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

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

  • PDF
  • Adobe Illustrator
  • Adobe InDesign

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

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

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

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

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

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

Workaround: Split the PDF

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

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

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

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

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

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

For data where the page number is known

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

Absolute vs Section numbers abridged:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In a perfect world

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

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

A recent forum post concerning adding page sizes to InDesign’s Document Setup highlighted two different ways to accomplish this task. This article will explain both methods, and the strengths and weaknesses of each method as while they both perform similar tasks, they are not the same and can complement each other.

First method: Saved Presets

Before beginning, it is worth noting that when making a new document in InDesign, users will be presented with one of two different interfaces. In the latest version of Creative Cloud, the default user interface looks like this:

There is also the Legacy interface that long-time InDesign users will be more familiar with:

To choose to use the Legacy user interface, go to the InDesign Preferences (Command+K for Mac, Control+K for Windows) and check the Use Legacy “New Document” Dialog checkbox on. Alternatively if the new default look is preferred, uncheck the dialog box.

Making a saved preset in the default “New Document” dialog

Go to the New Document dialog box (Command+N for Mac, Control+N for Windows) to show the user interface.

Once open, go to the right hand side of the dialog box and enter the measurements, orientation and other desired options.

To save the preset, click on the icon to the right of the Preset Details heading and a new prompt will appear to save the preset.

Once named and saved, the preset can now be accessed in the Saved portion of the user interface.

Be careful in this window as deleting a saved preset will remove it without prompting for a warning.

Making a saved preset in the Legacy dialog

Go to the New Document dialog box (Command+N for Mac, Control+N for Windows) to show the user interface.

Once open, enter the measurements, orientation and other desired options. To save the preset, click on the icon to the right of Document Preset dropdown and a prompt will appear to save the preset.

Once named and saved, the preset can now be accessed Document Preset dropdown of the user interface.

The preset can be deleted by clicking the trashcan in the top right corner of the dialog box, but unlike the default interface, a warning dialog is presented.

Managing saved presets

Regardless of the interface used to make the preset, they are managed by going to the File Menu, Document Presets, then Define. This will present a new dialog box:

From this dialog box, it is possible to save presets so that they can be shared with others as a .dcst file; load preset .dcst files that others have created, as well as make new presets, edit or delete existing presets. Again, a warning will be presented if a preset is to be deleted.

Note though that when making a new preset or editing an existing preset that the Legacy dialog box is used.

Second method: New Page Sizes.xml

This other method calls upon an XML file that InDesign references for custom-made sizes. On a Mac, it can be found here:

/Users/your_own_username/Library/Preferences/Adobe
InDesign/your_version_of_indesign/language_installed/Page Sizes/New Page Sizes.xml

e.g.
/Users/JohnCitizen/Library/Preferences/Adobe InDesign/Version 14.0/en_US/Page Sizes/New Page Sizes.xml

This file can be edited to add custom sizes. By default, the XML file looks like this:

The syntax to create a new page size looks like this:

The <Name> tags refer to the name of the page size that the user will see in the New Document dialogs. The <Width> and <Height> tags refer to the measurements and these measurements are in points. Each page name, width and height are wrapped in their own <PageSize> tag.

For this example, I’ve taken in all A, B, C, D paper sizes as well as some imperial sizes and saved the XML file.

Anyone interesting in having this file can do so by downloading it here.

When I now open the default New Document interface, the new options now appear in the Print portion:

And here is what it looks like in the Legacy user interface:

Distinctions between Document Presets and New Page Sizes.xml

  • The default user interface will allow users to add Document Titles to new documents and also allow users to see page sizes at a glance, as opposed to the Legacy interface where page size measurements are only visible once a preset or page size is selected from the dropdown.
  • Selecting Create Alternate Layout from the Pages panel will show a new dialog box that contains pages added via the New Page Sizes.xml file. These page sizes will be able to be selected from the dropdown, while page sizes made via the saved presets will be unavailable.
  • The New Page Sizes.xml will only add names of page sizes, widths and heights; while adding presets stores more information such as total number of pages, page orientation, page size (including pages that can be accessed from the New Page Sizes.xml), amount of columns, margin dimensions, bleed and slug settings, and whether to have facing pages or primary text frames.

Using character styles for dot leaders

The topic of tabs and leaders has been covered on InDesignSecrets before in a 6-part series but it’s worth sharing this particular tip as it saves me plenty of heartache in my day-to-day role.

Usual technique

The usual practice of creating a dotted line (usually for either leading up to a page number in a table of contents OR preparing a space for users to add information to a handwritten form) is often accomplished by the tabs feature. For example:

This is achieved by making a paragraph style that has a tab stop that has been right-aligned to the end of the text frame, and in the leader text field of the tab dialog box, a period has been entered, and it is this period that repeats to generate the dotted line.

