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.

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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.

thumbsup

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.

dogeindd

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.

awfulupdate

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.

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