How We Get Menus Printed

You can see it! Launch is coming just around the corner but you’re missing something—how customers can order. So you need a menu. How do you get one printed? This is our process.

There is a very symbiotic relationship between final print and design of a menu. You see, there are certain limitations that printing has that your computer doesn’t have. For example, your computer monitor can display more colours than anything can be printed.

Let’s just take a quick peek at how they differ on this handy chart from printernational.org.

Diagram showing the differences in RGB gamuts vs CMYK gamut
‍CMYK = Print, RGB = Screen, Pantone = Specialty Ink

This is just the beginning. It’s because of these limitations that the real process of designing for print is before you get to the computer. It starts, as it always does, with your brand promise.

When we design a menu we look at the brand positioning and the message that is being conveyed. If we’re designing for Italian fine dining the message is much different than Mexican fast casual. The demographic and personality of the menu has to be inline with everything else that has already been established.

Fortunately, if you are at this stage you already have a logo and have gone to great lengths in determining your brand’s promise. Knowing this you will have a much better idea of what falls in line and what doesn’t.

Our next step is to start looking at paper stocks and existing menu ideas. You can pull up Pinterest or Google Images to kickstart your inspiration. We look for a broad range of ideas and physical attributes, not the design itself.

We want to have an idea of how the menu will feel in a customer’s hand. What is the texture? Will it be a binder that opens and closes or a single sheet, or a folded sheet? Does a novelty concept like using a clipboard work for this brand? Graphics and layout all come later.

Just because you might land on the concept of a newspaper as a menu, doesn’t mean your final execution is restricted. There might be a few ways to capture that same concept but you may not know them yet.

It’s at this point we are ready to talk to the printer. You always want to talk to your printer before you start a project. There are a number of reasons why.

First and foremost, your printer is usually very knowledgeable about what is possible and speciality techniques. That is, if you have a decent printer. Stay away from places like Staples or hole in the wall places that also sell stamps. They serve a great purpose for general office printing but not anything of substantial quality.

When talking to your printer you can determine what paper they might have on hand, or if they print on wood or other crazy materials. They will know the cost of drilling holes in your paper for a binder or doing letterpress. Your printer will help guide you with your concept to the best possible solution for your budget. They have a commanding knowledge of the limitations of their print equipment. They are an invaluable resource. Our suggestion—start there. We always do.

Now that you have the concept of your menu figured out along with how it will ultimately be printed, you can start “designing”. I put that in quotes because guess what, this whole time has been designing from the get go. The design process starts with conceptualization and research.

You might be ready for the computer is what I really mean to say—maybe. Your initial concept is going to determine how this menu is started. If you want to hand watercolour it or do custom brush lettering, you’ll want to start there (and then scan those files in for use, but that’s an article for another day).

We build all of our menus in Adobe InDesign. InDesign has the best control over typography, i.e. fonts and layout, out of all of the Adobe Creative Cloud suite. It easily allows you to import external graphics without bogging down speed and performance and exports great PDFs that make your printer tickled pink.

Whichever program you choose, the layout again will be determined by your concept and conversation with your printer. It’s best to set all of your limiting factors up first.

Your menu might have bleed. Bleed, which might sound like paper that has been shot, refers to the graphics that go off the edge of your page. Think about when you send files to your home office printer. There is always a white border around the page. This is a physical limitation of printing, the printer needs the edge to grab onto to move the paper.

Prints that have bleed are like developed photos. There are no white borders around the edge. The most common way to accomplish this is to print on a larger piece of paper and trim off excess. Bleed is the excess.

The most common amount of bleed to allow for is ⅛"or 0.125in. In Canada, the print world still uses Imperial units of measure for the most part. This amount of bleed or extra graphics is enough to ensure when the page is cut there is a margin of error. Since there will always be a little shift here and there in the print and cutting process, you want to make sure you don’t have accidental white edges.

Indesign new document settings dialogue window
Set your Bleed to 0.125 for Top, Bottom, Left, and Right

Setting that up in InDesign is a cinch. It’s just in your document settings when you start a new file (don’t worry about the slug setting). You can always go back to these settings and change them later. InDesign will provide you with red guidelines outside of your paper size on your document.

InDesign page showing bleed line and margins
The red line off of the page shows the bleed, the purple and pink is the margin

If your design needs a fold, put your guideline in for this first by pulling from your ruler to the precise spot where the fold will be. You want to do this first so that you aren’t accidentally putting text or anything important on the fold itself, making it unreadable.

Pulling from your left hand ruler (top ruler shown), put a guideline where your fold will be

At this point you truly are ready to put graphics and text down onto the page. The process at this point is going to vary wildly depending on your concept and final printed piece. A general rule of thumb to follow is to have consistent font usage. To do this, utilize paragraph and character styles. They allow you to save the setting of the exact size, colour, weight, tracking and all of the type characteristics you can think of.

