InDesign Prepress: Text and the Transparency Flattener

Why is my text printed from InDesign (a) fat (b) outlined (c) fuzzy (d) or all of the above?

This article describes the Adobe Support Database Text Is Rasterized When You Print to a RIP from InDesign (2.0 on Windows or Mac OS)

In this example, you can see there has been a Photoshop file placed into a layout:

[1333] 01_inddsource.jpg

The Photoshop file on the red-marked layer (named: “photoshop file”) has been masked out of a background image, and saved as a .PSD . A text wrap has also been applied to this Photoshop files alpha channel (or transparency) causing the text in the yellow layer (named: “body text”) to wrap. Nothing too strange about this, however when printed to Postscript and Distilled, the following occurs:

[1334] 02_pdfresult.jpg

This is a screen dump of the PDF generated from the InDesign CS file above (Print to Postscript as CMYK, using the [High Resolution] Transparency Flattener Style. PDF generated using Acrobat Distiller)

As you can see, around the marker “A”, the text looks “fatter” and “fuzzier” than the text next to the marker “B”. This is the result of the transparency flattener. (NB: in Acrobat, in Edit>Preferences, Display if you turn on the “Smooth Line Art” option, this fuzziness goes away.)

[1335] 03_inddsource_zoomin.jpg

Lets zoom into the area where the Photoshop file and the body text overlap. You can see in the above image that the red outline of the image overlaps certain lines in the underlying body text. In this instance, the Transparency Flattener has decided to covert the all the text to outlines in the lines that run underneath the image.

The effect we are seeing here is the Transparency Flattener in action. In Postscript, there is no way to have a semi-transparent image (the masked portion of the car) blend into type. Therefore, the flattener converts the relevant text to outlines and “clips” into the outline shape any image information that is required to generate output. The important end goal is to generate output in print that matches the designers intent.

To an average observer, at high resolutions (I have examples at 2400/133lpi Computer-to-Plate output) — its difficult for the naked eye to pick “outlined” vs “normal” type with serif text at low point sizes.

How do you solve the problem?

There are two possible solutions to this problem. One key point I would like to make before I continue is that you must choose one path or the other for the whole job.

Choice 1: Convert All Text to Outlines.

InDesign 2.0, Edit>Transparency Flattener Styles… Create a New Transparency Flattener style that turns on the “Force Text to Outlines” option.

[1336] 04_fullbore.jpg

Now when printing using this Flattener Style to the Distiller (ie: same process as above), the end result will look like:

[1337] 05_pdfresult_fullbore.jpg

The result is that all the text in the document is converted to outlines. When you compare a page printed (at 2400 dpi/133 lpi) with text converted to outlines side by side with a page where the text is normal, the difference is just noticable to the naked eye.

If you use this flattener style consistently throughout the job, the result will be that all the text looks consistent. The downside is that the text is no longer text – it’s paths – unsearchable and to a trained eye slightly fatter.

Choice 2: Change Layer Ordering

This is my preferred option, and when designing documents in InDesign its best to follow a process where all body text in the topmost layer.

In the InDesign document, I am going to change the order of the layers so the body text sits above the image:

[1338] 06_inddsource_changelayers.jpg

In the above example, you can see that the “photoshop file” layer is underneath the “body text” layer.

QuarkXPress Users: don’t panic! As you would realise, in Xpress, your text wrap is based on the positioning of objects in layers. Images above text pushes the text out of the way: creating text wrap. Not so in InDesign. Text wrap in InDesign is object-to-object based. It doesn’t matter that the image is underneath the text, it will still cause the text above to wrap around.

Prepress operators: don’t panic! Changing layer ordering like this will not cause InDesign 2.0 to re-wrap the text.

What is the result?

[1339] 07_pdfresult_final.jpg

In this final result, you can see that the text has not been converted to outlines. This example was printed from InDesign 2.0 using the standard [High Resolution] flattener style.