InDesign in denial or in decline? Then innovate!

At the same time every year when Adobe MAX comes around, I look at the new features in Photoshop and Illustrator and wonder “will the changes in InDesign be as advanced?” and for the last several years, I’m always let down by the new features that InDesign has in comparison to its companion software.

I understand that the engineers can’t implement all suggestions by the users, and when I’ve had a chance to speak to the engineers and developers directly, I’ll give my “top five” requests rather than give my entire laundry list of ideas, fixes etc.

Between 2015 and 2019, I made a point to travel – at my own time and expense – to attend conferences on the other side of the world, where Adobe InDesign’s technicians and decision makers would be in attendance, so that they could hear these suggestions and understand my determination of 24 hours of airline travel to give them my pain-points and ideas.

In defense

To be fair, InDesign has introduced what I would consider ten features since 2018, not counting bug squashing, catching up with operating systems or minor visual tweaks:

  1. 2021 – Capture fonts, color palettes, and shapes from any image, using the new Adobe Capture extension
  2. 2020 – Use HSB values without RGB translation
  3. 2020 – Locate Colors in your document
  4. 2020 – Intelligent subject detection and text wrap
  5. 2020 – Share for Review with text annotations
  6. 2019 – data merge can use semicolon delimiter and now has “use existing” for variable image frame placement
  7. 2019 – SVG Import
  8. 2019 – Column Rules
  9. 2019 – Variable fonts
  10. 2018 – Import comments from PDFs

For transparency, see James Wamser’s full guide of InDesign features.

I also note InDesign’s Uservoice site now incorporates three priority buttons (Not at all; Important; or Critical) so the development team can further focus on immediate needs rather than non-critical wants.

In despair

For the 2021 release of InDesign, I feel the community was disappointed with that it considered to be major features in the release, such as a change of nomenclature that adopted inclusive terminology.

While the change in nomenclature didn’t affect me either way, I understand that users who were offended by the previous terminology would have welcomed the change… though this should be called an improvement rather than a new feature. Unfortunately, that is where the changes to the pages panel ended, and other requested changes to the pages panel hadn’t been implemented, such as:

  • Ability to have vertical facing pages;
  • Facing pages for spiral binding;
  • Applying parent pages to all even or odd pages;
  • Variable parent pages for data merge;

Asides from this, the frustrating part for the community was, at the time of the new features announcement, there were 4062 requests on the InDesign Uservoice, though the three features listed for 2021 shown above were the ones given priority.

In backlog

There are major changes in backlog that have been in the InDesign Uservoice for years such as:

  • Option to split table rows across pages
  • MathML Support
  • Convert PDF to INDD
  • Make text variables/live captions breakable like normal text
  • Improving the various options of footnotes
  • Allow multiple character styles to be applied to characters
  • Actions Panel

These 7 suggestions above have at least 300 votes each.


I’ve been using InDesign for 20 years or so, and came to the conclusion that if I want great features in InDesign, I’ll either have to script them myself, or look to InDesign’s community of users who have written fantastic scripts and have websites full of great scripts that deserve to be in the UI of InDesign itself.

The community features dozens of great scripters, such as:

These scripters (along with many other InDesign scripters too numerous to mention) have written dozens of scripts that should be in all InDesign users toolbox… but many of these scripts were written because the features didn’t exist in InDesign (and still don’t).

In focus

Let’s highlight one area that was once an innovation for InDesign compared to its then main competitor, Quark Xpress: Tables. Let’s look at the tables panel in InDesign while focused on a table.

In contrast, let’s now look at the tables panel within Affinity Publisher while focused on a table.

At first glance, the differences are night and day, but upon closer inspection, InDesign’s panel does have the majority of items that Affinity Publisher’s panel contains, albeit shrunk in size, or represented icons. What InDesign is missing is the ability to easily select the table or cell strokes, something Affinity does quite well.

It’s what comes next – Affinity’s ability to autofit or sort a row or column based on contextual menus in each axis of the table.

If I highlight some cells but only want to merge the highlighted rows, neither application can do this from their panels or contextual menus, but this can be accomplished through scripting. Scripts from both Marc Autret and Dirk Becker accomplish this task, and can be added to the contextual menu (though at the time of writing, Dirk’s site appears to be down).

