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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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!

Do you REALLY need to trash your preferences?

As a regular in the Adobe InDesign Forums, from time to time I see this one line given out as a “cure-all” to any issue occurring in InDesign: Trash your preferences. There’s even dedicated instructions on how to trash your preferences in the main screen of the forums, so it should be the first thing to do once InDesign goes off the rails, right?

NO!

When I see this suggestion offered as a solution to a strange or bizarre situation that a poster is encountering, the person offering the advice usually neglects to tell the poster that by doing so, all of their settings and preferences will be gone, and have to be reset. There is also no guarantee that trashing preferences will resolve the issue that the poster had, and in doing so the poster not only has the same issue, but now has the complication of rebuilding their preferences.

Instead of this advice, I would suggest a checklist of the following:

  • Is the issue happening in all documents, or just the one that I’m working in? What happens if I try in a new document?
  • Could it be a conflict with other software? What happens if I close other software and try again?
  • Could it be InDesign itself? Does restarting InDesign help?
  • Could it be the machine? Will a restart return InDesign to normal?
  • Is an InDesign plug-in to blame, or a recently installed script? If the plug-in or script can be turned off, does this make a difference?
  • If you have access to other versions of InDesign, is the issue able to be replicated in other versions of InDesign?
  • If you have access to InDesign on other platforms (e.g. there are other machines in the office that may run InDesign on another operating system) is the issue able to be replicated on other operating systems?

If the fault is persistent, before going to the forums, check the Adobe InDesign Feedback page first. Does the fault appear on this page as either a bug or feature request?

If the fault is not listed here, then go to the InDesign forum and search the forum first for the particular issue. Chances are if you are experiencing the issue, that someone before you has as well.

If the forum is showing no results, feel free to ask the question but remember to state:

  • the version of InDesign being used;
  • the platform and version of the operating system that is being used;
  • what is done to trigger the fault (e.g. When I print; When I click on the pages panel…)
  • what the fault actually is (e.g. a warning comes up; it crashes; the image appears backwards…)
  • any debugging you have taken to remedy the fault (e.g. I tried turning it off and on…)

Posting on this forum may take some time to receive an answer, as the majority of posts are handled by other users. Occasionally the Adobe staff will answer the queries, but they are clearly identified as “STAFF”.

If one of the responses that is received on the forum is “trash your preferences” ask the following questions:

  • What led the poster to come to that conclusion that trashing preferences would resolve the issue? Did they suffer the same fault and this solution worked for them?
  • Look at the poster’s history. Do they have a habit of suggesting this solution over and over again?
  • Did the poster warn of the side-effects of trashing your preferences?
  • Is this the consensus of all other posters on the thread, or are there other solutions that have been offered?

My concern with providing the “trashing your preferences” option as a solution is that it should only be performed as a last resort when all other methods short of a reinstall have failed to resolve the issue. In recent years, I’ve seen this advice given out on the forums like candy at Halloween, and no doubt I too have suggested it more than once.

If you have received “trash your preferences” advice on the forums, don’t be afraid to ask for a second opinion.

Housekeeping Scripts

You finally have an approval on that print project you’ve been working on for the last few months. All that’s left to do is make a PDF for the printer and be done with it, right?

Nope. It’s time to do some housekeeping on the file. Let me use this metaphor, once you’ve made dinner, you don’t leave your dirty pots and pans in the sink, do you?

It’s time to do some housekeeping, and in this episode of “must haves” on the Colecandoo Youtube channel, we’ll look at several scripts to keep your files nice and tidy.

Disclaimer

One word of caution with any of the scripts shown in the video. They are all destructive in nature. That is, they intentionally remove items from a document. Make sure you save your work prior to running these scripts, just in case they have a catastrophic impact on your artwork. I’m showing these scripts for educational purposes only, this is not a tutorial on how to use these scripts.

Images and Frames

Cleanup Pasteboard

The first script removes items from the pasteboard. Run the script and select the distance from the trim edge and importantly whether threaded text on the pasteboard should be removed.

