Data Merge to Single Records Pro: Now Available

Since 2016, Colecandoo has provided the free version of the Data Merge to Single Records script for Adobe InDesign – a script that allows single records to be exported from Data Merge with unique filenames available from the Data Merge database itself. This improves Adobe InDesign’s default – naming each file Untitled-N and is only available for InDesign files, not PDFs.

On that note, the PRO version of this script is now available!

This script improves upon the free original by:

  • Exporting to various additional file formats, such as interactive PDF, EPS, PNG, JPG, direct to print, or PDF via InDesign first;
  • Add a primary key to either the start or the end of a filename;
  • When exporting to certain file formats – the ability to run a user-selected additional script before the export.

The script can be purchased for A$15 from the Buy Now button below.


The original Data Merge to Single Records script offered by Colecandoo remains free and can be downloaded from the scripts page.

Referencing pages of a multi-page PDF file during data merge… workaround

At the time of writing, there are three multi-page/artboard file formats that Adobe InDesign can import when placing a file via the File/Place function. These formats are:

  • PDF
  • Adobe Illustrator
  • Adobe InDesign

(While it is possible to create many artboards in Adobe Photoshop, it is not possible to import a specific Photoshop artboard into Adobe InDesign… – at the time of writing that is – but that is another article!)

When placing one of these three formats, it is possible to control several import functions using the show import dialog box, such as:

  • Which page (or pages) to import;
  • How the pages should be cropped;
  • Whether or not to place the pages with a transparent background; and
  • What layers to show and their visibility;

However, when importing these file types as variable images during a data merge, these options are unavailable and replaced with the following:

  • Only the first absolute page of the file is imported (not always the page numbered 1 as the first page can also be – for example – in roman numerals or start at a page other than one); and
  • Page cropping, transparency and layer visibility is determined by the same variables as the last file of that type to be placed into the artwork.

For now, there is no workaround to control the latter issues during a data merge, other than to be familiar with this behaviour and plan the merge accordingly. There is a workaround for importing pages beyond the first page of a PDF file… but not an Illustrator or InDesign file.

Workaround: Split the PDF

The term “workaround” is used loosely in this context. Unfortunately, the solution is to break the PDFs into single page records. This can be done within Acrobat using the split button from the organise pages panel.

This feature also allows multiple files to be split at once.

By default, the resulting files will maintain the same filename with the addition of _Partx prior to the filename, with x representing the absolute page number.

Otherwise, I’ve prepared an action that you can download here that will save the PDFs to the Documents folder of the machine running the action.

(Yes, I’m also aware that there are quite literally hundreds of websites out there that will split multi-page PDFs to single PDFs for free. However, the methods outlined above will do so without involving a third party).

The next part of the workaround involves the data itself, and I’ll be using Microsoft Excel to create formulas to make the numbering for the resulting pages. All variable images being referenced will also be in the same folder as the data file, meaning only the filename is required and not the full path and the filename.

For data where the page number is known

Add a column to the database that references the absolute PDF page number that needs to be imported.

Absolute vs Section numbers abridged:

Absolute numbers refers to a page number based on the total count of pages in the document, while section numbers refers to the page number that was applied using page numbering in the application that made the PDF.

For example, take a PDF that contains 20 pages with the first six pages being in roman numerals, and the remainder being in decimal numbers. These two different styles of numbering are section numbers, while absolute page numbers refer to the total count of pages. To reference page iv of the PDF, the absolute page number to reference is 4. To reference page 5 of the PDF, the absolute page number reference is 11.

In this example, the A column represents the PDF to reference, the B column represents the absolute page number, and C represents the result. To obtain this result, the following formula can be used:

=SUBSTITUTE(A2,".PDF","_Part"&B2&".pdf")

This formula will look at filename reference and substitute the .PDF portion of the filename for _Partx.pdf, where x represents the figure in the B column. Using this formula, only filenames with the PDF extension will be affected, while filenames in other formats will be unaffected.

