Data Merge “Did You Know” Part Two

This is the second article in the Data Merge “Did You Know” series. If you’ve not read the first article, be sure to do so here. Carrying on from the first article, let’s dive into more lesser-known Data Merge behaviours of Adobe InDesign.

Data is there… even if the link is missing

If you ever have to share a Data Merge file with anyone else but do not want to share the data with them but instead only give them the base InDesign file, note that simply removing the link doesn’t remove the data.

In Part One, I wrote that InDesign doesn’t package the source file of a Data Merge… but that doesn’t mean the data isn’t there. Take this example of a packaged InDesign file used for a Data Merge. While opening the document, there is a missing link warning.

Once the document opens, I can then see in the links panel that there is a warning next to this text file that was used as the source.

If I right click on the link, I can’t unembed the text file as it simply isn’t linked

However, if I go to the Data Merge panel and check the preview box, I can see the records that were in the unlinked text file.

If the file didn’t have fields added to the page, I can also add those fields to the page and check the preview button on and the data will appear for these records.

It also merges correctly to PDF and InDesign files.

Be aware of this if you ever have to package a Data Merge file to others whom you do not wish to provide unredacted data.

Merge fields can be removed via the hyperlinks panel

A Creative Pro article referred to this as “ghost hyperlinks” but it is a great way of solving issues where a newly provided data merge source file can’t be previewed because of a mismatch of source names.

By opening the Hyperlinks panel, it is possible to see the fields that InDesign is using for the data merge as they are within this panel, though they aren’t obvious at first glance.

If one of the hyperlinks is double clicked, it will reveal the field that is being referred to.

From here, a hyperlink can removed, thereby replacing the field codes in the document back to regular text.

Shift clicking during the import does not show options

If the show import options checkbox is toggled off when placing an image, it is possible to perform a “one-time” request to show the import options without clicking on the checkbox. This is done by holding shift and then clicking Open.

But this doesn’t work with Data Merge. A similar option is available when selecting a data source, though holding shift and clicking Open will simply open the document – the Show Import Options checkbox has to be checked if it needs to appear. Hopefully this is a bug that is eventually fixed.

Put linked images in the same folder as the source text file…

While it is possible to add images to a data merge project by supplying its link in the source file, I so often see users put the complete file path of the link being used in the field.

If the images are filed in the same location as the text file, the only item that needs to be added here is the name of the file.

However, this means the links need to be in the same folder as the source text file.

…or use relative syntax as well

It is also possible to use syntax that is relative to the folder where the database is. Take the following folder structure.

To link to these images, the database needs to use syntax for the previous folder and then folders above. That will look like this

..: is syntax for go back a folder, whereas / plus the folder’s name is syntax to look into that particular folder.

I hope you found this short series useful, and if you have any Data Merge “did you know” tips, please feel free to submit them either in the comments, or contact me via my contact page.

Data Merge “Did you know” Part One

Regulars to the site will know that many of my articles relate to InDesign’s Data Merge feature. Given the amount of tutorials already available online elsewhere concerning basic tutorials for Data Merge, the Colecandoo site focuses more on articles about Data Merge in relation to scripts, GREP styles, or advanced techniques.

But there is a middle-ground that hasn’t been covered in many Data Merge tutorials, nor here on Colecandoo, so over the next two articles, I will attempt to bridge that gap and highlight some lesser known issues that can become a problem if users aren’t initially aware of them.

Can’t package the data or links used in the data

When InDesign packages an INDD file, it will save a copy of the file and copy any links used in the document into a Links folder, and any fonts used (within licensing restrictions) to a Document fonts folder.

However, this does not extend to the source data of a Data Merge file, nor any links that the source data may refer to.

PDF made from merge is different to regular PDF

I have written about this before but ultimately when exporting a PDF directly from Data Merge, it makes a variety of PDF that is similar but not the same as a usual PDF, as the following options cannot be chosen.

