How NOT to make annotations in a PDF

In early July, I prepared a video for my employer that demonstrated how to mark up a PDF correctly, primarily how to use the commenting tools. This came about as a direct result of the Adobe Acrobat team removing certain icons from the comment panel, meaning that many of my customers had to be re-trained on how to mark-up PDF proofs that they were sent. Since July 12, the Acrobat team has decided to return one of the icons it had removed from the comment panel, but still pushes for the use of the blue arrow tool to make additions, deletions or replacements of text. I’m happy that the icon has returned, but frustrated that it was removed in the first place.

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This is important because PDF mark-ups can use the annotations workflow that works like this – simple comments are taken into Acrobat using the comments tool and then imported directly into InDesign using plug-in software available from DTPtools. Here is a link to a video of the workflow in action – it effectively takes the mark-ups that were made in the Acrobat file into the ID file, and these mark-ups can be accepted or rejected in a similar fashion to revisions made in Microsoft Word.

There will be occasions that alterations outside of the scope of the annotations workflow will have to be made, but I would encourage anyone who has been asked to mark-up a PDF for their printer to please read these suggestions:

Use the Adobe Acrobat Reader

Yes it is possible to mark-up a PDF in other software such as Preview (Mac) or in some browser plug-ins, but for the mark-ups to save and be interpreted correctly by the DTPtools annotations plug-in, please use the Adobe Acrobat Reader.

Mark-ups only please

That being said, please do not:

  • attempt to make the changes live in the PDF, but instead use the commenting tools only. This means staying clear of the typewriter tool and only using commenting tools, namely the blue arrow tool to make deletions, additions or replacements (or use the classic icons); highlight or sticky note.
  • open the file in Microsoft Word and save it back as a PDF. This can make it impossible to tell the distinction between the two files and will result in the artwork being set up again from scratch.
  • print the PDF and then mark it up in pen, scan it to a new PDF – this will quite clearly not work with the annotations workflow.
  • add or delete pages from the PDF. If pages need to be deleted, use the mark-ups to indicate this. Likewise, if pages need to be inserted, use the sticky-note tool to inform the operator that pages need to be inserted.

Good instructions

  • Delays and misunderstandings because of unclear instructions = $. This will result in a new proof that will no doubt contain misunderstood edits will need to be corrected, resulting in further proofs, chargeable time, delays and frustration.
  • Make sure your instructions are so clear that edits are easily understandable by anybody. Even if you have had a conversation with someone about the alterations to be made, never assume that the person making the alterations will be the person you had a conversation with.

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When working in groups

  • Make a distinction between comments intended for collaborators and authors; and comments intended for a printer. Collaborators generally know what is being referred to, but prepress staff are making changes only, so make sure that the instructions for the printers are easily understandable. Any notes, such as opinions (e.g. I don’t like that font), or topic specific queries (e.g. need to fact-check this statement) really should be between collaborators and authors.
  • “Duelling banjos”. If collaborators can’t agree on specific alterations, don’t take it out on the prepress operator – they are doing what they are told to do in the PDF. If there is a dispute between authors about what does/does not need to appear in the publication, resolve that prior to submitting the PDF to the prepress operator for changes.
  • When collaborating, make sure each collaborator is either looking at the SAME PDF, or the same COPY of the PDF, and that changes are submitted at the same time rather than staggered. There is a great video that specifically deals with collaborating groups here.

Think about the practical application of the mark-ups

  • Have realistic expectations of the edits. For example, supplying a 5 page word file with the instructions “fit on 1 page” is unrealistic.
  • Understand the implications of changes. For example, pages that are designed to work as readers’ spreads will be jeopardised if an instruction to shuffle pages forces the spread to break… a segue to this issue…
  • Shuffling pages… Again this can be quite confusing, especially if LOTS of pages are being shuffled around. Remember that shuffling pages can also break pages that are meant to appear together, such as pages set up as readers spreads. Make sure that the new order of the pages is clear to avoid any confusion.

Ultimately, a well marked-up PDF proof can result in more reliable changes being made faster and on-time.

Updated commenting in Acrobat DC

UPDATE 2016-07-13 Adobe has since put the replace text icon back (see this post) but I will leave this post here for posterity.

