Reacting to bad Redacting

In early January 2019, a high profile case of “Redaction Fail” made the headlines when it was revealed that the redacted material could still be read if copied and pasted into a word processor. My initial reaction was of concern, because my first thought was that the redaction feature in Adobe Acrobat had a serious drawback. However, this was soon put to rest once I viewed the actual document in question, and realised that Acrobat’s redaction feature had not been used, but another low-tech method was used instead.

Low-tech method 1: Highlight

In Microsoft Word, it’s easy to change the highlighter colour to black to act as a redaction. Similarly, Adobe InDesign has a similar feature where an underline can be created that is the same colour as the text and adjusting the height of the line to the top of the ascender to the bottom of the descender.

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Looks great on screen, and looks great on a PDF.

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Be assured though that this is NOT REDACTED. I know this because I can reveal what was written in several ways:

  • By highlighting the text and copying into any text editor;

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  • By using an accessibility feature that will allow the line (or page) to be read back

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  • In Acrobat Professional, using the Edit feature to change the colour of the type

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  • Editing the PDF with the Enfocus Pitstop plug-in in a similar fashion to the last method, or even remove the redaction itself or view the type under the redaction using the wireframe view.

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  • By highlighting the text, opening the tags panel and selecting Find Tag from Selection

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  • By highlighting the text, opening the content panel and looking up the content by its page location

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  • Via the print production tools in Acrobat Professional, go to the output preview and in the Show portion of the dialog box, select Text from the dropdown

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(The above method can be circumvented if the redaction character style has a type fill of [None] and the underline coloured [Black]).

To be fair, no security settings had been applied to this test file. If I apply password security so that copying, pasting and accessibility is off, the last three methods can still be employed to see this text, albeit with many options greyed out:

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Low-tech method 2: Redact Font

Fonts (such as the redacted font by David Walsh) give the type a redacted look without the need to create a highlighter-style effect.

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Again, rest assured that this document is NOT REDACTED.

Park the fact that the copy has now reflowed after the style has been applied, many of the previous methods can still be employed to read this text.

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Yes, there is also the drastic action of employing this technique, adding security AND converting all text to outlines using a method described over at InDesignSecrets, but doing so will make a PDF that is:

  • Unsearchable and unprintable;
  • Has no accessibility features;
  • Involves manipulating the original artwork, rather than a file that has to have redactions applied.

If you need to redact the file, use Adobe Acrobat’s Redact feature, and make sure to read the instructions to be sure that is being used properly.

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The instructions on the Adobe Acrobat help site for using this feature are quite useful.

A related redaction warning

If photographs also need to be redacted, note that if unredacted versions of the images exist online, chances are that Google’s Image search or Tineye may be able to find the unredacted originals.

Take the following image that was used on this site two articles ago. I’ve done a basic redaction our faces and run the redacted image through exifpurge to remove any metadata.

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If I drag and drop this image into Google’s image search, it is able to find the unredacted versions of this photo that are currently online:

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While this example was a light-hearted example, much more serious examples can be found via ABC Australia’s Media Watch programme.

 

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Some basics of noteworthiness

As a user of InDesign since its creation, I’m used to many of the quirks and behaviours of the software, as well as general practices that are accepted in the printing industry. In recent times, I’ve noticed issues that would generally be known by experienced InDesign users, but these particular issues have come from users that are either new to InDesign or print media generally.

On that note, it’s worth going over a few issues that newer users of InDesign may be unfamiliar with.

Viewing PDFs

One of the first Colecandoo posts was an article that described the issues that can happen when checking PDF proofs via email: https://colecandoo.com/2011/08/21/the-proof-is-in-your-email/

When this article was written, it was during an era when Adobe Acrobat was the PDF viewer that had the lion’s share of users since its creation in 1993. Nowadays, Adobe Acrobat (Reader or Pro) is one of several programs that can open a PDF, given that PDFs can also be opened by software installed in an operating system (e.g. Preview on a Mac) or any Internet browser (e.g. Google Chrome).

So what’s the issue? A PDF should look the same no matter what software is opening it, right? Well, no – not all PDF readers can interpret all features such as:

  • Overprints;
  • Layers;
  • Interactive Form Fields;
  • Initial view;

So if receiving a PDF from a print supplier, ensure that Adobe Acrobat is the software used to open the PDF.

Graphic file formats into InDesign

When Quark Xpress dominated the printers’ landscape, the two formats that were largely used for placing graphics were EPS for vector graphics or raster images that contained paths; or TIFF for flat raster images. Once the Adobe Creative Suite became “king of the hill”, the two formats recommended by Adobe for use within Adobe InDesign were either AI for vector graphics or PSD for any raster images. The suite also allowed PDF and INDD files to be placed into InDesign as well. The main reason was that these particular formats preserved transparencies, effects and layers, but did not have to be re-saved from their native file formats to another format in order to be placed.

Enter the age where the internet is all around us, and GIF, JPG, SVG and PNG file formats are the norm. From my point of view, I’m increasingly seeing these file formats used in a print reproduction workflow. My concern is largely with PNG or GIF, given that JPG works within a print workflow, and SVG cannot be imported into InDesign at the time of writing this article. While these two file formats do preserve a transparency effect, they are not necessarily designed to work within Adobe InDesign and can result in some strange and bizarre errors.

One noteworthy feature of PSD is the ability to make non-destructive changes to artwork by making adjustment layers – something not available natively to JPG, PNG or GIF.

Given that InDesign can now also be used to also design media for an on-screen intent only (e.g. exporting to JPG or PNG, Publish Online, interactive PDF, HTML via in5), it would be great if PNG, GIF and SVG formats could be used in the first instance, and perhaps it is something the Adobe InDesign team could look into further.

