Never, ever, EVER tick this checkbox when making a PDF!

A rather obscure and never before used checkbox in the export PDF dialog box has caused great concern for one particular reader, and that was the ability to create a PDF that has visible guides and grids.

To illustrate what happens, the following example will be used. Take the front of this flyer for a band, and note the gridlines in InDesign.


The flyer is ready to be sent to the client so a PDF needs to be made. For the purpose of this demonstration, the [High Quality Print] setting that is one of the default presets for Adobe InDesign will be used, with one exception: The checkbox at the bottom “Visible Guides and Grids”


The PDF is now created but unlike other PDFs, the guides and grids are not only visible, but will end up on the final print as well! The illustration shows that the guidelines can be selected with third party tools such as Enfocus Pitstop Professional.


In this reader’s case, the checkbox was clicked mistakenly and fortunately for them, the eagle-eyed prepress staff that were about to print the artwork had noticed the lines and fixed the situation accordingly. However, the issue had highlighted several important points:

There are many features of InDesign that are somewhat obscure and would be used rarely, but is there really anyone out there that would ever feel the need to show their clients the grids and columns on a PDF, yet alone output them to a print-ready PDF?

Only instance that comes to mind would be a client that insists items on a proof are not lining up. Using this feature (with the appropriate gridline in the file) would create a PDF that would show the client that in fact the items do line up as intended… but is this a situation that arises often enough to warrant such a button in the export options?

Reader thoughts are definitely welcome on this topic!

Data Merge: Multiple Record Madness

There have been plenty of posts on the Adobe InDesign Forum lately concerning issues that users are having with data merge, particularly Multiple Record Data Merge (MRDM) projects. These projects could be “stepping up” artwork onto a larger sheet for trimming (e.g. imposing many business cards onto one sheet) or preparing catalogues for example.

Before rushing into an FAQ of issues concerning MRDM, here is a step-by-step of preparing a MRDM to ensure the minimum of fuss:

1) In a new document, go to the Master page and create the static items that are to appear on every page.


2) Create a new master page BASED ON the master page created in step 2 and in this page, add the items that will be variable, but prepare the set up as if it were for one record only.

(for those familiar with Data Merge, the variable can indeed be on a regular page. The difference is that MRDMs created with variable items on a regular page will not allow the source data to be linked)



3) From the Data Merge palette, choose “Select Data Source” and select the text file that will be used for the merge.

4) Populate the variable placeholders using the fields from the Data Merge Palette, being sure to that the placeholders of the text are visible in their own frames. Once satisfied with its appearance, select “Create Merged Document”


5) A new dialog box appears. In the tab “Records”, make sure that the Records per Document Page dropdown says Multiple Records. Then from the tab “Multiple Record Layout”, set the appropriate margins of the artwork. If using the preview, note that the position of the first record may have moved – this is normal. Change the margins to the margins that were in the static layer, and layout the records as appropriate. Click OK once ready to proceed



6) A progress dialog will appear. After a moment the document will be created either with or without an overset text warning.



There are several things that should be noted:

  • The margins in the InDesign file are irrelevant for where the variable data starts – this is determined by the Data Merge Panel;
  • That during the construction of the file, it is only possible to view the data 1-up. To preview multiple records, this can only be done from the  Create Merged Document from the Data Merge panel.

Common complaints when preparing a Multiple Record Data Merges:

Each page has the same record repeated, so page 1 has record 1 many times, page 2 has record 2 many times, etc.

Likely that many variable placeholders were created and populated thereby filling the page, instead of one series of placeholders for one record only. MRDM works by creating one record and then using the MRDM panel to allow the next records to be inserted based upon details here (e.g. distance between the records, direction of flow of the records)

MRDM records aren’t merging where I want them to merge (e.g. off by half a millimetre or more, or off by miles)

Data merge uses the margins within the MRDM dialog box, NOT the margins in the active document. There is an additional glitch that offsets the starting position by fractions of a millimetre. This may seem insignificant but there is no reason that the software should not place the text to precise measurements.



Data merge has a further glitch if the document was initially created at one size but was then resized (regardless of orientation or size). When merging, the starting offset appears to be where the original size page margins would have been. The following example shows the same file but just made landscape.



This glitch persists despite further resizing, adjusting of margins, or saving as IDML and reopening. The only solution is to cut and paste from the defective document into a brand new document.

When MRDM merges to PDF, the first record does not appear, and instead of the records displaying one after the other, only the first record placeholders appear and is repeated through the document.


This only occurs when exporting directly to PDF. In this instance, the variable data portion has to be on a regular page, and any items that are to remain static need to be on the master page.



The MRDM preview is correct, but the resulting InDesign file has only one record per page. Once the view is changed to see the entire pasteboard, it is clear that the other records are on the pasteboard.



Likely because the variable and static data is on the same master page. Instead, the variable data portion has to be on a regular page, and any items that are to remain static need to be on the master page. If linking to the text is essential, the workaround is to put the background on a master, and then make a second master that is BASED ON that background and put the variable data on that layer. Refer to part 2 of the tutorial at the start of this post for more information.

Other commonly asked merging questions:

Upon selecting data to import, a dialog box says “The data source has one or more empty field names. Please fix the file or select another file”.