Issues with this technique

However, I find this is quite restrictive in terms of:

My preferred technique

Instead, I prefer to make a character style called “dotted line” giving it the dotted line appearance that I’m after in the underline panel of the character style dialog box.

If more control is required, I can also prepare a stroke style specifying the dot style and frequency that the dots appear.

I can then either apply the character style manually to the areas requiring the dotted lines, or I can make a paragraph style that calls the dotted line character style using a GREP style that looks for tab spaces.

Bonus tip

Note that my GREP style is looking for \t|~y rather than just \t – the ~y represents a right indent tab. For dot leaders that need to go to text at the end of a text-frame, I prefer to use a right indent tab instead of setting a right align tab, because if the text frame changes width and I want the right aligned item to remain right aligned to the text frame, I don’t have to adjust the tab stop of the right align tab.

To insert a right indent tab, press SHIFT+TAB. This will work anywhere in a text frame except within a table where it will highlight the previous cell. To apply a right indent tab inside a table, either insert one via right-clicking to call upon the contextual menu, then navigate to Insert Special Characters, Other, then Right Indent Tab.

Otherwise, it can be called upon by opening the quick-apply menu via COMMAND+RETURN on Mac (or CONTROL+RETURN on Windows) and type either Right Indent Tab (or, if you’re really lazy – nt tab as highlighted in pink in the figure below).

Extract an Image from an image field in an Acrobat Form

In January 2017, Acrobat DC added two new buttons to the prepare form panel in Adobe Acrobat DC: Add Image and Add Date:

eximage01

The Add Image button creates a rectangle that – when clicked in Adobe Acrobat Pro or Reader DC – launches Finder (Mac) or Explorer (Windows) to navigate to an image to be inserted into that field.

To demonstrate this, I have created a business card order form in Adobe InDesign for a Travel Agency.

eximage02

Note that I have not made the image field in Adobe InDesign. There is a good reason for this: it isn’t possible at the time of writing the article as the option doesn’t exist in the buttons and forms panel in Adobe InDesign.

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While this is frustrating, it can be added in Adobe Acrobat. I’ll leave a link to the indesign uservoice feature request to hopefully have this (and the add date button) added in future (ignore that the Adobe Staff says its fixed at the time of writing – I disagree).

For now, I’ll export this file as an interactive PDF and add the add image button to the artwork.

eximage04

I can then close out of preview and look at the form. This should be fine for testing purposes.

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For the purposes of prototyping this form, I’ll type some dummy data and use a stock photo from Adobe Stock.

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Fields all look fine, the text can be extracted by either cutting and pasting into my InDesign card template, or using the export option from the Prepare Form tools. While the image isn’t juxtaposed correctly, I can do that once I extract the image from the PDF… or at least I thought.

The image won’t extract

If I go to the Edit PDF tools of Acrobat, the image (and its field) cannot be selected.

eximage07

The image isn’t shown as an attachment in the attachments tab.

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If I use the Export all as images from the Export PDF tab, will that work?

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No, it only exports the images of the beer bottles and the Eiffel Tower shown in the original card.

How about if I use the Edit Object tools, right click on the image and select “edit image”? Unfortunately, this is unavailable too.

eximage10

Using the Enfocus Pitstop Professional Plug-in, can I extract the image this way? No!

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Yes, I could zoom in and take a screen capture, or render the PDF in Adobe Photoshop, but neither will retrieve the image to the exact resolution the original image was supplied. Looking at this particular image, if I zoom in at 3200%, it is quite a high resolution image.

eximage12

At this point, I turned to the internet for help, only to find the following thread on the Adobe Forums that contained a response from an Adobe Staff Member that read as follows:

eximage13

To me, this is bizarre… the whole purpose of adding an image would be to remove it later for another purpose, especially since the form field doesn’t have any cropping, scaling or rotating options. The whole point of me making this form was so that:

  • the client didn’t need the full version of acrobat to add the image as an attachment to the PDF;
  • the client Didn’t need to send the PDF and the image separately;
  • I could receive one file to prepare the content of the business cards, rather than bits and pieces from various emails or downloads.

However, all is not lost!

There is a way

Create a new InDesign file and place the filled in interactive PDF as an image.

eximage14

Export the file as a print PDF using the [High Quality Print] setting with the following change to the compression panel:

eximage15

Now, when the PDF opens in Adobe Acrobat Professional DC, I’m able to use the Print Production Tools to click on the image and then select Edit Image.

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Once the image opens into Photoshop, I can see it is the same size as the original.

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So yes, it is possible to extract an image from the Image Field of a PDF, but it takes a little work. I’m just frustrated why the Acrobat Team made it difficult “by design”.

Lastly, if anyone from the Acrobat Team is reading this going “he’s having a go at us again”, rest assured, I will be praising the team in an upcoming post.

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