Now contributing to InDesignSecrets.com

Just a short note to say that I am now contributing articles to InDesignSecrets.com – my first article: Making scalable shapes with Data Merge. The site is a great resource that I have regularly visited over the years and it is a resource that I often recommend to anyone with InDesign queries.

Happy reading!

If there’s something strange… in InDesign… who you gonna call?

It is nice to be known as a go-to person concerning questions about InDesign, but often there are questions about InDesign that I simply have no answers for. When questions concerning InDesign arise, that is when it is time for me to:

  • Ask a colleague
  • Look at some of the manuals on my desk
  • Use the help menu of InDesign itself
  • Go onto the internet

Normally the latter happens more often than asking a colleague or referencing the books. The sites that are typically visited first are:

Forums

The Adobe InDesign forum (above) and InDesignSecrets’ own forum are both fantastic resources that often hold the answers to questions that may arise.

Prior to asking the question straight away in a forum, use the search facilities in case a similar issue was answered already. If there is no joy using the search, then ask the question, ensuring the following are stated:

  • The operating system
  • Version of InDesign
  • (if scripting) the script language being used
  • The actual question

Stating all of this saves a lot of time for people who may have the answer to the question. Simply stating “help me”, “won’t work” or “this sucks” in the headline won’t tell a potential respondent what the specific issue is, and in many cases responders will just move onto the next post that has a descriptive headline.

Each forum has its own rules but I like to think that the following should apply to ANY advice website (and it should go without saying to use appropriate “netiquette”):

  • Be nice! Forums are typically user to user, so save any frustration about the product to those who made the software, not other users who likely share the frustration. This also means that anyone answering a post is doing so in their own time and are doing so on a voluntary basis… bear this in mind.
  • Mark as answered! If a forum has answered the question and there is a facility on a forum to mark a question as helpful or answered, please do so. It tells any respondent that their help was useful; it tells other users what the answer may be, and it lets future respondents know that the question has been answered and they can then invest their time in unanswered questions. Specifically on the Adobe forums, it gives the poster of the correct or helpful question “points” that shows their status within the forums. More information on Adobe forums points can be found here.
  • Don’t hijack threads for unrelated issues. Contributing to a post is one thing, taking over and redirecting the thread is another.
  • Be patient! Don’t “bump” old posts of yours… unless there is new vital information that may help any respondent.
  • Have reasonable expectations of the forums. There is a sub-thread of the InDesign forums dedicated to scripting within InDesign and it is there to serve people who write their own scripts whilst using InDesign. While the contributors to this forum are happy to help out with specific scripting queries, it is unlikely they will write a script from scratch for a specific issue.
  • Detail. If there is a specific issue, set out the steps that were taken that led up to the issue and use screengrabs if possible. This gives future respondents a chance to identify the fault, or try to attempt to replicate the fault on their own machine to see if it is a user-specific issue or if it affects every user. It doesn’t need to be War and Peace, but it needs to have more detail than a Twitter tweet.

Social Media

Twitter is great for the purpose of keeping up to date with new developments as regular forum posters and providers of good information often tweet news on updates, bugs and other developments.

Reddit also has a sub-reddit for indesign = r/indesign (as well as r/creativecloud etc) and the rules follow normal Reddit and forum rules. Admittedly it is not the first place that one would assume would have an appropriate answer, but the sub-reddit is useful and does have an “answered” feature similar to the Adobe Forums.

Youtube can be an unlikely source of answers for InDesign questions. There are hundreds of tutorial videos made by InDesign users and bloggers that may answer more common questions. It is also a source of “lifted” material from paid sites, but I have no doubt that the owners of the original content will take the time to search for their own titles on youtube that shouldn’t be there, and make copyright claims in due course.

Specific Sources

There are some unlikely sources of InDesign information. Some are via scripting resources such as:

  • Github
  • Sourceforge
  • Macscripter
  • Stackoverflow

There are also dedicated learning sites such as Lynda.com that are well worth the subscription, and feature lessons from InDesignSecrets contributors amongst other professionals.

Data Merge: Multiple Record Madness

There have been plenty of posts on the Adobe InDesign Forum lately concerning issues that users are having with data merge, particularly Multiple Record Data Merge (MRDM) projects. These projects could be “stepping up” artwork onto a larger sheet for trimming (e.g. imposing many business cards onto one sheet) or preparing catalogues for example.