The header row has fields that don’t have names. Can happen if the field names have no headers – the header row has to have names in it. Can also happen if an excel file is saved as a txt/csv file but it saves more columns than required. These excess columns need to be deleted in excel before attempting to import the data again.

The text has picked up the formatting of the line underneath.

This has to do with the “Remove Blank Lines For Empty Fields” options in the Content Placement Options portion of the Data Merge palette. This issue has been discussed elsewhere on Colecandoo.

The records are all in their own frames, instead of one long flowing frame like this:


Data Merge works in this fashion, it doesn’t have a “next record” feature that Microsoft Word has in its “Mail Merge” feature. There is a workaround in the form of a script created by Loic Aigon that will do this; or by merging to a new file and then using a script such as Ajar production’s merge textframes that will thread the text so it run into one text frame, but if the data is likely to change then this procedure will have to run all over again. XML workflow is better for this kind of project.

How do I prepare a multiple record merge where records specific to one field are on the same sheet?


This can’t be done from InDesign “Off of the shelf”. Data Merge, whether single or multiple records, can only handle one to one database relationships. It can’t merge items such as itemised invoicing for a client database where the database contains varying record lengths for each client. This is an example of “one to many” database relationship. InDesign can only handle “one to one” database relationships.

How to I preserve carriage returns from my Excel database into Data Merge?

Can’t be done. Data Merge only works with txt or csv files, so ultimately the Excel file has to be saved as one of these formats. A return (whether soft or hard return) in the txt/csv file indicates the end of the record and the start of the next, whether intentional or not. One trick is to substitute the returns with a character that is unlikely to use in normal type (e.g. the “pipe” symbol = | ) and once merged into the file, use find/change to replace the | with a carriage return.

The drawback is that this method cannot be used if merging directly to a PDF as the intermediate step of removing the pipe symbols cannot be done. Another drawback is if the data file for the merge is replaced, the merge will have to be done again. XML is a better choice for this task as carriage returns, non-breaking spaces and other special characters can be preserved.

How do I remove unintentional line breaks (whether soft or hard returns) from my Excel database before using Data Merge?

Dozens of answers exist on the many Microsoft Excel forums that may/may not work within the Windows OS, but on the Mac OS there is no reliable answer that works within Excel itself. Anyone who can answer to this question should feel free to post it in the comments. Best answer so far was again from Loic Aigon’s Blog.

My data is not importing properly (e.g. Records are starting where they are not supposed to, characters are corrupting, etc)

Could be a variety of reasons depending on how the data was prepared, how the fields are separated (whether comma or tab). The data should be checked by finding the corrupted record in InDesign, then comparing the data file in a text editor such as UltraEdit or TextWrangler to see what is happening.

Breaking up is hard to do… InDesign files into individual PDFs that is!

UPDATE 2015/9/8: I have created a solution that will save uniquely-named InDesign or PDFs from a Data Merge. See more about this script here.

Several forums dedicated to InDesign advice have recently been asked the following question: “How to split an InDesign file into single page PDFs”.

Splitting a large PDF into single page PDFs is possible via the extract pages feature of Acrobat 9 and up. The resulting pages are then extracted to the same file location as the original PDF but contains an underscore and page number in the filename.


Splitting a large PDF into fixed page lengths (e.g. singles, doubles etc) is possible via the Split Document feature of Acrobat X and up. This also provides limited control concerning the name and location of the resulting split PDFs, as well as other ways of splitting the PDF (e.g. filesize or bookmarks).


So splitting a large PDF into smaller PDFs is possible via Acrobat. However, the brief was “How to split an InDesign file into single page PDFs”.

By default, there is no way to do this directly from InDesign without a script.

UPDATE 2014/8/24: I have written an article for that demonstrates two possible ways of doing this via InDesign that do not require any scripting, but they are not one-step solutions.

However, there are at least four scriptable solutions available as of this moment:

  1. Scripter Loic Aigon produced a script called Custom Export – an InDesign javascript that behaves in a similar fashion to the Split Document feature of Acrobat, but without leaving InDesign.
  2. (updated 5 November 2013) Scripter Dmitry Lapaev offers three scripted solutions, but of these there are two that will be of most use to those who intend to output to print: the first is Quick Export to Adobe PDF  (see this link here) and the next is Batch Export to PDF (see this link here).
  3. Yet another javascript with a more sophisticated interface is Scott Zanelli’s Page Exporter Utility that had been discussed on this blog before. Read more about the script here.
  4. Fellow wordpresser Macgrunt has also produced an applescript that allows the export of single page PDFs from one InDesign file. While it does not have a user interface, it certainly does the job. Read more about his script here and read his related blog posts concerning renaming of files.

UPDATE 2014/1/18: There are also paid solutions that can accomplish this task. One such solution is PDF Bee by Chris Paveglio. This has not been tested by Colecandoo, nor is this a paid endorsement.

UPDATE 2014/8/1: There is a new standalone application that allows InDesign to reference an Excel file and prepare single record PDFs. This recent application again has not been tested by Colecandoo, nor is this a paid endorsement.

So the question is answered… right? Yes and no. Yes, it is possible to export to individual or smaller page PDFs, but the naming of the files could be better.

Using an example of business cards that have been data-merged to a new InDesign file, the brief is now to produce PDFs with filenames that reflect the names of the people on the business cards. Using the earlier solutions, the files would still need to be renamed afterwards. So how is this done?


