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Creating the Affinity Photo Workbook

In November 2017 we released our glossy full-colour Affinity Photo Workbook. Here’s a look at how it was created…

With 16 hands-on projects, a 68 page Interface Tour, a Core Skills section (to familiarise yourself with essential photo-editing techniques), 600 illustrations and screenshots, 5 tear-out Keyboard Shortcut cheat sheets and over 200 downloadable resource files—the Affinity Photo Workbook took us 10 months to produce and has been a real labour of love.

Jordan Gaunce's 'Grilled Cheese Pull' project featured in the Affinity Photo Workbook

The Affinity Photo Workbook has been edited and written by our Head of Documentation Andy Capstick, with technical writing support from our in-house photo expert James Ritson. James also contributed a project to the book, as did our Art Director, Neil Ladkin. Neil, along with Ian Cornwall from our creative team, directed the overall look and feel of the book. Ian also worked on the art-working of the book, along with another of our creative team, Ian Upcott. Sean Power, from our QA team, worked through the book to check it was all up to scratch as well as checking all the downloadable content worked to follow along with the tutorials.

We also worked with some amazing photographers and digital artists from all around the world to bring you the rest of the projects—so a big thank you goes to Emi Haze, Timothy Poulton, Jordan Gaunce, Mark Ivkovic, Paolo Limoncelli, Bodo Bertuleit, Steven Randolph and Johny Åkerlund.

When the writing and art-working was complete (and signed off!), the next stage began—the print run. The Affinity Workbook team dropped in on our print partner (ESP Colour, Swindon, UK) to see our German language Workbooks hit the press and find out how it is done. Many thanks to them for lifting the curtain on the printing process and giving up their valuable time.

The Print Process

Stage 1: Prepress

We send our finished artwork over to the Prepress team at ESP, who then perform the following tasks:

Quality control: They check our PDF artwork for low-resolution images, CMYK colour space, colour profiling, and bleed settings.

Imposition: They then create imposed PDFs from our supplied PDF (see image below) to maximise print efficiency and minimise plate usage—less print time + less plates = less cost!

Ripping: The print job is then processed as a PDF in readiness for plate setting.

Imposed sheets from the ‘Elegance’ project

Tips on preparing your artwork for print

We asked John, The ESP Operations Manager, about some tips when submitting artwork to prepress…

What are the most common challenges you find with submitted print artwork?

“Poor Quality—low-resolution images, no bleed, no embedded fonts, spreads when single pages are required. With bound covers, single pages where spreads are required (with spines); when roll folded—we need spreads with allowance for roll folding (reduce each panel). Often this is not done. Missing or incomplete cutter guides (when used).”

What is the best advice you could give designers and artists if they plan to create artwork for print?

“Ensure you use high-quality images and ensure you create bleed where necessary. Convert PMS colours to CMYK—unless these are required as a special colour. Complex Illustrator graphics cause massive issues—view in keyline to see complexity and flatten or convert to raster image to resolve. Also, flatten all PDFs – no layers, and of course embed all fonts.”

CMYK and PDF/X4 all the way then?

“Yes. Although PDF/X4 itself can cause issues (everything is locked down and some systems don’t like it).”

Should a user worry about CMYK colour profile choice?

“Not at all, but we would always recommend a scatter proof produced on a litho press rather than trying to compare colour to that seen on screen.”

“…we would always recommend a scatter proof produced on a litho press rather than trying to compare colour to that seen on screen.”


Prepress is also responsible for proofing, which takes the ripped output as it would appear on the plate but, instead, creates a bound hardcopy print which is sent to us for proofing. This unique white-cover workbook (bottom left of iMac below) is much sought after here at Serif HQ! We also receive a scatter proof of the cover (the sheets) along with an electronic PDF for on-screen proofing (on screen). The Affinity team all check these proofs carefully, and when we are happy we tell the printers to proceed with our print run.

Stage 2: Platesetting and proofing

When the proofs have been signed off by us, the printers can then start platesetting. Platesetting involves chemically etching rectangular aluminium plates with artwork for each colour, i.e. Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, K (Black); one set of plates is etched for the front sheet and one set for the back sheet.

Platesetting Kodak Magnus Platesetter. Plates are 0.3mm aluminium, bendable enough to fit around, and onto, a plate cylinder in the printer.