  • The ability to merge to an interactive PDF
  • The page range (not the record range)
  • Spreads
  • Create Tagged PDF
  • Create Acrobat Layers
  • Hyperlinks

I’ve speculated why this might be the case in this article but until this addressed, it is a consideration to be aware of.

Headers with the same name

If the headers in a database are exactly the same name, InDesign’s Data Merge will add a sequential number after the first instance of the field name to make a distinction between the field names.

Colons can cause weird issues in the header

This featured briefly in my creative pro article “Troubleshooting data merge errors” but in short, colons used in field names can cause one of two dialog boxes when used in particular circumstances. Thankfully, if a colon appears at the start or end (or both) of a field name, the data will import without any issues, but if a colon is within the field, then a dialog box with the words “Generic extended parser error” appears.

If there are two or more colons in the field name (neither at the start or end of a field name), a dialog box that says “not well formed” appears.

UTF-16 is the format built for Data Merge

InDesign’s Data Merge is designed with UTF-16 text in mind. However, CSV and TXT files exported from programs such as Microsoft Excel usually export to UTF-8.

This is usually fine for most circumstance in English, but can cause problems when:

  • using an alphabet other than the Roman alphabet;
  • the data contains punctuation or characters that may not be available via UTF-8

Excel does have an option to export to UTF-16 and it is worth using. The option is here when exporting via Excel:

In part two of this Did You Know series, we will look at other lesser known phenomenon, such as:

  • Data is there even if link is missing
  • Merge fields can be removed via the hyperlinks panel
  • Shift clicking during the import does not show options
  • The benefits of linked images in the same folder as the source text file

If you have any lesser-known Data Merge behaviours that you think would easily make this list, please feel free to mention them in the comments.

Just not Cricut – Update

UPDATE 2021-03-19: A further statement from Cricut’s CEO Ashish Arora was released on March 18, 2021, stating:

So, we’ve made the decision to reverse our previously shared plans. Right now, every member can upload an unlimited number of images and patterns to Design Space for free, and we have no intention to change this policy. This is true whether you’re a current Cricut member or are thinking about joining the Cricut family before or after December 31, 2021.

Ashish Arora (Cricut CEO)

This follows an announcement made in the previous week that uploads to Cricut’s Design Space that exceeded 20 per month would require a Cricut Access subscription. What followed on social media was an angry backlash of its user base, leading to the article that was previously posted below. I will leave the article for posterity, but in the interests of transparency, the article has since been reflected to post the March 18 statement.

There has been a development since the last article concerning Cricut’s decision to limit free uploads to its Design Space to 20 per month before requiring a Cricut Access subscription. In short, the CEO has released a statement that backs away from this decision… for now. Read the Cricut CEO’s statement on their site.

While this can be perceived as a win for Cricut users for the moment, it is worth noting the language of the second-to-last paragraph of the statement, that reads as follows:

We will continue to explore affordable ways for our future users who register machines after December 31, 2021 to allow an unlimited number of personal image and pattern uploads.

Ashish Arora (Cricut CEO)

Note the word “affordable”, and not “free”. Also, why set a date of the end of the year?

Where to from here?

Until this event, the Cricut maker community was arguably at peace and was happily using their Cricut plotting cutters. Since this event, the trust in the company has now been shaken… and the language used by the CEO in their statement does not rule out that they won’t try something like this to new users beyond next year.

The Cricut’s main competitor in this space – Silhouette – has been quick to capitalise on Cricut’s PR disaster releasing their own statement, of which one paragraph sums up their position:

There is no limit to the number of designs you are able to open and use with our software program. Silhouette has no obligation to sign up for any paid service in order to use the Silhouette cutting system or software, including your own files and designs (such as JPG, PNG, BMP, and TTF font files).

Silhouette spokesperson

The event has also spurred the community to looking into alternatives to the Cricut Design Space to interface with the plotter itself. Attempts to do this nearly a decade ago were met with legal action that was ultimately settled. But that will not necessarily stop everyone in the community from attempting to “Jailbreak” their Cricut so that the plotters can be run on other CNC software, whether a competitor or open-source.