Microsoft Word and other content

Remember when Microsoft Word was the go-to file format for word processing? Nowadays, there are dozens of word processors that are either open source (e.g. Libre Office, Open Office), part of the operating system (e.g. Pages) or accessed online (e.g. Google Docs), and that’s only the word processors – not to mention spreadsheets or presentation software. At the time of writing this, Adobe InDesign – as shipped – can import Microsoft Word or Excel files, but many other proprietary formats usually need to be converted to Word, Excel, RTF or TXT.

There is also a limitation on what will import when placing a Microsoft Word file. Users with recent versions of Microsoft Word will notice that newly created equations do not import.

Once again, it’s worth noting that times have changed, and to reflect the habits of users worldwide, perhaps it is worth having a look at what InDesign can and cannot import.

Print requirements vs On-Screen requirements

Artwork for on-screen publishing in InDesign such as PDF or publish online does not have to be as forgiving as publishing for print. Such examples of on-screen artwork are

  • not having to extend past the trim area,
  • any colour format is acceptable,
  • printing phenomenon such as Creep are not an issue.

When preparing artwork for print, these issues are much more important for accurate print reproduction. It’s impossible to cover all print issues in one article, but they have generally been talked about in other Colecandoo articles over the years.

Prepress vs Design

For those who have navigated every page of Colecandoo, you might notice that I’m not the best designer in the world. That said, this site isn’t intended for users to learn design. As the masthead says: Prepress and Indesign Advice. The distinction is that the purpose of prepress is to make sure that artwork submitted for print output will not pose any printing problem and will give the best finished result not just for the client, but the rest of the production process. For Designers who prepare print artwork as part of their role, understanding and appreciating prepress requirements certainly contributes to better artwork output and happier clients.

It’s worth remembering that a great designer doesn’t necessarily know anything about prepress, as they may design for other media or industries; and a great prepress operator doesn’t mean they’re a great designer.

Training vs Self Taught

Programs like Quark Xpress and Adobe InDesign admittedly have steep learning curves. I would not expect anyone unfamiliar with InDesign to download and install it, and create fantastic artwork on their first try, let alone their twentieth. I was fortunate enough to attend training courses for Quark Xpress and Adobe PageMaker, with many of the PageMaker features evolving into Adobe InDesign. It is also true to say that much of what I have learned in InDesign is also self taught, but much of my training was also on-the-job training in several printing factories and service bureaux who had experienced users of the software. There are parts of Adobe InDesign I wouldn’t have been able to grasp if it wasn’t for training, such as:

  • XML
  • Javascript
  • Advanced bookwork, such as indexes, cross references etc

But I understand that not everyone is so lucky. Sometimes, people are thrown into InDesign as part of a new job where they have never used it before, and neither has anyone else in the company because it’s specific to that role.

For those who are reading this that are self-taught, I would definitely encourage you to try some of the leading publications for Adobe InDesign such as Real World Adobe InDesign CC, or A Designer’s Guide to Adobe InDesign and XML. Have a look at some of the courses offered by Linked-in Learning or any Adobe Certified Expert. Finally, if you’re lucky enough to be in such a situation, attend conferences aimed at InDesign users, such as the CreativePro conference.

 

Quick-tip: rename all links in an InDesign file

When working with difficult clients, it can be tempting to take out some frustration on the clients’ files, such as naming links within a file rather inappropriately. An example would be a picture placed into an InDesign file with the name lousypicture.jpg. Seems harmless enough, but this is a tame example compared to what might be going through your mind as a reader. Also, no – I’ve never done this and I’ve always behaved in a professional manner to my clients.

Seems like harmless enough fun… until the client requests packaged InDesign files of their artwork. Then it’s easy for the client to see all of the inappropriate names that were given to the links in their artwork, and unless they have a sense of humour about it, expect to receive… negative feedback.

If you’ve been in a situation like this and needed to rename all links in a document, then scripter Kasyan Servetsky has an ideal script for you: batch rename and link. Once the script is run, it renames and relinks all links in an InDesign file based on their page number and their position on the page. So a name such as lousypicture.jpg will now become AA_0002_r1.jpg

I’d originally used this script four years ago when I received a strange use-case where a customer wanted the images from their annual report labelled in terms of what pages the images were on, and this script was quite handy for that.

However, I can see the more appropriate use-case of having to rename inappropriate or offensively-named links when handing files over to clients.

Preflight video and “Enforcer” Scripts

Adobe InDesign has a magnificient feature that displays a list of prepress issues that may be present in artwork, and updates this in real-time. It is the live preflight feature, and it’s certainly not a new feature in Adobe InDesign. That said, considering some of the files that I receive that are considered to be “finished art”, I wonder how many people know that this feature exists; or uses the feature before handing off their finished artwork to their printer or supplier.

To be fair, the live preflight feature is rather passive in Adobe InDesign. If the preflight panel isn’t loaded into your set of panels in your workspace, it is only visible at the bottom of the screen, and is less than 50 pixels in height. The default preflight that is performed on artwork only alerts on a handful of items, some of which have dedicated alerts to their absence anyway (such as overset text, missing fonts and missing links).

In this Colecandoo video, I demonstrate that the preflights can be much more powerful, the basic preflight can be replaced with far more powerful preflights, and I demonstrate some traps to look out for that are not detected with any preflight. The video also demonstrates two scripts that are designed to prevent users from printing or exporting their artwork until it passes the live preflight check. If you’re interested in obtaining a copy of this on-request script, head to the contact page and ask for the “preflight enforcer scripts”.

In a future video, I’ll elaborate on the demonstration file used in the video, as it contains dozens of prepress errors.

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