Data Merge “Did You Know” Part Two

This is the second article in the Data Merge “Did You Know” series. If you’ve not read the first article, be sure to do so here. Carrying on from the first article, let’s dive into more lesser-known Data Merge behaviours of Adobe InDesign.

Data is there… even if the link is missing

If you ever have to share a Data Merge file with anyone else but do not want to share the data with them but instead only give them the base InDesign file, note that simply removing the link doesn’t remove the data.

In Part One, I wrote that InDesign doesn’t package the source file of a Data Merge… but that doesn’t mean the data isn’t there. Take this example of a packaged InDesign file used for a Data Merge. While opening the document, there is a missing link warning.

Once the document opens, I can then see in the links panel that there is a warning next to this text file that was used as the source.

If I right click on the link, I can’t unembed the text file as it simply isn’t linked

However, if I go to the Data Merge panel and check the preview box, I can see the records that were in the unlinked text file.

If the file didn’t have fields added to the page, I can also add those fields to the page and check the preview button on and the data will appear for these records.

It also merges correctly to PDF and InDesign files.

Be aware of this if you ever have to package a Data Merge file to others whom you do not wish to provide unredacted data.

Merge fields can be removed via the hyperlinks panel

A Creative Pro article referred to this as “ghost hyperlinks” but it is a great way of solving issues where a newly provided data merge source file can’t be previewed because of a mismatch of source names.

By opening the Hyperlinks panel, it is possible to see the fields that InDesign is using for the data merge as they are within this panel, though they aren’t obvious at first glance.

If one of the hyperlinks is double clicked, it will reveal the field that is being referred to.

From here, a hyperlink can removed, thereby replacing the field codes in the document back to regular text.

Shift clicking during the import does not show options

If the show import options checkbox is toggled off when placing an image, it is possible to perform a “one-time” request to show the import options without clicking on the checkbox. This is done by holding shift and then clicking Open.

But this doesn’t work with Data Merge. A similar option is available when selecting a data source, though holding shift and clicking Open will simply open the document – the Show Import Options checkbox has to be checked if it needs to appear. Hopefully this is a bug that is eventually fixed.

Put linked images in the same folder as the source text file…

While it is possible to add images to a data merge project by supplying its link in the source file, I so often see users put the complete file path of the link being used in the field.

If the images are filed in the same location as the text file, the only item that needs to be added here is the name of the file.

However, this means the links need to be in the same folder as the source text file.

…or use relative syntax as well

It is also possible to use syntax that is relative to the folder where the database is. Take the following folder structure.

To link to these images, the database needs to use syntax for the previous folder and then folders above. That will look like this

..: is syntax for go back a folder, whereas / plus the folder’s name is syntax to look into that particular folder.

I hope you found this short series useful, and if you have any Data Merge “did you know” tips, please feel free to submit them either in the comments, or contact me via my contact page.

Data Merge “Did you know” Part One

Regulars to the site will know that many of my articles relate to InDesign’s Data Merge feature. Given the amount of tutorials already available online elsewhere concerning basic tutorials for Data Merge, the Colecandoo site focuses more on articles about Data Merge in relation to scripts, GREP styles, or advanced techniques.

But there is a middle-ground that hasn’t been covered in many Data Merge tutorials, nor here on Colecandoo, so over the next two articles, I will attempt to bridge that gap and highlight some lesser known issues that can become a problem if users aren’t initially aware of them.

Can’t package the data or links used in the data

When InDesign packages an INDD file, it will save a copy of the file and copy any links used in the document into a Links folder, and any fonts used (within licensing restrictions) to a Document fonts folder.

However, this does not extend to the source data of a Data Merge file, nor any links that the source data may refer to.

PDF made from merge is different to regular PDF

I have written about this before but ultimately when exporting a PDF directly from Data Merge, it makes a variety of PDF that is similar but not the same as a usual PDF, as the following options cannot be chosen.

  • The ability to merge to an interactive PDF
  • The page range (not the record range)
  • Spreads
  • Create Tagged PDF
  • Create Acrobat Layers
  • Hyperlinks

I’ve speculated why this might be the case in this article but until this addressed, it is a consideration to be aware of.

