Preparing Your Cards for Print with InDesign

What is InDesign?

InDesign is a desktop publishing application which is available alone or as a component of the Adobe Creative Suite. It is industry-standard software and is available for both Windows and Mac OS.Z

InDesign is available for purchase from Adobe. Adobe does have educational discounts on its software, if you are able to take advantage of them. You can also gain access to its software by subscribing to the Adobe Creative Cloud, which is paid for by monthly fee.

Adobe Creative Suite:

What do I Need?

This basic tutorial will offer you some advice on how to use InDesign to create your content and prepare print-ready PDF files for DriveThruCards. It will address how to set up one digital file so that both sides of the card are printed in full color.

The screenshots shown in the tutorial use InDesign CS 5.5 for Mac OS. If you are using a different version of the software some of the instructions and screenshots may be slightly different, but hopefully you can find the right feature in your software version

1. How to start a new document with InDesign

This is the beginning of the step-by-step process for creating a new document for your cards

Please Note

For your convenience, we have created template files to make your work easier. You can download card templates and tuckbox templates.

Starting your new file from a template

First, open InDesign. Then, in the File pull-down menu, select Open and then navigate to where you have saved your downloaded template file. Open it.

Click the Windows pull-down and open the Properties window.

Let’s take a look at this template. What are all these lines?

  • The pink area is the safe area for your text, logos and any important images. If any of these elements run outside of this area, it risks being trimmed off when the cards are cut after printing.
  • The dotted edge of the white area is the trim line. This is approximately where the paper will be cut or trimmed off after the cards are printed.
  • The blue space is the bleed area. Background images or color must extend to this line in the file, which you can see is outside of the paper trim line. This ensures that there is no unprinted white margin around the edges of your finished cards.


2. What you need to know before you begin

The order of your document pages
for correct back-to-front printing

Please create one file for your entire deck of cards. The order of the cards in the final PDF will be the order of the finished cards in their packages.

To set up your file, you must order the pages with one card back and then one card front for each card in the deck. See the screenshot to the right for a sample view of what your multi-page document should begin to look like.

Understanding the document order of card backs and fronts is important. This will make it very easy to design and apply master pages for the correct card back and front pages, which we will cover next in this tutorial.

Cards do not need to have a common border color between their backs and fronts.


Your image files need to be high resolution

The images you will be using for your cards, regardless of front or back placement, need to be high resolution, which is at least 300 dpi. The physical size of the image at 300 dpi needs to be at least the same size as the printed card or larger.

For example, if your background image is 300 dpi with a physical size of 3” by 4”, you are good to go since that is larger than the card. If your background image is 300 dpi but measures 1½” (1.5”) by 2”, then you have a problem. To scale up this image to meet the size of the actual printed card, your image will be degraded because the physical size of the image is not large enough.


Color and file management

Cards cannot have ink coverage that exceeds 300%. When selecting colors in layout, set blacks to: Cyan 0%, Magenta 0%, Yellow 0% and Black 100%. If you want a richer black you can set values to: Cyan 60%, Magenta 40%, Yellow 40% and Black 100%. The rich black may look better, but if it is layered with other elements it may push the combination to be over ink.

The images you will be using for your cards must be CMYK. Files that are PNG can not be CMYK, so please make sure your files are CMYK and save them as tif, psd, or if you need to jpg

3. Getting to Know Your Workspace

This is just a few words to orient you to your workspace. You will use the Toolbar, the Control Bar at the top of your workspace, and various palettes throughout your document production. What remains open in your workspace is customizable. Be sure to explore the Window drop-down menu to see what palettes you may need to help your work faster.


4. Adding Text

First, click to select and use the Rectangle Frame Tool in the Toolbar. Your cursor will become crosshairs. Click and drag on the page to place a text frame on your master page. You can set the size and frame properties in the Control Bar, or you can manually resize it by clicking and dragging the blocks or handles on the Frame box edges.


Then, select the Type Tool from the Toolbar and click into the frame on the page. Your cursor will become a blinking text cursor inside the box. Now, you’ll also notice the Control Bar has changed to reflect your use of the Type Tool. Paragraph and Character Formatting options are now available.


To place text, open the file with your text content, select the text you want to place, and copy it. Go back to your InDesign file and click inside the text box, right-click or control-click and then choose Paste to import and place all of the selected text. (Paste with Formatting may be an available option, but it’s not advisable.)


Another way to place text, which is helpful if you have a lot of text to import, is to use the Place command under the File pull-down menu. You can import Word documents, text files, and rich text files. Navigate to the document you’d like to import. Make sure Show Import Options is checked at the bottom of the dialog box.


The dialog box that appears next will give you some control over how the imported text is handled. Make sure Typographer’s Quotes are turned on. Although you can preserve the styling on the imported text, it’s better to remove them and reassign those attributes in InDesign.


If the amount of text you have imported is too much for the frame to contain, first click Selection Tool. Then, if you click that crossed red box icon in the lower right-hand corner and then click outside the frame, a new text box is added and the overflow text will appear in it. To view the link threads between these boxes, turn on Show Text Threads under Extras in the View pull-down menu.


