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.

Planning your Wall Planner in advance

Between September and December, most of my working days are devoted to preparing school diaries and planners. One pain-point that I encounter with some diaries is the addition of a year-to-two pages planner. The planners usually look like this:

Apart from the events for each day that are on a layer above and updated each year, the base planner itself has two major wholesale changes:

  • The initials for the days of the week; and
  • The shading for weekends.

The initials are usually 365 threaded text frames that sits above a table containing the weekend shading. The text frames contain the initials of the days of the week, corresponding to the month and day they relate to, so changing the initials is easy. However, shading the cells containing Saturdays and Sundays on the table below takes time. Even if cell styles were used, they still have to be removed from the previous year’s appearance and applied to the appropriate year’s cells – subject to operator error.

Ideally, I was after a solution that would:

  • Easily update all planner base dates in one go
  • Shade all of the weekends without having to do this manually
  • Adjust automatically for leap years
  • Reduce any mis-dating via operator error

Didn’t I already write a script for this?

In 2018, I’d prepared a script to assist in the creation of wall planners that would allow for four types of layout configuration; and in 2020 was further improved to allow an output in one of 14 languages.

That said, this article isn’t meant to be a shameless plug of this script. The script is a great solution for creating new yearly planners. However, this solution requires updating existing planners. An additional solution had to be created.

The simple solution first

As I mentioned earlier, linked text frames that contain the appropriate days of the week initials. However, rather than use one paragraph style for these initials, each day of the week was given its own paragraph style e.g. Monday, Tuesday, etc.

The paragraph styles are based upon a base style that defines its basic appearance, with flourishes added to Saturday and Sunday in the form of paragraph shading. Each paragraph starts in its own text frame, and each paragraph style also refers to a next style feature to go to the next day’s style.

The days of the week are easy enough to prepare. The first way is quick but allows for operator error, and that is to type the 7 initials and their respective line breaks; and copying them 52 times, starting January 1st on the appropriate day.

The second (and more accurate way) is to make a new Excel file, type the start date in cell A1 and then with the cell selected, go to Fill, Series, and fill out the dialog box as shown

Once done, go to cell B1 and type: =CHOOSE(WEEKDAY(A1), “S”, “M”, “T”, “W”, “T”, “F”, “S”) and press return.

In the resulting cell, double-click the green square on the bottom right corner of cell B1 to automatically fill the remaining entries in the column.

From here, select column B, copy and paste it into the threaded text frames in InDesign.

Note – if it came in as a table, make sure to briefly change InDesign’s clipboard handling preferences to handle text and tables from other applications as text only.

Last thing to do is apply the paragraph styles. Take note of what day’s initial appears on January 1 (Friday in this case) and with the text cursor still visible in the text frame, select all type (Command A). From the paragraph styles panel, right click on the Friday paragraph style and choose Apply “Friday” then Next Style.

But this solution only fills two of the four criteria:

  • Easily update a planner dates in one go
  • Shade all of the weekends without having to do this manually
  • Adjust automatically for leap years
  • Reduce any mis-dating via operator error

This solution does not take February 29 in leap years into account. In these instances, an extra text frame needs to be threaded to take in February 29, so is not completely automatic.

The over-engineered solution

I did prepare a solution outside of work hours that would meet all four criteria; but the setup of the file took more time than simply adjusting the previous planner. It would also be difficult for other operators unfamiliar with my techniques to carry out the alterations unless they were trained beforehand. Ultimately, the solution wasn’t practical for my day-to-day work and was never implemented, but it is worth looking at the solution as it uses a variety of InDesign’s features such as:

  • GREP styles
  • Table and Cell styles
  • Rule above within Paragraph styles
  • Linking to an Excel file

Both the InDesign file and Excel file can be downloaded here.

First thing is to create an XLS file that contains the yearly information that changes and link it in InDesign. Linking to an excel file can be done via InDesign’s preferences.

Linking to an XLS file can be fiddly and I’ve found the best way to maintain appearances of linked tables that are updated is to make sure that table and cell styles are applied to the table that will contain the incoming XLS data.

A glimpse at the XLS file shows that it contains the initials of the appropriate days of the week. Note that the initial letter is represented by two letters rather than one (which will be explained shortly). The year is off to the right-hand side for ease of updating the planner by just adjusting the year.

An even closer look at the XLS file shows hidden columns. If we unhide these columns, the workings behind the technique are revealed. To compensate for leap years, the calculation for February 29 has an if-else statement that says if a date appears here, add the appropriate weekday initial, but if there is nothing, leave it blank.

Back in the InDesign file, all cells contain a paragraph style that have a GREP style instruction that makes the first letter minuscule in size and width.

Why two letters for the days of the week and not one?

It is to do with how the shading of the cell is automated. The first letter is used to identify a weekend with the initial S and that letter is colorised with an appropriate color for the weekend. If the letter was a weekday, the first letter is set to none. To control the background color of the cell, the rule above feature of the paragraph style is used as it allows the [Text Color] option to be selected, and this color is the first character that the paragraph style encounters. The rule above is then made thick enough to fill the cell, and then the offsets are applied to fill the remaining parts of the cell.

Why not use the paragraph shading feature? Unfortunately, this feature does not have access to the [Text Color] option from the color dropdown.

Updating the data can present a trap, as instead of simply changing the date in excel and updating the file, the art needs to be relinked and then selected with the show import options dialog to only bring in specific cells, as the date at the far right isn’t required. In this instance, it is changing the cell range from A1:AA32 toA1:Y32 as shown:

So this will make the base for the planner, and all the further information into the particular dates is done on a layer above using a table with the same cell dimensions.

As mentioned, this is an over-engineered solution that wasn’t implemented, but its use of combining linked Excel files, GREP styles and Cell styles may have application for other purposes.

Adding other languages to the Colecandoo scripts

As this site has become more widely known around the world, the issue of localization has been raised. The scripts I’ve written are based on my initial use as an English speaker with the International English version of Adobe InDesign. That’s fine for myself and other anglophones, but there are also times when scripts that are run on different language versions of Adobe InDesign:

  • Have an English user interface or output; or
  • Didn’t work because the script relied on coding that required a code reference based on the English language version of Adobe InDesign.

To this end, I’ve rectified issues concerning non-functioning scripts based on coding issues. However, translating the scripts into other languages is a task that I cannot undertake on my own as I do not speak other languages besides English, and would never solely rely on automatic translation software or services such as Google Translate.

I’m also aware that some of the scripts on this site gain more traction from countries where English is not the first spoken language, such as the following videos:

Though recently, the stars have somewhat aligned. I was approached to update my wall-planner script so that it could contain German and French user interfaces and outputs. With the assistance from the requester, as well as further assistance that has expanded this to Portuguese as well, this script has been updated.

In addition, the script can provide a wall planner in one of fourteen languages:

  • English
  • dansk
  • deutsch
  • español
  • ελληνικά
  • français
  • italiano
  • Nederlands
  • norsk
  • polski
  • português
  • Русский
  • suomi
  • svenska

The updated script can be found on the scripts page. Ultimately, I would like to update this – and other scripts on this site that contain user interfaces or outputs – to feature other languages besides English. If this is of interest to you, please contact me via my contact page.

Data Merge to Single Records Pro: Now Available

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

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

This script improves upon the free original by:

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

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


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

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