Shortcut to rotate in fractions

A colleague of mine recently had a task of inserting lineart scans into an InDesign file and then rotating the images so that they were straight on the page.

During this process, he’d asked:

What’s the shortcut for rotating an image by a fraction of a degree?

While I can remember many of the shortcuts used in InDesign, I couldn’t remember a shortcut for this item, and after consulting my InDesignSecrets shortcut poster I realised that there isn’t one. There is a shortcut to increase the angle from 1 degree to 5, but not smaller increments… which I thought was something that people would have asked for by now.

For the task he was doing, he definitely needed one, otherwise the workflow was:

  1. Select the item to rotate;
  2. Go to the rotate tool;
  3. Type the fraction and click OK
  4. Check the result and if further adjustment was required, click back into the rotate tool and type a new fraction and try again until acceptable.

A shortcut would definitely make this easier.

Tomaxxi to the rescue

Luckily, one was easy to find online. Scripter Marijan Tompa (whom some may know by the name Tomaxxi) wrote an article on how to write such a script.

In my colleague’s case, the script only needed to be adjusted by changing the angle from 45 in Marijan’s example to 0.1 like so:

var myTrans = app.transformationMatrices.add({counterclockwiseRotationAngle:0.1});
var myObj = app.selection[0];
myObj.transform(CoordinateSpaces.pasteboardCoordinates, AnchorPoint.CENTER_ANCHOR, myTrans);

The script was saved as rotateAnticlockwise.jsx and added to the scripts. A second copy was made but this time adjusted from counterclockwise to clockwise like so:

var myTrans = app.transformationMatrices.add({counterRotationAngle:0.1});
var myObj = app.selection[0];
myObj.transform(CoordinateSpaces.pasteboardCoordinates, AnchorPoint.CENTER_ANCHOR, myTrans);<code>

This too was saved as rotateClockwise.jsx. and added to the scripts.

From here, my colleague could then go to the scripts palette and run the scripts as required.

Similarly, my colleague could make sure that scripts was checked from the quick apply menu.

And from here, go to quick apply by pressing Command + Return and typing the first few letters of the script. This choice would stay in the quick apply so need only be done once.

But the title of the article was a shortcut, so shortcuts had to be applied. That is easily done though by going to the Edit Menu and selecting Keyboard Shortcuts.

In the next dialog box, choose Scripts from the Product Area, navigate to the appropriate script, then place the cursor in the New Shortcut text field in the bottom right and press the keys to become the new shortcut. If the type beneath says [unassigned] it means it won’t interfere with other shortcuts, so click Assign. Do the same for both scripts, choosing different shortcuts for both.

Done. My colleague now had his shortcuts and could rotate the images without having to keep moving his cursor to the rotate panel and manually key in entries.

Given the scripts now had their own shortcuts, these were also visible in the scripts panel, just in case my colleague forgot what the shortcuts were.

But importantly because shortcuts were assigned, they could also be hot-keyed to his ergonomic mouse. Similarly, the commands could be hot-keyed to other inputs such as those discussed in a previous article.

On that note, I thought a shortcut like this would exist, given the amount of other shortcuts that allow for nudging/moving in smaller units. What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments whether this is a specific use-case, or something to be pursued over at the InDesign suggestions.

Applying character styles over character styles

There may be occasions where more than one character style has to be applied to the same words, such as a highlight, italic, etc. I recently saw this request over at the InDesign requests page.

In the request, the requestor does hint at a way that this can already be achieved in InDesign, though it can be time consuming. Let’s start from the beginning and look at some text that has an italic character style applied to it.

But if I apply a separate highlight character style that I’ve also made…

The highlight appears but the italic is removed. Reapplying the italic character style to the word only changes the word back to italic and doesn’t preserve the underline.

One solution is to do a local override – that is to manually apply the appearance but without using a character style

Note the plus that appears to the right of the Paragraph Style 1 – this indicates a local override is present.

