Making a Die Cut Shape in InDesign
I'm setting up a cover with a simple die-cut hole, and I need to know how to set it up for the printer (and unfortunately, I cannot contact the printer directly).
A die-cut, for readers who haven't tried this, is literally a cut in the finished, printed piece. For example, if you want a hole in the middle of the cover of a brochure, or a non-rectangular finished piece, you need to have the printer create a die with which they will cut your printed document, like a giant hole puncher.
The key to making a die-cut is exactly the same as making a spot varnish or an emboss: It all comes down to a spot color. The point is that your printer is going to need a plate, all by itself, that shows exactly where the cut (or varnish or emboss) is going to be. For example, in this document, we want to cut a big "Q" out of the cover, so we can see the red color behind it:
[Historical note: Some folks will wonder why I'm using this particular cover. It's because I want to give a shout out to the book I wrote that sold the fewest copies ever. I'm pretty sure more copies were returned from bookstores than were actually even printed. I told the publisher multiple times not to give me a contract and money to write this book because it would never sell, but they refused to listen. And, just in case you were wondering, no, the publisher did not actually die-cut a Q out of the cover. Though I bet the book would have sold far better if they did. Not.]
Anyway, okay, so how to make that Q? Select it and fill it with a spot color! I've made a spot color here called "die cut spot color" but you can call it whatever you want, as long as it's obvious to the printer that it's not supposed to actually print! You can also color it whatever you want, as long as you don't tint the color -- in this case, I made it orange so it would really stand out against the cover. I've heard some people recommend using the Registration color, which makes no sense at all to me, as it will actually print on all the plates!
I put the object on its own layer just for the sake of file organization. And I have also ensured that it will overprint. If I didn't overprint the object, then InDesign may knock out the colors behind the Q. Of course, in a perfect world, where the die is cut exactly in the right place, it wouldn't matter. But here on Earth, sometimes the cut is a little off. You don't want a halo of white to peek out around the cut! Overprinting ensures that if there's misregistration, it won't look too ugly.
Don't forget you can always check your work with the Separations panel (in Window > Output > Separations). This lets you turn on and off each plate to see what the final output will look like. Here, we can see the die cut plate all by itself:
Of course, the most important thing of all is to communicate clearly with your printer from as early on as possible. In your case, Jane, you have an organization between you and the printer. So it behooves you to write clear instructions and explanations to go along to the printer!
I'm curious to hear from printers and InDesign users who have tackled this problem in any other clever ways!