InDesign Tips: Printing Transparency

Transparency is one of those features that designers love and printers hate. That’s because while transparency gives you the ability to create very cool-looking graphics, older PostScript RIPs are unable to process the files, which makes the people who try to output them very grumpy. So while forward-looking designers embraced InDesign for its transparency support, printers grimaced whenever InDesign files came into the shop.

And as a result, InDesign got a bad reputation with printers.

But all is forgiven if you know how to flatten your transparency before printing.

If you use InDesign (or Illustrator 10 or Acrobat 5, for that matter, both of which allow transparency) and you create effects like drop shadows or apply modes like Difference, then you need to read this section from “Real World InDesign 2.” Written by two of the industry’s leading experts on page layout, David Blatner and Olav Martin Kvern, it contains all the info you need to successfully flatten your files for printing.

We’ve posted this excerpt as a PDF file. All you do is click this link “Printing Transparency” to open the PDF file in your Web browser. You can also download the PDF to your machine for later viewing.

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This story is taken from “Real World InDesign 2.”


  • anonymous says:

    As a prepress person myself, I’ve tried time and again to convice our customers to flatten their transparencies themselves so they can maintain control of their designs. Unfortunately our good author left a few key things our. If you use a spot color in a transparency, chances are it’s going to turn into a CMYK build when you flatten it. Not always, but this can turn what should be a simple two color job into a four or five color job. Also, I’d like to now which RIP the author has access to that I’ve not seen. There isn’t a RIP on the planet that I’ve dealt with, PostScript3 or otherwise, that doesn’t flatten the transparency itself before output. Sure, the RIP knows what they are, and can render them, and show them on screen looking pretty. But they still flatten them first.

  • anonymous says:

    to David Blatner and Olav Martin
    Nice chapter. I would add two points.

    1) The Scitex RIP information in your chapter would apply to the older “non-PDF workflow” RIPs. As far as the PDF workflow that Creo-Scitex sells (Prinergy), it would depend on the version of Prinergy. The most common version in the field is based on the 1.3 PDF spec which will result in some of the problems addressed — namely spot color use in transparency. A newer version based on the 1.4 spec is available, however it is not in widespread use. Why? Larger shops made the move to PDF workflow when adopting direct-to-plate systems. The hump of the bell shaped curve for purchase by medium to large shops occurred in the last 4 years, tapering off last year, while momentum picked up at smaller shops to some extent. With half a million dollars invested in the larger platesetter systems, shops are reluctant to pay the large upgrade fees to move to the newer workflow based on the 1.4 spec.

    2) Shops with Heidelberg platesetters face the same situation. Heidelberg had a co-marketing agreement with Creo to sell Creo’s Trendsetter that started before the Creo Scitex merger and extended beyond the merger. The workflow for the Trendsetter was usually Prinergy — therefore printing companies with “Heidelberg” platesetters are in the same boat. They are still trying to amortize the half million they spent before taking on more expense.

    Adobe had transparency available in Illustrator long before the PDF 1.4 spec was implemented and deployed. If I’m not mistaken I believe InDesign and Illustrator 10 were out before 1.4 spec was in use in the field.

    Most of today’s proofing systems in use by printers with direct-to-plate will not reveal spot color that has been unintentionally converted to process since a composite workflow is used. A high resolution inkjet proof is showing a process version of a spot color to begin with. A two-color job is not likely to have a Matchprint quality laminated proof made with spot colors. If the job is a 5- or 6-color “process plus spot color”, the error will blend in and also not be noticed. The days of color keys utilizing unlaminated layers are behind us. Designers should flatten their own files and print Postscript laser separations or pay the printer to do so. The spot separations can then be inspected for correctness.

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