Using a smartphone as a loupe

Part of my work as a prepress operator requires looking at printed material under magnification, usually a loupe. This is done for a variety of reasons, such as:

  • Determining if a previous print was printed in full colour process or spot colour;
  • Assessing the effectiveness of trapping;
  • Checking if print is aligned in register;
  • Determining the dot structure of a printed product (was it stochastic or halftone; and if it was halftone, was the dot shape round, Euclidean or other);
  • Attempting to determine the value of a colour breakdown;
  • Confirming that barcode width reduction appropriately compensates for ink gain on a printed barcode.

In previous posts on Colecandoo, I’ve shown several photos taken using my digital microscope, such as this image that was used to illustrate the misregistration of a varnish compared to the ink underneath.

The digital microscope is certainly useful for checking details not immediately obvious with a loupe such as the barcode example, but for most magnifying tasks, a loupe works just fine.

Isn’t there a smartphone app for this?  

Yes and no. There are specific smartphone apps I will use for prepress work, such as:

  • What the Font – great for identifying fonts when I’m far away from my laptop;
  • Measure – when a tape measure is unavailable and centimetre precision will do;
  • Adobe Scan – when I need to take in typeset material when I’m not near my flatbed scanner; or if a customer’s original can’t be taken apart to fit on a flatbed scanner.
  • Touch Portal – when I need extra buttons for my laptop – an equivalent would be elgato’ streamdeck.

Many smartphones now feature macro lenses that have comparable zoom to a loupe, but require the phone to be held the correct distance away from the subject and to have a steady hand or a rig established for the purpose.

Enter smartphone lenses

I’ve recently invested in a macro lens for my smartphone. Since using it at work, it has been quite useful – to the point where it inspired this article.

To demonstrate the difference of the smartphone macro lens to the default macro lens and the digital microscope, here is a comparison on a printed image.

For me at least, I can now safely stash my old loupe in the desk drawer and begin to use the macro lens as an alternative. Here are some reasons that I’ve made this decision:

It has several advantages over a conventional loupe:

  • Virtually no chromatic aberration
  • Others can see the image without me needing to share the loupe
  • Can share the footage live using screen sharing software so that the image isn’t just on the phone screen, but on a larger display; or take a photo and email to the client or file for later use.

There are also several advantages of this lens over iphone’s macro lens:

  • Higher magnification;
  • Stable to hold as the diffusion filter also acts as a rest;
  • As any Sandmarc lens is shipped with a case or clip to allow the lens to be mounted, it also provides the ability to change out lenses for other purposes

This also has advantage over the digital microscope

  • No wires;
  • Requires no additional power;
  • No additional “unitasker” software (serves one purpose alone)

However, the macro lens isn’t without it’s disadvantages:

  • Needs good lighting – a backlight would help tremendously;
  • Requires a case or clamp to fasten the lens, though with the Sandmarc lens that I purchased, this was provided upon purchase;
  • Requires additional software to access the individual lenses as the iphone’s default camera app will not allow this flexibility – software such as Adobe Lightroom is what I use, but this was on my phone anyway;
  • Not portable enough to become part of my everyday carryables such as car keys, phone, wallet etc. Is small enough to fit in a tiny bag that sits on my desk.

So while I now have a new tool in my prepress arsenal, I’d like to know what other apps or tools that people are using to assist them in their design or prepress tasks – feel free to comment below.

Finally, as a matter of full disclosure, this article is NOT sponsored by Adobe, Sandmarc, Apple or any other company mentioned in the article. If they would like to sponsor Colecandoo in the future, that may be something to explore, but this article is my own thoughts and opinions and the macro lens I purchased.

Page Size Lies

UPDATE 2021-10-08: Enfocus Pitstop has released an update that now resolves the error that was brought about by the update of Adobe Acrobat DC. However, I will leave the article posted for posterity.

Have you ever received a client’s InDesign file and sent it to PDF or print, only to measure the document and realise it is a different size to the one that was in InDesign’s document setup?

What could cause this issue to arise?

The page tool has been used

It is likely that at some stage between the initial creation of the file and receiving the file, at least one page size in the document has been changed using the page tool.

Preflight should tell me… right?

Well, that depends. If you are using either of InDesign’s default preflights (i.e. [Basic] or Digital Publishing) then preflight will not flag a warning.

