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Saving designers’ valuable time

When a newspaper or group contacts me to ask about training, they usually have something specific in mind. The client might be a publication moving to the InCopy/InDesign workflow. Quite often, there’s a problem with print quality. No matter what the reason for my visit, it’s almost a certainty that I will be asked to give some advanced InDesign training while on site. When I first started using InDesign, then known as ‘K2’, over 11 years ago, one of the first things I noticed was how easy it was to learn the ins and outs of the application. It became apparent pretty quickly that there’s not a lot of ‘advanced’ to InDesign. There are just tools that users haven’t had the time to learn. To this day, I get a kick out of seeing longtime InDesign users smile when they learn how to create text in various shapes or to fill a letter of the alphabet with small text instead of a colour. With that in mind, let me share an InDesign process that will save ad designers serious minutes when they’re laying out realty or auto ads.

Kevin Slimp
This task is accomplished using an InDesign script. Scripts are little programmes allowing users to accomplish tasks that would otherwise take much longer. Photoshop veterans are used to using actions to get similar results.

There are scripts to automate the creation of calendars in InDesign. One of my favorite scripts from the early days of InDesign was called ‘Pie Graph’. It allowed the user to create a circle, enter a series of values, then sit back and have a snack while InDesign created a beautiful pie chart. The whole process took no more than a few seconds.

During a recent session of the Institute of Newspaper Technology, I asked a class of advanced InDesign students if anyone had a time-saving tip to share with the rest of the group. Emily, from Salem, Indiana, was quick to respond with a lesson on the ‘Make Grid’ script in InDesign. Let me tell you how it works.

The goal of Make Grid is to create an area filled with frames to be filled with items. In our business, the best example might be the realty ad that contains 15 to 30 house photos. Without Make Grid, most designers would probably create one frame, then duplicate it throughout the page using guidelines or the ‘step and repeat’ tool in InDesign. Make Grid speeds the process up significantly and guarantees that your spacing is accurate throughout the area. Here’s how it works:

  1. Create a frame (a rectangle) that fills the area where you want your photos to appear on the page. If you’re designing an auto ad with 15 cars, draw a frame (using your rectangle tool) where you want the 15 cars located on the page.

  2. Select the frame with your selection tool (black arrow) and go to Object>Fitting>Frame Fitting Options. Set Fitting to ‘Fill Frame Proportionately’ and select the middle dot in the ‘Align From’ option in the Frame Fitting Options window. Click OK to exit that window.

  3. Next, go to the Scripts panel. In the most recent version of InDesign, it is found by selecting Window>Utilities>Scripts. In some earlier versions, you found this script by selecting Windows>Scripting>Scripts. You may have to look through the options under the Windows menu to find ‘Scripts’, but it will be there.

  4. Beginning with InDesign CS3, users will find scripts already built into the Scripts menu. To find them, look under Applications>Sample>Javascript in the Scripts panel. Prior to CS3, InDesign didn’t supply any scripts to go in the panel. Users can download scripts at no cost from>Downloads>Exchanges. Click on the InDesign option to select from hundreds of scripts and plug-ins.

  5. Double-click on the script ‘Make Grid’.

  6. A window will appear on the screen, prompting the user to input the desired number of rows and columns, along with the space between them. After entering the number of columns, rows and gutters, click OK.

  7. You should see the area filled with frames, ready to be filled with pictures of houses, cars or whatever. Go to File>Place and select the photos that you want to use. Click on each frame individually to fill it with one of the corresponding photos.

That’s it. You’ve now accomplished a task in a matter of seconds that would have taken several minutes without the use of the Make Grid script. If you’re not already using scripts in InDesign, you are about to find out just how valuable they can be. A few other good ones to try in InDesign include ‘Split Story’, allowing the user to break jumps into separate stories, no longer linked together; ‘Image Catalog’, which creates a visual catalogue of all the images in a designated folder; and ‘Sort Paragraph’, which alphabetizes a list of items.

(Kevin Slimp is director of the Institute of Newspaper Technology and technology guru. Read past columns at Newspapers can sign up to spend an hour with Kevin during live webinars at

‘Acrobat X still king of PDF Tools’

It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed a software product in this column. With the newest rendition of Adobe Acrobat, Acrobat X, on the market, it seems a shame not to let you know about this application that has taken such a hold on our industry. For the past 15 years, I’ve been beta testing new versions of Acrobat. Some, like 9 Pro, were giant steps beyond what we’d seen before. Others, like 8 Pro, were improvements on previous versions, but not huge leaps. Acrobat X seems to fit into that last category. While the Acrobat interface has changed significantly, with many of the tools moved to a long panel on the right edge of the desktop, the functionality remains much like Acrobat 9 Pro.

Let me mention a couple of improvements in Acrobat X right off the bat. I really like some of the actions that are found under the File menu in Acrobat X. The user can convert a PDF to a very nice RTF or Word file with the click of a button. Most of the tools for saving and exporting PDF files, including PDF Optimizer, are now found under the file menu. This really makes sense for new users, while Acrobat veterans will need a little while to get used to the new locations. Another benefit is speed. Acrobat X seems much quicker than previous versions. Print production and content tools are now found in a panel on the right edge of the desktop. At first, I found this annoying. Having used Acrobat since the earliest rendition, I’d finally figured out where everything was located. However, after using Acrobat X for a few weeks, I almost came to like the idea of having most of my tools in one easy-to-find location.

If you’re already using Acrobat 9 Pro, it might be hard for me to convince you to move up to Acrobat X. Most of the functionality that designers have come to know exists pretty much as it was in Acrobat 9 Pro. However, if you have not moved up to Acrobat 9 Pro, I would suggest you make the leap to Acrobat X. There are just too many capabilities in Acrobat X that you won’t find in versions before 9 Pro. The ability to convert text to outlines is crucial. So is the Acrobat X’s Convert Color tool, which allows users to accomplish tasks like moving all black text to the black plate only. The Actions Wizard in Acrobat X might also be something you come to lean on heavily. Converting PDF files to RTF and Microsoft Word documents is just one of the many actions that will come in quite handy. In my tests, the RTF files saved from Acrobat were incredibly accurate. Distiller hasn’t changed much from previous version. It is still the method of choice for creating quality PDF files and you’ll find that it hasn’t changed. There are lots of free and less expensive applications for creating and editing PDF files. Simply put, none of them come close to offering the functionality of Acrobat X. With upgrades starting at $199 for users of Acrobat 7, 8 and 9, it just makes sense to keep the latest version of this crucial application on hand. Full versions of Acrobat X list at $450.


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