Quick and Dirty comb-style forms using GREP Styles

I was recently asked to assist with the creation of a large amount of forms that were intended for a print output. The forms themselves were a “boxy” format that also had comb-style fields to indicate how many letters each area of the form should be.

combgrep1

The challenge with this particular brief was how to prepare the forms not only before the deadline, but so that they were also uniform in appearance. The solution was to create a paragraph style that had four GREP styles that would assign parts of the form, namely:

  • The start or end of the form
  • A letter space
  • A small comb
  • A large comb

Each part of the form is a monospaced font such as Courier New that has no fill or stroke, but has an underline and strikethrough that go to making the appearance. Take the following example that shows the style that represents the letter space:

combgrep2

The character styles that represent the start/stop lines or the small/large comb fields are effectively the same, but the horizontal scale is reduced to 3% and the underline and strikethrough options are changed to show different amounts of white (or none at all).

To make the form appear, characters that would not generally be used within the form are used to activate the GREP styles. For example, the pipe symbol will not be used in the form details, so this can be used for a start/end of form. Here is a list of the GREP substitutions made in this example:

  • | = start/end of box
  • ^ = white space
  • ` = small comb
  • © = large comb.

combgrep3

The following illustration shows the GREP styles in use, how a form would appear, and then how the text appears in the story editor.

combgrep4

There are several advantages of using this method to quickly make comb style forms, such as consistent sizing in forms, or easy to copy and paste portions of a form within a document.

However, there is a significant down-side to this method of form construction, namely that it is for print purposes only. While the forms can be created quickly for a print publication, the form fields do not translate that well to interactive forms via Adobe Acrobat using Acrobat’s Identify Form Fields feature.

combgrep5

 

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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.

 

The wall planner script cometh!

In my last article “My Calendar Caffuffle“, I’d mentioned that I was working on a wall planner script for a Christmas release, but due to many factors I was unable to release this script and instead opted for a smaller script that – for many regulars to this site – didn’t really feel like much of a Christmas gift.

To this end, I felt like I let my supporters down and had to make sure that amends were made in the new year. On that note, I was able to work through the issues that held back the script, and I can now release the script free to the public:

01-ui

This script will create a twelve month planner based on a start month and year, and to an output size in millimetres. There are one of four ways to display the planner based whether the months should appear in rows or columns, and whether the planner should be condensed or expanded. For example:

02-orientations

Before you say “I don’t like the colour”, note that the script creates the necessary styles so that the wall-planner can be tailored to your needs:

03-styles

Don’t fancy starting the calendar in January? That’s no longer an issue either, the planner can start on any month:

04-midyear

So that’s the free version of the script that can be downloaded from the downloads page now.

Want more? Well, I’m also working on a pro-version of the wall-planner script that will have additional features such as:

  • highlight school days from known dates, a customised range, OR a text file;
  • add events from a text file that contains the dates and events;
  • (in expanded format) begin the planner on any day, not just Monday;
  • highlight cells based on Find/Change or GREP searches;
  • additional formatting options (appearance of months and days).

Screen Shot 2018-03-03 at 22.46.50

06-proresult

Lastly, speaking of pro-versions, I’ve also been busy improving my long-popular Data Merge to Single Record script for its pro-version release. Don’t panic, the free version will remain, but to access features shown in the dialog box below, the pro-version will be a paid release.

07-sneakpeek

If you’re interested in the pro-versions of the scripts mentioned in this article, please contact me through the contact page.

My Calendar Caffuffle

UPDATE 2018-02-24: The script is now working and available from the downloads page. Click here to read more about the script in action.

Around this time of year, I usually get into the festive season by offering a new script for readers of the website. This year, I intended to release a free script that would generate a year planner based on the calendar year, page size and school term dates. After a weekend or so, I’d managed to create a proof of principle script using a Native InDesign Dialog and used it in a live project. Here are some shots of the first iteration of the script, along with the output:

01oldUI

02oldresult

While the script worked, it was not perfect, given that there was no error correction for the date fields, so if values were entered into date fields that weren’t the correct date syntax, the script would return an error. It was at this moment in time that I’d realised something very important:

There’s a difference between Native InDesign Dialogs and ScriptUI

Gabe Harbs has a brilliant write-up about the differences on the InDesign Scripting forums but ultimately it meant that the script would not allow for error correction unless it was rewritten using ScriptUI, something I was hoping to avoid. I’ve begun the re-write of the script but have not proceeded to far as I’m encountering a few issues. Here’s what I have now:

03newUI

For now, that’s as far as the script has progressed, and this leads onto the second issue:

A busy work schedule that included Adobe MAX

IMAG0547

Between October to December is usually very busy as there is seasonal work such as school diaries, yearbooks and other collateral that is wanted by the end of the Australian school year. In addition to this influx of work, I also had the opportunity to attend Adobe MAX 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA.

During MAX, I’d informed several of my peers about the upcoming script that I’d planned on releasing, only to realise the following:

Schools years, terms and holidays differ between countries

In Australia, the school year starts towards the end of January and ends in the second or third week of December. There are four terms and each state has their own term dates. Within this structure, private schools can also set their own dates, and this usually varies by a week or so of the Government schools. Given that I live in Australia, I’d created the script for use within the rules that apply for Australia.

However, I’d neglected the fact that users in the northern hemisphere have a completely different school year that starts in one calendar year and finishes in the next calendar year. This rendered my script of little to no use to most InDesign users, so for now the script sits on the shelf waiting for a quieter time before I revisit the idea.

I won’t leave you empty-handed!

Despite these setbacks, I still have a festive season gift to bestow: A day to a page planner script. Upon running this script, the user is asked for a start and end date range in ISO date format. When an appropriate date range is chosen and the OK button is clicked, a new InDesign document is made, creating threaded frames that contain a day to a page that contains the correct date.

04dotwmaker

05dotwmakerresult

The script can be downloaded from the downloads page of Colecandoo.

If you are interested in the year planner project discussed in this article, feel free to contact me via my contact page.

Check out the Youtube videos too!

Since 2015, I’ve also been preparing a series of short videos on Youtube that complement the articles already on the Colecandoo website. I plan to release more videos and if you haven’t seen the channel, check it out here.

 

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