Let’s assume you’ve finalized the design and you are actually at the print stage. Creating an iron clad PDF is imperative to getting back what you expect from the printer. InDesign makes this easy.

File → Export and you are on your way. You will be presented with a PDF saving dialogue that has loads of different tabs and settings that have more buttons than the USS  Enterprise. We like to play with them depending on the print job, but really the safest and surest bet is a preset. At the top you will see Adobe PDF Preset. Choose [High Quality Print].

Using the High Quality Print preset is fairly foolproof

The only other setting in this whole dialogue you will want to be concerned with will be under “Marks and Bleeds” on the left column. In it you want to make sure “Use Document Bleed Settings” is checked. This will make sure your setting of 0.125 from earlier is used in the final PDF output.

For some speciality print jobs like those that do include folds you might have some other settings to play with in this dialogue, but for 90% of your print jobs you’re good to go. Hit Export.

Poof, just like that, you have a print ready file. The last thing to do before giving it to your printer is double checking it. You’ll see some extra black lines at the corners of your design. These are the crop or trim marks the printer will use to chop off the excess paper and bleed.

Reread carefully everything on your menu to make sure you have no spelling, grammar, or price errors. In fact, if you can, print one off on your home printer to check your colours and reread the menu again and give it to someone else to check. You’d be surprised how many errors jump out after something is printed.

Finally, get in touch with your printer. Many of them have an online submission process these days you can just shoot your PDF off to them on. It’s always best to reference back to the discussion you had with them previously and make sure they are on the same page. So many jobs come through everyday, it just makes their lives a little easier!

And there you have it, the Cliffnotes version of getting a shiny new menu printed. Not so hard, was it?

March 2, 2017
Posted on 
Author photo in a circle
Kyle Lincoln

Kyle is a logo crafter, avid reader, and writer. His experience expands across a wide spectrum of clients such as Nandos, Shaw Business, and Destination Canada. Growing up, it didn’t take him long to go from doodles to design. Kyle’s previous work in identities for conferences and events left him longing for something more enduring. He’s got a vested interest in helping businesses thrive and an eye for brand incongruences. In Vancouver he can be found scoping out his client’s location and/or the nearest gelateria and is always up to discuss your project or favourite flavour.

You can see it! Launch is coming just around the corner but you’re missing something—how customers can order. So you need a menu. How do you get one printed? This is our process.

There is a very symbiotic relationship between final print and design of a menu. You see, there are certain limitations that printing has that your computer doesn’t have. For example, your computer monitor can display more colours than anything can be printed.

Let’s just take a quick peek at how they differ on this handy chart from printernational.org.

Diagram showing the differences in RGB gamuts vs CMYK gamut
‍CMYK = Print, RGB = Screen, Pantone = Specialty Ink

This is just the beginning. It’s because of these limitations that the real process of designing for print is before you get to the computer. It starts, as it always does, with your brand promise.

When we design a menu we look at the brand positioning and the message that is being conveyed. If we’re designing for Italian fine dining the message is much different than Mexican fast casual. The demographic and personality of the menu has to be inline with everything else that has already been established.

Fortunately, if you are at this stage you already have a logo and have gone to great lengths in determining your brand’s promise. Knowing this you will have a much better idea of what falls in line and what doesn’t.

Our next step is to start looking at paper stocks and existing menu ideas. You can pull up Pinterest or Google Images to kickstart your inspiration. We look for a broad range of ideas and physical attributes, not the design itself.

We want to have an idea of how the menu will feel in a customer’s hand. What is the texture? Will it be a binder that opens and closes or a single sheet, or a folded sheet? Does a novelty concept like using a clipboard work for this brand? Graphics and layout all come later.

Just because you might land on the concept of a newspaper as a menu, doesn’t mean your final execution is restricted. There might be a few ways to capture that same concept but you may not know them yet.

It’s at this point we are ready to talk to the printer. You always want to talk to your printer before you start a project. There are a number of reasons why.

First and foremost, your printer is usually very knowledgeable about what is possible and speciality techniques. That is, if you have a decent printer. Stay away from places like Staples or hole in the wall places that also sell stamps. They serve a great purpose for general office printing but not anything of substantial quality.

When talking to your printer you can determine what paper they might have on hand, or if they print on wood or other crazy materials. They will know the cost of drilling holes in your paper for a binder or doing letterpress. Your printer will help guide you with your concept to the best possible solution for your budget. They have a commanding knowledge of the limitations of their print equipment. They are an invaluable resource. Our suggestion—start there. We always do.