For data where the page reference needs to increment by one more than the row above

The same formula can be used for the naming, but another formula is used to determine if the page reference should increase if the same base file is being referenced in the row directly above.

In this example, the N column represents the PDF to reference, the O column represents the absolute page number, and P represents the result. A 24 page file NS91912 is being merged and needs to have the page reference incremented by one so that the filenames are NS91912_Part1.pdf to NS91912_Part24.pdf. The following formula can be used to change the page reference:

=IF(N2=N1,O1+1,1)

This formula will look at the filename and determine that if the filename is different to the row above, put the number 1 in the cell, BUT if the filename is the same as the row above, take the page value from the cell above and add 1 to it into this cell.

In a perfect world

Again, this is a workaround – it will only work for PDFs and requires some upfront work to prepare. Ideally, if I had my way and could implement some improvements, I’d like to see:

  • Not just the ability to choose a specific page, but choose the correct trim box and layers as well. For example, a file reference such as myFile.pdf;1,trim;Layer1,Layer2 where 1 represents the absolute page number, trim represents what trim box to use, and Layer1,Layer2 represent the layers I would like to appear (or leave the layer bit blank if all layers should be visible).
  • The ability to perform a similar task for incoming INDD, AI or PSD files.

Add date selectors to date fields in interactive PDF

A feature of Acrobat DC that can be quite handy is the prepare form feature. It allows a scan (or a document with no form-field elements) to have form-field elements applied to it, so long as the formatting of the artwork follows the practices listed in this document.

However, there is an improvement that I feel could be made to this feature, but may have been missed by the Acrobat team, and that is date fields. Take the following example:

Now run the Prepare Form feature of Adobe Acrobat DC Professional:

The signature is picked up OK, but the date field is just a text field.

After doing a little digging online, I found that changing the name of the Date field to something like Date_af_date (the importance being the _af_date text) and this will change it to a date field;

But it doesn’t truly act like a date field. If I close out of preview mode and tab to the text field, it behaves like a regular text field.

It isn’t until the format category is changed to date that the field behaves like a date field with a date picker.

So that’s fine to edit one field, but if there are lots of date fields to edit, or this is a regular task, it can be time consuming. Ultimately, I’d like Acrobat’s prepare form feature to detect the date fields just like other fields like text inputs and signature fields are auto detected.

Until that happens, I’ve created an Acrobat action that will run not just the prepare form feature, but also a javascript that will find any of the resulting fields that have the word Date (case-sensitive) in them and make them selectable date fields. That action can be downloaded here.

To change the date format, open up the Acrobat action and change the following line in the script:

The number in brackets can be changed from 5 to a value between 0-13 that represents a format as shown below:

0: m/d
1: m/d/yy
2: mm/dd/yy
3: mm/yy
4: d-mmm
5: d-mmm-yy
6: dd-mmm-yy
7: yy-mm-dd
8: mmm-yy
9: mmmm-yy
10: mmm d, yyyy
11: mmmm d, yyyy
12: m/d/yy h:MM tt
13: m/d/yy HH:MM

In the meantime, if you would like the Acrobat team to update the prepare form feature so that date fields are automatically detected, I’ve added it to the Acrobat Uservoice wishlist.

Droplet like it’s hot

As a prepress operator, a great deal of my time is spent making sure that artwork supplied by clients will print without any prepress issues. Given that most client-supplied files are PDFs, a great deal of my time is spent in Adobe Acrobat checking the files using the print production tools and an invaluable plug-in called Enfocus Pitstop Professional.

While I’ve given the Adobe Acrobat team plenty of grief over my last few blog posts, I do have to sing their praises over a rather massive feature that – for me at least – has gone unnoticed since its inception in Acrobat 7 – preflight droplets.

What is a droplet?