Unfortunately, the whole event has tarnished the Cricut brand that makes arguably good hardware and consumables. Members of the Cricut community were vocal on social media, with the Reddit’s Cricut subreddit briefly pinning a note describing what action could be done – everything from cancelling Cricut Access, joining a class action lawsuit, brigading social media platforms such as Cricut’s Instagram and Facebook pages, buying competitor consumables such as vinyls and tools, etc.

I would personally like to interface the Cricut with any other software than the Cricut Design Space as described in the previous article. Releasing an API to the community so that plug-ins could be made for software such as Adobe Illustrator, Corel Draw, Affinity Designer and Inkscape would go a long way to not only restoring faith in the Cricut brand, but make people use their Cricuts more as making designs for it would be in software that users would be familiar with already. If the Cricut Design Space is a good enough application, it should be able to stand on its own two feet without forcing its users to use it because there isn’t another application… and right now it is nowhere near that level.

Ultimately, it’s a win for existing Cricut users that has exposed the thoughts of what the company is prepared to do; and it is also a wake-up call to other software developers that software relies on happy users, and that it doesn’t take much to turn happy users into the Reddit army.

In sporting terms, that’s just not Cricut

For the last year or so, I’ve been using a Cricut Maker as a cutting plotter to prepare bespoke labels, and in recent months, have been using it to mock up box and carton prototypes.

What is a Cricut?

For those unfamiliar with Cricut, it is a brand that makes several models of cutting plotters aimed not at my industry of printing, but of the maker space community. Along with the cutting plotters, the company also retails consumables associated with the plotters such as various vinyls and substrates; tools such as additional blades or adapters for other functionality such as scoring or perfing; and additional hardware such as a mug press and heat press of sorts.

Originally, I was going to write a piece about the Cricut on what I’ve been doing with it and what uses others may have for it, but a recent development has spurred me to write a different take on the article.

How does it work?

However, unlike a printer that can be printed to from any software, the Cricut Maker is interfaced directly from companion software called the Cricut Design Space.

When the Design Space is opened, it shows the recent projects, tutorials, and then dozens of projects that are available via a one-off payment or via Cricut Access – a subscription service that provides access to thousands of premade projects and fonts.

But if I make a new project, I’m taken to the Cricut Design Space where I can make a project from scratch…

…Well I could if there were any useful tools. The templates button puts a picture in the background that can be traced over but can’t be manipulated; the projects and images buttons take you to assets that can be purchased or accessed via Cricut Access; so the only drawing tools available to me in the software itself are Text and Shapes. These are limited too, with many fonts having to be purchased for use (or again available via Cricut Access) unless they are already on my system.

The shapes tool is also rather limited, not even allowing for a freeform line.

In order to make anything that I’ve prepared in other software such as Adobe Illustrator, I can import it using the Upload button. It can’t accept my PDF or AI file but can take SVG or DXF files.

From here, I can then effectively determine if the import took the graphic in correctly, and if so, I can save the project and proceed to sending it to the Maker to cut the shape as required.

Here is the rub

In an update on March 12, Cricut announced that uploads to the Cricut Design Space will be limited to 20 per calendar month unless you subscribe to Cricut Access for USD$10/month (it’s hidden right down the bottom of the page, but this link will take you there).

What that effectively means is that each graphic file that is uploaded using the Upload button counts as an upload. As implied earlier, the Design Space’s drawing tools are rather lacking and it is unimaginable that anyone making their own unique design would do so using the shape and text tools alone, but would instead create their design in Adobe Illustrator or alternatives such as Affinity Designer, Corel Draw, or Inkscape; and then use the Upload button as an effective import tool.

No workarounds (yet)

Unfortunately, it isn’t possible to simply cut and paste the design from Adobe Illustrator into the Design Space as that would save a lot of issues. Similarly, it isn’t possible to print directly to the Maker as a cutting plotter – the only way to interface it is to use the Design Space.

