EAN-13s on a budget

colcandoo

From time to time, there will be a need for any designer to add an ISBN barcode or EAN-13 to artwork that is being created. Typically, the customer supplies the number by itself and the barcode is created from that number and placed into the artwork. The question is… how does that number turn into a barcode?

This article isn’t going to be a long and technical article about how barcodes are generated and the math/programming that goes into it. Instead, it will point to some available resources for generating the odd barcode here and there, rather than fully developed software that can batch produce barcodes and integrate with databases.

Most of this post refers to EAN-13 or ISBN style barcodes, simply because since 1 January 2007, ISBNs are 13 digits long and use the EAN-13 barcode format for their barcode structure and appearance. What this in turn means is that a solution that can generate an ISBN can also generate an EAN-13, a standard used by most of the world for generating product barcodes… except if you live in the USA or Canada where UPC is used more often.

To my knowledge, no Adobe nor Quark product (nor any product from its latest rival, Affinity) ships with a barcode module as default, but Microsoft Windows users who use Corel Draw will know that it ships with a barcode module and has done so for the past 15 years (just a hint Adobe if you’re looking for ideas or innovations for the next upgrade to Creative Cloud). That’s well and good, but if you’re like me – a Mac user running the Adobe Creative Cloud, Corel Draw isn’t an option.

If you’re also not in the market for dedicated barcode software (as there are hundreds of products that are available) but would like to create a barcode with the minimum of fuss from your desktop or laptop, there are three alternatives that I would suggest:

Plug-ins

Many of the paid plug-ins that are substitutes for the Data Merge feature of Adobe InDesign typically come with a barcode module or add-on. For example:

But if you’re a designer that isn’t after an enterprise solution for making hundreds or thousands of barcodes, but just wants one barcode for a self-publishing client or a craft brewery for their bottles, then many of these products are probably overkill.

InDesign Scripts

Because I work in InDesign most of the time, having the ability to create a book cover and barcode in the same application has advantages for me. That said, here are three scripts that are worth a try:

BookBarcode by Indiscripts – a paid script for Adobe InDesign (€39). It offers lots of customisation and allows for batch creation of ISBN barcodes. If the pennies are tight, there is a “try” version that creates a “vanilla” EAN-13 barcode without the added features and bonuses that would be required from a book publisher or brand agency.

EAN Barcode generator by Konstantin Smorodsky – free script available from the Adobe Add-ons site. Does one ISBN barcode at a time and is intended for general purpose EAN-8 or EAN-13 barcodes, but since ISBN barcodes fall into this category, this still qualifies. Does not put the human-readable ISBN above the barcode though.

ID Barcode by Nick Morgan and Bruno Herfst – free script that supports EAN-13, ISBN, ISSN, ISMN; some customisation of fonts, includes human-readable ISBN above the barcode, EAN-2 and EAN-5 supplemental barcode.

Websites

To my surprise, there are several websites that can create CMYK, text-as-curves, vector graphic barcodes that are worthy of consideration. Again, the internet has these sites in abundance, but of the sites that stood out were:

Terry Burton’s online barcode generator – This site creates a vast array of barcodes, yet alone EAN-13/ISBN. Options are limited per barcode, but if functionality is your thing, definitely a worthwhile website.

Bookow.com – Generates a vector PDF ISBN barcode. No customisation but contains human-readable ISBN above the barcode and all type is set in OCR-B. There are also other useful tools on the website for book publishers.

GS1 (EAN-13 barcode generator) – The Swiss site of the GS1 organization has a feature that creates EAN-13s. Again, no fancy bells or whistles but it does the job.

Free Barcode Generator – Another no-nonsense barcode creator with some options but without the fanciness of the scripts or plug-ins.

Free ≠ yours to do with what you will

The last 7 links have mentioned free resources, but remember that the creators of these resources have the same bills and overheads that you do. If their script has saved you time and effort, and their website has a way of making a donation, seriously consider making a payment to these developers who go out of their way to not only make these resources, but allow you to use them without charging a hefty sum.

 

 

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Better Infographics for Data Merge with Chartwell Bars

While speaking at the 2016 PEPCON in San Diego along with Co-presenter David Creamer on the topic of Data Publishing, I presented an older tip that allows shapes to change size based on numerical values that appear in Data Merge. The tip requires the Chartwell typeface, particularly the Chartwell bars font. I’d mentioned at the time that while it was a novel tip, I didn’t have a practical purpose for it. I’d also mentioned in my presentation about using knockout groups in InDesign to hide information and had demonstrated it using my “Parkway Drive” demonstration where it is used to hide parts of a sign that changes size, but again felt there should be a better use of this tip.

However, it was on my 15 hour flight from Los Angeles to Melbourne where I thought of a new and much more practical purpose – creating infographics. I also thought about getting some sleep, but that was a fool’s errand!

Once I arrived home, I tested out the theories I had during the flight, and while the results were mixed, I was happy with what had been achieved.

Ultimately, I have created three techniques for anyone making infographics. In all instances, I’ve colored the chartwell bars font as black so that the technique can be demonstrated, but in application the type (and its spacer) would be given the color “none”:

1 – Infographics as scaleable shapes.