Loic has another script called PDF Export Cropper. This script is much more flexible than the previous scripts in that files can be split according to more variables, and the file naming is more flexible. To demonstrate, an example single sided business card has been created. The PDFs are to be named based upon the name of the person, so the field that holds the client’s name has been assigned a special paragraph style that is used nowhere else on the card – in this instance, the style “clientname” has been assigned.


The file is then merged to a new InDesign file. Once the new file is created, the PDF Export Cropper script is run.


A new user interface appears. In this example, within the “Choose Identifier” portion of the interface, the appropriate paragraph style has been chosen. The filename is to be the name of the resulting paragraph style, so all that is left to do is click Export.


And voila! The PDFs are split and named based on the client name that appears on the business card.

The only downside – that the cards can only be one page (that is, if the business cards were double-sided, Loic’s script would not work).

UPDATE 2014-01-14: Loic’s scripts are currently being revised and at the time of writing this update are unavailable. See his post here.

SOLUTION TWO: Hans Haesler

German Swiss scripter Hans Haesler has a similar script to Loic’s script. Sadly for me, it is in German, so I can’t understand the user interface that the script creates. A link to the script and a brief how-to-use for Anglophones is available here.

SOLUTION THREE: Via Adobe Acrobat

Unlike the previous two solutions, this solution requires the data merge file to be merged to one large PDF. It also requires that the field from the database that contains the names to become the future filenames is called PartnerHQ_Id. From here, an Acrobat action has to be run. The action is available from here:

UPDATE 2014/7/19: There is an update to this script available from the original forum that discussed the initial solution. The update allows the PDF to be split into files longer than one page in size. See post 11 in that particular forum for the script.

First, the action will have to be loaded by opening Acrobat, select the File Menu, Action Wizard, Edit Actions. From the new window, select Import and then navigate to the downloaded split files.sequ file.


Next, create a new folder and copy the PDF to merge and the csv or txt file that was used for the data merge into that folder.


Once this is done, open the PDF to be split using Adobe Acrobat and from the File Menu, select Action Wizard, split file


A new window will open, and the file that is already opened should be listed in the window. Click Next.


The actual javascript to be run will open as a window. Click OK.


At this stage, the script presents an error. Click Close.


Voila! The PDFs are renamed based on the client names. The folder also contains the original PDF and the database files.


So there are at least three solutions to this brief.

I’m gonna knock you out, my printer didn’t knock you out…

An earlier post “To Overprint or not to Overprint, Black is the question” explains how the colour labelled [Black] in InDesign behaves, and when solid black ink should and should not knock out of the colours behind it.

Paying attention to this advice and applying it to artwork should result in a good printed reproduction, correct? While the answer should be yes, there is one more level of control of black appearance and overprints, and that is in the hands of the printing company and their output software.


Let us look at this following example:


This card is set up for a Black plus spot output for an offset press. The Black is only overprinting on the text as misregistration would be noticeable here, but the Black elsewhere is knocking out so that the colour does not look muted through the yellow.

However, despite best intentions and checking the separations both in InDesign and Acrobat, the card has printed like this (effect is exaggerated for the screen):


So what has happened? The separations were correct, they were checked in both InDesign and Acrobat! It turns out that the Raster Image Processor (RIP) software that the commercial printer uses to image the design onto the printing plates has its own settings. Here are some example screenshots from AGFA’s Apogee X system and Fuji’s XMF system respectively about the overprinting of black:



In both screenshots above, the respective RIP software CAN honor the settings that were in the initial PDF and not apply its own preferences, but in the instance of the business card, the RIP settings overrode the PDF settings and chose to overprint all instances of 100% black, regardless what swatches were chosen in InDesign.


Using the same artwork, the card was printed via a colour copier, but this time the result was as follows:


So what happened here? The while the solid black looks good, where the black in the top line meets the vignette looks rather weak, and there are is a lighter black around the travel agent. What is going on?

Again, the RIP software has manipulated the artwork with unintentional results. Unlike printing directly to a desktop printer, most digital printers will print to a RIP where the file can be imposed, colour adjusted and printed in whatever order the prepress operator sees fit.

Using the EFI Fiery RIP, there is a little-known feature of the RIP that changes the way black is displayed that can produce unexpected results, and that is in the color settings dialog box and it is “Pure Black On”.

Screen Shot 2013-06-03 at 2.55.28 PM

This setting takes every instance of 100K and ramps the colour to a “super black” as opposed to using the black toner only. Again, this setting can be changed, but when this card was printed, the defaults were unchanged resulting in this unwanted appearance.

This setting only applies to vectors and text AFTER the PDF is flattened into postscript. This is visible where the rich black abruptly changes to the muted black. One look at the flattener preview in InDesign confirms that areas of flat black in that image were as a result of the flattening.



This small example shows how changing the client’s intended black overprints can have unwanted consequences. For prepress operators it is a wake-up call to make sure that the RIP defaults will maintain the clients’ expected results; and for designers or publishers it is worth understanding that even the treatment of black overprint is an important topic.

