EAN-13s on a budget

colcandoo

From time to time, there will be a need for any designer to add an ISBN barcode or EAN-13 to artwork that is being created. Typically, the customer supplies the number by itself and the barcode is created from that number and placed into the artwork. The question is… how does that number turn into a barcode?

This article isn’t going to be a long and technical article about how barcodes are generated and the math/programming that goes into it. Instead, it will point to some available resources for generating the odd barcode here and there, rather than fully developed software that can batch produce barcodes and integrate with databases.

Most of this post refers to EAN-13 or ISBN style barcodes, simply because since 1 January 2007, ISBNs are 13 digits long and use the EAN-13 barcode format for their barcode structure and appearance. What this in turn means is that a solution that can generate an ISBN can also generate an EAN-13, a standard used by most of the world for generating product barcodes… except if you live in the USA or Canada where UPC is used more often.

To my knowledge, no Adobe nor Quark product (nor any product from its latest rival, Affinity) ships with a barcode module as default, but Microsoft Windows users who use Corel Draw will know that it ships with a barcode module and has done so for the past 15 years (just a hint Adobe if you’re looking for ideas or innovations for the next upgrade to Creative Cloud). That’s well and good, but if you’re like me – a Mac user running the Adobe Creative Cloud, Corel Draw isn’t an option.

If you’re also not in the market for dedicated barcode software (as there are hundreds of products that are available) but would like to create a barcode with the minimum of fuss from your desktop or laptop, there are three alternatives that I would suggest:

Plug-ins

Many of the paid plug-ins that are substitutes for the Data Merge feature of Adobe InDesign typically come with a barcode module or add-on. For example:

But if you’re a designer that isn’t after an enterprise solution for making hundreds or thousands of barcodes, but just wants one barcode for a self-publishing client or a craft brewery for their bottles, then many of these products are probably overkill.

InDesign Scripts

Because I work in InDesign most of the time, having the ability to create a book cover and barcode in the same application has advantages for me. That said, here are three scripts that are worth a try:

BookBarcode by Indiscripts – a paid script for Adobe InDesign (€39). It offers lots of customisation and allows for batch creation of ISBN barcodes. If the pennies are tight, there is a “try” version that creates a “vanilla” EAN-13 barcode without the added features and bonuses that would be required from a book publisher or brand agency.

EAN Barcode generator by Konstantin Smorodsky – free script available from the Adobe Add-ons site. Does one ISBN barcode at a time and is intended for general purpose EAN-8 or EAN-13 barcodes, but since ISBN barcodes fall into this category, this still qualifies. Does not put the human-readable ISBN above the barcode though.

ID Barcode by Nick Morgan and Bruno Herfst – free script that supports EAN-13, ISBN, ISSN, ISMN; some customisation of fonts, includes human-readable ISBN above the barcode, EAN-2 and EAN-5 supplemental barcode.

Websites

To my surprise, there are several websites that can create CMYK, text-as-curves, vector graphic barcodes that are worthy of consideration. Again, the internet has these sites in abundance, but of the sites that stood out were:

Terry Burton’s online barcode generator – This site creates a vast array of barcodes, yet alone EAN-13/ISBN. Options are limited per barcode, but if functionality is your thing, definitely a worthwhile website.

Bookow.com – Generates a vector PDF ISBN barcode. No customisation but contains human-readable ISBN above the barcode and all type is set in OCR-B. There are also other useful tools on the website for book publishers.

GS1 (EAN-13 barcode generator) – The Swiss site of the GS1 organization has a feature that creates EAN-13s. Again, no fancy bells or whistles but it does the job.

Free Barcode Generator – Another no-nonsense barcode creator with some options but without the fanciness of the scripts or plug-ins.

Free ≠ yours to do with what you will

The last 7 links have mentioned free resources, but remember that the creators of these resources have the same bills and overheads that you do. If their script has saved you time and effort, and their website has a way of making a donation, seriously consider making a payment to these developers who go out of their way to not only make these resources, but allow you to use them without charging a hefty sum.