I’ve discussed my frustrations with InDesign’s default preflights in Episode 19 over on the Colecandoo Youtube channel. However, if you are using a more comprehensive preflight such as the VIGC profiles, then this is detected as an issue:

More comprehensive preflights such as the VIGC profiles look for much more than InDesign’s default preflights e.g.:

As a side-note, the Document portion of the Preflight Profiles dialog box is also handy for authors who are making saddle stapled publications that must have page-counts in multiples of four (an issue I’ve faced several times) e.g.:

Or for larger offset publications where folded page signatures are likely to be prepared in minimum multiples of eight e.g.:

There are also scripts to highlight this

I’m working on a startup script that – upon export or print – should provide an alert dialog box warning that there are size discrepancies… but in the meantime there are some other scripts that work by providing alerts to a document’s page sizes, or a script hosted over on Kasyan Servetsky’s curated list that makes a list of the page sizes in a document (look for “Check all pages” once the link loads).

What I think would ultimately help everyone would be if the Document Setup window would change once page sizes in a document were no longer the same, such as this mockup e.g.:

PDF spreads from InDesign: radio button vs dropdown

When proofing PDFs of books to clients, it is often important that the client sees the proof as a series of left and right page spreads. PDFs made with any of InDesign’s default settings (these are the options in the Export Adobe PDF dialog box in the top dropdown field in square brackets) will show the PDF in Adobe Acrobat as it’s default view – single pages.

Adobe Acrobat does allow for pages to be presented in two-page appearance, but this is controlled by the user. If the user is unaware of this feature, then they will be viewing the PDF using Acrobat’s default single page view.

It is possible to change the view settings of a specific PDF while in Adobe Acrobat and this is done from the Properties option from the File menu.

The page viewing defaults of Acrobat itself can also be changed, but this will view any PDF that has not had its preferences changed when the PDF was made.

It is worth noting though that prior to 2015, the widely accepted method to prepare a PDF as readers spreads was to do this from InDesign’s Spreads radio button in the Export Adobe PDF dialog box.

While this does prepare what appears to be readers spreads, it does so with some disadvantages:

  • The centre spread line cannot be seen. This can be addressed by using the page border script from Indiscripts that applies a page border to all pages. Run this script prior to exporting the PDF to generate the page border and then export the PDF, then rerun the script to turn the border off.
  • The page count is incorrect. The folios will still appear to be correct within the PDF, but the page navigation itself will show the page count as half the number of original pages plus one (e.g. a 16pp file saved as spreads will now show up as 9pp in the PDF’s navigation).

However, from June 2015 it has been possible to set the default view options when exporting a PDF from InDesign for viewing in Adobe Acrobat.

This allows PDFs to contain the correct page count and to also show the page split between the spreads while still showing the pages as spreads.

Should be problem solved, right?

Unfortunately, no. Despite the dropdown now being available, there’s no ideal way to prepare readers spreads to suit all PDF readers or platforms.

  • Unless InDesign users read all of InDesign’s patch notes (maintained by James Wamser) or were otherwise made aware of this change, then normal habits would persist, and users would continue to prepare spreads using the spreads radio button.
  • If the dropdowns had been used, this only makes viewing the spreads possible in Adobe Acrobat (Reader or Pro), but unfortunately this software is no longer the preferred option for viewing PDFs. Besides Mozilla Firefox and Adobe Acrobat, most PDF readers only support single page view.
  • Even if Acrobat or Firefox are being used, users can still override the view either manually, or using Acrobat it can be done by default using accessibility in the preferences

So what can be done?

There are effectively four options:

First option is to prepare PDFs based on an audience using Acrobat only as their reader and use the dropdown option for spreads. If the PDF is exported from InDesign using a PDF/X standard, Acrobat will also show the PDF as it appears in InDesign’s overprint preview.

Second option is to prepare a PDF using the pre-2015 method of using the spreads button and the Indiscripts page border script.

Third option is to lobby the manufacturers of the non-Adobe PDF reader software to bring their software into line with the PDF specifications set out by Adobe itself (and while they are doing that, also update their readers to also accept form fields and commenting functions!).

Last option is to do nothing and leave the pages as single spreads… and that isn’t necessarily a bad option. If the PDF is being created for onscreen viewing only, and the viewer must see something that is intentionally spread over two pages such as an image that crosses over two pages, then single pages should be fine.