5. Formatting Text and Making Style Sheets

Style sheets are templates for fonts and their formatting. You can create styles with specific attributes, save them, and then apply them document-wide with a few mouse clicks. InDesign lets you specify both Paragraph and Character Styles; Paragraph Styles can be applied to a paragraph or a range of paragraphs, while Character Styles are applied to single words or a string of words.


First, we’ll tackle Paragraph Styles. Select the text you would like to change. You can style the text initially in the Control Bar using options available through the Character and Paragraph icons.

When it’s close to how you would like it, select the text you have just altered, and then expand the icon in the upper right-hand corner of the Paragraph Styles palette, and choose New Paragraph Style.


Name the Paragraph Style something that will easily identify it later. Now look at the Style Settings. You’ll notice it has already picked up the attributes of the text you fixed and selected. You can further alter the current Paragraph Style in this dialog box. When you’re done, click OK to save it. Afterward, make sure to apply this style to your altered paragraph when the style is saved.


Similarly, Character Styles may be made, saved and applied. Use this to italicize or bold words, make words a different color, or underline certain words.

To change fonts or attributes, just update your Style Sheets. The changes will be made globally throughout your document.



Things to avoid as you style text in your document:

  • Widows: One single word or line at the bottom of a column of text
  • Orphans: One single word or line at the top of a column of text
  • Hyphens between columns of text

6. Adding Art

Start by adding a Rectangle Frame the same way you did when you previously added a frame for text. To turn this frame into an Image Frame, click to select the frame using the black arrow, or Selection Tool, from the toolbar. Then, open the File drop-down menu and select Place. Navigate to the location of the image you would like to insert on the page.

If you take a look at your Control Bar, you can see that the image was imported at 100% of its size and was placed in the center of the Image Frame. It was placed in the center because this was the Reference Point assigned to it in the Control Bar. Most of the imported image is outside of the Image Frame’s viewable area, so now we’re going to fix that by scaling the picture to the box.


Fill Frame Proportionally: Under the Object pull-down menu, if you choose Fitting, then Fill Frame Proportionally, the image will autofit in proportion to the largest measure of the box. See the outline of the image in the Image Frame below.


Fit Content Proportionally: Under the Object pull-down menu, if you choose Fitting, then Fit Frame Proportionally, the image will autofit in proportion to the smallest measure of the box. If you choose to use this, use the Fit Frame to Content command next. Your image frame will autofit to the size of the newly scaled graphic image.


Here is an example of a graphic stretched out of proportion. You’ll notice the broken chain icon to the right of the proportion fields in the Control Bar. This lets you know that if the image is scaled, it will not be constrained proportionally.


7. Creating Master Pages with InDesign

Master Pages allow you to place borders, text and other information just once in the file. Then those elements will appear on all of the pages you select, in the exact same spot. It’s very useful for recurring items, like repeating card backs.

First, open your Pages Palette and select New Master.


Then, name your new Master something easy to recognize. Make sure to select Based on Master: A-Master when you make a new Master Page in your downloaded template document. This way, the correct measurements for the safe area are applied to your new Master Page.


Click on the Master Page you just made to make sure you’re actually working on that page. It will highlight in the Pages Palette. Now, begin your work by adding text, images, or graphics. When you are done, you’ll be ready to apply this template page to your document.


With your Master Page highlighted in the Pages Palette, expand the pull-down menu from the icon in the upper right-hand corner. Select Apply Master to Pages.


In the dialog box that pops up, you can list the page numbers you would like to apply this Master Page to.

Alternately, with your Selection Tool, you can grab the Master Page icon from the Pages Palette and drag it on top of the page you wish to apply it to. It will automatically apply the Master to that one page.


Now, as with text Style Sheets, if you need to make changes to recurring elements in your document, you can just update your Master Page. The changes automatically update throughout your document, on all of the pages styled with that Master.


8. Exporting Your InDesign File as a Print-Ready Color PDF

When your work is complete, do a quick check to make sure there are no errors in the document, like missing fonts or broken image links. Look at the lower left-hand corner of your workspace. Preflight will automatically give you the number of errors that will need fixing. Double-click to open the Preflight panel and correct any errors.


After you’ve fixed your document, you’re now ready to export your InDesign file as a print-ready PDF.

Go to the File pull-down menu and select Export.


Next, in the Export dialog box, name your PDF and then choose a place to save it. Click the Save button.

Make sure the Adobe PDF (Print) format is selected.


The Export Adobe PDF dialog box will open next. The default view will be the General options tab. Click the Adobe PDF Preset pulldown menu and select PDF/X-1a:2003. This sets the PDF standard to PDF/X-1a:2003 for print. Modify this preset by checking the box next to Optimize for Fast Web View under Options.

This next step is very important. Please follow it carefully.
Click the Marks and Bleeds tab in the Export Adobe PDF dialog box to view the options. Click to select Use Document Bleed Settings.

Make sure the bleeds are set to 0.125” on all four sides. Do not check any other boxes or fill out any other information on this page.

Next, click the Export button to make your PDF. It will be processed and saved to the location you have indicated.