As well as the 4 CMYK plates, the printing of the Affinity Photo Workbook requires an extra plate—for a ‘fifth’ spot colour used on our chapter cover and project pages.

This colour is a Pantone ink. Our printers buy this in and don’t mix it up to ensure the colour is always correct.


ESP are very busy—they make 700 plates a day, which is 1 plate a minute!

Stage 3: Production

The Workbooks are printed on a Heidelberg lithographic offset printer. Essentially, oil-based inks are attracted to the oil-attracting print areas on the plate, while water dampening ensures the non-printing areas are kept ink free. The oil doesn’t mix with water principle applies here.

Heidelberg Speedmaster lithographic offset printer with five printing units (in right-to-left paper feed order) – K (black), Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and coating/infrared dryer. Spot colour printing unit not shown

Loading plates

Each printing unit contains several cylinders, the most notable being the Plate, Blanket and Impression cylinders. The term “offset” means that the Plate cylinder (housing a plate rolled around it) doesn’t come into direct contact with the paper to be printed on. Instead, the ink is transferred to a Blanket cylinder which is sandwiched between Plate and Impression cylinders and then pressed onto the fed paper. Rollers supply water and ink to the Plate cylinder.

Two print passes are needed, one for the top of the sheet using front plates, and one for the back using back plates. Each front colour plate is loaded and wrapped around the plate cylinder on the respective printing units on the litho printer.

Stage 4: Printing and Inspection

Printing begins, with a keen eye on ink flow rates at the control station. Here, we’re looking at paper stock being added to the printer, the control centre (showing the fifth spot ink and C, M, Y, K inks) and the finishing unit showing stacked printed output.

Once the ‘front’ print run using front plates is complete, the interim single-sided paper stack is physically ‘flipped’ and offered back to the printer again, once the ‘back’ plates have been loaded.

233 plates and 455,000 sheets of paper were used in this print run of our German language Affinity Photo Workbook. It took 65 hours to print—ESP run sheets through their sheet-fed presses at 18,000 sheets an hour.

Stage 5: Finishing

When the printing is complete we are left with a printed double-sided paper stack ready for finishing. It goes on to be folded, gathered, and PUR bound, with the bound book being consolidated with its cover.

The journey doesn’t end there…

Once we get a delivery date confirmed from the printers, the work starts at Serif HQ to get the book to you.

Maree Moran, who sorts out the ordering and distribution of our Workbooks, ensures that all the cartons and pallets containing the final printed Workbooks will be up labeled correctly. She then lets Adam Frith (our warehouse manager), know of their impending arrival.

As we can only ship to some countries from our warehouse in Nottingham (UK) without incurring too many costs for you guys, we also send some stock to Amazon to both sell and distribute for us. Maree lists the Workbook on Amazon UK, Amazon DE, Amazon US and Amazon CA (Canada), and arranges stock to be sent to the depots for each country. When the stock is shipped to Amazon US and CA, it will then be distributed to smaller depots around those countries to further reduce the customer shipping costs. Maree will also monitor this stock and top it up when needed.

When Adam receives the stock in the warehouse, he splits it further into pallets for Amazon. Depending on the country, he may also need to add another barcode sticker and label up the boxes and cartons as per the requirements of the division of Amazon he is shipping to. Adam also will send out the workbooks individually that are ordered directly from us and sent from our warehouse.

Adam takes the first delivery of Affinity Photo Workbooks

The final furlong…

All that’s left for us now to do is to get the book listed on our own store and get our Affinity Photo Workbook webpage up on We also prepare an email to send to you and some announcements on our social media channels to let you know when the Affinity Photo Workbook is ready to buy. Big thanks go to Ash, Neil, Steven, Rob, Mel, Duncan, Joe and John for this.

And now it’s ready for you to enjoy!

The finished Affinity Photo Workbook

We really hope you will enjoy reading and working through the Affinity Photo Workbook, we all loved making it and are very proud of the result.

The Affinity Photo Workbook is now available to buy from the Affinity Store.

A version of this article was published on the Affinity Blog (no longer live) in November 2017.

Head of content and learning

Kate heads up our artist relations, content and learning teams. She loves talking to creators to find out more about their artistic practices for Spotlight and sourcing new content for the Affinity Store.

Credits & Footnotes

All images © 2017 Serif (Europe) Ltd. All rights reserved. Thanks to ESP Colour, Swindon, UK, for letting us visit and take pictures in their printworks.