Before rushing into an FAQ of issues concerning MRDM, here is a step-by-step of preparing a MRDM to ensure the minimum of fuss:

1) In a new document, go to the Master page and create the static items that are to appear on every page.

mrm01

2) Create a new master page BASED ON the master page created in step 2 and in this page, add the items that will be variable, but prepare the set up as if it were for one record only.

(for those familiar with Data Merge, the variable can indeed be on a regular page. The difference is that MRDMs created with variable items on a regular page will not allow the source data to be linked)

mrm02a

mrm02b

3) From the Data Merge palette, choose “Select Data Source” and select the text file that will be used for the merge.

4) Populate the variable placeholders using the fields from the Data Merge Palette, being sure to that the placeholders of the text are visible in their own frames. Once satisfied with its appearance, select “Create Merged Document”

mrm04

5) A new dialog box appears. In the tab “Records”, make sure that the Records per Document Page dropdown says Multiple Records. Then from the tab “Multiple Record Layout”, set the appropriate margins of the artwork. If using the preview, note that the position of the first record may have moved – this is normal. Change the margins to the margins that were in the static layer, and layout the records as appropriate. Click OK once ready to proceed

mrm05a

mrm05b

6) A progress dialog will appear. After a moment the document will be created either with or without an overset text warning.

mrm06a

mrm06b

There are several things that should be noted:

  • The margins in the InDesign file are irrelevant for where the variable data starts – this is determined by the Data Merge Panel;
  • That during the construction of the file, it is only possible to view the data 1-up. To preview multiple records, this can only be done from the  Create Merged Document from the Data Merge panel.

Common complaints when preparing a Multiple Record Data Merges:

Each page has the same record repeated, so page 1 has record 1 many times, page 2 has record 2 many times, etc.

Likely that many variable placeholders were created and populated thereby filling the page, instead of one series of placeholders for one record only. MRDM works by creating one record and then using the MRDM panel to allow the next records to be inserted based upon details here (e.g. distance between the records, direction of flow of the records)

MRDM records aren’t merging where I want them to merge (e.g. off by half a millimetre or more, or off by miles)

Data merge uses the margins within the MRDM dialog box, NOT the margins in the active document. There is an additional glitch that offsets the starting position by fractions of a millimetre. This may seem insignificant but there is no reason that the software should not place the text to precise measurements.

mrm07a

mrm07b

Data merge has a further glitch if the document was initially created at one size but was then resized (regardless of orientation or size). When merging, the starting offset appears to be where the original size page margins would have been. The following example shows the same file but just made landscape.

mrm08a

mrm08b

This glitch persists despite further resizing, adjusting of margins, or saving as IDML and reopening. The only solution is to cut and paste from the defective document into a brand new document.

When MRDM merges to PDF, the first record does not appear, and instead of the records displaying one after the other, only the first record placeholders appear and is repeated through the document.

mrm09a

This only occurs when exporting directly to PDF. In this instance, the variable data portion has to be on a regular page, and any items that are to remain static need to be on the master page.

mrm09b

mrm09c

The MRDM preview is correct, but the resulting InDesign file has only one record per page. Once the view is changed to see the entire pasteboard, it is clear that the other records are on the pasteboard.

mrm10a

mrm10b

Likely because the variable and static data is on the same master page. Instead, the variable data portion has to be on a regular page, and any items that are to remain static need to be on the master page. If linking to the text is essential, the workaround is to put the background on a master, and then make a second master that is BASED ON that background and put the variable data on that layer. Refer to part 2 of the tutorial at the start of this post for more information.

Other commonly asked merging questions:

Upon selecting data to import, a dialog box says “The data source has one or more empty field names. Please fix the file or select another file”.

mrm13

The header row has fields that don’t have names. Can happen if the field names have no headers – the header row has to have names in it. Can also happen if an excel file is saved as a txt/csv file but it saves more columns than required. These excess columns need to be deleted in excel before attempting to import the data again.

The text has picked up the formatting of the line underneath.

This has to do with the “Remove Blank Lines For Empty Fields” options in the Content Placement Options portion of the Data Merge palette. This issue has been discussed elsewhere on Colecandoo.