My thoughts

I purchased my Cricut with an aim to sell my own branded merchandise that I would design myself, as well as gifts for friends and relatives. My recent use of my Cricut for prototyping cartons and boxes is an added benefit.

That said, I didn’t expect to have to pay a subscription service for what I consider to be a cutting plotter that I had – in good faith – purchased outright. For me to create any workable design, there’s no way on earth I could design an entire project using the Design Space’s own tools and therefore must rely on the Upload button to do nothing more than import a design I’ve already to created to a cutting plotter I’ve already bought. It’s the equivalent of buying a car and then the manufacturer saying “you can turn right 20 times a month but if you want to turn right more than that you have to subscribe to our turn-right service”.

I can’t begin to describe how frustrated this makes me feel. It is up there with bad ideas such as the Juicero (a subscription juice service best described by Youtuber Critikal – language warning), or the Fine Bros attempt to trademark the word “React”.

Cricut’s own shot in the foot is also a perfect opportunity for rivals in the space such as the Silhouette Cameo will take advantage of this situation and use it as a unique selling proposition (i.e. we won’t make you pay to use this software).

If the idea of the subscription for uploading art is to fund the servers where the art is stored, perhaps give users the opportunity to save files locally, provide better import options or better overall tools that are available on services such as Chili Publisher or Canva.

Designers in my space are already paying subscriptions such as Adobe Creative Cloud, Office 365, Dropbox and the like… and this is a tool aimed at a home-based maker community that do this as a hobby.

I hope that Cricut realises it has made a terrible mistake and reconsiders its decision; and in the meantime there is a petition on Change.org to let Cricut know the opinions out there.

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.

Applying character styles over character styles

There may be occasions where more than one character style has to be applied to the same words, such as a highlight, italic, etc. I recently saw this request over at the InDesign requests page.

In the request, the requestor does hint at a way that this can already be achieved in InDesign, though it can be time consuming. Let’s start from the beginning and look at some text that has an italic character style applied to it.

But if I apply a separate highlight character style that I’ve also made…

The highlight appears but the italic is removed. Reapplying the italic character style to the word only changes the word back to italic and doesn’t preserve the underline.

One solution is to do a local override – that is to manually apply the appearance but without using a character style

Note the plus that appears to the right of the Paragraph Style 1 – this indicates a local override is present.

That works, but let’s say that the client asks for all italics to now be a tint of the colour initially used. That’s fine if character styles were applied as the italic style needs to be changed once in the properties of the character style. However, all the italics applied using local overrides will need to have their fills reapplied with the new settings.

Yes, the eyedropper tool and find/change can assist, but if character styles were applied, these additional steps would not be necessary.

In this circumstance, making a third style that has both the underline and italic would make sense.

In this case, it adds one more character style – not a big deal, but in a large document, the quantity of character styles can grow fast.

GREP Styles to the rescue

Take this chemical equation in a science textbook. It currently looks like this:

The subscripts in this equation have been applied with a character style that I’ve named sub. However, the author wants the reaction only in bold. If the equation is highlighted and then has a bold character style applied, this happens:

All of the subscript formatting of the numbers are lost.

I can then create a second style called “bold sub” that has bold and subscript properties and base the style on the bold formatting, but I then have to make sure I correctly apply the newly created style to the appropriate numbers… this now introduces a level of human error.

But what if I could apply the bold style and keep the subscripts? It is possible using GREP styles. Using the GREP code from this CreativePro post (look for Laurent Tournier’s post dated Oct 9 2010 in the comments) apply it to the paragraph style.

[editor’s note – I’ve adjusted mine to account for the naming of elements 113-118 as of 2018, so if you want that amended code, contact me via my contact page]

Now apply the paragraph style to the recently bolded text.

Brilliant! Note how the I-beam cursor is between two subscript numbers, yet the character style shows that this is bold only.

This technique can also be applied to other formatting where subscripts or superscripts need to be preserved, such as:

  • Ordinal Numbers
  • Numbers written with scientific notation
  • Squared or cubed measurements

It just requires the right GREP syntax. All of the above examples used GREP styles to format the subscripts and superscripts only. To learn this technique and others, apply to join the Treasures of GREP Facebook page.