Last word

It is of note that people are not just consuming information on a single desktop monitor, but may have two or more monitors in which software windows are being juggled around; or on a mobile device that is more natural to be held in a portrait fashion. Social media apps such as TikTok and Instagram are designed for mobile devices to be held in a portrait orientation. It’s hard for me to admit, but left and right hand pages are just a legacy of printed books as their assembly creates this phenomenon. Unless there is a crossover between the two pages, a reader will usually read the content on one page, adjust their gaze and read another – their focus of vision can’t be on both pages at the same time.

Also, if the PDF is intended for print by a printing company, don’t provide them a PDF as readers spreads as they won’t be able to impose the pages for printing without breaking the PDF back into single pages.

Inklude (sic) Mixed Inks into Illustrator

A feature which is strangely absent from Adobe Illustrator (yet present in Adobe InDesign) is mixed inks. This gives the user the ability to make a new swatch based on percentiles of other swatches that can include spot colors, along with process colors.

InDesign’s mixed ink feature also allows groups of mixed ink colors to be made, based on how much of each ink should be in each swatch, and the increments they should differ by.

For pure spot color work, this can create colors that would otherwise require using blend modes such as multiply or darken to create similar colors. However, from a prepress standpoint, mixed inks have several advantages over applying blend modes to objects to achieve the same effect.

Embellishments

For digital devices that can apply inline varnishes, mixed inks make sense. In the following example, the headline requires a varnish

Usual way of doing this would be to create a second layer with an identical headline, but set to a Varnish spot color on another layer, with either a transparency effect such as darken or multiply applied; or overprint turned on from the attributes menu.

That’s fine if the position of the artwork is final, but if the design is in a state of flux, that requires moving the varnish to be in the same position as the type.

A solution is to use InDesign’s mixed ink to create a new mixed ink swatch. In this case, I’ll call it Varnished Headline, and give it 100% of the black and 100% of the varnish spot

This solution also applies to other common embellishments such as embosses, foils, raised varnishes, etc.

White Masks

When preparing label artwork for clear or metallic substrates, white masks have to be prepared so that the color art can appear correctly above the substrate. Take for example this logo to be printed over a silver background.

Again, by using mixed inks, it is possible to make a white mask that doesn’t require another layer, blend mode, and can move with the artwork. In this example, three colors would be created: the white mask; Red and a white mask; and Black and a white mask – the last two being mixed inks.

The art can then be recolored so that the red now uses the red mixed ink; the black now uses the black mixed ink; and the paper now uses the white mask ink.

Notice that the gold cup does not contain a white mask – that is because the gold color – when printed on a silver stock – will appear more like a gold foil.

Double-Hit Prints

On one or two spot colour jobs that have large areas of solid ink coverage, occasionally the same colour will be applied twice on the press as to hide any mechanical ghosting from the printing process.

In the above example, one plate would be for the solid color, and a second – though stippled plate – would be for the undercolor to hide the mechanical ghosting. This color can be set up using InDesign’s mixed inks.

But this is missing from Illustrator!

Despite the mixed ink feature being available in Adobe InDesign, it is notably absent from Adobe Illustrator. This is frustrating as artwork that usually requires the three solutions above is often prepared as Adobe Illustrator artwork, requiring old-school solution of layers and blend modes.

If you feel that this missing feature deserves to be in Adobe Illustrator, make sure to let the Illustrator Uservoice know!

Export many PDFs at once… plus security

A recent question on Reddit’s InDesign subreddit was whether two PDFs could be exported at the same time from the same document, but have two different properties – one with trims and one without. The answer is yes, but via a custom script written for the task.

I use such a script on a daily basis so that I can prepare a PDF for client proofing via email; and a separate PDF that has trim and crops that is sent directly to a hot-folder that prints it for me.

I’d submitted my script as a solution (that can be downloaded from the scripts page), but then realised that this concept was not a new idea. Ariel Walden over at ID-Extras had already written a similar script within a blog post of his own.

Similarly, Peter Kahrel’s Batch Convert script can perform the same task, with the added advantage that it can also do this for all open InDesign documents;

Or if no documents are open, a specified folder (and subfolders if desired) of InDesign files.

Can’t make these secure

One feature that all three scripts have in common is that the exports are based on the PDF presets available on the user’s machine. One feature that can’t be added to a PDF preset is security – this can only be done when a request to export the document is made, as security settings aren’t saved into PDF presets.

