Small tips to save big time

I often find it interesting to watch the different ways that my colleagues and I may perform the same task. Take the InDesign command Paste in Place for example. I’ll typically use the keyboard shortcut, but I’ve noticed that one colleague will go to the edit menu and select it from there; another will right-click and access it through the contextual menu, while another has an ergonomic mouse that has the shortcut hot-keyed to an additional button (No-one used InDesign’s quick apply panel).

While there are many ways to accomplish the same task, they all take different amounts of time and hand travel. A two-handed keyboard shortcut takes less time than navigating through the menus and – if using a mouse – leaves the cursor in its last position; but takes one hand off of the mouse briefly. In my situation, I’m using a Wacom tablet, so after using a keyboard shortcut, I then have to reposition the cursor as I’m usually still holding the stylus in my right hand. I’m also not a fan of the gymnastics my hands have to often do to in order to execute a task, and recently I’ve been hot-keying eight of my commonly used shortcuts to the contextual menu of my stylus.

Luckily in the Paste in Place example, there is more than one way to accomplish the task, and there’s no right way to use this – it is whatever is most comfortable for the user. What I would like to highlight in today’s article is how to accomplish common tasks more efficiently.

It is worth pointing out that this isn’t an exhaustive list and doesn’t get into details that might require the purchase of dedicated software such as Digital Asset Management software, or the creation of hot folders from software such as EFI Fiery Command Workstation, but is a few tips that anyone of any skill level can take advantage of to save a minute here and there from their workflows.

Within InDesign

Add your own interface items

The option to edit Keyboard Shortcuts and Menus can be found from the Edit menu

Keyboard Shortcuts (KBSC)

From the keyboard shortcuts menu, it is possible to assign keyboard shortcuts to items that do not have shortcuts assigned by default, as well as redefine shortcuts from the defaults. Shortcuts can also extend to scripts in the scripts panel as well.

Add own menu items

It is possible to make your own set of menu items using InDesign’s own menu customisation, but this only allows users to create their own menu sets based on the default set – you can’t make your own new items… without scripting. Indiscript’s Marc Autret has an article where he explains an overview of how this can be done, and provides examples as well.

Add own contextual menu items

Adding the Draw Measurement Arrows script to the contextual menu.

Silicon Publishing’s Ole Kvern wrote an article about making a contextual menu startup script that adds functionality to the contextual menu available via the right mouse button. However, I’ve since added my own functionality based on his script by editing the script in a text editor and adding my own items.

Improve on viewing the current items

Customise workspaces

Does every tool need to be visible or docked all at once? Perhaps consider making workspaces more appropriate to the workspace that is actually being used. InDesign ships with some defaults that behave this way, but it is worth experimenting.

Using Bart van de Wiele’s CreativePro 2020 tip to make a custom links palette separate to the usual links palette.

An extreme (and clever) example was demonstrated at the CreativePro 2020 Online Conference by Adobe’s Bart van de Wiele. In the 3 minutes max session, he demonstrated a way of customising the Links palette and saving it as its own workspace – allowing more information about a link to be viewed briefly, and then navigating back to the regular workspace.

Improvement on the scripts panel

Peter Kahrel’s runscript user interface

InDesign’s default script panel literally mirrors how the scripts are filed in finder/explorer, but is missing many features such as a search facility and could really use an overhaul, given its appearance hasn’t changed since InDesign was released. Luckily, Peter Kahrel has made his own launcher that allows scripts to be filtered by name.

Within any application

Not all tips are specific to Adobe InDesign. One Adobe application in particular – Adobe Acrobat – has long been criticised for its lack of customisation, so any opportunity to improve its use is appreciated.

Better navigation

Use dictation

For users that hunt and peck the keys rather than touch-typing, it is worth considering using the real-time dictation features in Mac and Windows operating systems (and some specific software) as word recognition is on par with typing speeds up to 90 words per minute or more.

Learn the new OS features

Each time the operating system is updated, it is worth paying attention to the changes made by the platform for any time-saving features. One example from my own circumstances is using spotlight to access applications rather than the dock.

Default Folder X

I was introduced to this paid Mac plug-in from St Clair Software several years ago and I’ve been using it since. It extends the functionality of save as dialogs which provides recent folders, open folders and favorites.

Controller specific shortcuts

While keyboard shortcuts were mentioned earlier in the article, it is worth noting that they can usually be applied as buttons to controllers that are beyond the usual two-button mice that can be found in an office.

Wacom Stylus

The default radial menu accessed via the Wacom Desktop Center

I’ve used the base-model stylus for years. In addition to the buttons on the stylus, there are four more buttons on the tablet; and the ability to call upon a contextual menu with one of the stylus buttons that allows more tasks to be carried out.

Gaming mice

Mapping custom keys to the Logitech G300S gaming mouse.

I was introduced to this tip once again at CreativePro 2020 online, and it seemed like such a simple idea that I’d wondered why it hadn’t been implemented in my workplace. For example, a base-model gaming mouse such as the Logitech G300S has nine programmable buttons.

Touch portal

A simulated appearance of an iPad using sideshowfx’s Photoshop shortcuts via Touch Portal.

Long-known to live-stream performers on Twitch and Youtube is a product called the Elgato Streamdeck. Put simply, it is an additional keyboard that is customizable to quickly access shortcuts via one button instead of the keyboard gymnastics that can come with some keyboard shortcuts.

A cheaper alternative is software called Touch Portal, and this turns a smartphone or tablet into a streamdeck-like device – ideal for anyone who has an old smartphone or tablet that isn’t otherwise in daily use. The free version is limited to two screens with eight icons each, but a paid version is offered with far more extensibility at a price that is affordable for any pocket.

While this does require its own customisation, SideShowFX has boxed up a collection of Photoshop, Illustrator, After Effects and Premiere shortcuts that are ready to install. Their youtube page has a great explanation of how it all works.

Have it your way

Ultimately, these are solutions that I find helpful, but I like to keep an open mind to new techniques and strategies to get my work done efficiently and accurately. If you have any techniques or strategies you would like to share, please leave a comment or get in touch directly via the contact page.

Adding other languages to the Colecandoo scripts

As this site has become more widely known around the world, the issue of localization has been raised. The scripts I’ve written are based on my initial use as an English speaker with the International English version of Adobe InDesign. That’s fine for myself and other anglophones, but there are also times when scripts that are run on different language versions of Adobe InDesign:

  • Have an English user interface or output; or
  • Didn’t work because the script relied on coding that required a code reference based on the English language version of Adobe InDesign.

To this end, I’ve rectified issues concerning non-functioning scripts based on coding issues. However, translating the scripts into other languages is a task that I cannot undertake on my own as I do not speak other languages besides English, and would never solely rely on automatic translation software or services such as Google Translate.

I’m also aware that some of the scripts on this site gain more traction from countries where English is not the first spoken language, such as the following videos:

Though recently, the stars have somewhat aligned. I was approached to update my wall-planner script so that it could contain German and French user interfaces and outputs. With the assistance from the requester, as well as further assistance that has expanded this to Portuguese as well, this script has been updated.

In addition, the script can provide a wall planner in one of fourteen languages:

  • English
  • dansk
  • deutsch
  • español
  • ελληνικά
  • français
  • italiano
  • Nederlands
  • norsk
  • polski
  • português
  • Русский
  • suomi
  • svenska

The updated script can be found on the scripts page. Ultimately, I would like to update this – and other scripts on this site that contain user interfaces or outputs – to feature other languages besides English. If this is of interest to you, please contact me via my contact page.

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.

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.
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