Fun fact:  I started teaching myself how to use InDesign about a year ago.  I have always considered myself a creative person and feel like after years of working with Designers and print, I have a good eye for good design, but I couldn’t design anything myself!

Knowing good design and being a good designer are two different things!  While I wouldn’t dare to call myself a Designer, I am trying to learn how to design things.  This post is for people in the same boat as me!   Those tasked to do design but not trained to do so! *

Here are some tips and rules I have learned from my work in print and my last year of self-teaching.

1)  File set up is key!  Make sure your document size is set as your final document print size and then add *bleeds.  InDesign allows you to add bleeds when you are creating a new document and under File and Document Settings if your document is already set up.

*Bleed is printing term that is used to describe a document which has images or elements that touch the edge of the page, extending beyond the trim edge and leaving no white margin.

2)  Work with Grids.  Using grids is the base to good design. Following their guidelines and proportions allows organization and symmetry.  You don’t always have to use the standard 2 or 3 column set up.  You can mix it up and be a little more creative, but the use of rows and columns will keep your design from looking randomly placed.

3)  Choose the right black!  There is black, rich black and registration black!  Make it easy on yourself and NEVER use registration black!  This black is a 100% build of all 4 colors-CMYK and will put too much ink on the paper.  Type and lines should be 100% black and areas of solid black should be Rich Black.  For more on this, check out this post!

4)  FONTS.  I struggle with this one.  If you talk to a Designer (like, a real one) they will tell you, fonts can make or break a design!  I did not realize how challenging it could be to choose fonts to convey the right message.  If not to convey the right message, to fill the space properly.  For text, you don’t want something too small, too tight, too bold or too fine.  And don’t get me started on trying to mix and match fonts!  #thestruggleisreal

When I find myself looking at my latest design and being unhappy with how it looks, it is often because I don’t have the right font.  I wasn’t trained for this, I didn’t take a class, so I go to the next best place.  GOOGLE.  There are hundreds, probably thousands of sites where designers have share font combinations and suggestions.  Type in “Easiest small font to read” or “Best font combinations”.  Use their experience to guide you in the right direction!

5)  Great Images.  ALWAYS use high resolution photos and images.  Nothing can ruin a design like low-res images.  A great photo can take your piece to the next level.  And the same can be said for bad graphics.  There is a saying in print, “Garbage in, Garbage out”.  True.


6)  Have a little help from your friends.  I am lucky.  I know a lot of great designers.  I can show them my work and get an honest opinion of what needs to be changed.   A trained designer may not need, or want, a review of their work, but I need someone to take a look and see if it is readable, if it flows OK, if it looks pleasing overall.

I can also use said design friend to help when I get stuck on a technical function in InDesign.  Or Julin’s prepress staff, but let’s be honest, YouTube is usually the first place I look for a tutorial on how do it!

That’s it.  I know there is more, a lot more that I could share.  But those are my biggest 5 to achieving good design.

*Disclaimer.  Just because you can design, doesn’t mean you should.  I do think there are some things best left to the professionals!

**Insert totally cute image from Google search.