Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Undocumented Back Door to Organizing Your Stamps

I am a big fan of Acrobat stamps. The ones that come included with Acrobat are marginally useful, but very generic. But since most of my work with PDFs involves researching engineering drawings, I have created my own set of "highlighter" stamps to assist me in keeping track of my on-screen research. I originally started out with about a dozen stamps, just to see if I liked using them - and if they really made my work more efficient. And they did! So, shortly after I made my original dozen stamps, I made more - in about 25 different colors. And since Acrobat stamps only scale proportionally, I found that I needed several different shaped stamps, in each of the aforementioned 25 colors.

So after a month or so of working with my stamps, I had a hodge-podge of colors, shapes, and sizes. There was no organization to the mess. And I had no easy way to organize them from within Acrobat. I would have to delete them all and start over, reimporting and renaming them individually...But what I really wanted was the ability to drag-and-drop my stamps into a order that made sense visually.

So after my long-winded feature request to Adobe, I finally stumbled across to solution. When a user creates a custom stamp library, Acrobat stores the stamp in an obscure location in the computer. And instead of naming the file something logical, like "Kelly's Custom Stamps," the file is named something like, "hfu74hj173890hgG89k453Xs.pdf"

No wonder I couldn't find it!

The name of the custom stamp library is actually the TITLE of the Acrobat-created PDF that contains all the stamps in your stamp category. So if you open up that PDF, you'll find that Page 1 is a blank page, and all the stamps in that library are each a separate page with the PDF document.

The pages panel! It is in the Pages Panel that I have the ability to reorder pages within a PDF document. So I opened up each of my custom stamp libraries, and reordered them according to the order of the color spectrum.

Now what I needed was a way to share my stamps with my coworkers, without first having to create a stamp library within the clunky Acrobat "Manage Custom Stamps" interface. I needed to be able to distribute PDFs directly to my coworkers and have them be able to drop the stamp PDF into a specific folder and just have it work.

Here is the location to put your stamp files:
Mac OSX /Users/USERNAME/Library/Application Support/Adobe/Acrobat/9.0_x86/Stamps

Mac OSX /Users/USERNAME/Library/Application Support/Adobe/Acrobat/DC/Stamps

WinXP C:\Documents and Settings\USERNAME\Application Data\Adobe\Acrobat\9.0\Stamps

Win Vista or Win7 C:\Users\USERNAME\AppData\Roaming\Adobe\ Acrobat\9.0\Stamps

Once you have placed stamp files here, restart Acrobat.

For another good article on stamp locations, read this.
If you would like to use these stamps, you can download them by clicking here.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Highlighting a PDF that contains no fonts

I love the Acrobat's commenting tools. I especially enjoy the highlighter tool, with it's dozens of colors and ability to change opacity levels. Using Acrobat's highlighting tool, I have infinitely more control over colors than I do using traditional hardcopy highlighters. However, with Acrobat's highlighting tool, I've encountered a few problems that make it less than suitable for my highlighting needs:
  • I can only highlight actual fonts, (as seen in the document Properties dialog box).

    • In my daily workflow as a technical communicator, I also encounter scanned documents and CAD files, both of which typically contain no fonts. I can run OCR and then highlight the text, but often, the OCR is unpredictable, as Acrobat doesn't always go a great job of recognizing text blocks. (The following example shows how Acrobat skipped an entire paragraph of text.)

      • Finally, there are times when I need to highlight circular objects, but alas, I cannot. So in order to highlight these documents, I have to print them out. I have tried using the rectangle tool and ellipse tools, but they obscure the text. Even when I add a fill color and reduce the opacity, the text and objects that I'm trying to make more obvious, in reality become more obscured.

        So I got to thinking about what makes key behavior of the highlighter tool different than the rectangle tool. It has to do with how the comment's color interacts with the objects beneath it. Sounds like a blending mode to me… Multiply!

        So Acrobat's comments are capable of interacting with the document using the multiply blending mode...but I needed a way to make my own comments that can use take advantage of blending modes. For that, I went to Custom Stamps.