Now that you have the concept of your menu figured out along with how it will ultimately be printed, you can start “designing”. I put that in quotes because guess what, this whole time has been designing from the get go. The design process starts with conceptualization and research.

You might be ready for the computer is what I really mean to say—maybe. Your initial concept is going to determine how this menu is started. If you want to hand watercolour it or do custom brush lettering, you’ll want to start there (and then scan those files in for use, but that’s an article for another day).

We build all of our menus in Adobe InDesign. InDesign has the best control over typography, i.e. fonts and layout, out of all of the Adobe Creative Cloud suite. It easily allows you to import external graphics without bogging down speed and performance and exports great PDFs that make your printer tickled pink.

Whichever program you choose, the layout again will be determined by your concept and conversation with your printer. It’s best to set all of your limiting factors up first.

Your menu might have bleed. Bleed, which might sound like paper that has been shot, refers to the graphics that go off the edge of your page. Think about when you send files to your home office printer. There is always a white border around the page. This is a physical limitation of printing, the printer needs the edge to grab onto to move the paper.

Prints that have bleed are like developed photos. There are no white borders around the edge. The most common way to accomplish this is to print on a larger piece of paper and trim off excess. Bleed is the excess.

The most common amount of bleed to allow for is ⅛"or 0.125in. In Canada, the print world still uses Imperial units of measure for the most part. This amount of bleed or extra graphics is enough to ensure when the page is cut there is a margin of error. Since there will always be a little shift here and there in the print and cutting process, you want to make sure you don’t have accidental white edges.

Indesign new document settings dialogue window
Set your Bleed to 0.125 for Top, Bottom, Left, and Right

Setting that up in InDesign is a cinch. It’s just in your document settings when you start a new file (don’t worry about the slug setting). You can always go back to these settings and change them later. InDesign will provide you with red guidelines outside of your paper size on your document.

InDesign page showing bleed line and margins
The red line off of the page shows the bleed, the purple and pink is the margin

If your design needs a fold, put your guideline in for this first by pulling from your ruler to the precise spot where the fold will be. You want to do this first so that you aren’t accidentally putting text or anything important on the fold itself, making it unreadable.

Pulling from your left hand ruler (top ruler shown), put a guideline where your fold will be

At this point you truly are ready to put graphics and text down onto the page. The process at this point is going to vary wildly depending on your concept and final printed piece. A general rule of thumb to follow is to have consistent font usage. To do this, utilize paragraph and character styles. They allow you to save the setting of the exact size, colour, weight, tracking and all of the type characteristics you can think of.

Let’s assume you’ve finalized the design and you are actually at the print stage. Creating an iron clad PDF is imperative to getting back what you expect from the printer. InDesign makes this easy.

File → Export and you are on your way. You will be presented with a PDF saving dialogue that has loads of different tabs and settings that have more buttons than the USS  Enterprise. We like to play with them depending on the print job, but really the safest and surest bet is a preset. At the top you will see Adobe PDF Preset. Choose [High Quality Print].

Using the High Quality Print preset is fairly foolproof

The only other setting in this whole dialogue you will want to be concerned with will be under “Marks and Bleeds” on the left column. In it you want to make sure “Use Document Bleed Settings” is checked. This will make sure your setting of 0.125 from earlier is used in the final PDF output.

For some speciality print jobs like those that do include folds you might have some other settings to play with in this dialogue, but for 90% of your print jobs you’re good to go. Hit Export.

Poof, just like that, you have a print ready file. The last thing to do before giving it to your printer is double checking it. You’ll see some extra black lines at the corners of your design. These are the crop or trim marks the printer will use to chop off the excess paper and bleed.

Reread carefully everything on your menu to make sure you have no spelling, grammar, or price errors. In fact, if you can, print one off on your home printer to check your colours and reread the menu again and give it to someone else to check. You’d be surprised how many errors jump out after something is printed.

Finally, get in touch with your printer. Many of them have an online submission process these days you can just shoot your PDF off to them on. It’s always best to reference back to the discussion you had with them previously and make sure they are on the same page. So many jobs come through everyday, it just makes their lives a little easier!

And there you have it, the Cliffnotes version of getting a shiny new menu printed. Not so hard, was it?

March 2, 2017
Posted on 
Author photo in a circle
Kyle Lincoln

Kyle is a logo crafter, avid reader, and writer. His experience expands across a wide spectrum of clients such as Nandos, Shaw Business, and Destination Canada. Growing up, it didn’t take him long to go from doodles to design. Kyle’s previous work in identities for conferences and events left him longing for something more enduring. He’s got a vested interest in helping businesses thrive and an eye for brand incongruences. In Vancouver he can be found scoping out his client’s location and/or the nearest gelateria and is always up to discuss your project or favourite flavour.

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