That’s it! You have created a print-ready color PDF of your card deck!


What do I do next?

Once you have your finished print-ready PDF of your entire card deck, it’s time to upload them! Go to the CARD PRINTING section of your Publisher Hub on the Publish page at DriveThruCards. Use the “Upload and manage printed card files” tool. This tool will walk you through the process of uploading your print PDF file and ordering a physical proof of your cards.

When you are done with your card layout and have made and uploaded your PDF, you may also want to Package your file for archiving. This is a very good idea because it collects all of the linked images and file fonts into one tidy and convenient file. If you ever have to go back for updates or alterations later, you won’t have to search for missing linked images or fonts.

9. Preparing your Tuckbox for Press

Tuckboxes are full color (4/0), printed on 130# silk card stock (14.7-pt. thickness, 350gsm), and finished with a low-gloss UV coating.
Tuckboxes are shipped with decks inserted. We currently offer tuckboxes for:

  • 54-, 72-, 90-, and 120-card poker-sized decks
  • 80-card tarot-sized decks.

You can download InDesign tuckbox templates.

Required Specifications

  • On the sample, note the areas banded in red lines. These indicate the areas within which your artwork will print. Ensure that your artwork is placed within the proper areas.
  • On the templates, red lines are scores, blue or black lines are cuts.
  • IMPORTANT: Regarding the score and cut lines on the template’s Guides layer: Output the print-ready PDF after turning off the Guides layer. If you can see the die (score) lines in the design, they will appear on your finished tuckboxes.
  • Leave the Alignment layer intact. It may be labeled “Top Layer Do Not Hide.” This contains a positioning box with a white background that helps the printer verify alignment.
  • Images contained in your file should be 300 dpi.
  • File needs to be PDF/X-1a:2003 (or PDF/X:1a:2001) compliant with all fonts embedded.
  • Files must be CMYK with your ink coverage not exceeding 300%. However, for best results, try to keep your ink coverage to 240% or less.
  • Do not place any text closer than 1/8” from any finished edge or fold.
  • A bleed of 1/8” (.125”) past/across all edges of the box design is required.
  • Do not include printer/crop marks.
  • We discourage drastic changes in background color on score lines.
  • The final PDF page size is 15” x 10” for poker tuckboxes.
  • The final PDF page size is 19” x 13” for tarot tuckboxes.

10. Sample Tuckbox Templates


11. Packaging Your Work for Archiving

First, make sure your file has no errors in the Preflight panel in the bottom left-hand corner of your workspace. Then, select Package from the File pull-down menu. The Package dialog box will open next. The Summary tab gives you an overview of your file. It also lists anything missing, or modified but not updated. Click the Package button, and then click past the next few windows.


When the Create Package Folder dialog box appears, choose a location to save your package. Rename the folder, if you choose to. Make sure Copy Fonts, Copy Linked Graphics, and Update Graphic Links are all checked. Then, click the Package button in the lower right-hand corner of the dialog box. InDesign will collect all of your file bits into one place for you.


12. Tips and Things to Remember

About Specifications

  • Press-ready PDF files must be PDF/X-1a:2003 compliant. In a pinch, PDF/X-1a:2001 is also acceptable.
  • All images must be 300 dpi/ppi resolution. The physical size of the image should at least be the size as it appears on the card.
  • All images should be CMYK. Do not use RGB or Lab colors. The colors may shift unpredicably during the export to printready PDF process.
  • Preferred image formats are TIFF or EPS files. Refrain from using JPG or PNG files, which are more suitable for web publishing.
  • Header fonts shouldn’t be ridiculously large. The optimal range is 24 pts to 14 pts. Body Fonts should be 10 pts to 12 pts. Line spacing or leading is usually 2 points more than the font size.
  • In making your text fit into small spaces, avoid Tracking your text more or less than 20%. It will look too squished or too loose.
  • Avoid widows and orphans: leaving a single word at the end of a paragraph or a single line at the top or bottom of a column of text. • Black text should be made with a 100% black swatch, with total CMYK values of 0% Cyan (C), 0% Magenta (M), 0% Yellow (Y), and 100% Black (K).
  • Black elements should NOT be built in “Registration” black or with the 100% black swatch used for text. They should be built using “Rich” black. For best results, we recommend the CMYK values of 60% Cyan (C), 40% Magenta (M), 40% Yellow (Y), and 100% Black (K). CMYK total value should not exceed 300%.
  • Text should be at least 0.125” from the trim edge.
  • Embed all fonts used in the document (all font families used, including all screen and printer fonts).
  • Do not add information or printer marks such as crop marks, web-press comments, etc.

13. I Need More Help!

I have questions that aren’t covered here...

To contact Partner Relations, please email

Brian will do his best to help you and answer any questions you have that are not covered in this tutorial. Your questions will help us improve this tutorial, so it answers more questions for everyone.

If you have decided that you don’t care to do your own file layout, you can find people with professional skills and contract them to create your print files. The cost of this work depends on how much of the work you do yourself before handing it over.

We can recommend someone for layout if you would like. Please contact Partner Services for details.

You can also find freelance layout professionals at sites like

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