Once again to illustrate the point, the author wants these six lines in bold. By highlighting the lines and applying the bold character style, the subscripts and superscripts stay in tact.

Nested styles

Similarly, this can also be achieved with Nested styles. Take the last two lines in the last example prior to applying the bold – if I want the ordinal number at the start of the line to be bold, I don’t have to write a GREP style but I can use a nested style such as the one below.

That will give me this result without applying any manual character styles to the text:

There are catches to this technique

The first catch is that the character styles must have the minimal amount of style changes only. That is the sub character style only changes the position of the character to subscript, so that is the only item that style will apply, while maintaining the rest of the paragraph style’s formatting.

The second catch is to be aware of the style hierarchy. The following list is in order of what style overrules another (from most to least dominant):

  • Local override
  • Local character style
  • Nested style
  • GREP style lowest in list in the paragraph style settings
  • GREP style highest in list in the paragraph style settings

There can be several advantages to layering character styles by using GREP styles:

  • Less character styles.
  • Time saving for commonly formatted items such as ordinal numbers.
  • Consistency based on GREP patterns for words.

Similarly, there can be drawbacks with this technique:

  • Looks for particular words or phrases, so not appropriate for instances where dozens of words or phrases may make more GREP styles than are manageable.
  • Applies to paragraph styles, if used over many paragraph styles, the GREP style needs to be applied repeatedly. Scripts can help with this, such as one I wrote on my scripts page, or GREP Editor from Peter Kahrel.
  • Can’t take a bold style and italic style and combine them – it can only apply additional attributes that weren’t there previously.
  • GREP styles (along with live preflight, page thumbnails, dynamic spellcheck and any other service that has to run while the document is being composed) can slow the processing speed of the machine, particularly on larger documents.

Outlining the problem… text outlining

From time to time, I will prepare PDF artwork for third party providers and then note that their specifications indicate “Convert all text to outlines” (also known as converting to curves or paths). But why do some third parties recommend this practice?

The PDF is opened in software other than Acrobat

For commercial printers, PDFs are usually imported into Raster Image Processing (RIP) software that will impose and trap the artwork for their printing methods. However, not all providers work this way and may need to open the PDF in applications other than Adobe Acrobat. For example, a third party that prepares cutting formes may open the file in Corel Draw or a CAD application that supports its CNC software.

This means that as the file opens, the application may ask for fonts not available to the third party.

This can be exacerbated if the PDF is opened not only in a different application than Adobe Acrobat, but also a different alphabet and writing system. Converting the type to outlines maintains the appearance of the type without requiring the font to be present.

Other reasons that text is converted to outlines

So special effects can be applied

InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop can apply interesting special effects to vector objects, but not all of those effects can be applied to live type. The solution is to convert the type to outlines, thus converting the type to vector shapes that can have the desired effect applied.

To prevent editing by third parties

Limited editing is possible within PDFs using either Acrobat’s own editing tools or using plugins such as Enfocus Pitstop Professional. These tools can allow last minute alterations to text so long as the text is type and not converted to outlines.

Locking the PDF with password protection isn’t an option as this can prevent the file from being placed into layout software or RIP software for output, so the password is then required to unlock the file. PDF password protection is also somewhat breakable, with many websites offering services where PDFs can be uploaded, and then unlocked and then downloaded without the password protection. There are also PDF editing and viewing applications such as PDF Sam that allow for decryption of PDFs.

Even without the Enfocus Pitstop plug-in, it is possible to open PDFs in Adobe Illustrator or Affinity Publisher and then – if the fonts are available – make the necessary alterations… though converting type to outlines will prevent this.

To circumvent the font EULA

A client may have acquired a font that has allowed for screen use only and prohibits embedding in a PDF, preventing the font from appearing correctly in the PDF. A way around this is to convert the type to outlines in the native application prior to PDF export, though it is worth noting that the End User Licence Agreement (EULA) of the font may forbid this workaround, so it is worth reading the font EULA.

