Data Merge to Uniquely-Named INTERACTIVE PDFs

In this episode of Colecandoo, I’ll demonstrate several ways to data merge to uniquely named interactive PDFs. The first method uses the data merge to single records script that I released in 2015 and can be downloaded here.

myscript

This demonstration features an InDesign file that is a survey for a package tour company. It contains form elements such as check boxes, radio buttons, a combo box, text box and a submit button. It is also a Data Merge document and contains two text fields within the first paragraph.

surveyitself

With my script, this should be a simple task, but as I click on the PDF export preset dropdown, I notice that I don’t have an option for interactive PDF. Why is this? Well put simply, the script works by calling upon the two ways that a Data Merge can normally be exported – to a newly merged InDesign file, or to a PDF.

As described on Colecandoo before, PDF export from Data Merge is neither a print PDF nor interactive, but it’s own style. Read the full article here.

Method One

But I said it could be done, so what’s the trick? Ultimately, we have to run my script to merge to InDesign files first, and once the folder of InDesign files is generated, use another script from Peter Kahrel, namely BatchConvert.

batchprocess

This script is an amazing utility created by Peter Kahrel that I have written about for InDesignSecrets. It takes a folder of InDesign files and can convert them to a variety of formats, including – for our purposes – interactive PDF. Simply point the script to the folder of InDesign files that were made initially, then point the script to a folder where the interactive files should save save to. Choose the output option as PDF interactive, and then run the script. That’s the first way.

Method Two

The second method is identical to the first method in that files are initially merged to InDesign files, and again uses the batch convert script. The difference is that rather than export to PDF interactive, files remain as InDesign files. Instead, there is a checkbox at the bottom of the user interface that allows another script to run during the batch. From here, I’m going to choose a script I’ve written for this express purpose – it will create an interactive PDF with the same name as the ID file but will save it to a folder called interactive PDFs on my desktop. So that’s the second method.

exportoption

Method Three

The third method demonstrates a sneak-peek at the PRO version of the data merge to unique names script.

proscript

The interface doesn’t look too much different to the previous script, with one exception – the option to run a script during an InDesign export. From this new option in the user interface, simply select the script that I used in method two. Choose some fields for the filenames, the range, and click OK. That’s the third method.

Method Four

The last method demonstrates a sneak-peek at another alternate version of the data merge to unique names script. Unlike the other methods shown, this method is by far the most direct, as it adds “PDF interactive” directly to the user interface.

extscript

To accomplish this task, choose the save location, choose the “PDF interactive” radio button, choose some fields for the filenames, the range, and click OK. That’s the fourth method.

Sidenote about Document Fonts

One issue not addressed in the video is the issue of potential font substitution while creating the interactive PDFs. This comes about because all four techniques rely on creating an InDesign file first that is removed from the original merge file, and may not have access to the fonts used by the original merge file. I’m running Extensis Suitcase font management software so I know the fonts will always be active until I turn them off, but for those relying on other solutions such as the Document Fonts folder, beware of this issue. I’ve written about this for InDesignSecrets.

An added bonus

One thing about the PDFs made during the demonstration was that the text in the dropdown field didn’t suit the formatting of the survey. Formatting of text-related form fields can’t really be controlled in InDesign except for the point size. However, I’ve made an Acrobat Action that I can run not just to this file, but all files in a folder. This action will convert the font in the text and combo boxes to Helvetica and make them 12 point. It’s worth noting that while it’s possible to change the font to whatever is on your system, other users may not have those fonts, so be conscious about this before using the action. Helvetica, Times, Symbol and Courier are present in Adobe Acrobat.

I’ve made this Acrobat Action available from my downloads page as well.

For those after a more robust solution, perhaps consider Form Magic from ID-Extras.

So there you have it, four ways to create uniquely named interactive PDFs from Adobe InDesign. If you’re interested in purchasing the upgraded versions of the data merge to unique names scripts shown in this video, contact me directly via my contact page.

Data Merging into the same Text Frame

From time to time, I hear the question along the lines of “how to I get Data Merge to put the next records in the same textframe during an InDesign Data Merge?” Well, if you’re expecting to do this procedure in one step, you are going to be disappointed because there is no one-click, turnkey solution to do this in Adobe InDesign itself.

That does not mean that accomplishing this task is impossible, in fact it can be done, and in Episode 16 of the Colecandoo Youtube videos, I outline several methods of how to accomplish this task, such as:

  • Merge in Microsoft Word beforehand and import into InDesign as a regular text import;
  • Merge in InDesign using the multiple record feature and use one of three scripts to re-thread the text so that it can be combined into one textframe;
  • Use a script from Ozalto that performs this task with almost no effort;
  • Venture into the rabbit-hole that is XML publishing; or
  • Consider one of the half-dozen paid plug-ins that are dedicated to the production of catalogues.