This is a problem if there are lots of documents that need to be exported with security settings as it requires the user to enter the security details each time a PDF is exported.

I’ve made an additional script

For this purpose, I thought I would make a script that not only makes several PDFs, but can also add password security to one version. The script can be downloaded from the scripts page.

When the script is run, it will generate two PDFs using different PDF export settings, but one will have the suffix “_secure” added to the filename, and a dialog box will appear once the export is finished:

Adjustability

The script can also be adjusted by opening the script in any text editing application and making the necessary changes, such as.

Use the same password for every document

Look for the line

    openDocumentPassword = myPassOpen; // requires a password to open the document

and change the myPassOpen to the desired password in quotations. For example:

    openDocumentPassword = "OpenSesame"; // requires a password to open the document

Similarly, do the same thing for the line underneath, making sure that the open password and edit password are not the same.

    changeSecurityPassword = myPassWrite; // requires a password to change the document

change to

    changeSecurityPassword = "EditSesame"; // requires a password to change the document

then search for the lines

dialog.show();
//alert("Done");

and swap the forward slashes in the lines around so that the lines now read like this.

//dialog.show();
alert("Done");

Only require a password to edit the document

Look for the following line:

    openDocumentPassword = myPassOpen; // requires a password to open the document

and add two forward slashes to the start of the line.

//    openDocumentPassword = myPassOpen; // requires a password to open the document

Adding two forward slashes to a line in a javascript tells the script to ignore the rest of the line and go to the next line of code.

Don’t show the “done” message

The default script has a dialog at the end for showing what the opening and editing passwords are, but if you want to edit the script so it makes a PDF that applies security to edit the document but does not provide the password (e.g. for the purpose of handing PDFs over to parties who may seek to deconstruct them in other applications) then make the adjustment mentioned a moment ago to restrict passwording to editing only, and then search for the lines

dialog.show();
//alert("Done");

and swap the forward slashes in the lines around so that the lines now read like this.

//dialog.show();
alert("Done");

Add more PDF exports

Look for the line

app.activeDocument.exportFile(ExportFormat.pdfType, File(resultsFolder + "/" + app.activeDocument.name.split(".indd")[0] + ".pdf"), false, "[High Quality Print]");

make a copy of the line and make the appropriate changes:

  • Replace the “[High Quality Print]” to the desired PDF preset exactly as it is written in the PDF export dialog box and put it in quotes. For example, if your PDF preset is called My Export then type “My Export”
  • Replace the “.pdf” with a suffix that denotes that this is an additional PDF. For example, if the pdf is a high res print, perhaps replace this with “_hi-res.pdf” so that the resulting file has _hi-res.pdf at the end of its filename.

Otherwise if you are after specific changes to the script to suit your needs, contact me via the contact page.

Things to know about the script

Opening and editing passwords must be different

One condition of preparing a secure PDF from Adobe InDesign is that the password required to open the PDF must be different to the password to edit the PDF, so if editing the script to replace the randomly generated password to a known one, the opening and editing passwords must be different. If the passwords are the same, the PDF will be made without security.

PDF Standard in the preset must be set to “None”

PDFs that use a PDFX standards can’t have security applied to them as the security panel of the PDF export box is greyed out, preventing security to be applied. The standards dropdown box in the desired PDF preset must be set to None.

Only password security is applied

When exporting a PDF from InDesign, only password security can be applied, unlike Adobe Acrobat’s choices of security that it can offer (as shown below).

While password security may deter or prevent a layperson from editing the PDF, the security can be broken through some effort. Several websites offer services where users can drag and drop a PDF to the site, and within moments the PDF will have the PDF password removed.

Similarly, there are desktop applications that can also be purchased to remove the security (as one of their many features), such as PDFsam Visual.

When PDFs were edited, not commented

My preferred of proofing artwork to clients is to provide a PDF proof of the artwork from my Adobe InDesign file, along with specific instructions to open the PDF in Adobe Acrobat Reader, and use PDF mark-ups using Adobe Acrobat Reader’s comment feature.

In a perfect world, the markups would be returned from the client looking something like this:

This will allow me to take advantage of InDesign’s “Import PDF Comments” feature:

Or similarly via the Annotations plug-in from DTPTools:

Each method has its own strengths and weaknesses, but the goal is the same – to take the markups from a PDF file directly into InDesign to accept or reject alterations.

Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world, and proofs can come back in a variety of ways:

  • Provided as a series of instructions, usually as bullet points in an email or given over the telephone;
  • Printed out by the client and marked up with a pen. This can be made worse if a red pen isn’t used; the client’s alterations are illegible or uses their own shorthand rather than proofreaders’ marks; or if the hard-copy alts are made into poor-quality digital images by scanning or photographing (or worse, faxing).
  • Submitted to an upload service that allows markups to be made on its platform; but not extracted and able to be imported into InDesign via Import PDF Comments or annotations (e.g. Box and Dropbox)
  • Markups are made, but using software other than Acrobat (e.g. Mac Preview) that have difficulty importing into InDesign’s solution or the plug-in;
  • Markups are made, but using markup tools that allow for subjective opinion (e.g. speech bubbles, arrows, drawing tools) rather than replacement, strikethrough or text addition. Speech bubbles have their place in alterations, but usually to indicate that a larger content change is required, rather than for small type replacements.
  • Markups that are duplicated and effectively “clog” the commenting panel (i.e. using more commenting than is required to take in an alteration such as the example below).
  • Rather than using markups, the client has actually edited the PDF with a PDF editor of some description and made the changes to the PDF itself (as shown below)

Most of these bullet points are a way of life with round-tripping of proofs, but the last point is the most frustrating when taking in alterations as:

  • InDesign or the plug-in literally have no markup instructions to take in, so no alterations appear in their respective alteration panels;
  • It can give the artist a false sense that no alterations were made as no markups are present;
  • If alterations are subtle, it can be difficult to tell where the alterations were made.

I’d like to say this outcome rarely happens, but the reality is that this happens far too often. My first impulse is to contact the client and inform them that the alterations aren’t usable and to use the Comment feature rather than the Edit feature, but that has the following drawbacks:

  • It is likely to frustrate and annoy the client, especially if many alterations were made. This is moreso the case if the client has followed the printer’s instructions to mark up a PDF but has mistakenly misunderstood the difference between the Edit and Comment feature of Acrobat.
  • Even if the client complies, it introduces errors such as alterations missed that were on the previously sent proof. It also takes time to prepare the alterations again, time that may not be available.

To use a card player’s metaphor, we have to play the hand that we are dealt and somehow compare the two files to determine what changes were made. I will also communicate to the client our preferred method of proofing to avoid similar incidents in the future.

But what ways can the two files be compared to take in the alterations?

Visual comparison

This can be done on-screen by either having both applications open between two monitors or one monitor with the windows split. It can also be done in an analog fashion by printing out the original and the latest alterations, then using a light table, overlaying each altered page over each original page and looking for differences. Unfortunately, both methods are time-consuming and subjective.

Visually overlay the PDF into the InDesign file

This involves placing the PDF of the alterations into the InDesign file, but on a layer above the artwork and with a transparency so that an overlay comparison can be made. To do this:

  1. Use the multipageimporter script with the following options to place all PDF pages into the InDesign pages on their own layer above the artwork.
  • Make a new object style with 25% normal opacity as its only property.
  • Use the following script by “Vinny” that will apply the object style to the imported PDF only. (This script works for documents less than 100 pages, but upon testing will throw a javascript error).

With overprint preview turned on, it will now become possible to see alterations that may have been made, and toggling the PDF layer on and off will assist in this process.

However this is still a manual, time-consuming and subjective task.

Kasyan’s comparison script

This is a script created by Kasyan Servetsky based on an article by Mike Rankin at CreativePro.

The technique in the article is used to compare two InDesign files by placing original and altered InDesign files into a temporary document applying different transparency settings to each file, and through the transparency settings being able to identify where alterations were made. This can still be applied in this use-case but an added step of an additional InDesign file that contains a placed PDF of the altered file and comparing between the two files.

Like the previous methods, it is still a time-consuming, manual and subjective task.

Dedicated file comparison software

Software such as Global Vision offers comparison software that loads both the original and altered files and performs a comparison that highlights the differences between the two files. It is worth looking at a video of the software in action.

It isn’t the only software that compares PDFs, and a brief search of the internet will yield several online services that perform similar tasks, such as:

  • Diffchecker
  • PDF Forge’s compare tool
  • Kiwi PDF comparer

That said, naming the sites above is not an endorsement, so if looking for an online option, make sure to perform all appropriate due-diligence before considering any provider.

