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.

dmmystery001

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.

dmmystery002

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.

dmmystery003

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.

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

 

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 the 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” or “the type doesn’t fit”, 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

UPDATED 2020-06-20 Need the planner in a language other than English? You can now choose from one of several other languages such as:

  • dansk (Danish)
  • deutsch (German)
  • español (Spanish)
  • ελληνικά (Greek)
  • français (French)
  • italiano (Italian)
  • Nederlands (Dutch)
  • norsk (Norweigan)
  • polski (Polish)
  • português (Portuguese)
  • Русский (Russian)
  • suomi (Finnish)
  • svenska (Swedish)

UPDATED 2020-06-20 Need a user interface in your language? This version of the script features three additional language interfaces: German, French and Portuguese, with more languages planned to be added. If you would like your language added, please contact me via the contact page.

So that’s the free version of the script that can be downloaded from the scripts 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 that is now available for purchase from the scripts page. Don’t panic, the free version will remain, but to access features shown in the pro-version’s dialog box below is a paid release.

07-sneakpeek

My Calendar Caffuffle

UPDATE 2020-06-20: The script is now working and available from the scripts 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.

Quick-tip: rename all links in an InDesign file

When working with difficult clients, it can be tempting to take out some frustration on the clients’ files, such as naming links within a file rather inappropriately. An example would be a picture placed into an InDesign file with the name lousypicture.jpg. Seems harmless enough, but this is a tame example compared to what might be going through your mind as a reader. Also, no – I’ve never done this and I’ve always behaved in a professional manner to my clients.

Seems like harmless enough fun… until the client requests packaged InDesign files of their artwork. Then it’s easy for the client to see all of the inappropriate names that were given to the links in their artwork, and unless they have a sense of humour about it, expect to receive… negative feedback.

If you’ve been in a situation like this and needed to rename all links in a document, then scripter Kasyan Servetsky has an ideal script for you: batch rename and link. Once the script is run, it renames and relinks all links in an InDesign file based on their page number and their position on the page. So a name such as lousypicture.jpg will now become AA_0002_r1.jpg

I’d originally used this script four years ago when I received a strange use-case where a customer wanted the images from their annual report labelled in terms of what pages the images were on, and this script was quite handy for that.

However, I can see the more appropriate use-case of having to rename inappropriate or offensively-named links when handing files over to clients.

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.

Various InDesign Mods… Part Two

In the third of the “must-haves” Colecandoo youtube series, I continue to look at InDesign mods that can be made using javascripts or free plug-ins. The first modifications are again javascripts installed into the startup scripts folder.

Updates

BookOpenAll.jsx

Theunis de Jong (Jongware), additions made by Martin Fischer and Oliver (Funkturm Mitte)

This update improves on Jongware’s original by adding several additional options to the InDesign book palette flyout.

Exportpop.jsx

John Hawkinson (MIT)

This is an alternative to Tomaxxi’s control background export script that was shown in the last “must-haves” video. Tomaxxi’s script forced the PDF export window to appear during a PDF export. Great if you want to see the progress of a PDF, not great if it’s a large file and you need to get work done.

Instead, this script pops up the background tasks dialog to display the PDF progress while allowing alterations to be made in the ID file that is open. A prompt appears once the export is complete. The original javascript contains the full path name and completion time in the prompt, but I’ve modified mine to just let me know it’s done.

Not covered previously

Preflight enforcer

Colin Flashman (Colecandoo)

Then there’s my own preflight enforcer scripts. These startup scripts will make you the most hated person in a design studio if implemented. They work by preventing the ability to print or make a PDF by either interrupting or disabling with a warning prompt until all preflight errors are clear.

Frans van der Geest’s collection

Next is the website of Frans van der Geest. He has created various startup scripts that add menu items to the interface. There are too many to cover here, but make sure to check out his site, being mindful it is in Dutch, so unless you speak dutch, I’d recommend using the Chrome browser and using its auto translate feature.

Non Startup-Scripts

There are some scripts that can make minor mods away from the startup scripts folder.

Two in particular are run from the regular scripts panel, but become part of the ongoing interface and only removed either at a software update or if preferences are trashed.

Richpaste

Marc Autret, Indiscripts,

Adds the “richpaste” option to the edit menu. Richpaste allows for cutting and pasting text from one application to another, but preserving minor formatting such as italics, bold, underlines; while applying the document’s paragraph style to the incoming type.

Spread rotation menu commands

Peter Kahrel

Adds three options to the pages palette – 90 CW, 90 CCW and clear rotation. Yes, these features already exist in this panel, but require navigating further into the panel. Peter’s script adds these features to a more obvious place in the pages palette.

Free Plug-ins

Other interface modifications are achieved using dedicated plug-ins. Most plug-ins are paid plug-ins and serve specific purposes, but from time to time the manufacturers offer free plug-ins that are always great to have.

Find/Change Queries

The Final Touch

A free plug-in from the Adobe Add-ons, it adds a dialog that lets you export find/change queries that you have created so others can use them.

Layout Zone

Automatication

Adds the “layout zone” feature – the ability to export a selection of object in InDesign to its own file.

Multido

65bit software

Adds two more options to the edit menu that allow undo multiple/redo multiple commands. In-tools has History scripts that perform a similar task, and can be accessed using keyboard shortcuts

API menu

Rorohiko

This adds an interface that shows plug-ins from Rorohiko.com. In this instance, it has several of the plug-ins that Kris has made freely available to the public

There you have it!

While the scripts and plug-ins featured are free, consider the time and the effort that the programmers spent creating them. If the use of their scripts have made you more productive and saved you money, consider a donation to them directly, or purchase one of their paid products.

If there’s any mods that you think I’ve missed, feel free to let me know on my contact page.

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. Prior to the release of Adobe InDesign CC 2019, formatting of text-related form fields can’t really be controlled within InDesign except for the point size.

UPDATE 2018-10-21: Adobe InDesign CC 2019 now allows users to not only change the point size of a form’s text, but also its typeface as well.

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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