The video demonstrates several scripts that are absolutely essential for this task, as well as a bonus script that will help in everyday InDesign use:

This is a question that comes up often on various forums, and I feel that by showing how to accomplish this task through a video tutorial that it makes it easier to understand why this task needs to be done differently to Data Merge campaigns related to direct mail items or the creation of business cards.

Better Infographics for Data Merge with Chartwell Bars

While speaking at the 2016 PEPCON in San Diego along with Co-presenter David Creamer on the topic of Data Publishing, I presented an older tip that allows shapes to change size based on numerical values that appear in Data Merge. The tip requires the Chartwell typeface, particularly the Chartwell bars font. I’d mentioned at the time that while it was a novel tip, I didn’t have a practical purpose for it. I’d also mentioned in my presentation about using knockout groups in InDesign to hide information and had demonstrated it using my “Parkway Drive” demonstration where it is used to hide parts of a sign that changes size, but again felt there should be a better use of this tip.

However, it was on my 15 hour flight from Los Angeles to Melbourne where I thought of a new and much more practical purpose – creating infographics. I also thought about getting some sleep, but that was a fool’s errand!

Once I arrived home, I tested out the theories I had during the flight, and while the results were mixed, I was happy with what had been achieved.

Ultimately, I have created three techniques for anyone making infographics. In all instances, I’ve colored the chartwell bars font as black so that the technique can be demonstrated, but in application the type (and its spacer) would be given the color “none”:

1 – Infographics as scaleable shapes.

01image

This uses the method described in an earlier indesignsecrets.com article that I have written. Rather than rewrite the tip, the link to that article is here. The point of difference is that the shape being transformed into an infographic is what is being scaled.

There are some drawbacks to this method.

First, the shape has to allow the chartwell bars font to expand from the left to the right without getting caught on any part of the shape, so not every shape will work. Bottles that were used in the example were fine because they meet this criteria.

02image

Second, there is a lack of precision, especially concerning low numbers as the graphic scales. This appears to be because there is a minimum size that the graphic can shrink to.

03image

2 – Data that is pasted into a vector

04image

This method works the same way with the exception that the data is in a rectangular shaped textframe that is pasted into the target shape, and also given a 2mm spacer object to allow low figures to be presented. The 2mm spacer is a 2mm square that is an inline object before the figures in the chartwell font.

05image

For anyone wondering why such an odd technique was used to add 2mm to the frame, I had tried using a 2mm left align or a 2mm inset space in the shape itself but these presented issues.

3 – Hiding an image underneath

06image

This works the same way as method 2 with the exception that rather than being pasted into the graphic, it is pasted above the graphic. An additional anchored object that is larger than the infographic is then pasted after the figures in chartwell bars and given very specific values in the anchored object dialog box, along with being given the fill color of paper and a multiply effect of 0% from the effects panel. The frame with the values is then grouped with the infographic that is underneath and the “knockout group” checkbox is ticked.

07image

To make the effect more impressive, an “after” graphic is added that is the same size as the infographic but has different properties to make the difference in the values clear to the reader.

Moving forward

By itself, these techniques aren’t that impressive if creating one-off graphics, but if preparing infographics for variable data (whether for a catalogue or direct mail) I’m sure that readers will find these methods quite useful. These are not the only infographics tricks I have recently discovered, so watch this space.

Bonus script for the Holidays: Draw arrows around an object

UPDATE 2016-02-22: The script has now been updated to v1.07 and contains some new features. See the video below:

From time to time, one of the boring and repetitive tasks that prepress operators or designers have to do is draw lines that indicate the height and width of the artwork on a proof. For example:

proof form1For some sizes, a template probably exists so that the sizes that are regularly used don’t have to be drawn manually. But there are occasions where the artwork is a unique size and the arrows have to be drawn. It doesn’t take a long time to do the task, but if you’re doing this several times a day, every working day, it gets a little boring.

proof form2

That’s why this year, I’ve released a beta version of the Draw arrows around an object script. It works like this:

In this instance, I would like to apply the measurement arrows around this business card. There is a .25pt keyline that is on the frame, so I have set the stroke to align to the inside edge. Click on the object that you would like to draw the measurement lines around and then run the script from the scripts panel.

proof form3

The script will run, and moments later will return the measurements and the lines.

proof form4

The default font used is Minion, but it can be changed as it has a style associated with it called labelmeasures, so let’s change it to something that matches the style.

proof form5

And we’re done. Some things worth mentioning about the script:

  • It applies the measurements to one object or grouped selection at a time. If several ungrouped objects are selected, the script will add rulers to the object that was placed on the page first.
  • If the object being measured has a keyline applied to it, be sure to set the keyline to the inside edge.
  • It works beyond millimetres, including centimetres, pixels, points and inches.
  • It is a beta, so there is still room for improvement and suggestions. Any feedback about this script (or any others on Colecandoo) can be made on the contact page.

That said, the script is my Holiday gift to readers and followers. Enjoy!

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