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

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

  • PDF
  • Adobe Illustrator
  • Adobe InDesign

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

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

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

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

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

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

Workaround: Split the PDF

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

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

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

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

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

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

For data where the page number is known

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

Absolute vs Section numbers abridged:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In a perfect world

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

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

In the same way that different political or religious views can polarise a group of people, so can one specific InDesign feature: Light or Dark interface.

Introduced into InDesign CC in 2013, this change brought InDesign in line with other Creative Cloud products that had a dark interface. That said, I was not a fan and chose to remain a user of the light interface.

Many years later and Apple released the macOS Mojave with its Dynamic Desktop and Dark mode. The Dynamic Desktop feature shows a bright desktop during daylight hours and a dark desktop during the dark hours. In addition, popular apps also followed suit allowing users to switch from the usual view to a “night mode”.

In addition, I have found myself working late into the night on projects, and have found that a darker interface during these hours is easier on my eyes. That said, I still like to use a light interface when working in daylight hours.

With this in mind, I wondered if it was possible to create an InDesign startup script that – upon performing a common task such as opening a file – would check the time of day and if it was beyond a certain time of the day, would invoke the dark interface… and it was.

I’ve now added this script to the site and it can be downloaded from here or the scripts/download pages. As this is a startup script, it has to be added to the Startup Scripts folder (see Ole Kvern’s excellent instructions for doing so here).

The script can also be modified to suit by going into any text editor such as textedit or notepad and editing the following lines of the script:

if (hours <= 7 || hours >= 18)

This indicates the hours of the day. In the script, 7 = 7:00 am, and 18 = 6:00 pm.

app.generalPreferences.uiBrightnessPreference = 0.0;

This refers to how dark the interface should be. 0.0 is totally dark, 1.0 is bright, but values from 0.1-0.9 can be used as well.

app.generalPreferences.pasteboardColorPreference = 1; 

This refers to the color of the pasteboard. The number 1 will match the pasteboard color to the interface, whereas 0 will leave the pasteboard white.

So technically it’s not a night-mode per se, but for those who like the light interface until the night-time hours, this script may be something to consider.

Add date selectors to date fields in interactive PDF

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preparing artwork for a Tête-Bêche book

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

titlepic

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

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

Make two separate titles first

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

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

PDF only method

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

  • Rotate all pages 180°;

01 rotatepages

  • Reverse the page order*.

02 reversepgorder

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

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

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

03 combinefiles

or

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

04 dragdrop

InDesign method

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

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

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

05 importone

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

06 add a page

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

07 importtwo

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

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

08 tada

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

Confirmation of page sequence

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

The cover

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

09 headirections

 

 

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