 

 

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Why won’t my printer take my Publisher file?

To people outside of the printing trade, Microsoft Publisher appears to be a price-competitive alternative to layout software such as Adobe InDesign or Quark Xpress, without the training required to use that software. However, from a print and design standpoint, Publisher is often seen as a nuisance and source of frustration.

Years ago, as a prepress operator at a service bureau, I would often get requests to prepare Publisher files for film or plates for clients (sent by their printers as soon as they heard the word “Publisher”). My employer was one of a select few that would accept Publisher files, and while we would output the artwork to film or plates, it was done on several conditions – the main condition being a handling fee of 50% of the total.

With the software given nicknames such as “Punisher” or “Rubbisher”, old colleagues who would load a client’s file only to realise it was a Publisher file would groan with frustration, normally followed by the words “I hope they supplied a PDF as well”.

So why does Publisher have this reputation? What has it done to deserve such a bad name among commercial printers? Does it really deserve this infamy or is it all hyperbole?

Reasons that many commercial printers will not accept Publisher files are:

  • Don’t have Publisher or the Windows OS;
  • Their staff are unskilled in Publisher;
  • The difficulties associated with earlier versions of Publisher;
  • Issues within the client’s artwork due to inexperience.

Software and Hardware

In a country where English is the first language spoken, it is most likely that commercial printers will use the Adobe Creative Suite on an Apple Macintosh for the production of their artwork. This means that Publisher files cannot be accepted as the software is not made for the Apple Macintosh. This is where many commercial printers will stop and say that they require press-ready PDF artwork instead.

For the remaining printers that do have Windows OS machines, these machines are not necessarily in the artroom and used for other purposes (e.g. tied into the platesetter software, for their colour laser copier, or elsewhere in the building such as estimating, sales… somewhere outside of the art department).

In my experience, I’ve found that it isn’t the Art department that claims to be able to accept Publisher files, but a Salesperson who does not want to disappoint clients by turning away artwork created using Publisher. In this situation, the salesperson loads a copy of Publisher onto a sales computer that uses a Windows OS, and then declares that the company can accept Publisher files. This does not necessarily mean that the art department can accept Publisher files, nor are they trained to use Publisher.

If a printer does have a dedicated Windows OS machine for client supplied artwork from Windows OS devices, it is also likely that the art department staff won’t be as proficient in Publisher as they would their regular design software such as InDesign. So while they may be able to open a Publisher file, if there are issues (e.g. missing fonts, reflow) or changes required, prepress operators may struggle.

It is worth noting that this issue is not limited to Publisher, but other software typically seen on the Windows OS such as Microsoft Word, Corel Draw, Autodesk AutoCAD, etc. In these instances, the supply of PDF artwork created by the client is an acceptable solution.

Print-skills of Publisher users vs commercial printers

Choosing my words very carefully, Publisher is a general consumer product aimed at making designs that would be difficult to do using Microsoft Word or Excel. Examples would be business cards, invites, DL flyers. But, just as a screwdriver can hammer in a nail, so too can Publisher create artwork for larger projects such as books, magazines, etc.

This is where problems normally arise, because while users may be able to create more complicated artwork, they may not be aware of the nuances of printing such as bleeds, crossovers, or binding considerations. There are typically hand-over issues as well, such as missing fonts and links.

Put simply, Publisher is not used by print professionals with industry experience that typically supply press-ready files. Instead, Publisher is largely used by the general public – people who would be unfamiliar with print procedures. The likelihood of either time-consuming or cost-creating complications arising from handling Publisher files is greater than accepting press-ready files from experienced designers.

Finished artwork vs Layout artwork

Prepress departments of commercial printers usually expect two kinds of files to process for print – Finished artwork or Layout artwork.

