Do you REALLY need to trash your preferences?

As a regular in the Adobe InDesign Forums, from time to time I see this one line given out as a “cure-all” to any issue occurring in InDesign: Trash your preferences. There’s even dedicated instructions on how to trash your preferences in the main screen of the forums, so it should be the first thing to do once InDesign goes off the rails, right?

NO!

When I see this suggestion offered as a solution to a strange or bizarre situation that a poster is encountering, the person offering the advice usually neglects to tell the poster that by doing so, all of their settings and preferences will be gone, and have to be reset. There is also no guarantee that trashing preferences will resolve the issue that the poster had, and in doing so the poster not only has the same issue, but now has the complication of rebuilding their preferences.

Instead of this advice, I would suggest a checklist of the following:

  • Is the issue happening in all documents, or just the one that I’m working in? What happens if I try in a new document?
  • Could it be a conflict with other software? What happens if I close other software and try again?
  • Could it be InDesign itself? Does restarting InDesign help?
  • Could it be the machine? Will a restart return InDesign to normal?
  • Is an InDesign plug-in to blame, or a recently installed script? If the plug-in or script can be turned off, does this make a difference?
  • If you have access to other versions of InDesign, is the issue able to be replicated in other versions of InDesign?
  • If you have access to InDesign on other platforms (e.g. there are other machines in the office that may run InDesign on another operating system) is the issue able to be replicated on other operating systems?

If the fault is persistent, before going to the forums, check the Adobe InDesign Feedback page first. Does the fault appear on this page as either a bug or feature request?

If the fault is not listed here, then go to the InDesign forum and search the forum first for the particular issue. Chances are if you are experiencing the issue, that someone before you has as well.

If the forum is showing no results, feel free to ask the question but remember to state:

  • the version of InDesign being used;
  • the platform and version of the operating system that is being used;
  • what is done to trigger the fault (e.g. When I print; When I click on the pages panel…)
  • what the fault actually is (e.g. a warning comes up; it crashes; the image appears backwards…)
  • any debugging you have taken to remedy the fault (e.g. I tried turning it off and on…)

Posting on this forum may take some time to receive an answer, as the majority of posts are handled by other users. Occasionally the Adobe staff will answer the queries, but they are clearly identified as “STAFF”.

If one of the responses that is received on the forum is “trash your preferences” ask the following questions:

  • What led the poster to come to that conclusion that trashing preferences would resolve the issue? Did they suffer the same fault and this solution worked for them?
  • Look at the poster’s history. Do they have a habit of suggesting this solution over and over again?
  • Did the poster warn of the side-effects of trashing your preferences?
  • Is this the consensus of all other posters on the thread, or are there other solutions that have been offered?

My concern with providing the “trashing your preferences” option as a solution is that it should only be performed as a last resort when all other methods short of a reinstall have failed to resolve the issue. In recent years, I’ve seen this advice given out on the forums like candy at Halloween, and no doubt I too have suggested it more than once.

If you have received “trash your preferences” advice on the forums, don’t be afraid to ask for a second opinion.

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Data Merging to specific pages

I was recently faced with the following brief:

I have a database that need to be run through the Data Merge to Single Record script. Some of them need only page 1 and some need page 2. Is there a way to add another column in the database and let InDesign know if it should export page 1 or 2? 

My original thoughts were that this could not be done, but then I realised there is a new feature added in Adobe InDesign CC 2018.1 to the PDF export: Create Separate PDF Files.

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I decided to create a new PDF export style and ensured that the Create Separate PDF Files checkbox was turned on, and make sure that the numbering is based on page numbers.

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Wondering if this would work, I created the following scenario – thank you graphics to be emailed to contributors to this site, based upon three available contribution values. The InDesign file is 3 pages long, has two different page sizes, and is linked to a Data Merge of 1,000 records that has – among its fields – a field called “Variable” that has one of 3 values in the field – 5, 10 or 25. Page 1 is the five dollar campaign, page 2 is the ten dollar campaign, and page 3 is the twenty five dollar campaign.

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For the sake of this demonstration, I’m going to try with records 1-25. Running the Data Merge to Single Record script available from the downloads or scripts pages of this site, I make sure that the variable field is part of the filename, but ensure that it is the last part of the filename:

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I let the script run, and then once complete, the Results folder appears as follows:

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So right now, there are myriad folders and files, so this looks like a complete mess and failure. However, using the search function at the top right of the finder window, I’m able to find what I’m after. I’d like to find all of the five dollar PDFs first, so I type in 5_01.pdf into the search field, ensuring I’m searching on the Result folder. Why 5_01.pdf? Well, the 5 was the variable in the variable field, and 01 was the page number associated in the InDesign file to the five dollar campaign.

