Is this why Data Merge PDFs are “throttled back”?

Some time ago, I wrote an article about the difference between Data Merge PDF Export vs regular PDF export. The article highlighted the difference between the two PDF exports, but not why the data merge PDF export appears to have been throttled. Admittedly, this seemed more of a curiosity than anything else, and no further research was undertaken.

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The Data Merge PDF export dialog box. The yellow highlight shows items that can’t be checked.

In October 2018, the issue was once again raised by a reader who asked about preparing tagged PDFs via the Data Merge palette for the purposes of Section 508 accessibility – a way tagging a PDF so that PDF-reading software with accessibility features can assist users with limited accessibility in various ways, such as the example of tagging an image with a description that can be read aloud for users with little- or no vision.

As I couldn’t offer an explanation, all I could do was point to my previous article and submit a request to the InDesign Uservoice team to allow the Export to PDF to have all features of a regular PDF.

Then one month later, I fielded a query on the Adobe InDesign Forums concerning Interactive PDF and Data Merge Conflict where a user had hyperlinks in an interactive PDF where data merge fields were present, even though they weren’t linking to anything.

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Notice the tooltip displayed by the name “Zolly” – text that was a Data Merge text field.

That reminded me of an article from InDesignSecrets about Ghost Hyperlinks explaining that data merge fields can also be shown in the hyperlinks panel, meaning merge fields are hyperlinks themselves.

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The highlighted field in the art is the data merge field, as well as hyperlink 2.

However, Data Merge can’t export to interactive PDF from the data merge panel, so the only way I could replicate the forum poster’s issue was to prepare an InDesign data merge file, navigate to a relevant record,  then go to the file menu and export an Interactive PDF of the visible record on the page.

It was at that moment it occurred to me that THIS may be the reason that the hyperlinks checkbox is greyed out from the “export to PDF” dialog box in the data merge palette – because the merge fields are – in effect – hyperlinks themselves, and having hyperlinks enabled would also make the variable text clickable in the resulting PDF, despite having no actual link to go to. It would also explain why data merge does not offer an “export to interactive PDF” option from the data merge palette.

So, despite having a “eureka” moment of solving why the exports were different, it also made me realise that – without overhauling the way data merge works in InDesign – it may be unlikely to directly export PDFs with hyperlinks or interactivity via the Data Merge Panel anytime soon.

It is worth noting that if the data merge is exported to an InDesign file first (as explained in my workaround linked at the start of the article), and then exported to an interactive PDF, these issues do not occur. However, it is double-handling.

Still, this is frustrating in a world moving online, particularly for marketers who want to prepare unique PDFs that contain:

  • Hyperlinks, not just for navigating to URLs, but within the PDF itself, such as footnotes or page navigation;
  • Interactivity such as form fields for the purposes of surveys and feedback; and
  • Accessibility, not only from the legal standpoint of Section 508 conformance, but the genuine desire to engage with people with limited accessibility.

On that note, isn’t it about time to update the data merge feature so that exports are no longer limited to throttled-back PDFs or InDesign files as their only options? As an addition, how about the ability to print a merge directly from a data merge file, a feature that has been available in Microsoft Word for nearly thirty years.

Or what about the ability to merge to uniquely named files based on each record, something that I’ve already prepared a script for but would welcome as part of the InDesign user interface. And why stop at full-throttle PDFs… how about image formats such as jpg or png, or other formats such as html? Statistics from an InDesignSecrets poll show that print PDFs account for just under half of the participants’ usual file output exports.

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Can I get a (Microsoft) Word in edge-wise?

Further to my article in April 2017 the InDesign team have certainly received the message loud and clear, and have now implemented some long-awaited improvements to InDesign. To their credit, the InDesign team have also made their communication with their technical staff far more transparent with the “wishform” page, where InDesign feature requests and bug reports can be viewed in real-time, along with their progress. The team have also made it easier to see what will be available in future versions with greater access to the prerelease program.