Adding pages features to Acrobat

The pages panel of Acrobat has many features such as rotate, extract, crop and split, but is missing several features that many users would appreciate as standard:

  • Break readers spreads
  • Break printers pairs
  • Reverse page order
  • Interleave two files
  • Duplicate pages in a 1-1-1-1-1-1-2-2-2-2-2-2 sequence
  • Duplicate pages in a 1-2-1-2-1-2 sequence

Breaking spreads and pairs

Breaking readers spreads has been covered on this blog several times so won’t be discussed in this post, but breaking printers pairs has proved to be a little more challenging and an Acrobat-based solution remains to be found.

Reversing and interleaving

Solutions have however been found for the last four of the bullet points. One solution solves two of the missing page features, namely reversing page order; and interleaving two files. The script can be found in post 8 on the following thread:

Once added to the javascripts folder of Acrobat, two new items are added to the Edit menu: Collate and Reverse. The collate option allows another file to be interleaved into the already open PDF. The Reverse function simply reverses the page order of the already open PDF.

An alternative solution for users who want to reverse order lots of PDFs at once may want to make an Acrobat action. From the file menu, select Action Wizard, and Create New Action.


In the new window, click on the “More Tools” panel in the left hand column and choose “Execute Javascript”. The window that should now look similar to this, click on the “Options” button within the Execute Javascript step and type the following in the next window that appears:

for (i = this.numPages - 1; i >= 0; i--) this.movePage(i);


From here, click Save. A prompt will appear asking for a name and description of the action.

Once an action has been made, it can be called upon by navigating to the File menu, Action Wizard, and then selecting the action.


Actions made in this fashion will prompt for a file or files. Once selected, the action will then run and prompt for a save location.

Duplicate pages in a 1-1-1-1-1-1-2-2-2-2-2-2 sequence

Again, this solution is provided in the form of an Acrobat action. It effectively follows the same steps as creating the reversing action but with one important difference – to tick the checkbox “Prompt User”. The script for this action can be found here:


When this action is run, the usual prompt for a file will appear. However, there will be a pause where the javascript console will once again appear. It is at this point the amount of duplicates are typed in.


Duplicate pages in a 1-2-1-2-1-2 sequence

This solution is almost identical to the solution above, except that the script for the action is different. The script can be found in the following forum post:

Other solutions

The action wizard feature of Acrobat is often overlooked. Apart from running custom javascripts, the wizard allows general Acrobat functions such as extract images as tiff, or recognise OCR text to run. Prior to the release of Acrobat XI reader, anyone using Acrobat X reader could not comment or mark-up a PDF unless the file had been specifically saved from Acrobat with commenting enabled. Doing this via the menus is tedious, especially if there are many files enable, but using an action this was quite simple. It was also simple to set the initial views so that a client will see the PDF to fit height, as spreads with the cover turned on.

Having these options available while making the PDF from InDesign would solve this issue permanently… perhaps in future updates of InDesign CC.

Anyone interested in looking for more script based actions may want to have a look at this site and this site.

Fixing readers spreads: Third time lucky

For print providers, finished art PDFs supplied as readers spreads can create a nuisance. So that the imposition software can correctly impose the pages in the correct order for press, the pages have to be presented as individual pages as opposed to readers spreads. Rather than inconvenience a customer and ask for the file to be prepared again, it is easier to split the PDF into individual pages, but until recently this procedure was a tedious method of copying and pasting a PDF into an InDesign file set as spreads and then preparing an output PDF as individual pages.

However, this blog has provided two solutions so far to do this:

  1. Via two javascripts and a procedure within InDesign (read the full story here);
  2. A javascript within Acrobat (read the full story here)

Now a third method exists. This method uses both Acrobat and an InDesign script.

1)   With the “spreads” PDF open in Adobe Acrobat, save the document as single pages. This can be done (in Acrobat X) by using the split document feature and splitting into 1pp documents;


or (in Acrobat 9 or above) by extracting pages as single pages.


Put these PDFs into a folder of their own.

2)   Create a new InDesign file the correct finished trim size, as readers spreads, and the same amount of pages as the intended finished artwork.

3)   Once the file is created, run this script:  A prompt will ask for the folder of PDFs to import – navigate to that folder and click OK.

4)   A prompt will warn once the file is finished. All that is then left to do is tidy up the first and last pages that are centered within the spreads, they only need to be centered within their appropriate pages and any unnecessary pages deleted.

I’m not sure who was the original author of the script but can only credit those who contributed to the forum where the script was adapted for this purpose.

When readers should be single… version 2.0

In an earlier post a solution was prepared to create single pages from PDFs supplied as readers spreads. The solution breaks the readers spreads back to single pages via InDesign and two javascripts. While the method works, it’s clunky and not a true turnkey solution to the problem. At the end of the article, there was a link to a post that featured a script available by fellow WordPresser Karl Heinz Kremer, but his solution was not given the attention that it deserved. This is because on first attempts with the script, there were several issues:

  • Acrobat scripts seemed to be harder to install than InDesign scripts;
  • The script kept presenting faults;
  • When the script did work, it seemed to be more appropriate for PDFs that did not contain bleed.
  • The script would not resolve “printers pairs”

However, it paid to persist with Karl’s method because it turns out to be a better solution… with some manipulation.

First thing to do is download the script. It is available from this link.