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So this found 11 records. I’ll move those records into a folder elsewhere and look for the other PDFs in a similar fashion: 10_02.pdf and 25_03.pdf

I now have all the records required, and can remove the remaining records from the Results folder, so that’s great for creating single page PDFs by using one InDesign file for multiple campaigns.

Modifying the technique for JPG or PNG

If I want the files as JPG or PNG instead, I could use the Data Merge to Single Record script and merge to InDesign files without splitting the files into single records, and then use Peter Kahrel’s Batch Convert script to export to JPG or PNG.

It is then possible to perform a similar search that was used to separate the earlier campaigns.

Doing the modified technique in less steps

Or, if you want to run one script instead of two, perhaps consider having a look at the Data Merge to Single Records PRO version:

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Run the script and then perform the search that was used to separate the earlier campaigns.

If you’re interested in the Data Merge to Single Records PRO version, please contact me via the contact page.

Some basics of noteworthiness

As a user of InDesign since its creation, I’m used to many of the quirks and behaviours of the software, as well as general practices that are accepted in the printing industry. In recent times, I’ve noticed issues that would generally be known by experienced InDesign users, but these particular issues have come from users that are either new to InDesign or print media generally.

On that note, it’s worth going over a few issues that newer users of InDesign may be unfamiliar with.

Viewing PDFs

One of the first Colecandoo posts was an article that described the issues that can happen when checking PDF proofs via email: https://colecandoo.com/2011/08/21/the-proof-is-in-your-email/

When this article was written, it was during an era when Adobe Acrobat was the PDF viewer that had the lion’s share of users since its creation in 1993. Nowadays, Adobe Acrobat (Reader or Pro) is one of several programs that can open a PDF, given that PDFs can also be opened by software installed in an operating system (e.g. Preview on a Mac) or any Internet browser (e.g. Google Chrome).

So what’s the issue? A PDF should look the same no matter what software is opening it, right? Well, no – not all PDF readers can interpret all features such as:

  • Overprints;
  • Layers;
  • Interactive Form Fields;
  • Initial view;

So if receiving a PDF from a print supplier, ensure that Adobe Acrobat is the software used to open the PDF.

Graphic file formats into InDesign

When Quark Xpress dominated the printers’ landscape, the two formats that were largely used for placing graphics were EPS for vector graphics or raster images that contained paths; or TIFF for flat raster images. Once the Adobe Creative Suite became “king of the hill”, the two formats recommended by Adobe for use within Adobe InDesign were either AI for vector graphics or PSD for any raster images. The suite also allowed PDF and INDD files to be placed into InDesign as well. The main reason was that these particular formats preserved transparencies, effects and layers, but did not have to be re-saved from their native file formats to another format in order to be placed.

Enter the age where the internet is all around us, and GIF, JPG, SVG and PNG file formats are the norm. From my point of view, I’m increasingly seeing these file formats used in a print reproduction workflow. My concern is largely with PNG or GIF, given that JPG works within a print workflow, and SVG cannot be imported into InDesign at the time of writing this article. While these two file formats do preserve a transparency effect, they are not necessarily designed to work within Adobe InDesign and can result in some strange and bizarre errors.

One noteworthy feature of PSD is the ability to make non-destructive changes to artwork by making adjustment layers – something not available natively to JPG, PNG or GIF.

Given that InDesign can now also be used to also design media for an on-screen intent only (e.g. exporting to JPG or PNG, Publish Online, interactive PDF, HTML via in5), it would be great if PNG, GIF and SVG formats could be used in the first instance, and perhaps it is something the Adobe InDesign team could look into further.

Microsoft Word and other content

Remember when Microsoft Word was the go-to file format for word processing? Nowadays, there are dozens of word processors that are either open source (e.g. Libre Office, Open Office), part of the operating system (e.g. Pages) or accessed online (e.g. Google Docs), and that’s only the word processors – not to mention spreadsheets or presentation software. At the time of writing this, Adobe InDesign – as shipped – can import Microsoft Word or Excel files, but many other proprietary formats usually need to be converted to Word, Excel, RTF or TXT.

There is also a limitation on what will import when placing a Microsoft Word file. Users with recent versions of Microsoft Word will notice that newly created equations do not import.

Once again, it’s worth noting that times have changed, and to reflect the habits of users worldwide, perhaps it is worth having a look at what InDesign can and cannot import.