I can hear some of you now saying “but what if I’ve left important notes on the pasteboard for the next person who works on the artwork”? Well, either don’t use this script, or put your notes on after you’ve run this script.

Empty Frame Remover

This script removes any purely empty frames, that is no fill or stroke that have no special settings applied such as text wrap or text on a path. Once run, it scans the document and removes all of these empty frames.

Trista DPI

The next script resamples all images over a given resolution to a more appropriate resolution. It’s great for projects such as yearbooks where the resolution of images is often far greater than it needs to be.

Now, I was in two minds to whether I show this script or not. Out of the scripts being shown in this video, this is both the most powerful and potentially most destructive of them. Ultimately, read the instructions before using this script, and make sure you have access to backups in case things go wrong.

Colour

Next, let’s address some colour issues that may have come about from selecting registration by mistake, or left-over swatches from a Microsoft Word import.

Unlike many scripts I’ve shown previously, most of these scripts are buried in forum posts, so it’s a matter of reading the post, finding the script, copying and pasting into a text editor and saving as a .jsx file.

It’s worth noting that all of these scripts only affect colours generated within InDesign, so won’t fix colour issues in links such as PDFs or photoshop files.

Add unnamed colours

Let’s start off with this easy one-line script that adds all unnamed colours to the swatches palette. True, it’s just as easy to select this from the swatches menu. Regardless how it’s run, this should be the first step to cleaning up the swatches. You can cut and paste it from below:

app.menuActions.item("$ID/Add All Unnamed Colors").invoke();

Reduce Colors

This script launches a prompt that allows you to search for colours that are a given percentage different from each other and merge them to the swatch that appears higher in the swatches panel.

If you’re using a special knockout black swatch and don’t want it to become the default black, perhaps make it a spot colour while running these scripts.

I explain the differences between these colours in more depth in Episode 14.

Registration Fix

This script converts all registration colour applied by InDesign to its respective tint of Black.

RGB/LAB GREY swatches to Shades of Black

I’ve written a script that converts RGB and LAB values that appear as shades of grey to equivalent shades of Black, while leaving other swatches alone to be dealt with by another script.

RGB/LAB swatches to CMYK

There’s another RGB/LAB converter, though this script converts all RGB/LAB swatches to CMYK values.

Faux Black fixers

There are two scripts that can take faux black values and convert them either to 100% black or rich black. The faux black is determined by CMYK values beyond certain percentages. In this case, any swatch that is over 70 Cyan, 60 Magenta, 60 Yellow and 90 Black will be converted to either 100% black or rich black. You can dig into the script if you like, and redefine what constitutes a rich black or faux black.

Remove unused swatches

This will remove any swatches not used in the artwork.

Styles, Master Pages and Layers

Let’s make sure that we only have the necessary styles, master pages and layers that are required for the artwork.

Remove unused masters

This script removes any master pages that have not been used in the artwork.

Remove unused layers

Next is this script that removes any layers that contain no artwork.

Remove unused styles and groups

This is a series of scripts that removes any styles not used in the artwork, as well as unnecessary style groups that may have been left, whether deep in folders or not. In the video it is combined into one “catch-all” script for convenience, but it is the work of many authors, so it’s not right for me to host it. Links to the originals can be found here, here, here, here and here.

Delete guides

Lastly, this script removes all guidelines in a document. I can see that there would be some use for guidelines to remain in a document, but felt it was worth demonstrating.

Preflight

To be sure that the artwork is completely free of issues, we want to make sure that there are no prepress issues. To make sure that the artist complied with the preflight that was associated with the document, there’s the preflight enforcer.

As shown on the Colecandoo Youtube channel before, I’ve prepared two scripts that will either warn or prevent a user from printing or exporting to PDF until all preflight issues are resolved.

So there you have it, over ten scripts that will help make housekeeping of InDesign files a lot easier. If there’s any that I’ve missed or you feel would be worthy of a future video, let me know via my contact page.

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