The first issue to overcome was where to install the script. Different versions of Acrobat on different platforms all have different locations for the script to be installed to. The best advice is to go to any of the online resources that suggest the location for installing the script varied given that it can be a case of trial and error to find the correct location.

Once the location is determined, a minor change may have to be made, depending on the version of Acrobat that is used. In Acrobat X and above, a line in the script has to be changed so that the script can be accessed from the Edit Menu. At the time of writing this article, the script refers to a “Document” menu, that Acrobat X no longer has. To do this, open the downloaded file in a text editor and look for this line:

cParent: "Document",              // this is the parent menu. The file menu would use "File"

now change this line to:

cParent: "Edit",              // this is the parent menu. The file menu would use "File"


The next issue to overcome was an error that kept appearing. After some persistence, it seems that the script will only error if the first and last pages are different sizes. In this example, the first page is a different width to the last page in the PDF.


Upon running the script, an error dialog appears.


For the script to work correctly, the first and last pages have to be the same size.


The third issue was that the script seemed to work best for PDFs that did not contain bleed. The reason is that the script works using the Cropbox measurements, but it does not have to. Instead, the script can be changed to use the trim or bleed measurements of the PDF. In the script, look for three lines which look like:

                        var cropRect = newDoc.getPageBox("Crop", i);


                                                cBox: "Crop",

this line appears twice.

Now change the word “Crop” to “Trim” and the script will use the Trimbox rather than the cropbox. Similarly, changing the word “Crop” to “Bleed” in these three lines will use the Bleedbox.

Once these amendments to the script are made, the PDF can be successfully split using a more appropriate measurement box. Using the Trimbox is of use to printers given that imposition software tends to refer to these measurements for page imposition but will still retain the original bleed of the file prepared by client.

My final issue was that the script could not fix printers pairs. Again, this is not necessarily true, but it involves more work than a simple click of a menu… but I will save this for another post.

Improving on the default scripts

One of the features that I like about InDesign is the ability to automate repetitive tasks using scripts. Since discovering this feature, using scripts have become part of my everyday work routine.

InDesign ships with 20 scripts, but with few exceptions the same scripts have been shipped with InDesign for the past six releases.

The scripts are (as described by Adobe itself on its website):

AddGuides.jsx – Adds guides around selected object/objects.

AddPoints.jsx – Adds points to the paths of the selected object or objects.

AdjustLayout.jsx – Moves objects by specified distances on right/left pages.

AlignToPage.jsx – Aligns objects to specified positions on a page.

AnimationEncyclopedia.jsx – Automatically creates buttons with different animation properties.

BreakFrame.jsx – Removes a selected text frame and its contents from a story.

CornerEffects.jsx – redraws the path of the selected item or items using a variety of corner effects. Corner effects can be applied to selected points on the path.

CreateCharacterStyles.jsx – Defines a complete character style based on the selected text.

CropMarks.jsx – Adds crop and/or registration marks around the selected object or objects.

ExportAllStories.jsx – Exports all stories in a document to a series of text files.

FindChangeByList.jsx – Performs a series of common text find/change operations by reading a tab-delimited text file.

ImageCatalog.jsx – Places all graphics in a specified folder in a “contact sheet” layout.

MakeGrid.jsx – Creates a grid by subdividing or duplicating the selected object or objects.

Neon.jsx – Applies a “blend” effect to the selected object or objects.

PathEffects.jsx – Changes the position of path points on the selected object or objects to add a creative effect.

PlaceMultipagePDF.jsx – Places all pages of a PDF.

SelectObjects.jsx – Selects objects on the active spread by their object type.

SortParagraphs.jsx – Sorts the paragraphs in the selection alphabetically.

SplitStory.jsx – Splits the text frames in the selected story into separate, unlinked text frames.

TabUtilities.jsx – Applies tab stops and indents to the selected text.

But after six releases, some of these scripts have either become redundant or improved upon elsewhere.

Scripts that have become redundant thanks to the user interface are:

  • AlignToPage.jsx; and
  • CornerEffects.jsx

Both scripts perform tasks which are just as easy to do in the actual user interface. Since InDesign introduced Live Corners, the CornerEffects script is actually more of a burden to use given that the script interface is hard to understand.

Also, objects made using the CornerEffects script do not hold their rounded corners once scaled.

Scripts that ship with InDesign but have been improved by other users:

  • AdjustLayout.jsx;
  • FindChangeByList.jsx; and
  • MakeGrid.jsx

As each version of InDesign had different ways of interpreting javascript, the AdjustLayout behaved differently from version to version. Fed up with this, a co-author of Real World InDesign CS6 Ole Kvern has fixed this script and it can be downloaded here

For users working in millimetres, the MakeGrid script had one quibble that was it would always display measurements in points, but again the script has been fixed by Gerard Singelmann and can be downloaded here (this contains several scripts in German, the MakeGrid script is the one called Rahmen zerschneiden.jsx).

The FindChangeByList script itself hasn’t been improved upon, but the way of entering the find/replace values into the text file where the script gets its values from has. Kasyan Servetsky has a script called Recordfindchange which works by entering the values into the find/replace dialog box, then running the script which creates a text file which can be copied and entered into the text file being referenced by the FindChangeByList.jsx script. Kasyan’s script can be downloaded here.

