is slightly expanded to overlap or spread into an area of darker color by a very small margin, usually 0.005 inch. This allows the colors to meet without any gaps due to ink spreads or slight variations in the printing process. Several software packages offer trapping options, but unless you know the exact standards of the press being used and the color densities, we suggest that these settings be left unused.

5. Managing Graphics

Never use the “hairline” setting for rules or borders, or set a rule to measure less than one half of a point. Imagesetters will produce a line much finer than a laser printer. Lines so fine that they may in fact become almost invisible at imaging, or even completely disappear.

Avoid the pattern fills available in many application software packages. These were designed for screen presentations or for imaging on low-resolution printers, and may image incorrectly or not at all on a high-resolution imagesetter.

Keep color names consistent between imported graphics and the page layout program to avoid dropped colors and incorrect trapping.

Be aware that there may be vast differences between what you see on your monitor, the proof generated by a 300 dpi laser printer, and a 2400 dpi CTP (computer-to-plate) imagesetter.

There are two distinct types of graphics with two sets of distinct considerations:

  • Object-Oriented (Vector) Images are a series of points in electronic space describing a path and what is contained in that path (a fill, for example). Vector graphics are like string art: each pin is a control point, and manipulations to that point determine how the thread following it will behave.
  • Keep it simple! The more control points associated with a vector drawing, the bigger the file and the greater the chances for imaging failure. Autotraced graphics often contain an enormous number of control points; many of these points can be deleted, simplifying the file.
  • Masks or clipping paths over TIFF scans should be used with caution.
  • Color names must be identical to those used in the page layout program, and should be designated as spot colors and not process colors to produce correct output (unless you are producing process color art).
  • Make sure you use percentages of one spot color as tints, and not different spot colors, to prevent a 2-color job from imaging as a 6-or-more-color job!
  • Fonts used in EPS graphics can be converted to graphic elements, eliminating the need to supply the font along with the graphic. This option, however, can degrade the appearance of small text and/or “delicate” faces, and should be used with care.
  • PICT and PAINT files and fills should be avoided. They were not designed for high-resolution output.
  • Metafiles are similar to PICT files. Some PC clip art is supplied in this format. These should carefully be converted to EPS files for placement in the document.


  • Scans and Bitmaps (Raster) Art are like tiles in a mosaic. Resolution (dots per inch or dpi) determines the size of each “tile.” Monitors have a typical resolution of 72 dpi (where each pixel is a “dot”); laser printers have a typical resolution of 300 dpi; and imagesetters output at resolutions from 1200 to 3600 dpi or greater. Desktop flatbed scanners typically offer hardware resolution of up to 300 dpi and use software interpolation to achieve resolutions of up to 1200 dpi. Professional drum scanners can achieve real resolution of 4000 dpi.
  • Higher resolution = smaller “tiles.” Smaller tiles = smoother transitions. Each tile contains a specific amount of data (even the “blank” or white ones).
  • Resolution should be determined at the time the image is created or scanned. Attempting to image a 72 dpi scan at high resolution (1,200 dpi or greater) will result in obvious bitmapping or “pixelizing” of halftones and “jaggies” in line art.
  • Cropping and sizing should be done first at the scanning stage. Any additional cropping, sizing, editing, or rotation should be done in an image-editing program such as Photoshop and not in the page layout program. Extra white space around an image should be cropped away in an image editing program because each pixel of blank white space increases both image size and RIP time.
  • Converting color images to gray scale will often require manipulation of the various color channels to get good quality reproduction. Colors in the purple-to-red range tend to turn too dark, and colors in the yellow-to-blue range tend to disappear.
  • What-you-see-is-NOT-what-you-get! The image that looks great on your monitor is not necessarily what will print the best. Low-resolution (laser) proofs are not adequate for halftone proofing. Minimum dot value and dot gain compensation issues need to be worked out in advance through test files output at high resolution. Good halftone scans require high-quality equipment and a thorough understanding of press requirements.
  • Halftone scans should be made as close to the final printed size as possible, at a resolution of 1.5 to 2 times the desired line screen (a 133-line printed image should be scanned at 200 to 266 dots per inch). Scanning at too low a resolution will result in obvious bitmapping of the image and/or loss of detail. Scanning at too high a resolution will pick up unwanted artifacts and create unnecessarily large files and longer imaging times.
  • Line art should be scanned at the highest resolution possible, but with some thought given to the type of art. A soft, sketchy piece may reproduce beautifully scanned at 600 dpi and won’t improve at 1200 dpi. A text-intensive piece, such as a logo or a schematic drawing, requires at least 1200 dpi to reproduce well.
  • In many instances, it would be better to re-create line art as an object-oriented drawing than to use it as a scanned image. A full-page scanned border could easily take up 12 megabytes of space and take 40 minutes to image. The same border, re-created as a vector image, might only be 120 kilobytes and image in 3 minutes.


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