Compare files in Acrobat itself

Acrobat does have a similar feature from the view menu where both original and altered files are compared between each other.

The results are highlighted, but the report and specific errors are not always as obvious as the results prepared with Global Vision’s software.

Using Acrobat’s compare files data as the PDF markup

There is a technique that can take the comparisons from Acrobat’s Compare files feature and treat them as markups. The technique is as follows:

  1. After the comparison is run, hit the close button on the top right.
  2. Navigate to the first page that has the compare results title page and delete it using Command+Shift+D.
  3. Save the resulting file.

The resulting PDF can then be imported using the Import PDF Comments feature from InDesign

Or by using the Annotations plug-in by DTPTools

Note that the plug-in displays the three changes that were highlighted in the comparison document, but InDesign’s Comment Import only displays two, while acknowledging that there is a third somewhere on the page.

Consider other round-tripping solutions within InDesign

There are several third party solutions available from the Adobe Exchange that allow round-tripping via InDesign such as:

  • GoProof;
  • inMotion;
  • PageProof;
  • ProofMe

The advantage for clients is that rather than opening the proof in Acrobat, clients are directed to a website where alterations can be made. This avoids clients inadvertently editing the PDF and instead allows them to provide changes that will need to be made by the artist.

Having tried some of these proofing systems, one thing in common was that alterations that clients could make was only in the form of comments, rather than strikethroughs or additions that are possible with the PDF commenting tools. These services usually require a log-in system which can be a hurdle, and are usually paid services.

InDesign’s Share for Review

InDesign 2020 and above does contain a feature called Share for Review that works in a similar way to these third party solutions, though the 2021 release allows for text highlighting, strikethrough and additions as well.

Another advantage is that clients no longer require Adobe Acrobat or a PDF reader to open the proofs, only a web browser. Check out Daniel’s video over at Bring Your Own Laptop to see this in more detail, along with other 2021 update features.

It is worth pointing out that this is not Adobe’s first attempt at a proofing solution, with an earlier system called CS Review introduced in May 2010 and then deprecated in April 2012. It is also worth pointing out that Share for Review is a feature offered in InDesign that – at the time of writing – has no comparison from competitors such as Quark Xpress or Affinity Publisher.

So far as my own work goes, this proofing method was not considered when Share for Review was released in June 2020 as the markups were limited to pin and drawing tools. Additionally, the release of the expanded tools happened during a peak-time in our production, and was too difficult to switch clients over from the PDF round-tripping method to this method in such a short space of time. It was also too early to gather other user input about the experience and bugs, so more feedback was required before considering this as a real-world solution.

Now at the time of writing with the expanded tools, I will begin trialling this method and report my findings once I’m confident there is enough to report.

Last word on this article

Up to this point in time, PDF commenting has worked effectively as a round-tripping solution from my perspective in the majority of my work, though it isn’t without its issues such as:

  • Establishing the process with clients, especially with staff turnover as the process needs to be established and explained to ensure that a client will not only mark up a PDF (rather than make changes to the PDF itself), but that the markups are prepared correctly and efficiently;
  • Proofing large file sizes;
  • Proofing to clients who are at the mercy of their IT department’s rules as to what software or websites they can or cannot access;
  • The Adobe Acrobat software itself, considering in a previous version the Acrobat team removed features that most casual users of the software would consider essential (much to my frustration until customer demand made them reinstate it) and how the software will be supported in future releases and for future operating systems.

What have your experiences with PDF comments been? Do you use a similar round-tripping method or something different? And are there any technologies in this space that haven’t been mentioned? Leave your comments below.

Advance “Australia Fair” Notice would have been nice

Those of you reading this article and living outside Australia may not be familiar with Advance Australia Fair, it is Australia’s National Anthem. The anthem is relatively new – adopted in 1984 to replace the previous anthem “God Save the Queen”; and is two verses in length.

So what does this have to do with this blog about prepress and InDesign advice? Well, in this instance, that a change without prior notice can cause major issues, and in this article, I’ll explain how it did just that recently.

Young to One

The Australian National Anthem can be a polarising topic, but in this article I want to put all politics aside and look at the practical effect this change made. For readers unfamiliar with the anthem, here is some context.