Scripts that have been made obsolete by scripts made by others:

  • CropMarks.jsx
  • ExportAllStories.jsx
  • PlaceMultipagePDF.jsx
  • SortParagraphs.jsx
  • SplitStory.jsx

The CropMarks Script had issues given that by default, it did not account for bleed and would put crop-marks within the gutters. An alternative by Loïc Teixeira resolves these two issues and can be downloaded here. 

The ExportAllStories script still works but Kris Coppieters of Rorohiko has made a much better export. This one is a paid feature but if text exporting from InDesign is to be done often, is well worth it and can be downloaded here.

The PlaceMultipagePDF has been made quite obsolete by a much better script by Scott Zanelli called MultiPageImporter.jsx which not only imports PDFs but also allows page rotation, scaling, offsets, reverse page order… it’s massive! This script is one which is so good it even has its own manual. More information on the script can be downloaded here.

SortParagraphs again is a good script but Peter Kahrel has made a much better version.

SplitStory again works well but there is just a better version out there by Adi Ravid called StorySplitter which rather than just splitting the stories also has a dialog box with a few options. Again, that script can be found here.

If there any of the default scripts which have been made obsolete that I haven’t covered in this article, please let me know.

Going beyond “Stencil Letters”…

I find that the Data Merge tool is one of the most under-rated features of InDesign and most tutorials which one can Google on the Internet relate to either making business cards, old-fashioned mail-merges a la Microsoft Word, or rather rigid-looking catalogues.

However, once the Data Merge tool is combined with either clever spreadsheets using Microsoft Excel, GREP styles, anchored objects and applying features from the Effects palette or Object Effects, the Data Merge tool becomes much more powerful.

In previous posts I’ve done exactly this to create:

In this post, I will demonstrate how to make more interesting campaigns using Data Merge. Examples include:

  • Street Sign
  • Speech Bubble
  • Pencil Case letters
  • Scrabble Letters

In all of the following examples, the database names:

  • were between 3-11 letters long;
  • were English letters (no letters with accents, umlauts, cedillas, etc). Examples 3 and 4 are possible with foreign letters but would involve more steps not shown in this post.
  • were whole names (no spaces or dashes). Spaces and dashes are possible but in examples 3 and 4 would involve more steps not shown in this post.


The easiest of the four examples, the principle for this merge works using 3 things

  • a blue background with a blank street sign running along the entire page;
  • a centered text block above the street sign;
  • two anchored object images: the pole plus some blue sky; and blue sky tapered on an angle.

Put simply, the centered textbox contains the mergefield plus the word “ST”. This sits above the street sign and one anchored object (the pole plus the blue sky strip) goes to the left of the mergefield, and the other anchored object of tapered blue sky goes to the right of the mergefield.

The result is as the name changes, so does the position of not only the pole, but where the street sign ends, resulting in a dynamically made street sign which is always centered in the sheet.

Download the Street Sign PDF (which contains the InDesign file as an attachment).


This works on a similar principle as the street sign, but because anchored objects always go in front of the textbox they are pasted into, two textboxes have to be made: one containing the variable data (in white) plus the parts of the speech bubble which have to expand; and another containing the variable data only in black in the textbox above.

All works well with this design until the merge comes to the record of Christopher, where gaps appear between the plain rectangle and left/right of the bubble. To compensate for this, a GREP style was made to the type in both textboxes so that once there were 11 characters, the character style became scaled. This is much like the trick used in a recent post, the Square Peg in a Round Hole.

Download the speech bubble PDF (which contains the InDesign file as an attachment).


This was MUCH HARDER given that:

  • The letters were not fixed width, so each “letter” had to be in its own merge; and
  • Pencil case letters do not usually have blanks all the way to the end of the plastic inserts.
  • The letters are right aligned

To do this one, the first thing was to make the letters A-Z. This was done by making an InDesign file 26pp long with the design on the master page containing both the background and the letter as alpha page numbers. This was then made into PDFs which were split into single pages and renamed A.pdf through to Z.pdf using Batch rename in Bridge.

The next trick was getting the names to appear in the database as single letters and in such a fashion that the letters would appear in the correct places. This meant making a formula which would:

  • Know which letter was in a certain position (e.g. 3 letters in, at the end, etc);
  • Know if a letter had nothing in it and would remain blank;
  • Would add the letters .pdf at the end of the result so that the merge would know it was looking for a picture, rather than placing text.

So the following formula was made for all letters except for the last letter:


where X represents how many letters away from the right hand side that needs to be displayed in the cell, and A2 is the name which is to be split into individual letters.

The last letter had the following formula:


The excel file was saved just in case, but was also saved to a Tab Delimited Text file for InDesign.

The rest was easy. Pencil case clipart is to the back, plastic holders are to the front, and 11 graphic frames representing the letters are made. Once the data is called in from the Data Merge palette, the picture fields were put into the appropriate graphic frames so that, once preview was on, the letters would change and but effectively be right-aligned, and contain necessary blank squares.

Download the Pencil Case PDF (which contains the InDesign file, pictures and excel files as attachments).


This was harder than the pencil case letters but employed many of its techniques such as:

  • Requiring images to be made of the letters rather than using type-based letters
  • Using a similar excel spreadsheet to break the names into 11 separate PDFs, with the only exception being that if a field was blank, it was to reference a picture called BLANK.PDF

The easiest part was the background which was just clip-art. The letters were made in a similar fashion to the last post, except that the letters deliberately had some space to the left and right of the letter. This will become apparent soon why this was done.

