How to produce a catalogue efficiently

Catalogue production can be a complex undertaking requiring excellent project management skills, graphic design expertise and forensic attention to detail. Read our thoughts…

Planning and budgeting

First and foremost a catalogue must provide its reader with the information they are seeking, it sounds obvious, however, it is very easy to miss adding that crucial bit of information in the product record.

For this reason, we would suggest that the first part of the catalogue workflow process should involve researching your target audience to ascertain exactly what it is they need and what is of value to them.

The goal then is to develop a design and content plan that best meets the reader’s requirements within the available budget.

To help define this and estimate costs we would consider how much space per product is required, we would experiment with layouts to arrive at that sweet spot between aesthetics, readability and production costs. This will help produce a pagination (an outline of what’s on each page of the catalogue) and determine the extent (number of pages) of the catalogue.

It would be at this time that we would also consider catalogue navigation (category structure, contents, index, stopper pages) and additional content such as a technical area or new product showcase.

Gathering and organising data

Once the information required has been established it’s time to gather the assets required (data, copy, illustration and imagery). If the data isn’t already available in a database or spreadsheet form we would highly recommend organising it in this way. It has three main advantages: 1. Consistency of presentation, if data is entered into a spreadsheet is is far easier to ensure consistency of style and format. 2. Missing or incorrectly entered data is easier to spot. 3. Once complete the data can be linked to InDesign to allow automated catalogue production.

Building and artworking

Using software that interfaces between a database and InDesign it is possible to build pages much more efficiently and accurately. If the catalogue is of a larger size and is of a reoccurring nature we would highly recommend this approach.

Once the data has been flowed in it is linked with the source data so not only is it much faster to build the catalogue it is also much easier to edit / amend and it is free of and cut and paste errors.

In addition, if the data source is cloud-based multiple editors can review and amend the source data which can then be simply synced with the InDesign document.

Proofing and preparing for print

Once the catalogue has been completed it is time for checking and proofing. There are many systems available to allow collaborative proofing including Adobe Acrobat and goproof. If this is not required email proofing using Acrobat is simple and cost effective. Many people however find it difficult to proof documents onscreen, if you are one of them ask your designer if printed proofs are available. We also like to make a mock-up to get an accurate feel of the finished document.

Collecting the document for print

Although InDesign will highlight low res or RGB files within the document as it is being created we would recommend that a pre-flight check is carried out to make sure all files and elements are suitable for print. Most printers these days prefer to receive print ready PDF files. It is important to liaise with your printer to obtain the correct settings and colour sync profile prior to creating the file.

Checking printers proofs

Once the printer has received your file it will be run through a raster image processor (RIP) to create printers proofs and ultimately the plates for the printing press. The printers proofs can be made available online or printed for the client to check. To ensure all content is present we use a traditional proofers trick of overlaying our printed copy on top of the printers proofs and peeling the top copy backwards and forwards, our eyes then pick up any differences easily.

Press passing

These days with very reliable pre-press systems and colour sync profiles press passing is very rarely necessary. However if the catalogue contains colour critical items such as clothing it can be useful to visit the printers with swatches of material and adjust the press to get the best possible colour reproduction.


Catalogue production can seem daunting, however with proper planning, careful project management and a sprinkling of magical graphic design dust it doesn’t need to be.

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