In November 2020, New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian suggested a one-word change to the second line of the anthem to better reflect the country’s history prior to colonisation. The line that was previously:

For we are young and free

Would now become:

For we are one and free

This was not the first time an amendment had been suggested to the anthem, and in a news cycle dominated by COVID-19 and the US Elections, it was a story that was largely out of sight. However, unlike the other suggestions, this change was not only accepted – but literally implemented overnight, with the announcement by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on New Year’s Eve 2020 that the change would be made effective on January 1, 2021.

The effect of virtually no warning

In Australia, the school year starts late January and ends early December. This means that unique materials produced for schools for the new school year are normally produced between December and January, including school diaries.

An item requested by many schools to appear in their diaries is the Australian National Anthem, as it will be sung at various events such as assemblies, sporting events, etc.

Unfortunately, the timing of the decision is frustrating. The majority of school diaries are printed between October to December, meaning any diaries that featured the previous anthem were now incorrect. It also meant that any affected diaries that were in production had to be changed, and could mean reprinting single leaves or entire sections of a diary, depending on the printing method used. It could also mean having to reprint entire diaries that had already been perfect-bound; or for coil-bound diaries, the process of unbinding, replacing the affected page and rebinding the diary with a new coil.

I understand why the change to the anthem was made, and understand that January 1 is a convenient date on a calendar as it represents a new year, with Australia Day four weeks later. However, the lack of prior notice has caught not just my own employer off-guard, but anyone who makes similar collateral for schools.

Seen this before?

When preparing diaries for clients, every effort is made to ensure the correct dates and information is used, such as public holidays and school terms. Usually, these dates are planned and gazetted well ahead of time, but there are times that they have changed unexpectedly. One example was in October 2015 when the Queensland Government changed Labour Day from October to May for the next year. This was a mild inconvenience as most diaries were still in the round-tripping stage of their production and could be updated, but there were a handful of diaries that did need sections reprinted.

Yes, a phrase can be used to explain away mistakes in a diary, such as:

while correct at the time of printing, these dates are subject to change without prior notice

but that phrase doesn’t mean much when people that have relied on a date printed in a diary, only to learn – to their own inconvenience – that the date is incorrect.

Last thoughts on the issue

I understand that this is likely to be a one-off issue, but to cause so much rework was frustrating, simply because of a decision made by the Prime Minister – made with good intentions at its core – was done with virtually no warning to implement the change.

Yes, it’s only one word that changed, and yes I’m sure customers may be forgiving of the circumstances, but if the change to the anthem was far more major, then I don’t think customers would be so forgiving.

Personally, if there were to be changes to the Australian National Anthem, how about replacing the word “Girt”? It just means surrounded or enclosed, and isn’t it even in the wrong tense for the verb “Gird”? I also feel that Australia could be better represented by songs in 80s popular culture such as Land Down Under, Great Southern Land or Sounds of Then.

Lastly, even though it breaches part of the anthem’s protocols, the anthem can be sung to the tune of “Gilligan’s Island” or “Working Class Man” by Jimmy Barnes.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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This allows for further variables to be made.

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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.

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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?

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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:

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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:

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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.

 

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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.

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

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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:

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

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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!

Preflight video and “Enforcer” Scripts

Adobe InDesign has a magnificient feature that displays a list of prepress issues that may be present in artwork, and updates this in real-time. It is the live preflight feature, and it’s certainly not a new feature in Adobe InDesign. That said, considering some of the files that I receive that are considered to be “finished art”, I wonder how many people know that this feature exists; or uses the feature before handing off their finished artwork to their printer or supplier.

To be fair, the live preflight feature is rather passive in Adobe InDesign. If the preflight panel isn’t loaded into your set of panels in your workspace, it is only visible at the bottom of the screen, and is less than 50 pixels in height. The default preflight that is performed on artwork only alerts on a handful of items, some of which have dedicated alerts to their absence anyway (such as overset text, missing fonts and missing links).

In this Colecandoo video, I demonstrate that the preflights can be much more powerful, the basic preflight can be replaced with far more powerful preflights, and I demonstrate some traps to look out for that are not detected with any preflight. The video also demonstrates two scripts that are designed to prevent users from printing or exporting their artwork until it passes the live preflight check. If you’re interested in obtaining a copy of this on-request script, head to the contact page and ask for the “preflight enforcer scripts”.

In a future video, I’ll elaborate on the demonstration file used in the video, as it contains dozens of prepress errors.

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