In fact, many table items in InDesign can be accessible via scripting. The late Thenis de Jong (aka Jongware) wrote a great article about this. Unfortunately, scripting isn’t something that every user can do without some training.

I can improve on both table panels though by using an Elgato Stream Deck: hardware that – in my case – is 15 configurable buttons that can be contextually based.

To save me time setting up the buttons, sideshowfx have an installable InDesign profile for the Stream Deck that has many of the buttons already set up, including features that aren’t in either InDesign or Publisher’s table panels as single click icons, such as select row, insert column, select body rows, etc.

Some “gotchas” with the profile is that it requires using sideshowfx’s keyboard shortcuts, and these may conflict with InDesign’s or users’ already established shortcuts. What is great though is that if the buttons you need aren’t there, Stream Deck allows these to be added, provided a keyboard shortcut to the desired action is added.

Invest in inventors

I note that the Adobe InDesign developers did add a folder in the scripts panel called “Community” where script contributors like myself were encouraged to add scripts to share to the community without charge. While many of the scripts shared by scripters are done so out of philanthropy, the scripts may be there to drive the website traffic of the scripters, perhaps in order to persuade a purchase of one of their paid scripts or software, promote their freelance work, or solicit a donation.  

Bluntly, Adobe InDesign has a team of developers, but scripters are usually sole operators. Speaking for myself, Colecandoo isn’t a team of engineers or developers, I’m it! If the Adobe developers reached out and asked me to include my pro version of the wall planner script to the community tab, I would consider this on a paid commercial basis. Remember, Adobe has a team of developers that could have written a similar feature for InDesign before I did, and they have revenues greater than I’ll ever see.

In Conclusion

InDesign is still the layout software I use on a daily basis, but there are so many innovations that could be made that – in the meantime – have been made by users, third parties or competitors. If the developers are reading this and looking for inspiration, then look no further than:

  • InDesign’s Uservoice site;
  • The InDesign Scripting Community; (i.e. fulfill script requests that haven’t been made; or invest in the inventors who have made scripts the community is using regularly)
  • Other software in the Adobe Creative Cloud; (i.e. look at features that work well in other applications, such as the Actions palette, and port them to InDesign)
  • Competing software; (e.g. the tables feature highlighted in this article)
  • Software innovations in general (e.g. ability to tie into other software using IFTTT or Zapier);

To be, or CSV, that is the delimiter

From time to time I receive emails requesting support for some of the scripts that I offer through the site. Since InDesign began to support semicolon separated text files for data merge, one particular issue began to receive more requests than normal.

The emails were consistent in nature – users had downloaded the data merge single or pro script and ran the script on files they had prepared. Instead of users being able to select from the fields to the left, all of the fields appeared in one line.

This behaviour usually occurs when the script runs a data merge database that had a CSV extension, but was actually separated by semicolons rather than commas. I’d explain this back to the user and ask them to try a different CSV export from Excel, or use my preferred file export of UTF-16 text from Excel.

However, many users who had exported from Excel to CSV said that this did not change the issue and the problem persisted. Usually the problem was that – despite choosing CSV from Excel’s export options, the software was still using semicolons as a delimiter rather than commas. Luckily, exporting to UTF-16 text usually resolved the issue.

On that note, I was uncomfortable with this issue and tried to replicate an Excel export from CSV that would use semicolons as delimiters rather than commas, but I couldn’t replicate this behaviour. But then I stumbled across the following article.

In short, the article says that Excel uses the user’s locale to determine what delimiter to use for CSV files. In short, if you use a comma to separate a dollar value from cents rather than a full-stop, then a CSV will likely export with semicolon delimiters rather than commas.

Adjusting this setting is not so simple, especially for Mac users like me – the adjustment is to change a system preference that uses the appropriate currency format, but that changes lots of other related information, so this isn’t an option.

Ultimately, if you are using the data merge to single record script, and are doing so with data exported from Excel, I highly recommend that you do so with a UTF-16 Unicode Text format.

I’ll admit this was a phenomenon I was unfamiliar with, and somewhat frustrated that a file format that itself stands for comma separated variables – isn’t actually separated by commas but is in fact separated by semicolons… depending on what system locale your computer is set to and that Microsoft Excel obeys.

Highlighting the benefit of GREP… literally

I’m a fan of the GREP feature of the Find/Change dialog box in Adobe InDesign as it allows me to search for patterns of characters within text based on regular expressions.

