Which design program should I use?

If you're not sure which design program you should use, consult this infographic. It'll quickly guide you to  either InDesign, Illustrator or Photoshop, which are the programs most often used by professional designers. It's not 100% foolproof but should guide you in the right direction!

If you'd like a free pdf of this infographic please click here.

If you're completely new to design, try out free ten day Accidental Designer course.  

Your free 2016 social media image sizes cheat sheet

If you want to quickly make an image for Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Google+ or Pinterest, our handy cheat sheet will tell you the size.

Even better, with a copy of Adobe Illustrator you can edit the downloadable pdf which has artboards set up for every size you might want. This handy resource will save you lots of time and frustration. Download it here, and please share it!

The sizes are correct on the day of posting in May 2016. They came courtesy of Sprout Social.

New to InDesign? Don't know where to start? Don't know which tools to use? Start here

If you've just opened InDesign, the chances are the first thing you've looked at is the Tools Panel on the left of the screen. Like much of InDesign, there are a lot of options, and it can all appear a bit overwhelming.

But there is good news: for the vast majority of InDesign users, the vast majority of work done uses only three different tools, which I'll outline here.

The first of these, at the top, is the Selection Tool. 

As it's name implies, it's used for selecting things, for you to tell InDesign which object (text, picture etc) that you want to work with. If you think of this as the default tool to use, you won't go far wrong.

The second of the three essential tools is the Rectangle Frame Tool.  Everything in an InDesign document lives in a frame, and it's with this tool that you create those frames.


The final essential tool is the Type Tool. If you want to work with text you can either use this tool to click on an empty frame and start typing, or to select some text that's already there.


Of course there are other tools here, but for most of the work you'll likely do, these are the ones you'll use most of the time - so playing with these is a good place to start.

If you're one of those people who've suddenly acquired design responsibilities but don't have any design background, check out our free Accidental Designer course. 

How to prepare InDesign documents for commercial printing: a comprehensive guide

This post is about preparing InDesign documents to be printed. It’s a long and detailed post, and designed to be worked through (but not necessarily in one go). If you want to work though it as you read, click this link to download the actual files I’ve used, along with a 60 page pdf book of an extended version of this article to read and work through at your leisure.

Now I’ve got InDesign I’ll be able to create stunning designs – won’t I?

If you’ve been told that you need to use InDesign to be able to design better documents, there is an element of truth there, but it’s not the whole truth. InDesign will provide you all the tools that professional designers use every day – but just having the tools isn’t quite enough.

Adobe’s programs have always been made for creative professionals to use, and until a few years ago the overwhelming majority of their users would have been professional designers, publishers and so on. But now, as companies increasingly insource more and more of their creative work, there are many users of their programs who are coming from a non-design background. Adobe seem to have been making attempts to make these programs easier to use, but still their underlying approach is to offer you the tools and let you create what you want.

So, for example, when you create a new document in InDesign there are no preset styles for text (Paragraph Styles) within InDesign and minimal colours (Swatches) to use. It’s always been assumed that users will want to create their own Paragraph Styles and Swatches to use within a specific document. But this is clearly different from an approach where you are provided with a lot of assets to make things easier (as you would be with, say, Microsoft Publisher).

It’s this different assumption on behalf of Adobe that makes the tools much better, but it does present quite a learning curve for someone who is outside of the design world. In the program you are offered settings for typographical terms such as Tracking, Kerning and Leading – a designer would know what these are, but it can be quite challenging to have to learn elements of a new language as well as learn a computer program.

For that reason, I almost always find that when I teach InDesign to a class of beginners these days, they are as interested in the context that InDesign is used in as much as the program itself. In other words, they are starting to learn the skills that used to be taken for granted: knowledge of design theory, typography, the commercial print process, and so on.

However you learn InDesign. it’s inevitable that you’ll need to learn some degree of these surrounding skills in order to use it to its full potential. If you’d like to put some time into learning about design, as well as InDesign (and Illustrator and Photoshop, also used by graphic designers) then you might want to look at our “Accidental Designer” course, a free 10 day email course for complete beginners.

