6. Project design and page-size selection
Aside from catalogs produced in specialized shapes through the use of customized hardware and a process called die cutting, most catalogs assume some form of rectangular shape, typically with the bound edge of the project at the left side of the outside front cover.
Press printed or digitally distributed, catalogs can take on any dimensions their creators prefer, but a few considerations point the way in favor of specific sizes.
Because digital catalogs “live” onscreen, they make ideal candidates for landscape-orientation pages that fit well within the equivalent shape of computer displays.
Catalogs designed for viewing on mobile devices usually come in the form of iOS or Android apps instead of the PDF files typically used to distribute digital catalog projects.
Note on prodalist: prodalist is the only catalog dedicated authoring software permitting to produce all materials: a pdf for pro-printing, a pdf for emailing & mobile apps
To make digital catalogs easy for consumers to print, many of them adopt the same pages sizes as the defaults for desktop printing: A4 (210 by 297 millimeters) or U.S. Letter (11 by 8.5 inches).
These dimensions place the size of two facing pages within the default sheet size or on a larger sheet that equals double the individual page width. In the U.S., Tabloid (17 by 11 inches) equals two Letter-sized pages side by side, and Letterhalf (5.5 by 8.5 inches) equals half of one Letter-sized page. For desktop output of a digital catalog, however, the typical consumer prints individual pages one at a time
Commercial printing companies use presses that print on two types of paper. As their name suggests, sheet-fed presses rely on individual sheets of paper at large dimensions suitable for yielding multiple pages of a document. To configure a project for the most efficient uses of these press sheets, designers select page sizes that fit neatly within the confines of an individual sheet. These sizes allow for the marks that printers use to identify where to cut out individual pages. Likewise, these sizes accommodate the extra ink coverage called bleed that extends beyond cut sheet boundaries when a page carries an allover color or image that covers the entire finished page.
In addition to sheet-fed output, commercial printers also use sheet-fed presses that use long rolls of paper instead of cut sheets. This type of equipment is used to print newspapers. Most catalogs come from sheet-fed equipment, however.
Mailing costs also condition the selection of page sizes for press printing. Most catalogs mail as standalone items, with no envelopes or other wrappings, so the availability of off-the-shelf envelopes into which a catalog will fit become less important than it would for other types of mailings. The overall dimensions of a catalog help determine its mailing class and associated costs. In some cases, adjusting catalog dimensions can reduce mailing costs substantially.
Most common catalog formats:
Catalog that needs to be embedded in binders by the customer (most technical B2B industries) will usually be a in very standard formats (A4 or Letter in portrait orientation), while more creative catalogs or with a high-end image will frequently prefer some square or landscape format.
Note that magazines, tabloids, digest (…) have others dedicated formats, because printed on different equipment & paper coming from rolls.
Note on prodalist: prodalist will require you to choose a main unit, usually millimeters or inches, at the start of each project. As it is used throughout all the software except for fonts and line thicknesses in points, although possible, changing it later is not recommended.
Developing catalog prototypes
As the first stage in a catalog design, prototypes can help you evaluate and refine the look of your project so it does the best possible job of representing your products. The simplest prototypes consist of pieces of paper on which you sketch the location of images and text, or onto which you attach desktop-printed photos and copy content so you can visualize how the final design will function. In your page-layout application, you can create and adjust ideas for how specific types of pages will appear. As you experiment with these design ideas, you also can “audition” typefaces and colors, and see how the copy content you plan to use will fit within the text areas you define. Once you reach the point at which you finalize a cohesive set of page ideas for the various parts of your catalog design, you can move on to actual document creation, secure in the knowledge that you’ve prepared for the task with actual visualizations.
As a basis for these types of prototypes, consider developing what designers call a grid system as the foundation of page types and individual pages. With an overall set of page margins in place, a grid system goes on to divide the horizontal dimension of the page space into a series of columns separated by small vertical ribbons of blank space called gutters. To create a page design, you can place text into individual columns, and add photos into areas equal to the width of single or the combination of multiple columns. Along the vertical axis of the page, a grid system can use guide rules (non-printing colored lines to which text and image areas will snap as if magnetically attracted) to indicate the heights devoted to elements such as headlines and images.
Commercial printing: Adding bleed to your layout
When you prepare a catalog project for commercial printing, your project must meet some specific criteria that accommodate the needs of the output process. If you want to add images, background colors, or any other elements that cover the page all the way up to any or all of its cut edges, these items must include what commercial printers call bleed.
For example, suppose you incorporate an introductory page that includes a large photo of one of your products, and you cover the entire page with the image. When the printer cuts the page out of the press sheet, the guillotine that trims out the page can’t simply slice the paper exactly where the photo ends. That would leave an unsightly rind of unprinted paper at the edge of the page.
To achieve this appearance, the image must extend past the trimmed boundaries by a specific distance, typically 0.125” but sometimes as much as 0.25”. Extending the image past that cut line enables the printing equipment to produce a page on which the image ends exactly where the page ends. The bleed is trimmed away as the printed project goes through the binding process.
Creating master pages
The most-efficient catalog designs use a series of basic page designs, each of which can represent the look of multiple pages in the final document. These basic designs, called master pages, simplify the task of building a catalog with a consistent, well-organized look that makes it easy to find specific products and information. If you’ve developed a grid system as the basis of your page designs, you transfer the measurements of that grid onto the reusable digital master pages.
A catalog typically includes multiple sections, each focused on a specific type of product or the fulfillment of a specific customer need. Master pages handle the basics of section introductions, product feature pages, main product listing pages, and other types of recurring catalog features. Each master page includes areas for text and graphics. These areas may contain placeholder items that show what kind of content goes where.
Creating product modules
Within the formulation of catalog prototypes and master pages, you may choose to divide up page space further into product modules that you can use to build up individual pages. Modules can make quick work of page building when each product requires approximately the same amount of photographic space to depict it, and the same number and length of feature copy points to describe it. If you build a module so a specific number of repetitions of it fit neatly into an individual catalog page, you can reuse the modular design as many times as necessary to construct pages and sections.
Tip: Unless onscreen page dimensions are your most important consideration, set up your catalog page size so it accommodates the typical dimensions of your product as you depict them in photographs. For example, if your products are short but wide, use landscape-orientation pages so you can use larger product photographs. Conversely, if your products are narrow and tall, use portrait-orientation pages to give your products “breathing room” on the page.
Tip: Use dummies to evaluate catalog dimensions. These blank-paper representations of printed projects are fabricated at actual size from the paper on which the projects will appear in their final form. If you’re using a commercial printer, ask the company to provide you with a dummy to help you evaluate how your catalog will feel in the hand and function as a physical object.
Note on prodalist: prodalist page concept is based on a user-defined fixed grid layout (with some flexibility on the grid & even randomness). Each “cells” of the grid contain the template for one or more products. Additionally, some cells can be left empty or skipped or filled automatically with illustrative images.