A droplet acts as a “hot folder” that – once a PDF is dragged onto it –  will run a preflight profile on that PDF.

preflight01

This works for one or many PDFs. I first learned of this feature from this Jean-Claude Tremblay’s post to an InDesignSecrets article about using the preflight feature to convert a file to outlines, rather than using InDesign-based methods. That said, the droplets feature has been available since at least 2007!

Making a droplet is simple. While in the print production panel of Adobe Acrobat, click the preflight button, and in the new dialog box, select Create Droplet… from the Options button.

preflight02

The next dialog box will ask what preflight profile to use, where success/failed PDFs should be processed to, and if a summary PDF needs to be created of each file.

preflight03

Many of the built-in preflight profiles either force compliance to one of the PDF/X standards, or analyse a PDF and report the errors that were encountered. However, it is the custom fixup portion that may interest readers in a production role. To see where this can be found, click the Edit Profiles… selection from the Options button of the preflight dialog box.

preflight04

Underneath the warnings and standards compliance, there is a section titled custom fixups.

preflight05

In this panel is a plethora of changes that Acrobat can make to an entire document to fix common preflight issues such as:

  • Faux blacks
  • White overprint, or other colours that should knockout instead of overprint
  • Black instead of Registration
  • Remove trim marks and take back to 3mm bleed
  • Make pantone spot color names consistent

In addition, it is possible to make your own custom fixups rather than use the built-in ones. Click the add button to add your own fixup.

preflight06

It is also possible to drill down even further in the editing by clicking additional edit buttons.

preflight07

This allows for further variables to be made.

preflight08

Usually, many of these changes would be done using Enfocus Pitstop Professional’s action lists or global changes, but with the creation of an appropriate preflight droplet, not only can they be done without the Enfocus Pitstop Professional plug-in, they can also be done without opening the PDF.

Wouldn’t use it as a catch-all

It would be great to have one preflight that will catch all scenarios and fix the PDFs so that all that needs to be done is make sure the content is right and that the art is fit for its purpose… but because there are so many edge-cases that I deal with, it is more appropriate to make a “catch-most” preflight for common errors such as the ones mentioned earlier.

It can be confusing

With so many options to choose from, it can also be very confusing and – at times – frustrating, especially when some custom fixups contradict each other with no way of being able to sort out what one should go first.

Some of the commands are also not so intuitive. One instruction that I wanted to use – that was to make any object that wasn’t 100% black to knock out – wasn’t where I thought it would be.

preflight09

It took hours of trial and error to realise that the color range to select was Gray Object (black below 96%) is set to overprint… but who would know with the other options that appear to make more sense?

preflight10

It’s not a magic bullet

That’s not to imply that the Enfocus Pitstop Professional plug-in isn’t necessary – it is an absolute must for prepress operators. Preflight droplets complement the Enfocus plug-in, saving hours of time manually scanning a PDF looking for “the usual suspects” and allow PDFs in a workflow to be “normalised” for colour profile, trim/bleed size, appropriate overprints and knockouts as required, etc.

There are some fixups that work better using the Enfocus Pitstop plug-in, such as the generate bleed action. When run as a custom fixup via Acrobat preflight, it only adds bleeds to rendered art, and usually by scaling it. The Enfocus pitstop plug-in is more versatile in that it will apply to both vector and raster images, and bleed off appropriate edges only.

Importantly, the preflight fixups won’t be able to make content-related changes, such as fixing typographical errors or moving artwork away from a trim-edge… these changes have to be made with manual intervention using the Enfocus tools.

Lastly, preflight droplets are not a substitute for a skilled prepress operator examining a file, given that droplets cannot:

  • Ensure that artwork will fold correctly or be suitable for their intended purpose;
  • Confirm that the artwork is the correct version supplied by the client;
  • Understand the context of the content such as spelling, grammar or “design features”.

