Revisiting the [Registration] Colour

One of the first articles written on this site discussed the (mis)use of the Registration colour. In short, Registration is a unique colour that – upon output – appears on every colour separation, primarily for the purpose of prepress marks such as registration crosshairs or crop marks.

If used in general artwork as a design feature, it can create problems by:

  • Causing ink saturation values to be beyond recommended levels (i.e. a Full colour print containing registration colour in the artwork will have a 400% saturation value, but the paper stock may recommend no more than 320%);
  • Cause artwork to print on digital machines at a higher click rate, as the software believes the artwork is full colour process, despite containing what may only appear to be black and white artwork.

Unfortunately, because it looks like a black swatch in the swatches palette, it can easily be confused for black and inadvertently selected instead of a black swatch.

Worse still, it may have been chosen on purpose because it gives a “blacker” black when output to a desktop printer. I have a separate article discussing the creation of more appropriate Rich black colours here.

Why not just delete the colour?

Unfortunately, it isn’t possible. The colour is one of four default colours (as indicated by the square brackets around the colour name), and as such cannot be deleted, nor added to a folder by itself.

However, the colours can be moved, so to make sure I don’t select Registration by mistake, I put it at the top of the swatch list.

Is there a script that can help?

Yes there is a script that will warn a user that they’ve selected the Registration colour – and it’s made by Adobe too, but it isn’t directly shipped with InDesign, but is available as part of their scripting tutorial guide.

First, make sure the InDesign application is not running.

Next, download the zip file linked above and then navigate to the following file and open it in a text editor such as notepad or textwrangler:

Once the file is open, change the following two lines:

var myDocument = app.documents.add();
myDocument.eventListeners.add("afterSelectionAttributeChanged", myCheckForRegistration);

To the following one line:

app.eventListeners.add("afterSelectionAttributeChanged", myCheckForRegistration);

Then save the file into the startup scripts folder, keeping the .jsx file extension.

Relaunch InDesign. From here, create a new document and draw a rectangle and attempt to fill it with Registration colour. Note the dialog that appears:

From here, click OK. Unfortunately, the script does not remove the Registration colour, but it should now be apparent that it needs to be fixed. I think if a user sees this enough times, they will get the idea not to select the Registration colour.

Just for fun, the dialog that appears can be adjusted to your liking. This is done by adjusting the line:

    alert("The Registration swatch is applied to some of the\robjects in the selection. Did you really intend to apply this swatch?");

Anything within the quotation marks can be changed. The \r denotes a line break between the heading of the dialog box and the dialog text. For example:

    alert("Good Grief!\rYou know better than that! Go back and select the Black swatch instead!");

Will yield the following dialog box:

There must be a better way!

That said, it is my own opinion that there should be a way to hide or lock the Registration colour via the Swatches “hamburger icon” so that it can’t be inadvertently selected without toggling an associated unhide/unlock feature. As usual, I’m not the only one who has thought so, and if you would like to vote on the topic, please do so here.

Similarly, it would be great if crop marks could be set to a user defined colour, rather than the default of Registration. This is moreso the case for digital printing where there are differences in costs between black and white click rates and full colour click rates. Fuji’s XMF imposition software already has a feature that allows users to change the colour of any prepress mark from Registration to:

  • Darkest Colour (based on ink density); or
  • A given colour that is entered by the user.

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:


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:


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.

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