01image

This uses the method described in an earlier indesignsecrets.com article that I have written. Rather than rewrite the tip, the link to that article is here. The point of difference is that the shape being transformed into an infographic is what is being scaled.

There are some drawbacks to this method.

First, the shape has to allow the chartwell bars font to expand from the left to the right without getting caught on any part of the shape, so not every shape will work. Bottles that were used in the example were fine because they meet this criteria.

02image

Second, there is a lack of precision, especially concerning low numbers as the graphic scales. This appears to be because there is a minimum size that the graphic can shrink to.

03image

2 – Data that is pasted into a vector

04image

This method works the same way with the exception that the data is in a rectangular shaped textframe that is pasted into the target shape, and also given a 2mm spacer object to allow low figures to be presented. The 2mm spacer is a 2mm square that is an inline object before the figures in the chartwell font.

05image

For anyone wondering why such an odd technique was used to add 2mm to the frame, I had tried using a 2mm left align or a 2mm inset space in the shape itself but these presented issues.

3 – Hiding an image underneath

06image

This works the same way as method 2 with the exception that rather than being pasted into the graphic, it is pasted above the graphic. An additional anchored object that is larger than the infographic is then pasted after the figures in chartwell bars and given very specific values in the anchored object dialog box, along with being given the fill color of paper and a multiply effect of 0% from the effects panel. The frame with the values is then grouped with the infographic that is underneath and the “knockout group” checkbox is ticked.

07image

To make the effect more impressive, an “after” graphic is added that is the same size as the infographic but has different properties to make the difference in the values clear to the reader.

Moving forward

By itself, these techniques aren’t that impressive if creating one-off graphics, but if preparing infographics for variable data (whether for a catalogue or direct mail) I’m sure that readers will find these methods quite useful. These are not the only infographics tricks I have recently discovered, so watch this space.

Next Beta Script: Data Merge Cut and Stack Assistant

As a regular user of Data Merge, I often have to assemble projects that require cut and stack impositions. Most of the time, I prepare my files one-up at the correct size and output to PDF, knowing that the RIP of the digital printer has imposition software that has the ability to prepare cut and stack style impositions.

If cut and stack is an unfamiliar term, it is a style of page imposition where the subsequent pages appear on the sheets below until the end of a stack, and then begin again at the top of the sheet in this continuous pattern.

Unlike bookwork that may have a maximum page count of under 1000 pages, cut and stack impositions can deal with page counts in the hundreds of thousands… enough to make any imposition program buckle.

Another way of handling cut and stack impositions is to prepare the imposed base in Adobe InDesign, and then manipulate the data so that rather than being one long list, the list is split into columns based on the amount of pages-to-view on an imposed sheet. This is a quicker method as there are less pages to process and no imposition software to use, but there is the time taken to split the data appropriately, and will suffer any human error that went into manually making the revised database.

Frustrated with this situation, I decided to create a script that would take a large database and repurpose it for a cut and stack imposition. On that note, I present to you my latest script.

UItoexplainlaststacks
The imposed base is created in Adobe InDesign with text frames in place for the data merge placeholders. The script is then run and prompts the user for the original data. An interface appears asking the user for:

  • The records to process;
  • The amount of records in a set;
  • The amount of sets in a stack;
  • How to process last records (in case the stack sizes are uneven); and
  • Any other identifiers visible in the database.

Once OK is clicked, the script creates a duplicate of the original database and arranges the data appropriately, and launches the Data Merge palette so that the imposed base placeholders can be populated.

basewithfieldcodes

If you would like this script, please go to the Scripts page and look for the Data Merge Cut and Stack Assistant script.

Bonus script for the Holidays: Draw arrows around an object

UPDATE 2016-02-22: The script has now been updated to v1.07 and contains some new features. See the video below:

From time to time, one of the boring and repetitive tasks that prepress operators or designers have to do is draw lines that indicate the height and width of the artwork on a proof. For example:

proof form1For some sizes, a template probably exists so that the sizes that are regularly used don’t have to be drawn manually. But there are occasions where the artwork is a unique size and the arrows have to be drawn. It doesn’t take a long time to do the task, but if you’re doing this several times a day, every working day, it gets a little boring.

proof form2

That’s why this year, I’ve released a beta version of the Draw arrows around an object script. It works like this:

In this instance, I would like to apply the measurement arrows around this business card. There is a .25pt keyline that is on the frame, so I have set the stroke to align to the inside edge. Click on the object that you would like to draw the measurement lines around and then run the script from the scripts panel.

proof form3

The script will run, and moments later will return the measurements and the lines.

proof form4

The default font used is Minion, but it can be changed as it has a style associated with it called labelmeasures, so let’s change it to something that matches the style.

proof form5

And we’re done. Some things worth mentioning about the script:

  • It applies the measurements to one object or grouped selection at a time. If several ungrouped objects are selected, the script will add rulers to the object that was placed on the page first.
  • If the object being measured has a keyline applied to it, be sure to set the keyline to the inside edge.
  • It works beyond millimetres, including centimetres, pixels, points and inches.
  • It is a beta, so there is still room for improvement and suggestions. Any feedback about this script (or any others on Colecandoo) can be made on the contact page.

That said, the script is my Holiday gift to readers and followers. Enjoy!

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