So how did InDesign become such an essential skill for digital marketers?

It’s probably not escaped your attention that InDesign has the word “Design” in it. And you’ve probably also worked out the reason why: it’s used to design things. If you’re a designer, you’d be completely comfortable with that. If you’re a marketer, you might very well wonder why this program has become one of the essentials skills you now need to have.

What I can say from teaching InDesign for over ten years it that until about five years ago it was used exclusively by designers, printers, publishers, advertising agencies… creatives of one sort or another.

As a marketer you might have dealt with a designer (and may still do). But two key things have changed:

  1. The 2008 crash. Belts have been tightened, budgets squeezed… and so a lot of work that used to be done by external agencies, contractors and freelancers has been brought in-house.
  2. Marketing has become digital. It’s speeded up. It can be done by in-house, digital marketers like you.

So does it make sense to continue to out-source all of that creative work, when there are people in-house who are keen to do it, who do all of the other marketing, and who knowing the branding and brand values inside out?

Yes, in many ways I think that it does make sense. And I think that’s why InDesign has broken out of its previous niche and is now used by all of the people I mentioned before, and now also by people in marketing and communications roles.

This presents challenges both to the designers who used to do all of that work, and also to the people now expected to take it on. But this is how things are now: the boundaries between design and marketing have become distinctly blurred.

If you're completely new to the world of design and have no idea where to start, take a look at our free ten day Accidental Designer course. 

.indd? .psd? .ai? .eps? .jpg? Which file types are used for which purpose?

If you're new to design, or simply have been given some files to work with, which ones are used for which purpose? Here follows a very brief post attempting to simplify a very large subject.

Files with an .indd suffix are created in InDesign, which is the program most widely used to create documents that will be printed, such as magazines, newspapers, brochures and newsletters. It's this file that you'd open in InDesign if you wanted to change any aspect of the file that you've been sent.

Images that are placed within the InDesign file usually come from two different sources. Some are most likely photographs, usually created in Photoshop, and will very often be .jpg files. Other file types created from Photoshop include the .tiff file and the .psd.

What all of these file types have in common is that they are images made out of pixels (also called bitmap or raster images, because they've been rasterised: converted into pixels). What separates them are their different attributes. Jpgs are very effective at compressing images in the same way that mp3 files compress audio files to make them smaller. Tiffs compress in a less effective way, but do so without throwing away any information from the image, so are often regarded as being of higher quality (which is not necessarily true). PSD files are Photoshop's native file format and enable you to use some of Photoshop's very flexible features (like Layer Masks, Smart Objects, Smart Filters). Other bitmap file formats that are primarily used for web graphics (as well as jpgs) are the .gif and the .png file format. Mostly you wouldn't need to open bitmap images, but would do so in Photoshop if you wanted to change the images (for example to make it black and white, or adjust its colours).

The other source for images that are placed within Indesign is Illustrator, which creates images not make out of pixels, but mathematically determined points called vectors. These files are much simpler than bitmap images and are perfect for things like logos, diagrams and maps. The files created from Illustrator are usually .ai files and .eps files. Again, you normally shouldn't need to open these, but you would do so in Illustrator if you wanted to adjust the colours in a logo or change the text on a diagram.

The other file type you'll have come across is the pdf, which can be created by a variety of programs for a variety of reasons. The most likely reason you'd encounter one in a design context is that it is either sent as a proof (so you can see how the job will print out) or that it's created as the final document for a printer to print from.

If you're completely new to the world of design and have no idea where to start, take a look at our free ten day Accidental Designer email course. 

Hi Res images and Bleeds. Two things printers talk about that you should understand too.

Hi-Res Images... er, what does that mean?