The excel file was essentially the same except for the addition of the following letters at the end of the formulas:


The addition of this type returns the result “BLANK.PDF” anytime there is no letter to show. This will be important.

Next, a centered textbox is placed above the clipart. A rectangle the size of the scrabble letters is then drawn, cut, and then pasted into the centered textbox as inline text – eleven times. From here, the data is called in via the Data Merge palette and the fields are dragged into position, but BEFORE preview is checked, there is a very important option which has to be selected in the Content Placement Options, namely that in Image Placement (fitting) that the option “Fit Frames to Images” is selected.

It is also important that before hitting preview, that PDFs imported into the art use the Art measurement. To make sure that this happens, import any PDF with the “show import options” on. Once the import options dialog box appears, make sure that the art measurement is used. Click ok, but then delete the picture. This should ensure that all future PDFs placed into the art use the Art box as the defining measurement.

From here, if Preview is checked, the names should now appear centered. Without the “Fit Frames to Images” option being checked, the letters would appear off-centre because of the blank rectangles to the left.

The final trick so that the letters appear to be sunken into the board was to draw a rectangle (no stroke or fill) in the area where the letters should be in the rack, and then cut the centered letters and “Paste Into” the rectangle which was just drawn.

Download the Scrabble Letters PDF (which contains the InDesign file, pictures and excel files as attachments).

Using Data Merge to Impose? It can do it, but…

…but i’d STRONGLY advise against it!

impositions should ALWAYS be prepared by the printer.

This article is really written to illustrate the power of InDesign’s Data Merge feature. See this article for more reasons why NOT to impose files for your printer or provider.

Data Merge can be used for so much more than simply adding someone’s name to a piece of direct mail, so using Data Merge to do something as powerful as page imposition is quite a task.

I’ve prepared five examples which are all downloadable PDFs with the attachments inside the PDFs. I won’t go into great detail but would recommend downloading the PDFs, saving the attachments, and reverse-engineering what I’ve done.

In most examples, the text files for the merge are typically made in Microsoft Excel unless stated otherwise. To also help people unfamiliar with Excel to make spreadsheets without too much frustration, note that:

  • References to pictures must have an “@” sign in the header row. For Example:

however, when typing this in Excel, an error will occur. To overcome this error, type an apostrophe first. The cell will be correct after this.

  • To easily have a number so that it has a file reference at the end without endless errors of #VALUE or #NAME appear, make sure that the numbers are actually numbers (not text) BUT in the formatting, make sure that this formatting is adopted for the cells which are to be picture references:

  • * To make sure that no “missing picture” errors appear when making the data merge in InDesign, make sure that the data text file AND the links being referred to are in the same directory; or referred to with their full path. Having the links in the same directory as the text file ensures that if the folder is moved from one machine to another, that the links will still be accurate.

In every example, the books or tickets being imposed have been broken up into single pages. This can be done in two ways:

1) From Acrobat and Bridge, once a PDF is made


  • select Extract Pages from the Document Menu of Acrobat

  • make sure that the total amount of pages are extracted (in this example there are 128 pages) and that “Extract Pages as Separate Files” is ticked on, and click OK. A window will prompt for a folder to save these files in, make sure to put them in a new folder (nothing like cleaning up 128 files off of the desktop!)

  • go to Bridge and navigate to the folder where the single page PDFs have been extracted. Select all of the documents and then select “Batch Rename…” from the Tools Menu of Bridge.

  • In the New Filenames portion of the dialog box, make sure Sequence Number is selected, starting from the number 1, and then with the appropriate amount of digits for the amount of pages being extracted (there are 128 pages in the example, so three digits is appropriate) and click OK.

the PDFs will now be numbered 001-128.

2) From InDesign, using the Page Exporter Utility (PEU) Script by Scott Zanelli.

  • Go to this site and download the script, making sure to read the instructions. This is a very powerful script which will extract not only as single page PDFs but also EPS or JPG, but read the instructions – everything to detail how to extract the pages appropriately are spelled out in the instructions.

So onto the Five Examples:

1) Printers pairs with no bleed.

This is the easiest one. It assumes a 128pp A4 size book will be prepared as A3 printers pairs for printing on a copier. To do this, i’ve made two A3 landscape pages in InDesign and each page has two placeholders for variable data images. The variable data itself references the pages by the filename given to each page number (e.g. page 14 would be 14.pdf).

2) To impose for Printers Pairs – with bleed.

Essentially similar to the printers pairs with no bleed, but a big exception is that the pages being referenced have bleed. To compensate for the spine so that the bleeds don’t overlap, the picture references for the data merge have been “Pasted Into” other frames so that only the bleed on top, bottom and foredge is visible.

3) To N-up one page to two (or three, four etc).

Similar to the printers pairs with no bleed, the only exception being is that the same picture references is used over again to n-up the pages as required (in the example, this is 2-up). Rather than use Excel to make the data for the Data Merge, a javascript called “Images to CSV” was used. To download the script and find more, go to this link.

4) For Cut & Stack impositions.

At the time of writing this piece, I truly thought this was an original idea and that I was the brainchild, but no, a you-tuber has beaten me to it. See that video here.