Extract an Image from an image field in an Acrobat Form

In January 2017, Acrobat DC added two new buttons to the prepare form panel in Adobe Acrobat DC: Add Image and Add Date:

eximage01

The Add Image button creates a rectangle that – when clicked in Adobe Acrobat Pro or Reader DC – launches Finder (Mac) or Explorer (Windows) to navigate to an image to be inserted into that field.

To demonstrate this, I have created a business card order form in Adobe InDesign for a Travel Agency.

eximage02

Note that I have not made the image field in Adobe InDesign. There is a good reason for this: it isn’t possible at the time of writing the article as the option doesn’t exist in the buttons and forms panel in Adobe InDesign.

eximage03

While this is frustrating, it can be added in Adobe Acrobat. I’ll leave a link to the indesign uservoice feature request to hopefully have this (and the add date button) added in future (ignore that the Adobe Staff says its fixed at the time of writing – I disagree).

For now, I’ll export this file as an interactive PDF and add the add image button to the artwork.

eximage04

I can then close out of preview and look at the form. This should be fine for testing purposes.

eximage05

For the purposes of prototyping this form, I’ll type some dummy data and use a stock photo from Adobe Stock.

eximage06

Fields all look fine, the text can be extracted by either cutting and pasting into my InDesign card template, or using the export option from the Prepare Form tools. While the image isn’t juxtaposed correctly, I can do that once I extract the image from the PDF… or at least I thought.

The image won’t extract

If I go to the Edit PDF tools of Acrobat, the image (and its field) cannot be selected.

eximage07

The image isn’t shown as an attachment in the attachments tab.

eximage08

If I use the Export all as images from the Export PDF tab, will that work?

eximage09

No, it only exports the images of the beer bottles and the Eiffel Tower shown in the original card.

How about if I use the Edit Object tools, right click on the image and select “edit image”? Unfortunately, this is unavailable too.

eximage10

Using the Enfocus Pitstop Professional Plug-in, can I extract the image this way? No!

eximage11

Yes, I could zoom in and take a screen capture, or render the PDF in Adobe Photoshop, but neither will retrieve the image to the exact resolution the original image was supplied. Looking at this particular image, if I zoom in at 3200%, it is quite a high resolution image.

eximage12

At this point, I turned to the internet for help, only to find the following thread on the Adobe Forums that contained a response from an Adobe Staff Member that read as follows:

eximage13

To me, this is bizarre… the whole purpose of adding an image would be to remove it later for another purpose, especially since the form field doesn’t have any cropping, scaling or rotating options. The whole point of me making this form was so that:

  • the client didn’t need the full version of acrobat to add the image as an attachment to the PDF;
  • the client Didn’t need to send the PDF and the image separately;
  • I could receive one file to prepare the content of the business cards, rather than bits and pieces from various emails or downloads.

However, all is not lost!

There is a way

Create a new InDesign file and place the filled in interactive PDF as an image.

eximage14

Export the file as a print PDF using the [High Quality Print] setting with the following change to the compression panel:

eximage15

Now, when the PDF opens in Adobe Acrobat Professional DC, I’m able to use the Print Production Tools to click on the image and then select Edit Image.

eximage16

Once the image opens into Photoshop, I can see it is the same size as the original.

eximage17

So yes, it is possible to extract an image from the Image Field of a PDF, but it takes a little work. I’m just frustrated why the Acrobat Team made it difficult “by design”.

Lastly, if anyone from the Acrobat Team is reading this going “he’s having a go at us again”, rest assured, I will be praising the team in an upcoming post.

Preparing artwork for a Tête-Bêche book

On rare occasions, my employer will be tasked with printing a book that is really two titles in one, but both titles are bound together so that the first title will read correctly until the end of its content, and then the content of the second title is upside-down and in the wrong page order. This doesn’t make sense until the book is turned upside-down, and then the second title reads correctly. This style of binding two titles into one is known as Tête-Bêche (French for Head to Tail).

titlepic

If this still isn’t quite clear, have a look at some of the titles from the publisher Abe Books

While this isn’t a question that’s asked often, a post on the Adobe InDesign forums asked how to create such a book, so I thought I would write up an article of how I tend to prepare the text component of these publications.