When a printer says "We can't print that, the images aren't high res", what does that mean? In short it means that whilst the images you've used might well look fine on your screen, they'd probably look terrible if they were printed out. Why? In short it comes down to the number of pixels in the image. You're probably familiar with the term pixels - if not, it means the tiny squares of colour that make up a digital image. That is essentially all a digital photograph is - many thousands of tiny squares, each one capable of having its own unique colour or shade. For an image to look good on a screen it needs to have roughly 72 pixels for every inch of the image. However for an image to look good on the printed page, it needs to have roughly 300 pixels for every inch of the image. This is number of pixels per inch is referred to in Indesign and Photoshop as PPI, although old-school printers and designers often call it DPI. It's also known as Resolution. So a High Resolution (or Hi Res) image will have around 300ppi, and that is what the printer is wanting.

My printer is asking me about a bleed. What does that mean?

If you are asking a printer to quote to print your flyers, posters or newsletters they might ask you if there any bleeds, or whether you have added bleeds. Whilst this is a perfectly obvious question for a printer it understandably can cause confusion or even mild alarm. This post will explain what a bleed is and what the printer is asking.

If you’re accustomed to printing documents on your in-house laser or inkjet printer you’re probably used to leaving a white border around the edge of your document, because in all likelihood such printers can’t print to the edge of the page. There is no such restriction in commercial printing, where documents are typically printed on larger sheets of paper and then trimmed down to size afterwards. For that reason you can fill the whole page with colour, or an image, or have any element go right to the edge of the page. The printer will want to know if you want that, partly because it might affect how it's printed (and the cost involved), and also whether this is something that you have set up properly.

If you want anything in your document to go all the way to the edge of the page, make sure you’ve added bleed guides (when using Adobe InDesign; usually a value of 3mm is used) to your document either when you first created it, or subsequently by choosing File>Document Setup. Where you want anything to go right to the edge of your document, make sure you extend the frame over the edge of the page until it meets the (red) bleed guide. Extending elements such as images or background colours over the edge of the page allows for any movement or inaccuracy of the blade of the guillotine that's used to trim your page after it's been printed, meaning that you won't be left with a white gap at the page edge where they should appear.

So when a printer asks "Is there bleed?" or "Does anything bleed off?" or "Are any images full bleed?" they want to know so they can make sure it's printed the right way, and to make sure you set the document up correctly before you send it to them.

If you're completely new to the world of design and have no idea where to start, take a look at our free ten day Accidental Designer course. 


Our company is insourcing simple design work. Do I need to use InDesign?

If your company is insourcing simple design work, it’s going the way of many, many others. Whilst design used to be done exclusively by professional designers, many companies are now finding that it can make sense to bring some of it in house.

If you’re plannng to do this, you’ll need access to the same software which your designers use. The main program used by most print designers is Adobe InDesign. If you’re not familiar with it, you will be familiar with what it’s used to produce. Look around your local book shop and you can assume that most of the books in there were produced with InDesign. Look at the magazines and newspapers on the shelves of a newsagent or supermarket and you can assume that most of those were created in InDesign too.

So if you’re planning to work on your own flyers, newsletters, adverts, invites, pitch documents or brochures, InDesign is the program to use. The likelihood is that you’ll get your external designer to create some templates for you to use, which for things like adverts, invites and flyers should be quite straightforward to use.

If the template has been clearly created, and the content that needs to be put inside it are not too complex, then it should be quite possible for in house staff to work with it without a great need for training. A basic understanding of InDesign’s key tools and concepts should suffice, such as the short video we’ve produced on working from InDesign templates.

However, a document like a Newsletter, which might include multiple different stories and images which all need to fit together in a finite amount of space, can be more challenging. To create this sort of document, a broader knowledge of InDesign and a greater understanding of design skills are likely to be required.

I’d suggest that important documents, such as those used for pitches, tenders, and more formal documents like annual reports are generally left in the hands of design professionals. If you have a budget to outsource some of your design work, this is one area that you should spend it on.

What other programs do you need to use? InDesign works hand in hand with Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop. Images that you import into InDesign are likely to be created in these programs. Clean, simple images such as infographics, logos, charts and illustrations are likely to be created in Illustrator. Photographic based images are likely to be produced in Photoshop. You don’t necessarily need to know how to use these programs - it depends whether you’d need to edit these images, or create additional images like these. If all you need to do is bring them into InDesign and re-size them, you can probably get by just using that.