Headers with the same name

If the headers in a database are exactly the same name, InDesign’s Data Merge will add a sequential number after the first instance of the field name to make a distinction between the field names.

Colons can cause weird issues in the header

This featured briefly in my creative pro article “Troubleshooting data merge errors” but in short, colons used in field names can cause one of two dialog boxes when used in particular circumstances. Thankfully, if a colon appears at the start or end (or both) of a field name, the data will import without any issues, but if a colon is within the field, then a dialog box with the words “Generic extended parser error” appears.

If there are two or more colons in the field name (neither at the start or end of a field name), a dialog box that says “not well formed” appears.

UTF-16 is the format built for Data Merge

InDesign’s Data Merge is designed with UTF-16 text in mind. However, CSV and TXT files exported from programs such as Microsoft Excel usually export to UTF-8.

This is usually fine for most circumstance in English, but can cause problems when:

  • using an alphabet other than the Roman alphabet;
  • the data contains punctuation or characters that may not be available via UTF-8

Excel does have an option to export to UTF-16 and it is worth using. The option is here when exporting via Excel:

In part two of this Did You Know series, we will look at other lesser known phenomenon, such as:

  • Data is there even if link is missing
  • Merge fields can be removed via the hyperlinks panel
  • Shift clicking during the import does not show options
  • The benefits of linked images in the same folder as the source text file

If you have any lesser-known Data Merge behaviours that you think would easily make this list, please feel free to mention them in the comments.

Why are food labels hard to read?

During an overseas holiday, I was asked by a fellow traveller what I did for a living. Because the term “prepress operator” is esoteric, my response was to say that I make food labelling and other printing. However, I was caught quite off-guard by the traveller’s response, which was “why do you have to make labels so darn hard to read?”.

That moment has stuck with me for some time now, and in this article I’d like to answer that traveller’s question comprehensively in an Australian setting.

In short: Limited real-estate vs too much information

That’s it in a nutshell – labels tend to be small in size, usually because the product that they contain is small in volume. Despite the small size, there’s also a lot of information to include within that size.

Details that have to be displayed by law

As a disclaimer, I am not a lawyer and this is not constituting legal advice on all specifications for a label.

If retailing food, the code developed by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) details what should appear on food labelling. More information can be found on their site, but in short a food label should have:

  • A Nutritional Information Panel;
  • The ingredients and additives by ingoing weight, and in some circumstances the percentage of ingredients. For example, if the label is identified as strawberry jam in the branding, then the percentage of strawberries actually used in the product has to be given.
  • Allergen information
  • Directions for use or storage
  • What the food is (e.g. is it strawberry jam, cookies, kombucha, etc)
  • The contact address of the manufacturer
  • The measurement of the weight or volume of the product
  • Country of Origin label

Some information can be presented on the label but may be presented elsewhere on the container, such as:

  • Batch or run of the product being produced
  • Best before or Use-By dates

In addition, the position of where the measurement of the weight or volume of the product can appear on the label is rather rigid and structured.

Country of Origin

From 1 July 2018, food products sold in Australia must display a Country of Origin label. This label has a specific appearance that must be adhered to, along with guidelines of how the label must be phrased.

An example of the Country of Origin label

This is enforceable at law by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) – the Federal Government’s consumer watchdog which can – and does – give hefty fines to corporations and individuals for breaches of the Australian Consumer Law (ACL).

There is an online generator to create such labels, so having to maintain an array of assets for this task isn’t required – simply generate a label as and when they are needed.

Details that may also be required

Barcodes

Note that in the above code, that a barcode isn’t required by law. However, if the product is to be stocked on a large scale through distributors in a logistics chain, then it will usually need a barcode. In Australia this will usually be an EAN-13 barcode but in North America a UPC barcode is more likely.

Barcodes also have limited scaling, and GS1 (a provider of barcodes and related logistic products and services) indicates that a barcode should be placed at no less than 80% of its recommended size.

Specifications from GS1 relating to EAN-13 barcodes at 100% size

In GS1’s more detailed instructions on their website, they also recommend specific locations and orientations for the barcode, so can’t just go anywhere at any size.