On 10 May 2016, Adobe released compulsory updates for Acrobat DC and Acrobat Reader DC. Unlike many updates where there is a prompt to install the upgrade or not, this release did not present the user with a prompt and installed the update.

I was aware an update had taken place because there was a new prompt window that would not disappear until I had selected the checkboxes that acknowledged that I had learned the new features.

That said, I should have paid a bit more attention to the update, especially this one!

It was not until late May that a colleague who was proofreading some artwork had noticed that a fundamental commenting tool was missing: Replace text. Concerned, I opened PDF that I sent my colleague and attempted to edit it, indeed learning that the replace text commenting tool was missing, along with the highlight and comment tool.

A quick search on the forums revealed that we weren’t the only ones to notice. Strange too because not all of the Adobe help issues have been changed to reflect the recent update. This page still has old instructions.

In short, to improve the experience with the commenting tool, users are encouraged to use the black arrow tool to highlight affected text and either hit the delete key to denote a deletion, begin typing to denote a replacement, or place their cursor and begin typing to denote an addition. To be fair, once a user is familiar with this behaviour, it is easy to begin making alterations to a proof.

However, I was less than impressed with Adobe’s execution of this strategy by removing tools to force us to use the new tools, especially considering that the change wasn’t explained in their own updates. I decided to vent my spleen via twitter to Adobe’s customer care and the Acrobat team.

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As you can see from the tweets, it largely fell on deaf ears.

The reason for my frustration is not my one-off frustration in learning the new commands, but the fact that I now have to explain this behaviour to hundreds of customers who infrequently use Adobe Acrobat. It has taken years to train the customers to use the commenting tools so that markups can be made that can then be edited in Adobe InDesign using the DTP tools annotations plug-in. That’s assuming that the Adobe Acrobat team doesn’t change the interface again and decide to remove more tools.

This is not my only gripe with Adobe Acrobat at the moment. My colleagues and I are experiencing strange and unusual errors with Acrobat at the moment. In fairness to Adobe, this may have something to do with the Enfocus Pitstop plug-in that is installed. Regardless, it is making what was once an efficient workflow much more complicated.

Data Merge from InDesign to unique filenames script to remain FREE

Several months ago, I announced the beta version of a script that had been in development for some time – the ability to prepare uniquely named PDF or InDesign files from a Data Merge.

The Beta release of the script is now complete and the final version is now available from the downloads page. More importantly, it will remain as a FREE script for the InDesign community to enjoy.

If you have downloaded a copy PRIOR to 28 November 2015, it may have a time-limit that is drawing closer, so if you wish to continue to use the script, make sure to download the latest version from the downloads page mentioned earlier.

To see the script in action, I have also produced a series of Youtube videos on the Colecandoo channel.

I am working on a Pro version of the script that will contain enhanced file naming features and expanded export abilities such as export to png, interactive PDF etc. More information about this script will be made available closer to its release date.

I have also made custom versions of this script for specific requests, so if that is something that interests you, contact me via the requests page.

Data Merge from InDesign to unique filenames – now a reality

Ever since I published the article “Breaking up is hard to do… InDesign files into individual PDFs that is!” on Colecandoo, it has been one of the most searched for and popular stories on this site.

I have also written two articles for InDesignSecrets particularly relating to Data Merge and unique filenames: Data Merging Individual Records to Separate PDFs and Data Merging Individual Records to Separate PDFs Part 2: via Scripting. While these methods work, I felt that there had to be a better way to accomplish the task.

Since returning from PEPCON 2015, I have been busy creating a javascript solution to the problem. The script is now at a stage where I am pleased with the results and would like to begin beta testing the script.

nothingselectedThe script is a user interface that is designed to work when ready to merge the records. The script:

  • Merges to uniquely named PDF or InDesign files;
  • Uses information from csv or txt in the Data Merge to create the filenames;
  • Creates web-safe filenames;
  • Provides warnings about duplicate filenames, missing images or overset text;
  • Can merge one record, a range, or all records in the database

Here are some more screenshots of the script:

resultsbadduplicatefinishedIf you are interested in trying the beta of this script, it can be downloaded from the Downloads page.

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