The nuts and bolts of long document design

The design and layout of a long document is just as important as the content within it. There are many considerations that designers must be aware of in order to accomplish a successful design – and with the help of great layout software (such as Adobe InDesign) – the process is much easier.


These can include bleeds and type safety (to avoid problems caused by misregistered cuts), minimum image resolution (to ensure the highest quality reproduction) and colour considerations (for accessibility requirements, such as ensuring enough colour contrast between elements for good visibility). Since text is one of the main elements of long documents, the fonts used must be selected carefully. The design and layout should enhance the text, rather than distract readers from the words written on the pages. Good typography remains invisible to readers and can be accomplished through proper font selection, which ensures that the typeface and size are a good fit for the intended use and audience. Fonts should be both readable and legible, keeping accessibility at the forefront. In addition, designers must be aware of legal restrictions that may be embedded in some fonts. Margins are another important consideration as they create negative space that boosts visibility.

The final trim size is also important and should be determined at the beginning of the design process. The size must remain consistent throughout the document. This is especially important for printed products, where the document size may have to adhere to a printer’s guidelines and requirements. Finally, designers must always create a long document with the end in mind and be aware of the intended binding style. For example, for a perfect-bound book, the margins must be set during the design stage to accommodate for grind off. In addition, processes like foil stamping and die cutting must be visible on the file and designers must adhere religiously to the printer’s or finisher’s specs and guidelines.

Helpful Adobe InDesign tools

Adobe InDesign is industry-leading software for good reason, as it has many user-friendly tools and features to help make long document layout easier and more efficient. Below are some of the most useful tools for long document design.

Links Panel. Image resolution can be carefully tracked in the Links Panel. Here, designers can ensure that all images have the correct resolution to achieve high quality reproduction. If any scaling is done in InDesign (which should be avoided) the image’s ‘actual PPI’ will remain constant. However, the ‘effective PPI’ will change, increasing if the image is scaled up and decreasing if the image is scaled down. It’s the latter situation that can cause issues with quality in the final printed output. A designer should resize all images to their final desired size in Adobe Photoshop and relink the image via the Links Panel. 

Master Pages allows designers to create a ‘template’ of a page’s layout that can be applied to multiple pages in a document (to avoid setting up each page individually). This makes the process more efficient, but is also helpful for establishing consistent text locations (such as page numbers), as well as consistent positioning of other repeated page elements. If any changes are made to the master page, the software will automatically update all document pages.

Paragraph and Character Styles make text formatting easier and more efficient. These styles include formatting details, like the typeface and size, as well as justification and hyphenation options. Similar to the Master Pages, the styles are applied to the text and, if there are any changes to the formatting (such as the size), making the changes within the Paragraph or Character Styles panel will automatically update all text that has the style applied to it.

The use of helpful software such as Adobe InDesign can make long document design faster, easier and more efficient, while producing great results within tight deadlines.