That works, but let’s say that the client asks for all italics to now be a tint of the colour initially used. That’s fine if character styles were applied as the italic style needs to be changed once in the properties of the character style. However, all the italics applied using local overrides will need to have their fills reapplied with the new settings.

Yes, the eyedropper tool and find/change can assist, but if character styles were applied, these additional steps would not be necessary.

In this circumstance, making a third style that has both the underline and italic would make sense.

In this case, it adds one more character style – not a big deal, but in a large document, the quantity of character styles can grow fast.

GREP Styles to the rescue

Take this chemical equation in a science textbook. It currently looks like this:

The subscripts in this equation have been applied with a character style that I’ve named sub. However, the author wants the reaction only in bold. If the equation is highlighted and then has a bold character style applied, this happens:

All of the subscript formatting of the numbers are lost.

I can then create a second style called “bold sub” that has bold and subscript properties and base the style on the bold formatting, but I then have to make sure I correctly apply the newly created style to the appropriate numbers… this now introduces a level of human error.

But what if I could apply the bold style and keep the subscripts? It is possible using GREP styles. Using the GREP code from this CreativePro post (look for Laurent Tournier’s post dated Oct 9 2010 in the comments) apply it to the paragraph style.

[editor’s note – I’ve adjusted mine to account for the naming of elements 113-118 as of 2018, so if you want that amended code, contact me via my contact page]

Now apply the paragraph style to the recently bolded text.

Brilliant! Note how the I-beam cursor is between two subscript numbers, yet the character style shows that this is bold only.

This technique can also be applied to other formatting where subscripts or superscripts need to be preserved, such as:

  • Ordinal Numbers
  • Numbers written with scientific notation
  • Squared or cubed measurements

It just requires the right GREP syntax. All of the above examples used GREP styles to format the subscripts and superscripts only. To learn this technique and others, apply to join the Treasures of GREP Facebook page.

Once again to illustrate the point, the author wants these six lines in bold. By highlighting the lines and applying the bold character style, the subscripts and superscripts stay in tact.

Nested styles

Similarly, this can also be achieved with Nested styles. Take the last two lines in the last example prior to applying the bold – if I want the ordinal number at the start of the line to be bold, I don’t have to write a GREP style but I can use a nested style such as the one below.

That will give me this result without applying any manual character styles to the text:

There are catches to this technique

The first catch is that the character styles must have the minimal amount of style changes only. That is the sub character style only changes the position of the character to subscript, so that is the only item that style will apply, while maintaining the rest of the paragraph style’s formatting.

The second catch is to be aware of the style hierarchy. The following list is in order of what style overrules another (from most to least dominant):

  • Local override
  • Local character style
  • Nested style
  • GREP style lowest in list in the paragraph style settings
  • GREP style highest in list in the paragraph style settings

There can be several advantages to layering character styles by using GREP styles:

  • Less character styles.
  • Time saving for commonly formatted items such as ordinal numbers.
  • Consistency based on GREP patterns for words.

Similarly, there can be drawbacks with this technique:

  • Looks for particular words or phrases, so not appropriate for instances where dozens of words or phrases may make more GREP styles than are manageable.
  • Applies to paragraph styles, if used over many paragraph styles, the GREP style needs to be applied repeatedly. Scripts can help with this, such as one I wrote on my scripts page, or GREP Editor from Peter Kahrel.
  • Can’t take a bold style and italic style and combine them – it can only apply additional attributes that weren’t there previously.
  • GREP styles (along with live preflight, page thumbnails, dynamic spellcheck and any other service that has to run while the document is being composed) can slow the processing speed of the machine, particularly on larger documents.

When PDFs were edited, not commented

My preferred of proofing artwork to clients is to provide a PDF proof of the artwork from my Adobe InDesign file, along with specific instructions to open the PDF in Adobe Acrobat Reader, and use PDF mark-ups using Adobe Acrobat Reader’s comment feature.

In a perfect world, the markups would be returned from the client looking something like this:

This will allow me to take advantage of InDesign’s “Import PDF Comments” feature:

Or similarly via the Annotations plug-in from DTPTools:

Each method has its own strengths and weaknesses, but the goal is the same – to take the markups from a PDF file directly into InDesign to accept or reject alterations.

Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world, and proofs can come back in a variety of ways:

  • Provided as a series of instructions, usually as bullet points in an email or given over the telephone;
  • Printed out by the client and marked up with a pen. This can be made worse if a red pen isn’t used; the client’s alterations are illegible or uses their own shorthand rather than proofreaders’ marks; or if the hard-copy alts are made into poor-quality digital images by scanning or photographing (or worse, faxing).
  • Submitted to an upload service that allows markups to be made on its platform; but not extracted and able to be imported into InDesign via Import PDF Comments or annotations (e.g. Box and Dropbox)
  • Markups are made, but using software other than Acrobat (e.g. Mac Preview) that have difficulty importing into InDesign’s solution or the plug-in;
  • Markups are made, but using markup tools that allow for subjective opinion (e.g. speech bubbles, arrows, drawing tools) rather than replacement, strikethrough or text addition. Speech bubbles have their place in alterations, but usually to indicate that a larger content change is required, rather than for small type replacements.
  • Markups that are duplicated and effectively “clog” the commenting panel (i.e. using more commenting than is required to take in an alteration such as the example below).
  • Rather than using markups, the client has actually edited the PDF with a PDF editor of some description and made the changes to the PDF itself (as shown below)

Most of these bullet points are a way of life with round-tripping of proofs, but the last point is the most frustrating when taking in alterations as:

  • InDesign or the plug-in literally have no markup instructions to take in, so no alterations appear in their respective alteration panels;
  • It can give the artist a false sense that no alterations were made as no markups are present;
  • If alterations are subtle, it can be difficult to tell where the alterations were made.

I’d like to say this outcome rarely happens, but the reality is that this happens far too often. My first impulse is to contact the client and inform them that the alterations aren’t usable and to use the Comment feature rather than the Edit feature, but that has the following drawbacks:

  • It is likely to frustrate and annoy the client, especially if many alterations were made. This is moreso the case if the client has followed the printer’s instructions to mark up a PDF but has mistakenly misunderstood the difference between the Edit and Comment feature of Acrobat.
  • Even if the client complies, it introduces errors such as alterations missed that were on the previously sent proof. It also takes time to prepare the alterations again, time that may not be available.

To use a card player’s metaphor, we have to play the hand that we are dealt and somehow compare the two files to determine what changes were made. I will also communicate to the client our preferred method of proofing to avoid similar incidents in the future.

But what ways can the two files be compared to take in the alterations?

Visual comparison

This can be done on-screen by either having both applications open between two monitors or one monitor with the windows split. It can also be done in an analog fashion by printing out the original and the latest alterations, then using a light table, overlaying each altered page over each original page and looking for differences. Unfortunately, both methods are time-consuming and subjective.

Visually overlay the PDF into the InDesign file

This involves placing the PDF of the alterations into the InDesign file, but on a layer above the artwork and with a transparency so that an overlay comparison can be made. To do this:

  1. Use the multipageimporter script with the following options to place all PDF pages into the InDesign pages on their own layer above the artwork.
  • Make a new object style with 25% normal opacity as its only property.
  • Use the following script by “Vinny” that will apply the object style to the imported PDF only. (This script works for documents less than 100 pages, but upon testing will throw a javascript error).

With overprint preview turned on, it will now become possible to see alterations that may have been made, and toggling the PDF layer on and off will assist in this process.

However this is still a manual, time-consuming and subjective task.

Kasyan’s comparison script

This is a script created by Kasyan Servetsky based on an article by Mike Rankin at CreativePro.

The technique in the article is used to compare two InDesign files by placing original and altered InDesign files into a temporary document applying different transparency settings to each file, and through the transparency settings being able to identify where alterations were made. This can still be applied in this use-case but an added step of an additional InDesign file that contains a placed PDF of the altered file and comparing between the two files.

Like the previous methods, it is still a time-consuming, manual and subjective task.

