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.

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