Make two separate titles first

It is certainly possible to layout both titles in the same InDesign file using the rotate spread view, but I’d advise against doing this as not only is it generally confusing, the second title won’t be able to take advantage of automatic features such as page numbering, table of contents, indexes, etc

Instead, create the titles as either two separate InDesign files, or two separate InDesign Book files.

PDF only method

Create print-ready PDFs of both titles, and then decide what will become the first title and what will become the second title. Leave the PDF of the first title alone, but to the second title, do the following:

  • Rotate all pages 180°;

01 rotatepages

  • Reverse the page order*.

02 reversepgorder

*Rotating the pages is easy enough in Acrobat, but reversing the page order will call for a technique that has been outlined in an earlier article.

This will result in the first title right-reading in the correct page order, and the second title upside-down in reverse order. From here:

  • Use the Combine Files into a Single PDF… option and join the two files together;

03 combinefiles

or

  • With the first title open, open the pages panel and drag the second title from Finder (Mac) or Explorer (Windows) to the end of the last page.

04 dragdrop

InDesign method

The advantage with this method is that it will work with either a PDF of each title, or an InDesign file of each title, provided that each title is its own InDesign file. If InDesign book files were used, then PDFs need to be made for this method.

Another advantage is that if late changes need to be made, the alterations can be made to the original InDesign title, and then updated in the “conjoined” title automatically.

This method requires the multipageplace script. Make a new non-facing pages document that will be the same trim size as the titles – the document is only being used as a “conjoined” title to put the pages in the correct orientation and order, so facing pages isn’t required. Run the script and import the first title. When the script’s dialog box appears, enter the following options then click OK:

05 importone

Once the script has run, add a blank page to the end of the document.

06 add a page

Run the script again, selecting the second title. This time, enter the following options into the dialog box that appears:

07 importtwo

In this example, the script is starting at page 13 as the previously placed file finished at page 12. Obviously this needs to be changed depending how long the original title is.

Note that this dialog instructs the pages to rotate 180° and to reverse the page order.

08 tada

This will now place the pages in the correct order for Tête-Bêche binding.

Confirmation of page sequence

To confirm that the pages in the conjoined file will now read correctly, make a PDF of the conjoined file and repeat the first two steps used in the PDF method (rotate 180° and reverse page order) – this will show the PDF of the second title’s reading order, and that the first title is now upside-down and in reverse.

The cover

This file will be prepared like any other book, with the exception that the Outside Back Cover (OBC) will now become the Outside Front Cover (OFC) of the second title. Rule to remembering the head directions of the outside covers is that – for a western audience with binding to the left – the head directions should be anticlockwise to the page.

09 headirections

 

 

Reacting to bad Redacting

In early January 2019, a high profile case of “Redaction Fail” made the headlines when it was revealed that the redacted material could still be read if copied and pasted into a word processor. My initial reaction was of concern, because my first thought was that the redaction feature in Adobe Acrobat had a serious drawback. However, this was soon put to rest once I viewed the actual document in question, and realised that Acrobat’s redaction feature had not been used, but another low-tech method was used instead.

Low-tech method 1: Highlight

In Microsoft Word, it’s easy to change the highlighter colour to black to act as a redaction. Similarly, Adobe InDesign has a similar feature where an underline can be created that is the same colour as the text and adjusting the height of the line to the top of the ascender to the bottom of the descender.

lazy001

Looks great on screen, and looks great on a PDF.

lazy002

Be assured though that this is NOT REDACTED. I know this because I can reveal what was written in several ways:

  • By highlighting the text and copying into any text editor;

lazy003

  • By using an accessibility feature that will allow the line (or page) to be read back

lazy004

  • In Acrobat Professional, using the Edit feature to change the colour of the type

lazy005

  • Editing the PDF with the Enfocus Pitstop plug-in in a similar fashion to the last method, or even remove the redaction itself or view the type under the redaction using the wireframe view.