To help you make sense of the different programs, we’ve produced a half hour long free video course to explain all of this in greater detail.

Are you using InDesign for in-sourced design work? How are you getting on?

Why can't I track my text back to the previous line? Why is InDesign messing with my text when I'm trying to sub it?

There's a really clever InDesign feature that, whilst clever, makes many people fume. People who have subbed text for years (edited the words to get them to fit) clearly know a thing of two when it comes to getting it to not only fit the space, but for it to read well and look good too. If they've come from a background of using QuarkXpress they will be used to looking at a paragraph line by line, sending the occasional word over to the next line using a soft return (Shift+Return: works in InDesign too).

But when they start using InDesign many of them find that the tricks they'd previously used don't work, and it drives them crazy. In a nutshell this is because a clever InDesign feature, called Adobe Paragraph Composer, is trying to do their job for them. Unlike QuarkXpress, InDesign's default behaviour is to look at a whole paragraph at a time when calculating where to break the lines. So the way it makes the lines flow in a paragraph is often what a sub might have done by use of soft returns. The problem lies when a sub wants to edit that text - it simply will not behave as expected. It's possible to change that behaviour for a particular paragraph by going to the dropdown menu at the top right of the screen (in the Control Panel, when the paragraph is selected) and by choosing Adobe Single-line Composer instead of Adobe Paragraph Composer.

InDesign will now examine the paragraph line by line, like QuarkXpress used to. In my experience of helping magazines and newspapers move from QuarkXpress to InDesign, setting up Paragraph Styles to use the Single-line Composer instead of the default Paragraph composer makes life a lot easier for the editorial staff.

Why can't I see InDesign's Baseline Grid?

If you can't see InDesign's Baseline Grid there are a number of possible reasons why. The first thing to check is whether you've asked for them to be visible: check that View>Grids & Guides displays Show Baseline Grid.

If the grid is still not showing, the next thing to check is that you're not currently in Preview Mode, (useView>Screen Mode>Normal) as that will hide anything that won't print, including the Baseline Grid.

If the grid is still not showing, then zoom in, and eventually it should appear. This is because by default it won't display if you are viewing your page at less than 75% magnification. If you have a small screen you might want to change InDesign's preferences so that the grid will appear when you're looking at the whole page. To do this, choose InDesign>Preferences>Grids (Edit>Preferences>Grids on PC) and lower the View Threshold value to around 50%.

Why can't I select my text? Why has the baseline grid ruined my text? How do I make the most of InDesign's many text options? If you've ever asked any of these types of questions, our mini pdf guide to InDesign text issues is written for you. Find the answers to these questions and half a dozen more.

Why Has My InDesign Text Suddenly Got Huge Gaps Between Every Line?

If your text has suddenly acquired huge spaces between its lines (technical term: Leading), the chances are you've adjusted text that's supposed to be sitting on a Baseline Grid. This grid is used to align text neatly across columns, and when set up and used well will work beautifully.

But if the text is changed from how it's been designed to appear, the baseline grid can cause havoc. This is because it assumes that the leading of the text will be the same as its Increment Every value.

To see what this value is, choose InDesign>Preferences>Grids (Edit>Preferences>Grids on PC) and look at the Increment Every value. The leading of your text should be no greater than this value, because if it is, it will snap to the baseline grid, but to only every other line.

So a quick way to fix the problem is to select all of your text and adjust its Leading value so that it's the same as the grid's Increment Every value. Better though, in the long run, is to learn about Paragraph Styles and how not to override them. If you'd like to learn how to do that, download our free guide mentioned below.

Why can't I select my text? Why has the baseline grid ruined my text? How do I make the most of InDesign's many text options? If you've ever asked any of these types of questions, our mini pdf guide to InDesign text issues is written for you. Find the answers to these questions and half a dozen more.