While I am not in the prerelease program myself, I like to have a look at the feature requests for InDesign to see what may or may not be coming to the next version. My own submissions for feature requests  are usually as a result of:

  • A recent issue I’ve encountered during a project or forum request;
  • An innovation by one of InDesign’s competitors, such as Quark, Scribus or Serif;
  • An innovation in a complimentary application such as Acrobat, Illustrator or Photoshop;
  • Simply finding a bug and reporting it

During the 2018 Adobe Symposium in Sydney, there were frequent mentions of Adobe’s recent innovation, Adobe Sensei. Apart from the obvious submission to the feature requests page for InDesign to adopt Adobe Sensei technology, I was reminded of certain features that I knew existed in Microsoft Word.

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For the first five years of my working life, Microsoft Word was my workhorse. I’d started my working life in an office performing clerical duties, and I would routinely use Word. Through my employer at the time, my job was slowly integrated into the printing and stationery arm that it had, and once I’d entered my next job exclusively in the printing industry, Word clearly took a back seat. I would refer to Microsoft Office products to import content into the applications I’d used over time, such as PageMaker, Quark Xpress and of course, Adobe InDesign.

That said, new or recent users to InDesign aren’t always from a marketing or graphic design background, but can be self-publishers, clerical staff, project managers, or simply anyone who has been told by their printer that they won’t accept Word files, but InDesign files are fine.

It is important to consider that users of Microsoft Office products can struggle to grasp concepts of usage that are present InDesign, and the learning curve can be steep. I’m also concerned about how new users of InDesign are acquiring their skills, given that hands-on training doesn’t appear to be a big part of this, but rather, methods such as:

  • Teaching themselves
  • On the job training from colleagues
  • Video courses from training sources
  • Video courses from anyone with screen capture software (yes, this includes my Youtube channel)

While reading InDesign forum requests lately, I have noticed InDesign users asking about features they are used to in Microsoft Word, and answers usually range from “InDesign wasn’t set up for that” or “InDesign can’t handle that”.

My question is: “Why not? Word can do this quite easily, and has done for decades!” Personally, there are many features of Office products that I think InDesign could easily benefit from, such as:

  • Macros
  • Calendars
  • Basic print impositions (a Publisher feature)
  • Mail merge
  • Footnotes and endnotes
  • Autoformat
  • Citations
  • Equations
  • Shapes
  • Smart Art (e.g. flow charts, venn diagrams, etc)
  • Charts and graphs

It is true that many of the features listed can be accomplished by third party scripts or plug-ins, but I would argue that if software with a lower price tag can accomplish these tasks without having to make further financial investment in a plug-in that may be obsolete upon the next CC update, how about adding these features to Adobe InDesign? It would make it easier for Office users migrating to InDesign, and would give veteran InDesign users some handy tools that were not previously available.

Adobe, mate, please add an Australian Dictionary to InDesign

In April 2017, Keith Gilbert wrote an article on InDesignsecrets highlighting the importance of understanding what dictionary Adobe InDesign was using when performing a spell check on documents.

This is particularly true for English speakers who live outside of the USA, UK or Canada who may not realise that there is no InDesign-installed dictionary specifically for their location.

There is no Australian Dictionary in InDesign by default

There are myriad countries that use English as its first official- or de facto language, and many are satisfied to use the English (UK) definition for their spelling. Australia and New Zealand are exceptions to this rule, but as I live in Australia, I will present the Australian arguments for using an Australian Dictionary:

With the exception of words unique to the Australian lexicon, there are other day-to-day differences between Australian English and other dictionaries, such as:

  • words that end in -ize in US usually end in -ise, such as criticise, realise…
  • words that end in -or in US usually end in -our, such as honour, colour, flavour, neighbour…
  • SOME words that end in -er in US usually end in -re, such as centre, metre. This is particularly a problem with metric measurements when represented in US English
  • SOME words that end in -og in US can end in -ogue, such as catalogue, epilogue… but obviously not all words such as smog, dog, jog…
  • spelling of words such as Mom/Mum, Tire/Tyre, sulfur/sulphur, aluminium/aluminum

Recognising this as an issue, both Microsoft Word and OpenOffice do provide for an Australian English dictionary. But this leads to the next problem:

InDesign can give a false impression that there is an Australian Dictionary

Take the following sentence that I have in Microsoft Word:

The ionised particles in the centre turn a red colour once the reaction is realised.