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  • By highlighting the text, opening the tags panel and selecting Find Tag from Selection

lazy007

  • By highlighting the text, opening the content panel and looking up the content by its page location

lazy008

  • Via the print production tools in Acrobat Professional, go to the output preview and in the Show portion of the dialog box, select Text from the dropdown

lazy009

(The above method can be circumvented if the redaction character style has a type fill of [None] and the underline coloured [Black]).

To be fair, no security settings had been applied to this test file. If I apply password security so that copying, pasting and accessibility is off, the last three methods can still be employed to see this text, albeit with many options greyed out:

lazy010

 

Low-tech method 2: Redact Font

Fonts (such as the redacted font by David Walsh) give the type a redacted look without the need to create a highlighter-style effect.

lazy011

Again, rest assured that this document is NOT REDACTED.

Park the fact that the copy has now reflowed after the style has been applied, many of the previous methods can still be employed to read this text.

lazy012

Yes, there is also the drastic action of employing this technique, adding security AND converting all text to outlines using a method described over at InDesignSecrets, but doing so will make a PDF that is:

  • Unsearchable and unprintable;
  • Has no accessibility features;
  • Involves manipulating the original artwork, rather than a file that has to have redactions applied.

If you need to redact the file, use Adobe Acrobat’s Redact feature, and make sure to read the instructions to be sure that is being used properly.

lazy013

The instructions on the Adobe Acrobat help site for using this feature are quite useful.

A related redaction warning

If photographs also need to be redacted, note that if unredacted versions of the images exist online, chances are that Google’s Image search or Tineye may be able to find the unredacted originals.

Take the following image that was used on this site two articles ago. I’ve done a basic redaction our faces and run the redacted image through exifpurge to remove any metadata.

lazy014

If I drag and drop this image into Google’s image search, it is able to find the unredacted versions of this photo that are currently online:

lazy015

While this example was a light-hearted example, much more serious examples can be found via ABC Australia’s Media Watch programme.

 

Checkboxes are back in Acrobat Comments… sort of…

Following on from my last post (or rant) about the removal of the checkbox in Adobe Acrobat’s commenting tools, I can report that the December 2018 release of Adobe Acrobat has brought back checkboxes within the commenting tools. However, it does come with some caveats:

It is an “opt-in” preference

Unfortunately, the ability to see checkboxes is off by default. If you are missing the checkboxes and want them back, you have to make sure that you have the following checkbox checked in your preferences:

checkbox1

Checkboxes are only shown when comments are selected

Unlike earlier versions of Acrobat that would show all checkboxes (whether the comment was selected or not) the checkboxes will only appear once a comment is selected.

 

checkbox3

I find this frustrating as I have to click on the comment to then have access to the checkbox, whereas in previous (admittedly older) versions, the checkboxes always appeared. Kelly Vaughn’s Document Geek site does a fantastic job of showing the different ways comments were handled in previous versions.

However, if all of the comments are selected, then all of the checkboxes become visible.

checkbox2

 

Problem solved, right? Sadly, no. If any of those checkboxes are clicked, all checkboxes that appear will change state from unchecked to checked.

checkbox5

 

So while checkboxes can appear in an unchecked state, the UI still has lots of room for improvement when compared to previous versions of Acrobat, or other paid PDF viewers such as Bluebeam Revue. For now, it’s a small win to see the checkboxes return.

The share button can be made smaller

Another UI fixup that was highly requested was the ability to remove the great big share button in the top right. Again, it’s there by default, but you can make it smaller by right clicking next to the button and selecting the Hide Share Button Label option:

checkbox4.png

So the button won’t go away, but will at least be half the size:

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Déjà vu?

Unfortunately, this is the second time in recent years that myself and others had to twist the Acrobat team’s arm to bring back a feature that had been removed (or deprecated), such as the time that key tools from the commenting panel were removed before being reintroduced months later following user complaints.