As handy as this feature is, I always require assistance writing my GREP searches, just in case my patterns are either too greedy; or not greedy enough. For example, I have a GREP search to find duplicate entries and remove them, but in InDesign the only way to know if I have this correct is to press the Find Next button in the search.

A better way to identify if I have my GREP search correct is to see it in real-time. Luckily, text editors such as BB Edit have this feature.

InDesign’s latest rival, Affinity Publisher, not only has its own flavour of GREP, but also shows all results in the Find and Replace dialog box, though I have to click on each result in this dialog to see where they are.

But it would be great if InDesign highlight the GREPs ahead of time like these two applications. The good news is that it can, but it requires the GREP editor script from Peter Kahrel that has been featured on Colecandoo before.

Thanks to Peter’s GREP editor, I’m now able to see that in this example there are three search results and they are all highlighted.

This tool comes in very handy as it assists me to write more complicated GREP searches, such as this one that is looking for time formatting. This lets me know in real-time if my selection is selecting too much information, or not enough – and in this example, it isn’t enough as the times without the minutes aren’t getting selected.

As for longer, more complicated chains of GREP code, there are resources out there that have pre-baked search chains that other users have already submitted to sites such as or the Treasures of GREP Facebook group.

Stop Press!

After this article was initially published, I was alerted to another InDesign javascript by Kerntiff Publishing System that has a similar behaviour to Affinity Publisher’s search. The script is called GREP Xtra.

There is also an additional script released in 2013 by Roland Dreger that performs as a combination between Peter Kahrel’s script and the InDesign user interface. That script is called Highlight GREP.

PDF spreads from InDesign: radio button vs dropdown

When proofing PDFs of books to clients, it is often important that the client sees the proof as a series of left and right page spreads. PDFs made with any of InDesign’s default settings (these are the options in the Export Adobe PDF dialog box in the top dropdown field in square brackets) will show the PDF in Adobe Acrobat as it’s default view – single pages.

Adobe Acrobat does allow for pages to be presented in two-page appearance, but this is controlled by the user. If the user is unaware of this feature, then they will be viewing the PDF using Acrobat’s default single page view.

It is possible to change the view settings of a specific PDF while in Adobe Acrobat and this is done from the Properties option from the File menu.

The page viewing defaults of Acrobat itself can also be changed, but this will view any PDF that has not had its preferences changed when the PDF was made.

It is worth noting though that prior to 2015, the widely accepted method to prepare a PDF as readers spreads was to do this from InDesign’s Spreads radio button in the Export Adobe PDF dialog box.

While this does prepare what appears to be readers spreads, it does so with some disadvantages:

  • The centre spread line cannot be seen. This can be addressed by using the page border script from Indiscripts that applies a page border to all pages. Run this script prior to exporting the PDF to generate the page border and then export the PDF, then rerun the script to turn the border off.
  • The page count is incorrect. The folios will still appear to be correct within the PDF, but the page navigation itself will show the page count as half the number of original pages plus one (e.g. a 16pp file saved as spreads will now show up as 9pp in the PDF’s navigation).

However, from June 2015 it has been possible to set the default view options when exporting a PDF from InDesign for viewing in Adobe Acrobat.

This allows PDFs to contain the correct page count and to also show the page split between the spreads while still showing the pages as spreads.

Should be problem solved, right?

Unfortunately, no. Despite the dropdown now being available, there’s no ideal way to prepare readers spreads to suit all PDF readers or platforms.

  • Unless InDesign users read all of InDesign’s patch notes (maintained by James Wamser) or were otherwise made aware of this change, then normal habits would persist, and users would continue to prepare spreads using the spreads radio button.
  • If the dropdowns had been used, this only makes viewing the spreads possible in Adobe Acrobat (Reader or Pro), but unfortunately this software is no longer the preferred option for viewing PDFs. Besides Mozilla Firefox and Adobe Acrobat, most PDF readers only support single page view.
  • Even if Acrobat or Firefox are being used, users can still override the view either manually, or using Acrobat it can be done by default using accessibility in the preferences

So what can be done?

There are effectively four options:

First option is to prepare PDFs based on an audience using Acrobat only as their reader and use the dropdown option for spreads. If the PDF is exported from InDesign using a PDF/X standard, Acrobat will also show the PDF as it appears in InDesign’s overprint preview.