That doesn’t mean it should be done!

There are issues that arise from converting type to outlines. Dov Isaacs – Principal Scientist for Adobe Systems – has a brilliant PDF that details this (and much more) but the basic takeaways concerning type to outlines are:

  • Increased filesize that takes forever to download or view onscreen
  • Smaller typefaces do not render as well
  • May potentially breach the font’s EULA

In addition, there are other issues such as:

  • Potential issues with fonts where type overlaps itself (it can knock out holes in the joins)
  • If the conversion from type to outlines has been done in the native application and then accidentally saved and closed, this means the type will no longer be live in the native application.
  • It can prevent or hinder minor type alterations being made in a PDF submitted for print.
  • Text (as outlines) that has special effects applied (as described earlier) may not always be able to have the same effect applied to live type. This can create issues with variable data campaigns where the effect needs to be applied to a text variable.
  • It can make it difficult to identify the font used, as the font’s information is no longer in the PDF and the only other way to identify the font is visually or with apps such as what the font, adobe capture, or identifont.
  • The conversion is usually a one-way conversion. There is a fantastic Adobe Illustrator plug-in from Astute Graphics called Vector First Aid 2 that – in some circumstances – can convert outlines back to type, but it isn’t a magic bullet (though definitely worth a look).

If your hand is forced…

In a perfect world, I’d only deal with providers that fully supported PDF/X-4 files. Unfortunately, not all providers do, and occasionally our hands will be forced into providing PDFs specifically as the provider has requested, which may mean converting text to outlines. Rather than doing this in the native application (e.g. InDesign or Illustrator) there is a great way to quickly convert all type to outlines using an Adobe Acrobat Preflight that is detailed over at CreativePro.

Find spaces only (no returns or tabs) with InDesign’s GREP

When learning GREP, the syntax for a space is usually shown as \s. This works in most situations, but it is worth pointing out that this syntax represents any space, including tabs and returns, not just horizontal space between words. For finding spaces only but ignoring returns and tabs, we need a different GREP string.

Take the following example where there are double spaces (or worse) in a text frame. With the assistance of the GREP editor script from Peter Kahrel, we can identify every result that will be found using the \s syntax plus the {2,} (identifies two or more of the same result).

The yellow highlights show the search results and while the double spaces have been identified, so have the double returns and space plus returns. If all of these spaces were to change to single spaces, all returns would be lost and the type would all be in one paragraph – an unintended result.

There is a pre-made GREP search built into the find/change dialog and it is called Multiple Space to Single Space, and the code looks like this:

[~m~>~f~|~S~s~<~/~.~3~4$ ]{2,}

If this is keyed into the GREP editor, the result is as follows:

The double spaces and longer can now be found without accidentally selecting returns or tabs, but the GREP code is quite unwieldy. Perhaps it can be copied each time it is required – let’s go to the find/change dialog box, call up the Multiple Space to Single Space search and copy the result.

Now let’s paste it into the GREP editor

The syntax hasn’t placed, but instead been represented by the actual characters that the GREP code represented. I can type the required syntax manually, but it’s a long piece of code that I don’t want to remember all of the time.

Use \p{Zs} instead

InDesign’s GREP allows for specific Unicode properties that aren’t available from the find/change dialog box, but they are accessible via the GREP editor script. Click on the insert wildcard or character class button in the top left of the GREP editor dialog box.

A new dialog box will open. From here, unfurl the Unicode properties, then unfurl the separator, and choose Space Separator.

This dialog also includes other Unicode properties that may be of interest, but for now it reveals that the syntax to use is \p{Zs}. Let’s try that in the GREP editor, along with the {2,} to find two or more instances of the same syntax.

Fantastic, it has done the same thing that InDesign’s Multiple Space to Single Space has done with a quarter of the syntax.

Additionally, now that the syntax is known, we don’t have to go through the GREP editor subdialog each time, the syntax is easy to remember – \p{Zs}.

