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.:

Enfocus Pitstop Pro users: uncheck this item in Acrobat

In trade school, one tip the lecturers always pushed was to never update to the latest software version straight away, but let others experience the problems first, then upgrade once the first patch became available.

This lesson was further reinforced this week when I received an email from Enfocus – the manufacturer of the Pitstop Professional plug-in for Adobe Acrobat.

Unfortunately for many Adobe Acrobat users, the software had already updated – usually without the operator’s knowledge – until the signs of problems presented themselves, and by then it was too late.

In my case, updating Acrobat is something I have to do manually, having learned the hard way what can happen when software – used in a production environment – is changed without warning and affects components of production. I did this by going to Acrobat’s preferences, navigating to updates, and unchecking the dialog box that says Automatically install updates.

What confuses matters is that Acrobat is considered part of Adobe’s Document Cloud more than it is in Adobe’s Creative Cloud – something that can be demonstrated by going into the Creative Cloud application looking at the items installed… or could simply be an unreported bug. In the following screenshot, it appears that my version is already updated.

But unlike the InDesign install that shows the version number, Acrobat DC’s version number isn’t displayed, so instead I choose to check for updates manually.

I’m now presented with a new dialog box that informs me that an update is available and if I would like to install it now. I decline and press the No button.

Unfortunately, my colleagues were not so lucky. I was originally aware that an update to Acrobat was available via Adobe’s replies to my earlier posts in the Acrobat.Uservoice.

Instead, I was fielding questions from my colleagues concerning a previously unseen bug in Acrobat concerning “why can’t I see what I’ve selected?”.

The issue that is caused for Mac users

The fault concerns the Enfocus Pitstop Pro plugin for Adobe Acrobat on Mac only in the 21.007.20091 install; and has to do with items selected using Enfocus’ select tool are not highlighted (see this link for Enfocus’ own description). In the following example, the text in the left hand column has been selected using the pre-patch version.

And here is how the same selection appears in the 21.007.20091 version.

It isn’t a catastrophic failure of the software, but it’s certainly frustrating and will make tasks much harder for operators until this issue is resolved.

So who fixes this?

Another lesson I’m still yet to fully appreciate is not to post bug reports to social media sites such as Twitter, like I did in this instance. I’d posted to both Enfocus and Adobe Acrobat in case neither team knew of the issue.

To the Acrobat team’s credit, the response was within five minutes of the tweet, though the next few tweets were trying to act as support. It’s just an educated guess here, but it is my belief that the social media team who manage these posts don’t actually use the software, and that’s fine – I’m simply reporting the issue and not trying to troubleshoot the issue over Twitter.

In Enfocus’ email from Andrew Bailes-Collins, the Senior Product Manager, he states “We have reported the issue to Adobe, and are in discussion with their engineers on how to resolve the issue. Please be assured that we will resolve this issue as soon as possible. When there is a fix, we will let you know via email.”

What now?

This post isn’t to point criticism at either Enfocus or Adobe as I’m aware that not everything can be tested during software development. I too am a software developer and from time to time have had to change or modify scripts on Colecandoo due to a change in how Adobe InDesign now works with the scripts I’ve written. Similarly, I test as much as I can, but have had issues with some scripts such as “It doesn’t work in my language version of InDesign”.

What I would find beneficial would be for the Acrobat team to change the updating preferences in Acrobat to be an “opt-in” rather than an “opt-out”; and to also integrate the Acrobat DC updating into Creative Cloud so that the version number can be seen; and that Creative Cloud can alert to the updates, rather than happening automatically or having to manually check from time to time. What would also be handy is the ability to roll-back to the pre-patch version – something that we have been unable to do in this instance.

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.

Intolerant about tolerances

Designing print projects on-screen comes with a false sense of precision. It is easy to assume that whatever is designed on-screen will accurately reproduce – without flaws – into a real-world finished product. This is reinforced by the ability to place objects on precise coordinates and align and distribute with similar precision.

Unfortunately, the practical application of the design from computer to real world product comes with a series of tolerances that are not taken into account in the design software.

Such examples are

  • Variables in the substrate. Paper stocks can stretch, distort and swell based on humidity, storage conditions, temperature and ink density, just to name some variables.
  • Creep (aka shingling, pushout or thrust). This is covered in an earlier article, but it is the phenomenon of artwork in a book moving towards the foredges of pages due to the gathering of folded sections.
  • Registration between inks and Embellishments.
  • Precision of the paper folding.
  • What your computer says vs what the output device prepares.

Some tolerances are hardly noticeable and imperceptible without magnification, while other tolerances are large in comparison. This article will examine several print phenomenon and the tolerances associated with each phenomenon.

Tolerances in ink registration

This is an example where tolerances are quite tight, and best shown when printing several colours in one pass, such as full colour process offset printing, digital toner or inkjet printing. Take for example the following headline.

At normal magnification, the inks appear to be in perfect registration. However, when zoomed in, it is possible to see that the registration of the inks is slightly off, demonstrating tolerances in microns.

However, it doesn’t take much to make the tolerances worse, such as:

  • Using a printing method where misregistration is a larger concern, such as flexography or screen printing;
  • Printing additional colours on a second pass, meaning the sheets have to dry first and add the variable of paper distortion to trying to register the additional inks to the previously printed inks.

Embellishment registration

From here, tolerances begin to get worse. Take for example a full colour plus one spot colour print that has an additional spot UV clear varnish applied over the lettering.

Note that while the inks are in register, the spot UV is off by half a millimetre to the top right. This is because two separate processes were used – a five colour press to print the inks onto the paper; then the spot UV was applied using a screen printed stencil that was made using an imagesetter that was different to the platesetter that produced the images for the plates.

Another example is how a design translates from screen to embellishment. Take this complicated foil, and notice how the fine detail in the foil is lost.

Fold registration

This is where tolerances can be out by several millimetres. A simple exercise that demonstrates this issue is to take a sheet of paper and fold it in half four times, then look at how the pages line up at the heads and feet of the folded pages. The same issue occurs when taking an imposed sheet and folding it into a signature to combine with other gathered signatures for burst binding.

Take the following example that has a running header in InDesign where the sidebars bleed off of the foredge. Note the difference between the highest point vs the lowest point.

What can be done?

  • Know that printing and binding are not precise and subject to tolerances like any other manufacturing. What is important to know is where the extreme tolerances lie and how to design with them in mind.
  • Speak to your printer or finisher and ask to see samples of previous work.

There is also page to page registration that needs to be discussed, but this will be covered in a future Colecandoo article.

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