If I save this Microsoft Word file and place it into InDesign, InDesign applies the default spell-check to the text and highlights the problem words.

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But if I cut and paste that sentence from Microsoft Word directly into Adobe InDesign using the clipboard defaults in the preferences and dynamic spelling turned on, here is what happens:

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Note in the Character palette that the Language dropdown says English: Australian, so what’s the fuss? The problem is that InDesign is giving us a false impression. To the same paragraph, let’s type some words directly at the end of that pasted sentence – words that an Australian spell-checker would normally flag such as honor or center.

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Still nothing, but the dynamic spelling should report these two words as being incorrectly spelled. What if I type some rubbish that any spell-checker should see?

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Still nothing again (trust me, fxxxazzeyz isn’t an Australian word!) so any text that contains the character trait that was pasted from the original Microsoft Word sentence will be skipped from InDesign’s spell check, and it will use the default dictionary of English USA to check the rest of the text that doesn’t contain this character trait.

A similar technique of assigning text the [No Language] character trait is used to bypass spell-check and described in this indesignsecrets video:

This presents a real problem, given that none of the text with the Australian dictionary character trait are truly being checked for their spelling.

Installing an Australian Dictionary is overly-complicated

Sandee Cohen wrote up an article on InDesignsecrets detailing how to install a hunspell dictionary and there is another set of instructions on the Adobe InDesign help page on how to do this, but quite frankly both processes are more complicated than most users are prepared to tolerate.

Vote to change this!

There is a suggestion on the InDesign Uservoice page to add an Australian Dictionary to the interface. If you would like to see this added to future versions of InDesign, please vote here!

Post CreativePRO New Orleans update

It’s not often that I post an editorial on the site, usually the articles featured on the site outline a procedure, tutorial or general advice. For today’s post, it is worth standing on my soapbox to announce a few items:

Another great CreativePRO Conference

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This year’s CreativePRO conference was recently held in sunny (and humid!) New Orleans between June 4-8. As expected, the conference was fantastic and I left with even more pages in my notebook filled with tips, this time on Illustrator, Photoshop, and somewhat surprisingly, Excel. It was also an opportunity to appear on-stage at two brief CreativePRO organised events – the Ignite session and the CreativeWOW session.

The 2019 event will be hosted in Seattle, Washington, and marks the 10th year of the CreativePRO events that include the InDesign Conference and PEPCON.

25th article on InDesignSecrets

It was also during the CreativePRO conference that my 25th article on InDesignSecrets was published. As well as hosting this blog, I also prepare articles from time to time over at InDesignSecrets.com, so definitely check out the great articles there, as well as their Facebook page.

Youtube Hiatus is nearly over

Those familiar with my Youtube Channel will notice that it’s been some time since the last Colecandoo video was posted. Be patient, more videos are on the way. I can only say that 2017-2018 has provided perfect storm of events that have given less incentive to create video content on the Youtube platform, whether it be the “Adpocalypse”, demonetisation, or increasing the barrier of entry for monetisation. That aside, I would also like to add my Colecandoo character as part of the videos, and this requires more experience with Adobe Character Animator… as I say, the videos are on their way.

If you’re not familiar with my videos on Youtube, feel free to have a look here. As usual, if you want to be notified of new content, make sure to subscribe and click that bell that Youtube makes people click.

See you at MAX 2018

If you’re heading over to Los Angeles in October 2018 for Adobe MAX, I will see you there.

 

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