A cut and stack imposition is an imposition which generates pages which, when printed in a stack, are in the correct sequence so that once the stack is cut, will result in single page stacks in correct page sequences.

My method is effectively the same – create an InDesign file with however many placeholders are necessary (in the example, that is six) and in the Data Merge file, make sure that in Excel, the sequence numbers for the placeholders represents their position in InDesign.

5) For Burst Bound impositions.

Similar to the Cut and Stack imposition except that in this example, a 16pp conventional fold, sheetwork printed sheets are what is being merged here. This assumes that the 128pp book will be printed entirely in consecutive 16pp sections. It also uses the trick from the printers pairs with no bleed in that the page references are pasted into other frames to prevent the spines overlapping each other.

So, that’s using Data Merge to do impositions. But as I said before…

Don’t do it! This has been for demonstration purposes only! Impositions should ALWAYS be prepared by the printer.

Lineart scans: Multiply or overprint?

While i’m not sure about the behind-the-scenes technical differences between the two, but it would appear that there is a feature of multiply on lineart images which isn’t so great once a PDF is flattened.

Using the following demonstration, i’ve placed the same two images side by side – one greyscale, one lineart, then one applied with multiply and then one applied with overprint.

From here, i’ve exported to PDF with two major considerations: using Acrobat 4 compatibility and  downsampling CMYK and greyscale images.

Now, once the PDF is analysed using a third party plug-in Enfocus Pitstop, I can see things which Acrobat Professional would not normally tell me. In this instance, the greyscale images have been unaffected and essentially appear the same. However, the lineart image which had the multiply effect on it has dropped in resolution from 1200 DPI to 350 DPI; and it has gone from being a lineart image (1 bit per channel) to being a greyscale image (8 bits per channel).

So multiply has effectively flattened the lineart as a greyscale and compressed it based upon the compression settings for greyscale images. The lineart image set to overprint on the right is unchanged – it is still 1-bit at 1200 DPI.

What this means is that sharp, crisp lineart which has had a multiply effect applied to it (presumably to behave as an overprint) can render as not so sharp greyscales. This also means that rather than outputting as lineart, the image will be rendered as halftone dots.

If linearts have to appear as if they are overprinting, use the overprint function from the attributes panel.

Further to this, if a PDF is made using higher Acrobat compatibility settings and no downsampling is applied, it may appear that the PDF is fine in Enfocus Pitstop, but to print a PDF to final output it must ultimately be flattened at the RIP and the same thing will happen as in the example above.

Too close for comfort… and crop marks

When preparing PDFs for commercial printers via Adobe InDesign, be aware of how far away any crop marks generated by the export will be from the trim-size of the finished artwork.

It is not uncommon for printers to ask their clients to prepare PDFs to certain specifications. Some instruct their customers to use standard defaults such as PDF/X-3: 2002, some will have their own step-by-step instructions to the export dialog boxes, while others are more sophisticated and offer pre-saved joboptions files for clients to download and install.

Pre-saved joboptions files are my preference given that these settings supplied by printers to their customers are normally the same settings that the art department will use in-house, so will be fine. However, using the shipped defaults or following step by step instructions can be problematic as it is easy for one major check-box to be missed which can cause delays in the art department: the Marks and Bleeds dialog of the PDF export window.

The exports which ship with Adobe InDesign all have a crop offset of 2.117mm as default, (as shown above) which is not a lot. In the example above, none of the marks and bleeds have been turned on either, nor have the bleeds been set, yet this is how the defaults shipped with InDesign will appear.

It is not uncommon for a printer to ask a customer to submit a PDF with crop-marks on, but if a customer is making a PDF based on default settings and then changing the default values by simply clicking marks on or off without changing the offset values, then problems can occur later.

The issue comes about because crop marks which are too close either have to be removed on the PDF itself, or if the problem marks are left and and printed, may appear on the finished printed artwork. The position of the print cannot be guaranteed to be consistent on every sheet of paper (especially on digitally printed artwork) so variations in image position occur, so while the guillotine will be precise, the position of the crop marks from one sheet to another may not.

The example above shows the PDF file on the left created with only 1mm offset while Crop Marks, Bleed Marks, Registration Marks and Colour Bars are turned on. The result on the right is due to trimming innacuracy using the above PDF.

This doesn’t look like much of an issue on a DL flyer, but the consequences on a 400 page book would be much greater given the variations which can arise not just from the printing but also the folding, binding and then trimming.

To resolve the issue when native files were not supplied, printers will adopt the following options:

  1. Ask the customer to resupply the PDF with greater crop offsets;
  2. Leave the crops where they were and produce results similar to the one in the example;
  3. Delete the marks using tools in Adobe Acrobat Professional, hoping that none of the actual art in the file is deleted as a consequence; or
  4. Delete the marks using third party tools in Adobe Acrobat Professional such as Enfocus Pitstop Professional, which has more advanced selection and removal tools… but once again hope that none of the actual art in the file is deleted as a consequence.

If a printer chooses to adopt options 3 or 4, these are chargeable options which may harm the integrity of the file supplied to the printer as it has now been edited.

My own work recommends the applying Crop Marks and Page information only, having crop offsets of 5mm, and having bleeds of 5mm all around. This is illustrated in the image below.

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