These recommendations sound strict, but are done with the best of intentions so that a barcode will scan first time, every time, regardless of where the product was purchased. Remember, it’s a retailer’s aim to get that product from their shelf to your pantry or refrigerator with the least amount of fuss.

The size of the barcode can also be influenced by the retail chain that is selling the product and may recommend not proportionally scaling the barcode at all but leaving it at 100% size. It is best to check with the retail chain’s specifications first.

Container Deposit Scheme

As at the time of writing, all states and territories in Australia (except for Victoria and Tasmania) have some form of container deposit scheme, usually for soft drink containers. These schemes encourage consumers to return the containers to a collection facility in exchange for a refund for each item returned.

There are no national guidelines as to how the deposit notification should appear, so check with the relevant authority in each state.

Three items commonly seen on flavoured milk cartons (from top clockwise): The Country of Origin label; The Australasian Recycling Label; and The Container Deposit Scheme.

Alcoholic drinks

While a Nutrition Information Panel is not required for alcoholic drinks, other information is required, such as:

  • Alcoholic content (ALC/VOL)
  • Standard drinks statement. This can either be a written statement i.e. CONTAINS APPROX. X.X STANDARD DRINKS or in the form of a graphic with its own requirements.
  • As of 31 July 2020 and to be phased in over three years – a pregnancy warning label.
Pregnancy warning label, phasing in began on 31 July 2020.

Additional voluntary icons or graphics for marketing purposes

Health star rating

This is a voluntary system to aid customers in making healthier choices.

Third party endorsements

Endorsements from third parties that require an audit trail to guarantee the claims made about the product or its packaging, such as:

  • Organic certification, such as NASAA or Australia Certified Organic to certify that a product is organic;
  • Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) to certify the product or its packaging is from a sustainable source;
  • Cultural preparation certifications such as Halal or Kosher.

These types of logos won’t use a generic logo, but will usually contain a unique identifier such as a number that can be tied to the particular supplier.

These logos usually have strict stylesheets that have to be adhered to such as size, color, position in relation to other elements etc, and these guidelines have to be taken into consideration when juxtaposing the artwork for the label. The third party (or its auditing agency) usually requests to see the artwork prior to approval for print to ensure that the logo is used appropriately and within its guidelines.

Australasian Recycling Label

This is a private initiative to reduce landfill by informing consumers how the packaging can be disposed of once the product is used. The logos aren’t in the public domain and permission must be sought for use of this artwork.

And of course, our own branding

With all of the other details now on the label as required, it’s time to add the branding and design to the label… if it will fit!

This is just for food!

The details listed in this article are only describing what goes on a food label in Australia and aren’t exhaustive – this article doesn’t even mention regulations that concern pharmaceuticals or industrial products that may contain harmful chemicals.

Don’t even try being creative for cigarettes

While cigarette cartons aren’t labels, it is worth mentioning this as it is currently unique to Australia. Since 1 December 2012, any tobacco product (including labels on loose tobacco such as roll your own cigarettes) in Australia must follow the plain packaging guide, which – on a regular pack of 25 cigarettes – features such marketing gems as:

  • The brand and variant must be in Lucida Sans font in PANTONE Cool Gray 2C;
  • The pack surface must be in PANTONE 448C (a greenish-brown color);
  • A warning statement and graphic that covers at least 75% of the front surface without spaces separating the statement or graphic; and 90% of the back surface.

And this is just for Australia!

This article has focused on Australian food labels as they are the ones I am most familiar with and see on a daily basis at work. However, after spending time living in Canada, I recall seeing products that were sold nationwide (with exceptions of course) having to be in both English and French – good luck with getting all that information to fit now!

Can’t the label be bigger?

That can certainly provide more real-estate for the information to be displayed, but the size is often determined by:

  • Price of label production. Larger labels usually cost more than smaller labels that have otherwise identical print specifications such as stock, inks and embellishments.
  • Size of the package itself. An A4 page simply won’t fit on a cylinder that holds 100ml of a product;
  • How the labels are applied. For example, if machine applied, there may be specifications that a larger label can’t fulfill that a smaller label can fulfill.
  • Marketing. It may be more desirable for a consumer to see more of the product in the glass jar as opposed to a label that would obscure the contents.