Second option is to prepare a PDF using the pre-2015 method of using the spreads button and the Indiscripts page border script.

Third option is to lobby the manufacturers of the non-Adobe PDF reader software to bring their software into line with the PDF specifications set out by Adobe itself (and while they are doing that, also update their readers to also accept form fields and commenting functions!).

Last option is to do nothing and leave the pages as single spreads… and that isn’t necessarily a bad option. If the PDF is being created for onscreen viewing only, and the viewer must see something that is intentionally spread over two pages such as an image that crosses over two pages, then single pages should be fine.

Last word

It is of note that people are not just consuming information on a single desktop monitor, but may have two or more monitors in which software windows are being juggled around; or on a mobile device that is more natural to be held in a portrait fashion. Social media apps such as TikTok and Instagram are designed for mobile devices to be held in a portrait orientation. It’s hard for me to admit, but left and right hand pages are just a legacy of printed books as their assembly creates this phenomenon. Unless there is a crossover between the two pages, a reader will usually read the content on one page, adjust their gaze and read another – their focus of vision can’t be on both pages at the same time.

Also, if the PDF is intended for print by a printing company, don’t provide them a PDF as readers spreads as they won’t be able to impose the pages for printing without breaking the PDF back into single pages.

Inklude (sic) Mixed Inks into Illustrator

A feature which is strangely absent from Adobe Illustrator (yet present in Adobe InDesign) is mixed inks. This gives the user the ability to make a new swatch based on percentiles of other swatches that can include spot colors, along with process colors.

InDesign’s mixed ink feature also allows groups of mixed ink colors to be made, based on how much of each ink should be in each swatch, and the increments they should differ by.

For pure spot color work, this can create colors that would otherwise require using blend modes such as multiply or darken to create similar colors. However, from a prepress standpoint, mixed inks have several advantages over applying blend modes to objects to achieve the same effect.


For digital devices that can apply inline varnishes, mixed inks make sense. In the following example, the headline requires a varnish

Usual way of doing this would be to create a second layer with an identical headline, but set to a Varnish spot color on another layer, with either a transparency effect such as darken or multiply applied; or overprint turned on from the attributes menu.

That’s fine if the position of the artwork is final, but if the design is in a state of flux, that requires moving the varnish to be in the same position as the type.

A solution is to use InDesign’s mixed ink to create a new mixed ink swatch. In this case, I’ll call it Varnished Headline, and give it 100% of the black and 100% of the varnish spot

This solution also applies to other common embellishments such as embosses, foils, raised varnishes, etc.

White Masks

When preparing label artwork for clear or metallic substrates, white masks have to be prepared so that the color art can appear correctly above the substrate. Take for example this logo to be printed over a silver background.

Again, by using mixed inks, it is possible to make a white mask that doesn’t require another layer, blend mode, and can move with the artwork. In this example, three colors would be created: the white mask; Red and a white mask; and Black and a white mask – the last two being mixed inks.

The art can then be recolored so that the red now uses the red mixed ink; the black now uses the black mixed ink; and the paper now uses the white mask ink.

Notice that the gold cup does not contain a white mask – that is because the gold color – when printed on a silver stock – will appear more like a gold foil.

Double-Hit Prints

On one or two spot colour jobs that have large areas of solid ink coverage, occasionally the same colour will be applied twice on the press as to hide any mechanical ghosting from the printing process.

In the above example, one plate would be for the solid color, and a second – though stippled plate – would be for the undercolor to hide the mechanical ghosting. This color can be set up using InDesign’s mixed inks.

But this is missing from Illustrator!

Despite the mixed ink feature being available in Adobe InDesign, it is notably absent from Adobe Illustrator. This is frustrating as artwork that usually requires the three solutions above is often prepared as Adobe Illustrator artwork, requiring old-school solution of layers and blend modes.

If you feel that this missing feature deserves to be in Adobe Illustrator, make sure to let the Illustrator Uservoice know!

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.

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:


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;

and swap the forward slashes in the lines around so that the lines now read like this.


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;

and swap the forward slashes in the lines around so that the lines now read like this.


Add more PDF exports

Look for the line

app.activeDocument.exportFile(ExportFormat.pdfType, File(resultsFolder + "/" +".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.

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:


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:


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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