In this instance, this isn’t the outcome that I (and many other users) were after, but at least it is a step in the right direction. Let’s hope that the next version of Acrobat introduce some of the community’s suggestions about the checkboxes, as well as other pain-points that can be found on the Acrobat Uservoice.

Bring Back the Checkbox in Acrobat Comments

UPDATE 2019-01-10: Checkboxes were reintroduced in the December 2018 update of Adobe Acrobat. More information can be found here, but I will keep this article visible for the sake of posterity.

At the beginning of October 2018, Adobe released its updates for Acrobat DC and Acrobat Reader DC. For those users who have the “Automatically install updates” checkbox checked in the Acrobat preferences, the update was installed without prompting.

Unfortunately, as part of this update, the Acrobat team removed a checkbox that is visible in the commenting panel when a comment is selected, as shown in the following image:
bringback01.jpgBy checking the checkbox on or off, it allows the comments to be filtered as checked or unchecked – quite handy when checking mark-ups that can’t be imported directly into InDesign’s new PDF comment import feature.

Strangely, while the checkbox was removed, it is still possible to mark a comment as checked, but this is done by right-clicking on the “Add checkmark” option of the contextual menu.
bringback02.png
Thinking this must be a bug, I went onto the Adobe Acrobat forums to see what was going on, only to be astonished that this was not a bug, but an intentional change:
bringback03
However, I completely disagree with the terms “clean and intuitive to use” and would substitute the terms “ludicrous and mind-boggling“. The idea of a checkmark is to either check it or uncheck it. If it is not possible to check the checkmark because it is not there, to me that is not intuitive, that is frustrating.

In my mind, this user interface change is the equivalent of removing the right indicator signal on a car, and activating the right indicator required changing the radio station twice.

Once I knew the workaround of using the contextual menu to click on the checkbox, I was still frustrated as this triples the amount of work to perform the same task. Instead of a one-step procedure of clicking a check box, the procedure now involves three steps:

  1. right click,
  2. scroll down,
  3. click the Add checkmark option.

This is fine if checking one item as marked, but if checking dozens – if not hundreds of these items – one at a time, that is an inconsiderate inconvenience.

Knowing the keyboard shortcut (Shift + K) is another workaround, but again this requires clicking on the comment(s) and then putting both hands on the keyboard to activate the shortcut.

For long-time readers of the Colecandoo blog, this may come as a sense of déjà vu, and that is because two years ago, a similar problem occurred.

Unlike the previous situation, I happened to be attending Adobe MAX 2018 in Los Angeles when the change had occurred, so was able to pass this feedback directly to the Senior Product Manager of Document Cloud. I took a selfie to prove that we in fact met while at MAX:
bringback04

To be fair on the Acrobat team, they have changed their stance and now listed the Uservoice issue as a planned one:

bringback05

However, despite going straight to the top about this issue, and having over 200 complaints to the Acrobat Uservoice page at the time of writing this article, the issue is STILL here.

In short, this is an important issue that many regular Acrobat users would like to see implemented now as a patch, rather than as a roll-back of the feature for the next scheduled release of Acrobat DC. I know the Acrobat team never intends to frustrate users, but keeping users waiting for this change back to be implemented is exacerbating the issue, especially when it was made clear through the Acrobat Uservoice that the change was unpopular.

My last comment on the matter is to those who design the UI/UX for Acrobat. When considering improvements for the software, please ask the users of the software what they would like implemented, and leave features alone if they are already there!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Change the background highlight of PDF form fields in a document

During the CreativePro conference in New Orleans, a question was raised during Chad Chelius’ session about Designing forms in InDesign and Acrobat: how to change the background highlight colour of the fill-in forms within Adobe Acrobat. It is possible to change the value of that colour via the Highlight Colour from the preferences panel, but this is an application-wide change, and changing the colour in one form will change the colour for all documents that are opened thereafter.

