Designing for Photopolymer

Are there any books or reference material that one could utilize to learn Photoshop and/or Illustrator, for the design requirements for photopolymer processing?

…or even tutorials

Log in to reply   14 replies so far would be the best for general illustrator and photoshop knowledge. Boxcar Press has some good information regarding specifics for photopolymer.


While there are certainly uses for Photoshop and Illustrator in designing for photopolymer processing, I think you’ll find that for most application InDesign will work best. Make sure you get a copy of Gerald Lange’s Printing digital type on the hand-operated flatbed cylinder press.

I vote for Adobe Illustrator. Great for designing in spots. When you purchase it, it will come with a tutorial dvd.

as a graphic designer, i would definitely recommend illustrator as it is a vector based program, where as photoshop is pixel based. this isnt to say photoshop isnt possible, but illustrator is definitely quicker and more accurate. I would use InDesign as a last resort, as its a made more for multi page layout than vector images.

make sure all text is converted to outlines and stroke lines are more than .5pt.

Illustrator all the way

Adobe illustrator as everyone has mentioned as the production software. However, you asked, “for the design requirements for photopolymer processing?” You need to read Gerald’s book as it mentions how to prepare your files and specific attention to typography and other details for proper photopolymer platemaking.

Personally, InDesign would edge out Illustrator on most designs. It has vector drawing capabilities able to produce anything you can print on a letterpress, spot color capabilities and support for linking graphic files into the layout (all of which Illustrator has as well) but it has far more complex and accurate typesetting tools than Illustrator. Oh, and the current version of Illustrator supports multipage layouts now (one of the things rolled into Illustrator from Freehand with the acquisition of Macromedia by Adobe). About the only thing I can think of that I’d find very useful for letterpress design in Illustrator that’s not yet in InDesign is the ability to convert bitmaps to vectors.

As the names of the software already indicate, Photoshop is a software developed to retouch and work on photos, with a few typesetting possibilities thrown in, Illustrator lets you do anything you want and can as an illustrator, while Indesign lets you do fantastic page layouts and work on fine typography. Some people find it difficult to start with, but the ones who already know the tools from Photoshop and Illustrator will find their way around quickly and appreciate the control that one has over kerning, leading, optical alignment etc.

Typography and layout = InDesign
Creating vector illustrations = Illustrator
Photo or scans in raster = Photoshop

Personally, I never ever have a need for Illustrator, though most of my clients use it as the mainstay. Not sure why. Typographic controls are nothing compared to InDesign.


Indesign can turn any amount of text into vectorised images as well! It’s called ‘create outlines’, shift+command+O

Given that the thread has moved away from tutorials and into specific tools…Inkscape is an open source option. May not be quite as refined, but is nice especially for Linux users or those who can’t afford more expensive software suites.

One note, the version we use doesn’t export CMYK for negative processing…there is another program called Scribus can do the conversion though.

As for tutorials specific to letterpress, I can’t think of any off-hand, but The InDesigner and InDesign Secrets websites and podcasts have a great deal of good information about getting the most out of the application, much of which could be applicable to letterpress-specific design. Michael Murphy of The Indesigner no longer updates much due to family pressures (babies do that!) but all the old info is kept available and is darned handy. InDesign Secrets updates regularly.

InDesign Type is a very useful manual for everything to do with type and typography using InDesign.

In regards to my Printing digital type on the hand-operated flatbed cylinder press, the fourth edition is sold out. The fifth edition is in the works.


I agree with Gerald — InDesign offers the best typographic control. You can also define custom character and paragraph styles in InDesign, a useful feature for extensive projects (such as laying out multi-page documents like books, catalogs, etc.). If you’re an advanced InDesign user, you can write custom scripts to execute a myriad of other time-saving actions too.

Illustrator is great for generating and manipulating vector art. You can convert raster/bitmap based images into vector art in a snap (using the Live Trace tool), a function you can’t perform in InDesign. It has limited type features, though, so if you are a type fiend then you may find it somewhat frustrating.

Unless you are printing a photographic image with tonal information, Photoshop should be avoided for photopolymer plates. Text should definitely *not* be set in Photoshop. The quality of the text will suffer since it is not vector.

If you can only afford one program, I’d suggest Illustrator, especially if you are an artist who wants to print your own artwork.

My own workflow involves both Illustrator and InDesign. I first create my artwork in Illustrator and then place the native Illustrator (.ai) file(s) into an InDesign document where I can scale/position the Illustrator art and tweak the type to my heart’s content :)