Lastly

The GREP editor script is a fantastic utility made by Peter Kahrel that allows users to see the results of GREP code in real-time, and also provides access to snippets of GREP code that aren’t available from InDesign’s own find/change panel. An added bonus is that searches can also be directly applied to paragraph styles as GREP styles, rather than copying the syntax and pasting it into the paragraph style (or rewriting it on paper and re-keying it because the GREP gets translated into what it actually represents). I highly recommend this script and if you find it useful as well, make sure you let Peter know by making a donation his way.

Additionally, Peter is the author of GREP in InDesign: an InDesignSecrets guide – a fantastic resource for anyone wishing to learn how to use GREP in Adobe InDesign; or to build more sophisticated searches. If you would like to purchase a copy of this title, please click on this affiliate link here.

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.

Why are food labels hard to read?

During an overseas holiday, I was asked by a fellow traveller what I did for a living. Because the term “prepress operator” is esoteric, my response was to say that I make food labelling and other printing. However, I was caught quite off-guard by the traveller’s response, which was “why do you have to make labels so darn hard to read?”.

That moment has stuck with me for some time now, and in this article I’d like to answer that traveller’s question comprehensively in an Australian setting.

In short: Limited real-estate vs too much information

That’s it in a nutshell – labels tend to be small in size, usually because the product that they contain is small in volume. Despite the small size, there’s also a lot of information to include within that size.

Details that have to be displayed by law

As a disclaimer, I am not a lawyer and this is not constituting legal advice on all specifications for a label.

If retailing food, the code developed by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) details what should appear on food labelling. More information can be found on their site, but in short a food label should have:

  • A Nutritional Information Panel;
  • The ingredients and additives by ingoing weight, and in some circumstances the percentage of ingredients. For example, if the label is identified as strawberry jam in the branding, then the percentage of strawberries actually used in the product has to be given.
  • Allergen information
  • Directions for use or storage
  • What the food is (e.g. is it strawberry jam, cookies, kombucha, etc)
  • The contact address of the manufacturer
  • The measurement of the weight or volume of the product
  • Country of Origin label

Some information can be presented on the label but may be presented elsewhere on the container, such as:

  • Batch or run of the product being produced
  • Best before or Use-By dates

In addition, the position of where the measurement of the weight or volume of the product can appear on the label is rather rigid and structured.

Country of Origin

From 1 July 2018, food products sold in Australia must display a Country of Origin label. This label has a specific appearance that must be adhered to, along with guidelines of how the label must be phrased.

An example of the Country of Origin label

This is enforceable at law by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) – the Federal Government’s consumer watchdog which can – and does – give hefty fines to corporations and individuals for breaches of the Australian Consumer Law (ACL).

There is an online generator to create such labels, so having to maintain an array of assets for this task isn’t required – simply generate a label as and when they are needed.

Details that may also be required

Barcodes

Note that in the above code, that a barcode isn’t required by law. However, if the product is to be stocked on a large scale through distributors in a logistics chain, then it will usually need a barcode. In Australia this will usually be an EAN-13 barcode but in North America a UPC barcode is more likely.

Barcodes also have limited scaling, and GS1 (a provider of barcodes and related logistic products and services) indicates that a barcode should be placed at no less than 80% of its recommended size.

Specifications from GS1 relating to EAN-13 barcodes at 100% size

In GS1’s more detailed instructions on their website, they also recommend specific locations and orientations for the barcode, so can’t just go anywhere at any size.

These recommendations sound strict, but are done with the best of intentions so that a barcode will scan first time, every time, regardless of where the product was purchased. Remember, it’s a retailer’s aim to get that product from their shelf to your pantry or refrigerator with the least amount of fuss.

The size of the barcode can also be influenced by the retail chain that is selling the product and may recommend not proportionally scaling the barcode at all but leaving it at 100% size. It is best to check with the retail chain’s specifications first.

Container Deposit Scheme

As at the time of writing, all states and territories in Australia (except for Victoria and Tasmania) have some form of container deposit scheme, usually for soft drink containers. These schemes encourage consumers to return the containers to a collection facility in exchange for a refund for each item returned.