The records are all in their own frames, instead of one long flowing frame like this:

mrm11

Data Merge works in this fashion, it doesn’t have a “next record” feature that Microsoft Word has in its “Mail Merge” feature. There is a workaround in the form of a script created by Loic Aigon that will do this; or by merging to a new file and then using a script such as Ajar production’s merge textframes that will thread the text so it run into one text frame, but if the data is likely to change then this procedure will have to run all over again. XML workflow is better for this kind of project.

How do I prepare a multiple record merge where records specific to one field are on the same sheet?

mrm12

This can’t be done from InDesign “Off of the shelf”. Data Merge, whether single or multiple records, can only handle one to one database relationships. It can’t merge items such as itemised invoicing for a client database where the database contains varying record lengths for each client. This is an example of “one to many” database relationship. InDesign can only handle “one to one” database relationships.

How to I preserve carriage returns from my Excel database into Data Merge?

Can’t be done. Data Merge only works with txt or csv files, so ultimately the Excel file has to be saved as one of these formats. A return (whether soft or hard return) in the txt/csv file indicates the end of the record and the start of the next, whether intentional or not. One trick is to substitute the returns with a character that is unlikely to use in normal type (e.g. the “pipe” symbol = | ) and once merged into the file, use find/change to replace the | with a carriage return.

The drawback is that this method cannot be used if merging directly to a PDF as the intermediate step of removing the pipe symbols cannot be done. Another drawback is if the data file for the merge is replaced, the merge will have to be done again. XML is a better choice for this task as carriage returns, non-breaking spaces and other special characters can be preserved.

How do I remove unintentional line breaks (whether soft or hard returns) from my Excel database before using Data Merge?

Dozens of answers exist on the many Microsoft Excel forums that may/may not work within the Windows OS, but on the Mac OS there is no reliable answer that works within Excel itself. Anyone who can answer to this question should feel free to post it in the comments. Best answer so far was again from Loic Aigon’s Blog.

My data is not importing properly (e.g. Records are starting where they are not supposed to, characters are corrupting, etc)

Could be a variety of reasons depending on how the data was prepared, how the fields are separated (whether comma or tab). The data should be checked by finding the corrupted record in InDesign, then comparing the data file in a text editor such as UltraEdit or TextWrangler to see what is happening.

A Christmas Treat: Empty Frame Remover v1.0

splash

Wishing to revive an older post “Cleaning up the Scraps”, many hours of research have been invested to prepare scripts that will remove unused or unwanted items from an InDesign file. As previously posted, scripts already exist to fix some issues such as removing unused swatches or paragraph styles. Recent research has shown though that some scripts previously identified as working did in fact have issues when used in conjunction with master pages that were based on other master pages, namely removing unused master pages and removing unused layers. Ultimately, one “clean-up” script would be nice, but that is still very much a work in progress.

In an effort to get the ball rolling, it was decided to start with what should be a simple script – remove boxes that have no fill or stroke. Well, it wasn’t exactly simple… in fact it was an ordeal, and potentially an ongoing one – the full extent of effort, particularly of those who volunteer their time and effort on the Adobe Forums can be found here. Right now, the script is at a level where Beta testing can begin.

So far, this script removes only frames that:

  • contain no images, AND
  • have no fill, AND
  • have no stroke, AND
  • have no text wrap, AND
  • are any closed shape, AND
  • are not part of a group, AND
  • are empty text, graphic or unassigned frames, AND
  • have no type on a path around it

The script also works on anchored/inline objects, and leaves threaded text untouched.

As mentioned before, the script is a Beta version and should be used only at one’s own risk. This free script can be downloaded here. For those unfamiliar with installing javascripts in Adobe InDesign, see this site for instructions.

This script would not be possible without the time, effort, support, guidance and assistance from all those who volunteer their time on the Adobe Forums website. The full list of participants and how the script was assembled can be found on this Adobe Forum page.

Any concerns, comments, feedback or bug reports are more than welcome.

UPDATE 2014-01-11: A recent email suggested that there may be issues with the script deleting empty boxes that are used intentionally as part of multi-state objects or buttons. This has been tested and it appears that this is NOT the case, but do note that this script was created with the focus of removing empty text boxes from files created with the intent of print production.

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