Finished artwork is artwork that the client has created and it expects the artwork to print exactly as it was submitted, whereas Layout artwork is artwork that the client has created but expects the printer to manipulate the artwork to varying degrees… anywhere from reformatting completely to adjusting artwork to fulfil specific criteria (e.g. fit a formeshape).

Files supplied in publisher would tend to fit into the Finished artwork category, whereas files supplied in word would be more likely to be Layout artwork.

Legacy of difficulty

Until the release of Microsoft Publisher 2010, the software had various issues when attempting to make the artwork useable for print production, such as colour-space issues, bleed issues, reflow when making PDFs. Like any other software, Publisher has evolved and the PDF creating functions for commercial printers have definitely improved. Nevertheless, bad previous experiences with the software are enough reason for printers to avoid the risks associated with handling Publisher files.

Technical Reasons

Printing to a home desktop printer is normally an easy process of pressing the print button and making sure the printer settings are correct. In a commercial printing business, it is a little more complicated. Whether printed offset or digital, artwork is usually converted into PDFs and then transferred to RIP (Raster Image Processor) software, where artwork undergoes procedures not seen on a home printer, such as:

  • Page imposition
  • Colour trapping
  • Colour management
  • Output settings (e.g. colour separation, line screen ruling, etc)

So what do I do?

No printer wants to turn away work, but when faced with artwork submitted as a publisher file, that is what many of them do. However, I feel the artwork can be handled so long as good communication exists between the client and the art department.

  • If a printer insists on supplying PDFs, supply some test PDFs first to make sure that the files are appropriate for the printer’s purposes, and if not, ask the questions as to what is going wrong and what can be done.
  • If you find a printer that does accept publisher files, make sure to use the “pack and go” wizard:  rather than providing the printer with the publisher file alone.
  • Patience and Perseverance is required from both the client and the printer.
  • If a printer suggests using InDesign instead of Publisher, be aware that for people working outside of the printing industry, InDesign has a steep learning curve. If the software is going to be used once a year to publish a newsletter or yearbook, perhaps keep using Publisher, but make sure you maintain good communication with the art department of the Printer so that any issues that arise are dealt with early on.
  • Markzware does make software for converting Publisher files to InDesign, but do not expect a flawless conversion.

No links stinks methinks

Recently, my colleagues and I have noticed several InDesign files supplied by clients that contain images that do not appear in the links palette. This creates issues because:

  • The image cannot be edited
  • Its details (resolution, colour space etc) cannot be determined through the links palette
  • Its high-res appearance or PDF output can change from how the image appears in standard preview in InDesign.

When I tried to replicate this fault (having an image with no link in the links palette), the consistent way to achieve this fault was to cut (or drag) content from one application and paste it into InDesign.

To demonstrate this, I have dragged an image from my Facebook page into InDesign. This is how the links palette looks in InDesign:

pic1

Note that the links palette shows no link, so I have no mechanical information about the link from the links palette. When I right click on the image I can’t edit the image from the contextual menu.

Now, if I place the original image from my hard drive using the File/Place command, I can now see the information about the link from the links palette and I can also edit the image from the contextual menu.

pic2

This is where cut and paste (or drag and drop) can become confusing. If I drag the image icon from any folder using Finder (on a Mac) or Explorer (Windows) the image appears in the links and is editable.

pic3

However, if I open Photoshop, select all with my marquee tool, copy and paste (or drag and drop) into InDesign, again no link/edit menu is the result. SO NO GOOD!

pic4

This example is using only one picture, but imagine a parts catalogue or any other picture-rich content that may have this issue.

Disturbingly, it doesn’t show up on the [Basic] preflight profile, nor does it show up as an issue in the package feature.

pic5

However, if use a decent preflight profile such as VIGC_v2.0_Prepare for Sheet CMYK_1v4, it does show up as an error, but only for its resolution and not its colour format.

pic6

Ultimately to avoid this situation, the best solution is to avoid drag/drop or cut and paste between applications.

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