There are no national guidelines as to how the deposit notification should appear, so check with the relevant authority in each state.

Three items commonly seen on flavoured milk cartons (from top clockwise): The Country of Origin label; The Australasian Recycling Label; and The Container Deposit Scheme.

Alcoholic drinks

While a Nutrition Information Panel is not required for alcoholic drinks, other information is required, such as:

  • Alcoholic content (ALC/VOL)
  • Standard drinks statement. This can either be a written statement i.e. CONTAINS APPROX. X.X STANDARD DRINKS or in the form of a graphic with its own requirements.
  • As of 31 July 2020 and to be phased in over three years – a pregnancy warning label.
Pregnancy warning label, phasing in began on 31 July 2020.

Additional voluntary icons or graphics for marketing purposes

Health star rating

This is a voluntary system to aid customers in making healthier choices.

Third party endorsements

Endorsements from third parties that require an audit trail to guarantee the claims made about the product or its packaging, such as:

  • Organic certification, such as NASAA or Australia Certified Organic to certify that a product is organic;
  • Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) to certify the product or its packaging is from a sustainable source;
  • Cultural preparation certifications such as Halal or Kosher.

These types of logos won’t use a generic logo, but will usually contain a unique identifier such as a number that can be tied to the particular supplier.

These logos usually have strict stylesheets that have to be adhered to such as size, color, position in relation to other elements etc, and these guidelines have to be taken into consideration when juxtaposing the artwork for the label. The third party (or its auditing agency) usually requests to see the artwork prior to approval for print to ensure that the logo is used appropriately and within its guidelines.

Australasian Recycling Label

This is a private initiative to reduce landfill by informing consumers how the packaging can be disposed of once the product is used. The logos aren’t in the public domain and permission must be sought for use of this artwork.

And of course, our own branding

With all of the other details now on the label as required, it’s time to add the branding and design to the label… if it will fit!

This is just for food!

The details listed in this article are only describing what goes on a food label in Australia and aren’t exhaustive – this article doesn’t even mention regulations that concern pharmaceuticals or industrial products that may contain harmful chemicals.

Don’t even try being creative for cigarettes

While cigarette cartons aren’t labels, it is worth mentioning this as it is currently unique to Australia. Since 1 December 2012, any tobacco product (including labels on loose tobacco such as roll your own cigarettes) in Australia must follow the plain packaging guide, which – on a regular pack of 25 cigarettes – features such marketing gems as:

  • The brand and variant must be in Lucida Sans font in PANTONE Cool Gray 2C;
  • The pack surface must be in PANTONE 448C (a greenish-brown color);
  • A warning statement and graphic that covers at least 75% of the front surface without spaces separating the statement or graphic; and 90% of the back surface.

And this is just for Australia!

This article has focused on Australian food labels as they are the ones I am most familiar with and see on a daily basis at work. However, after spending time living in Canada, I recall seeing products that were sold nationwide (with exceptions of course) having to be in both English and French – good luck with getting all that information to fit now!

Can’t the label be bigger?

That can certainly provide more real-estate for the information to be displayed, but the size is often determined by:

  • Price of label production. Larger labels usually cost more than smaller labels that have otherwise identical print specifications such as stock, inks and embellishments.
  • Size of the package itself. An A4 page simply won’t fit on a cylinder that holds 100ml of a product;
  • How the labels are applied. For example, if machine applied, there may be specifications that a larger label can’t fulfill that a smaller label can fulfill.
  • Marketing. It may be more desirable for a consumer to see more of the product in the glass jar as opposed to a label that would obscure the contents.

Your thoughts

I hope this article has explained why labels can be hard to read – put simply it is to cram all of the required information into a tiny space. I’ve tried to cover as much as I could without trying to encompass all labelling, but no doubt there are items that I’ve missed or aren’t applicable in your part of the world. Leave a comment below on anything I’ve missed or if there is anything specific to labels in your country.

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.

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.

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