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.

Data Merge to Single Records Pro: Now Available

Since 2016, Colecandoo has provided the free version of the Data Merge to Single Records script for Adobe InDesign – a script that allows single records to be exported from Data Merge with unique filenames available from the Data Merge database itself. This improves Adobe InDesign’s default – naming each file Untitled-N and is only available for InDesign files, not PDFs.

On that note, the PRO version of this script is now available!

This script improves upon the free original by:

  • Exporting to various additional file formats, such as interactive PDF, EPS, PNG, JPG, direct to print, or PDF via InDesign first;
  • Add a primary key to either the start or the end of a filename;
  • When exporting to certain file formats – the ability to run a user-selected additional script before the export.

The script can be purchased for A$15 from the Buy Now button below.


The original Data Merge to Single Records script offered by Colecandoo remains free and can be downloaded from the scripts page.

GREPgraphing – Beyond 2000

In 2016, I developed a concept of creating bar graphs using GREP styles. Put simply, when a number was typed such as 1423, several different GREP styles would kick in to transform the number into a bar graph. In the above example:

  • if there’s a one for the 1 followed by three digits, make the one character 1000% wide;
  • If there’s a 4 followed by two digits, make the four character 400% wide;
  • If there’s a 2 followed by one digit, make the two character 20% wide;
  • If there’s a 3 as the last character, make the three 3% wide.

To successfully work with any whole number between 1-1999, this technique requires creating 29 different types of GREP styles and character styles. It uses a fixed width font and takes advantage of GREP styles to adjust the width of the numbers to represent them as their appropriate value as a bar graph. I’ve written about this technique in more detail over at InDesignSecrets.

In 2018, I expanded upon this idea and made a script so that anyone wishing to use the technique without typing the 29 character and GREP styles could simply run a script:

Beyond 2000

One catch with this technique is that it stops at 1999 as the character style to represent 2000 can’t be made by creating a 2000% width as the maximum character width is 1000%. However, there is a workaround – create a new character style called 2000, based on the 1000 style, but give it a tracking of 600.

Adjust the GREP graph paragraph style and underneath the 1000% GREPstyle, make a new one using the new 2000% character style that was made and give it the following pattern:

2(?=\d\d\d\b)

To test this, I have two different GREPgraph styles containing the 1000 figure and have put them side by side. In the text frame underneath, if I type 2000 into the text frame with the GREPgraph beyond 2000 style applied to it, it should be the same width, right?

Absolutely. If I make an additional 3000% character style based on the 2000% style but changed its tracking to 1200, and added a GREPstyle to the paragraph style to apply the 3000% character style to the pattern 3(?=\d\d\d\b), this will work too.

From here, a pattern can now be seen: to get to the next 1000 in width, add another 600 to the tracking of that thousand’s character style and add a new GREP style pattern to the GREPgraph style. This will work until the tracking hits its maximum of 10,000.

Doing all this in less GREP steps

As stated earlier, the original technique required 29 GREP styles to create a GREPgraph, but what if I said it was possible to achieve the numbers 1-1999 (actually a few more – 2047) using 12 GREP styles? This can be done too, but requires a technique in Excel, and that is to convert the original base-10 number into a 16-bit binary number. I’d actually described this technique back in 2011, but it was implemented differently and with more complications: this method is far simpler.

First, convert the desired base-10 number to a 16-bit binary number in Excel using the following formula:

=DEC2BIN(A1/256,8)&DEC2BIN(MOD(A1,256),8)

Now that the number is displayed in binary, copy the binary number into InDesign.

The technique basically works the same way as the original GREPgraph technique but has a slightly different implementation. First, the character styles need to be created that will change the widths, but instead of making 1-9, 10-90, 100-900 and 1000, only the character styles 0, 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512 and 1024 need to be created. For example, the character style 32 will only contain the width of 32%, and this pattern will apply to the other numbers mentioned.

Zero and 1024 are the exceptions. Zero will have a character style featuring a .1pt size, no fill or stroke, and 1% width. 1024 will have a character style of 1000% and a tracking of 14.

This will create a total of 12 character styles.

Now to make the paragraph style. To keep it simple, the appearance of the bar graph will controlled by the paragraph rule (though more advanced methods can be made using combinations of rule above, below, underlines and strikethroughs).

Here is where the magic happens – the GREP styles. Here are the styles and how they are implemented in the GREP style panel of the Paragraph style.

And here is the result:

So what’s happening here?

It’s important to understand how binary numbers are written compared to base-10 numbers. The following site gives a really good explanation, and that’s all that’s happening here – the GREP styles are being applied to the 1s in the binary number, based on their position in the binary number, and applying the appropriate GREP widths.

It can go larger

Just like the regular GREP graph, this too can be expanded to numbers larger than 2000 by creating an additional character style that has an added tracking applied. In this case, to represent the numbers 1-4095, a further character style can be added: 2048.

An advantage of this technique is that instead of creating an additional 9 character/GREP styles for each power of 10 using the base-10 GREP styles, the binary method will require a new style every time the total doubles e.g. 14th GREP style would be 4096, 15th GREP style would be 8192…

The obvious disadvantage with this technique: the numbers to be displayed as bar graphs have to be written out in binary first.

Is this something I would use? Probably not myself, as GREPgraphs are normally enough for my purposes, but I often hear the question “what if you need more than 1999 in a graph” so I felt that it was worth answering the question: It can be done, but it’s a lot of effort to get there.

Add a “Night” mode to InDesign

In the same way that different political or religious views can polarise a group of people, so can one specific InDesign feature: Light or Dark interface.

Introduced into InDesign CC in 2013, this change brought InDesign in line with other Creative Cloud products that had a dark interface. That said, I was not a fan and chose to remain a user of the light interface.

Many years later and Apple released the macOS Mojave with its Dynamic Desktop and Dark mode. The Dynamic Desktop feature shows a bright desktop during daylight hours and a dark desktop during the dark hours. In addition, popular apps also followed suit allowing users to switch from the usual view to a “night mode”.

In addition, I have found myself working late into the night on projects, and have found that a darker interface during these hours is easier on my eyes. That said, I still like to use a light interface when working in daylight hours.

With this in mind, I wondered if it was possible to create an InDesign startup script that – upon performing a common task such as opening a file – would check the time of day and if it was beyond a certain time of the day, would invoke the dark interface… and it was.

I’ve now added this script to the site and it can be downloaded from here or the scripts/download pages. As this is a startup script, it has to be added to the Startup Scripts folder (see Ole Kvern’s excellent instructions for doing so here).

The script can also be modified to suit by going into any text editor such as textedit or notepad and editing the following lines of the script:

if (hours <= 7 || hours >= 18)

This indicates the hours of the day. In the script, 7 = 7:00 am, and 18 = 6:00 pm.

app.generalPreferences.uiBrightnessPreference = 0.0;

This refers to how dark the interface should be. 0.0 is totally dark, 1.0 is bright, but values from 0.1-0.9 can be used as well.

app.generalPreferences.pasteboardColorPreference = 1; 

This refers to the color of the pasteboard. The number 1 will match the pasteboard color to the interface, whereas 0 will leave the pasteboard white.

So technically it’s not a night-mode per se, but for those who like the light interface until the night-time hours, this script may be something to consider.

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