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This will also only change the colour on the viewer’s PDF, not the PDF itself.

Luckily, it is possible to change the colour via scripting that will affect the current form but leave others alone. Take the following example – in this form, I would like the background to be grey, rather than the default blue:

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Open the PDF that needs the background to change and open the page thumbnails panel. Right click on the page and select the page properties item.

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In the new dialog, go to the Actions tab at the top right, and then add two actions: on Page Open, run a javascript, and on page close, run a javascript.

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Click on the Page Open Run a Javascript selection and click edit, and in the new window, type the following and click OK.

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Click on the Page Close Run a Javascript selection and click edit, and in the new window, type the following and click OK.

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Repeat adding the page level scripts for each page in the PDF. This example has one page, but for a four page PDF, this would need to be done on each page of the PDF.

Save and close the PDF. Open the PDF again and the background has now changed to gray.

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The two javascripts work by saving the current application preferences into memory, and then changing the preferences until the document is closed, and then reloads the original preferences.

The background of any PDF form opened will now be gray until the PDF is closed, so close the PDF and open another PDF to confirm that the background returns to normal.

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If you would like colours other than gray, the javascript syntax for the colour can be found here:

A similar technique is shown in this article in the Acrobat Users forums.

 

 

Data Merging to specific pages

I was recently faced with the following brief:

I have a database that need to be run through the Data Merge to Single Record script. Some of them need only page 1 and some need page 2. Is there a way to add another column in the database and let InDesign know if it should export page 1 or 2? 

My original thoughts were that this could not be done, but then I realised there is a new feature added in Adobe InDesign CC 2018.1 to the PDF export: Create Separate PDF Files.

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I decided to create a new PDF export style and ensured that the Create Separate PDF Files checkbox was turned on, and make sure that the numbering is based on page numbers.

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Wondering if this would work, I created the following scenario – thank you graphics to be emailed to contributors to this site, based upon three available contribution values. The InDesign file is 3 pages long, has two different page sizes, and is linked to a Data Merge of 1,000 records that has – among its fields – a field called “Variable” that has one of 3 values in the field – 5, 10 or 25. Page 1 is the five dollar campaign, page 2 is the ten dollar campaign, and page 3 is the twenty five dollar campaign.

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For the sake of this demonstration, I’m going to try with records 1-25. Running the Data Merge to Single Record script available from the downloads or scripts pages of this site, I make sure that the variable field is part of the filename, but ensure that it is the last part of the filename:

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I let the script run, and then once complete, the Results folder appears as follows:

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So right now, there are myriad folders and files, so this looks like a complete mess and failure. However, using the search function at the top right of the finder window, I’m able to find what I’m after. I’d like to find all of the five dollar PDFs first, so I type in 5_01.pdf into the search field, ensuring I’m searching on the Result folder. Why 5_01.pdf? Well, the 5 was the variable in the variable field, and 01 was the page number associated in the InDesign file to the five dollar campaign.

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So this found 11 records. I’ll move those records into a folder elsewhere and look for the other PDFs in a similar fashion: 10_02.pdf and 25_03.pdf

I now have all the records required, and can remove the remaining records from the Results folder, so that’s great for creating single page PDFs by using one InDesign file for multiple campaigns.

Modifying the technique for JPG or PNG

If I want the files as JPG or PNG instead, I could use the Data Merge to Single Record script and merge to InDesign files without splitting the files into single records, and then use Peter Kahrel’s Batch Convert script to export to JPG or PNG.

It is then possible to perform a similar search that was used to separate the earlier campaigns.

Doing the modified technique in less steps

Or, if you want to run one script instead of two, perhaps consider having a look at the Data Merge to Single Records PRO version:

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Run the script and then perform the search that was used to separate the earlier campaigns.

If you’re interested in the Data Merge to Single Records PRO version, it can be downloaded via the scripts page.

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