The Legals (or, you don’t have to use spaces!)

InDesign, Tips

Not all aspects of newspaper ad design are as sexy as they sound (I’ll pause until you quit laughing). Sometimes, we do text-heavy ads that are quite dull, but obviously necessary, like the legals.

Legal ads are a staple of newspapers, especially in small markets. So much so that newspapers and their associations have fought proposals to allow governments to post them online instead of purchasing the ads.

Confession: I kind of like these ads. Sure, getting to play in Illustrator and Photoshop and create something cool is rewarding, but working with text can be, too. Maybe it’s my inner copy editor. Maybe it’s my love of typography. Maybe it’s because I understand how to work with type in InDesign.

Here’s some tips on working with setting type, specifically for legal ads.

A character style sheet applies the text attributes to the selected text.

A character style sheet applies the text attributes to the selected text.

Use Style Sheets. When you have something that runs on a regular basis and needs to appear the same, InDesign’s style sheets are pretty handy. Formatting for our legals can vary, but they have an overall style of Helvetica 7.5 pt with 8 pt leading and justified. With one click, the entire text is set in that overall format.

LEFT: Use the tabs function (under the Type menu) to set tabs, indents, etc. Here, I've used it for a paragraph indent. RIGHT: This section of the legal has a paragraph that is indented on both sides. On the tab bar, drag both arrows in.

LEFT: Use the tabs function (under the Type menu) to set tabs, indents, etc. Here, I’ve used it for a paragraph indent. RIGHT: This section of the legal has a paragraph that is indented on both sides. On the tab bar, drag both arrows in.

• Use tabs and indents — not spaces. This is something a lot of people don’t seem to understand about their word processing software, judging from the kind of Word documents we get. Using spaces to set a paragraph indent or hitting tab two or three times to place copy further to the right isn’t even old-school, it’s archaic. If you are using justified copy, then using spaces to indent a line will often result in the indentations being uneven. The tab bar will let you set an indent for the beginning of a paragraph, indent both sides of a graph, create a hanging indent, etc., that is consistent no matter what. Explore it and see what you can do.

The eyedropper tool lets you copy and paste attributes.

The eyedropper tool lets you copy and paste attributes.

• Use the eyedropper to copy and apply formats. Often throughout the legals, some of the text will have to be set in bold, underlined or italicized. Sometimes it’s a whole sentence, sometimes part of a sentence, sometimes just one word. Use the eyedropper tool for this. Set your first group of words with the proper attributes, then click on it with the eyedropper tool to “fill” it with that formatting. If there’s just one word that needs changed, click on it with the eyedropper. You can also select a range of words, just as you would with the type selection tool. Just remember, the eyedropper tool will copy all formatting, so any paragraph indents, tabs, colors, etc., will be applied, too.

I hope these tools make your work a little easier, as formatting text can be tedious. Find what works best for you, and if you have any tips of your own, feel free to add them in the comments. I’ll have some future posts on formatting text in different situations, I’m sure.

If you’re someone who writes legal ads and other documents and uses Word, Legal Office Guru has a blog post that describes that feature.

Photo tips for real estate agents (and others)

Photography, Tips
"Nice garage, where's the house?"

“Nice garage, where’s the house?”

One of my goals with this blog is to create an exchange of ideas and tips that those of us in smaller markets might not otherwise have the resources for. But, the first tips I’d like to share aren’t so much for the designers as for the people they might work with, the advertisers who provide their own artwork.

Not to pick on any one group of people, but, well, you real estate agents could especially use some help. Most of the time, real estate photos in the newspaper are going to be small enough the flaws in the photo won’t be so noticeable. But if people are looking at it online as a PDF they can magnify, or if the photo might also be used in a higher-quality publication or online, those flaws will show. So let’s take the best picture you can to start with.

Any business owner who wants to provide their own photos of their products, or ad sales people who occasionally take pictures for their clients’ ads, might also find these tips will make your ad designers happy.

• This first tip might sound painfully obvious, but I bet a lot of people haven’t done it: Read the manual for your camera. You don’t need an expensive SLR with lots of bells and whistles to take a decent picture, but you should know how to use what you have. How many times have you been taking pictures and you know there’s a setting that will help with the lighting situation you’re in, but you can’t remember where to find it? You waste time pushing buttons, going back and forth on the screen displays and finally just say the heck with it and take an awful picture. Read your manual with your camera in your hand. Get to know those settings and what they do. If you don’t have a manual, you can probably find it for download on the manufacturer’s website. If you have a specific question about how to do something, type that question into your favorite search engine (ex: “How do I set shutter speed on my Cannon Powershot?”)

Take the photo at a high resolution. Newsprint is not the best medium for photography (a photo editor I once worked with described it as “printing on toilet paper”). Even if the photo is going to be only about an inch wide, a high resolution image will help us make it as clear as possible. Set your camera to shoot at least 300 pixels per inch. Even better: Ask the publication what resolution they would prefer. They might even help you set that on your camera if you don’t know how and ask real nice. And maybe offer them cookies.

Don’t stand directly in front of the house. One of my co-workers recently opened a photo from for a real estate ad and said something like, “Nice garage, where’s the house?” It was one of those newer houses that have the double garages sticking out further than the front door (Personally, I think they look like pig snouts). About a third of the house wasn’t even in the picture. So look at the angle you’re taking the picture from. Make those pig-snout garages more of a background. Show that curb appeal!

Know where the sun is. Professional photographers will tell you the best time to take outdoor photos is generally the first hour after sunrise and the last hour before sunset. That’s probably not real practical for your schedule, but follow it as best you can — until mid-morning and late afternoon. No matter what time of day, though, be aware of where the sun is in relation to the house. Are there dark shadows hiding the house? Is the sun creating a harsh glare on the camera lens? If so, find a different angle to shoot from or wait for a better time of day.

Get the vehicles out of the driveway. Your vehicle, the seller’s vehicle, whatever. I want to picture MY vehicle in that driveway, not see someone else’s. Especially if it has a business logo that’s visible.

Don’t include the date/time stamp. If you don’t know how to get rid of that, see the first tip. If you still can’t figure it out, at least provide plenty of foreground so we can crop it out.

Feel free to leave any more tips or ask questions in the comments, and thanks for reading.