Dedicated file comparison software

Software such as Global Vision offers comparison software that loads both the original and altered files and performs a comparison that highlights the differences between the two files. It is worth looking at a video of the software in action.

It isn’t the only software that compares PDFs, and a brief search of the internet will yield several online services that perform similar tasks, such as:

  • Diffchecker
  • PDF Forge’s compare tool
  • Kiwi PDF comparer

That said, naming the sites above is not an endorsement, so if looking for an online option, make sure to perform all appropriate due-diligence before considering any provider.

Compare files in Acrobat itself

Acrobat does have a similar feature from the view menu where both original and altered files are compared between each other.

The results are highlighted, but the report and specific errors are not always as obvious as the results prepared with Global Vision’s software.

Using Acrobat’s compare files data as the PDF markup

There is a technique that can take the comparisons from Acrobat’s Compare files feature and treat them as markups. The technique is as follows:

  1. After the comparison is run, hit the close button on the top right.
  2. Navigate to the first page that has the compare results title page and delete it using Command+Shift+D.
  3. Save the resulting file.

The resulting PDF can then be imported using the Import PDF Comments feature from InDesign

Or by using the Annotations plug-in by DTPTools

Note that the plug-in displays the three changes that were highlighted in the comparison document, but InDesign’s Comment Import only displays two, while acknowledging that there is a third somewhere on the page.

Consider other round-tripping solutions within InDesign

There are several third party solutions available from the Adobe Exchange that allow round-tripping via InDesign such as:

  • GoProof;
  • inMotion;
  • PageProof;
  • ProofMe

The advantage for clients is that rather than opening the proof in Acrobat, clients are directed to a website where alterations can be made. This avoids clients inadvertently editing the PDF and instead allows them to provide changes that will need to be made by the artist.

Having tried some of these proofing systems, one thing in common was that alterations that clients could make was only in the form of comments, rather than strikethroughs or additions that are possible with the PDF commenting tools. These services usually require a log-in system which can be a hurdle, and are usually paid services.

InDesign’s Share for Review

InDesign 2020 and above does contain a feature called Share for Review that works in a similar way to these third party solutions, though the 2021 release allows for text highlighting, strikethrough and additions as well.

Another advantage is that clients no longer require Adobe Acrobat or a PDF reader to open the proofs, only a web browser. Check out Daniel’s video over at Bring Your Own Laptop to see this in more detail, along with other 2021 update features.

It is worth pointing out that this is not Adobe’s first attempt at a proofing solution, with an earlier system called CS Review introduced in May 2010 and then deprecated in April 2012. It is also worth pointing out that Share for Review is a feature offered in InDesign that – at the time of writing – has no comparison from competitors such as Quark Xpress or Affinity Publisher.

So far as my own work goes, this proofing method was not considered when Share for Review was released in June 2020 as the markups were limited to pin and drawing tools. Additionally, the release of the expanded tools happened during a peak-time in our production, and was too difficult to switch clients over from the PDF round-tripping method to this method in such a short space of time. It was also too early to gather other user input about the experience and bugs, so more feedback was required before considering this as a real-world solution.

Now at the time of writing with the expanded tools, I will begin trialling this method and report my findings once I’m confident there is enough to report.

Last word on this article

Up to this point in time, PDF commenting has worked effectively as a round-tripping solution from my perspective in the majority of my work, though it isn’t without its issues such as:

  • Establishing the process with clients, especially with staff turnover as the process needs to be established and explained to ensure that a client will not only mark up a PDF (rather than make changes to the PDF itself), but that the markups are prepared correctly and efficiently;
  • Proofing large file sizes;
  • Proofing to clients who are at the mercy of their IT department’s rules as to what software or websites they can or cannot access;
  • The Adobe Acrobat software itself, considering in a previous version the Acrobat team removed features that most casual users of the software would consider essential (much to my frustration until customer demand made them reinstate it) and how the software will be supported in future releases and for future operating systems.

What have your experiences with PDF comments been? Do you use a similar round-tripping method or something different? And are there any technologies in this space that haven’t been mentioned? Leave your comments below.

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


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.

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