Print requirements vs On-Screen requirements

Artwork for on-screen publishing in InDesign such as PDF or publish online does not have to be as forgiving as publishing for print. Such examples of on-screen artwork are

  • not having to extend past the trim area,
  • any colour format is acceptable,
  • printing phenomenon such as Creep are not an issue.

When preparing artwork for print, these issues are much more important for accurate print reproduction. It’s impossible to cover all print issues in one article, but they have generally been talked about in other Colecandoo articles over the years.

Prepress vs Design

For those who have navigated every page of Colecandoo, you might notice that I’m not the best designer in the world. That said, this site isn’t intended for users to learn design. As the masthead says: Prepress and Indesign Advice. The distinction is that the purpose of prepress is to make sure that artwork submitted for print output will not pose any printing problem and will give the best finished result not just for the client, but the rest of the production process. For Designers who prepare print artwork as part of their role, understanding and appreciating prepress requirements certainly contributes to better artwork output and happier clients.

It’s worth remembering that a great designer doesn’t necessarily know anything about prepress, as they may design for other media or industries; and a great prepress operator doesn’t mean they’re a great designer.

Training vs Self Taught

Programs like Quark Xpress and Adobe InDesign admittedly have steep learning curves. I would not expect anyone unfamiliar with InDesign to download and install it, and create fantastic artwork on their first try, let alone their twentieth. I was fortunate enough to attend training courses for Quark Xpress and Adobe PageMaker, with many of the PageMaker features evolving into Adobe InDesign. It is also true to say that much of what I have learned in InDesign is also self taught, but much of my training was also on-the-job training in several printing factories and service bureaux who had experienced users of the software. There are parts of Adobe InDesign I wouldn’t have been able to grasp if it wasn’t for training, such as:

  • XML
  • Javascript
  • Advanced bookwork, such as indexes, cross references etc

But I understand that not everyone is so lucky. Sometimes, people are thrown into InDesign as part of a new job where they have never used it before, and neither has anyone else in the company because it’s specific to that role.

For those who are reading this that are self-taught, I would definitely encourage you to try some of the leading publications for Adobe InDesign such as Real World Adobe InDesign CC, or A Designer’s Guide to Adobe InDesign and XML. Have a look at some of the courses offered by Linked-in Learning or any Adobe Certified Expert. Finally, if you’re lucky enough to be in such a situation, attend conferences aimed at InDesign users, such as the CreativePro conference.

 

Another Data Merge script: Data merge to batches

This latest script compensates for a feature that should be available in InDesign’s Data Merge feature, but simply doesn’t work.

The problem:

Take for example the following Data Merge file where we want to export a custom range, but prepare PDFs in batches of 50s for production purposes. Each record is one page long.

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When the Data Merge feature is used in Adobe InDesign, it is possible to merge to several new InDesign files that contain a maximum amount of records per file. The same dialog box is present when merging directly to PDF as well.

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Unfortunately, the Record Limit per Document checkbox may as well be there for decoration, because it doesn’t work. Instead of 13 PDFs being created with the maximum size of each PDF being 50 records long, a PDF the size of the complete merge file is created.

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The workaround

It is possible to split the document into ranges 50 pages per PDF, but it has to be done in Acrobat. From here, click the Organize Pages button.

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This will show the Organize Pages toolbar.

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From here, click on the split icon to show the split pages portion of the toolbar.

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With the split pages toolbar now visible, choose the appropriate split by dropdown and edit the amount required. In this case, we need “number of pages” and 50 pages.

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The files now need to be saved somewhere. Click the Output Options button to show the Output Options dialog.

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Select a destination for the files and any additional filenaming information and click OK.

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Once back at the regular toolbar, click the big blue split button.

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The task will run and then present a dialog box once it is complete.

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On an example such as the one demonstrated, this isn’t an onerous task. However, if working in a production setting where PDF page lengths can be tens of thousands or longer, this is inconvenient and unacceptable.

The solution

Rather than use the Adobe Acrobat solution, I would prefer that the original dialog box worked correctly. One option is to let the Adobe InDesign Engineers know that it should be fixed. A link to the direct request can be found here.

Until it is fixed, I’ve written a free script specifically for this purpose.

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Using the earlier example, the same settings will be keyed in.

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Once keyed in, click OK. A progress bar will let you know how the merge is going.

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An alert will let you know when the merge is complete. The files are then saved to the selected destination with no extra splitting required.

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Interested in this script? It can be downloaded from here.

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