Your thoughts

I hope this article has explained why labels can be hard to read – put simply it is to cram all of the required information into a tiny space. I’ve tried to cover as much as I could without trying to encompass all labelling, but no doubt there are items that I’ve missed or aren’t applicable in your part of the world. Leave a comment below on anything I’ve missed or if there is anything specific to labels in your country.

Consistent spot color naming to die-forme

A pain-point I see regularly concerns inconsistencies in color names, particularly spot colors that are used for embellishments. Take for example a color that is used for representing a forme-shape. For consistency sake, the office has implemented a CC library with standard swatches for regularly used embellishments such as Dieline, Perforation and Spot UV. The concept is that anyone who requires an embellishment can simply open the CC library and choose one from the embellishment colors that have been established.

Despite creating this CC library, embellishment colors and names can still be inconsistent for reasons such as:

  • The artwork was legacy artwork prior to introducing the CC library;
  • Operator error; or
  • Art was supplied by a third party, such as a client or supplier.

Naming consistency is important with workflows that have been established with these embellishment colors. Take the color “Dieline” for example. This should be clearly visible on the native files, but not on the printed output. In this instance when printing to digital devices, the RIP will identify the color “Dieline” and assign it a white color value that will treat it as if it were transparent and not print at all, though it will appear in the PDF. This eliminates the need to toggle a dieline layer on and off in the application that made the artwork, and eliminates any errors associated with art being mapped to incorrect layers.

However, if the artwork contained a color named as “Dieforme” for example, the RIP would not identify the color as “Dieline” and the formeshape would be visible on the final print. This issue could be resolved by adding the color “Dieforme” manually to on the RIP, but the concept is to have every file the same so that operators aren’t interrupted having to make adjustments on the RIP for specific tasks.

A solution via Acrobat

My preferred solution is to use a custom fixup from Adobe Acrobat’s Preflight dialog. In this example, I’ve created a PDF that contains ten variations of Dieline spot color using different names, but the color value is identical. Here is what the separation preview looks like:

Acrobat does have pre-made fixups for similar tasks, such as Make custom spot color names consistent.

Let’s give that a go.

The fix has reduced the number of spot colors but only down to five. Names that had different casing have been merged together, and spaces or dashes have been removed and then merged together with the results.

Let’s revert that and try an alternative fixup Merge spot color name if appearance is identical.

OK, that has remapped all of these spots to one spot color.

However, this color is the wrong name. It is also unlikely that the forme-shape colors would ever be set with different names yet have the same underlying CMYK color conversion. The following would be more likely:

Let’s run the Merge spot color name if appearance is identical fixup again.

Some names have been culled but there similar names such as die and Die have not been mapped together, so this solution hasn’t worked.

Make a custom fixup in the Preflight panel

Luckily we can make our own solution from the Preflight panel by clicking on the options button at the top right of the panel and selecting Create Fixup

In the new window, the fix will be given the name Diecut Fix. Choose Color spaces, spot colors, inks from the Fixup category in the top centre dialog; and select Map spot and process colors in the Type of fixup dialog on the top right hand side.

In the options at the bottom of that dialog box, make sure the Source color name matches with RegEx and in the field to the right, type the GREP ^die.*?$ – this will look for any word that begins with die. The destination should Map or rename, and the destination color name will be Dieline, with a CMYK value of 100% magenta, overprint on, and applied to Spot color is used. The checkbox should be checked on for ignore upper/lower case. Once OK’d from the bottom right hand corner, the fixup can then be activated using the Fix button on the bottom right of the Prepress dialog.

The fixup has worked – all of the colours have been mapped to the one color with the correct name and color value. An added bonus is that the color is set to overprint so that the color beneath won’t knock out.

Other applications

In this instance, the fixup has been used to fix a one-off issue concerning an incorrectly named spot color. But this fixup can be added to a larger workflow so that artwork from external sources can be cleansed for a workflow. See this article for more information (https://colecandoo.com/2019/02/24/droplet-like-its-hot/)

This particular fixup is also used to fix artwork that – while being set in the right color and name – did not have an overprint applied to the color. This fixup will correct this issue.

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