        Acrobat's canned stamps are very business-like: "Sign Here," "Approved," and so forth. But you can make your own custom stamps for whatever purpose you like. You can even harken back to the early days of stamps, back in (I think) Acrobat 5, when the out-of-the box stamps were wacky monster-face clip art. (I remember thinking, "Why would anyone want to use stamps? That's dumb.") But Adobe wised up and included stamps that business professionals would actually use.

        So I went into Illustrator and make a plain yellow circle and set the blending mode to Multiply. Then I save the file and create a custom stamp in Acrobat. Then I took a deep breath and then clicked on top of some text. WOOHOO! The text shows through! (The truly geeky among you will surely understand my anticipation and excitement.)

        While experimenting with my new stamps, I started playing. Clicking frantically (actually, just to see how many stamps I could put down in just a few seconds). If the stamps interact with the document using a blending mode, how would the stamps interact with other stamps that use a blending mode? They multiply, as expected. But what I also discovered was that by clicking and dragging, I can control the size of my stamp. So a single stamp can make the same shape in varying sizes. And no need to hold down Shift. The down-side to this, however, is that the proportions are locked. I cannot turn a circular stamp into an elliptical stamp, or a square stamp into a long thick rectangular stamp. Bummer.

        But let's say you just need to colorize drawings (CAD files, for example) and need a way to color code different circles and match them up to a parts list. The colored circles are sure a good start, but let's see how much more useful we can make this! Just for fun, I also made a circle using a gradient. Isn't it beautiful?

        So let's say I have a parts list on one page that I need to match up with the drawing later in the document. I made some corresponding rectangular stamps in order to stamp the parts list. But I need to keep flipping back and forth between the two of them (parts list and drawing), color coding them simultaneously. I can't keep track of dozens of numbers in my head, but fortunately, I don't have to. Acrobat will let me see both pages at once. Go to Window>Split.

        Now, I can see both my parts list and my drawing, all in one window, without my desk being cluttered by excess papers, and without being limited to the five colors of highlighting markers I have in the cup on my desk.

        It did take some time to create my stamps and get them set up in Acrobat, but once I did, keeping track of technical details on engineering drawings became much easier and more efficient. And those CAD files were never so beautiful to me as when they had been stamped with sunshine gradient circles.

        And so ends another day in my quest to bring visual interest to boring technical documents around the world.

        Saturday, June 13, 2009

        Personal Studies

        People have often asked me how I got into graphic design. I chuckle. Then I share my story, starting my degree in a completely unrelated field.

        But the more important question is not how I got started in graphic design, but rather: how did I get where I am today? The answer is hard work and daily application. I have devoted many evenings and weekends  of personal time to independent study. (Thanks goes out to my loving husband for being so patient while I spend hours studying at my computer). Also, I have been blessed to have opportunities, both at my day job and in my freelance work, and to experiment with all the nifty tricks I learned the during my personal study time. The result has been the equivalent of nearly a decade of daily study, application, more study, more application.

        While in college, my studies were crammed into short three or four month sessions, with the subject changing from semester to semester, typically with no application of knowledge. So consequently, I forgot most of what I learned. Now that I have a career of my choosing, I can research desired topics to my heart's content, and have the opportunity for immediate application of what I have learned. And it's a heck of a lot cheaper than college! As both an employee and a small business owner, my personal study has infinitely more value to my productivity and abilities than my college diploma (which is actually in a box in my garage).

        In addition to my enjoyment of reading Creative Suite application manuals in their entirety, I love techno-books containing the kind of information that can't be found in the software manual. They offer history, design theory, and personal experience from some of the industry's top experts. Here are a few of my favorites:
        • Stylin with CSS (Charles Wyke-Smith)
        • Bulletproof Web Design (Dan Cedarholm)
        • A History of Graphic Design (Phillip Meggs)
        • From Gutenberg to Opentype (Robin Dodd)
        • Dynamics in Document Design (Karen Schriver)

        Friday, May 8, 2009

        Inline Buttons: How to make a URL in a PDF Underline on Hover

        PDFs have long been my favorite online medium of choice, from a designer's standpoint at least. There are no hacks, no browser issues, no cross compatibility differences. I can design a page and things stay where I put them.

        However, there are some aspects of web pages that are not easily duplicated in a PDF. Since the Adobe acquisition of Macromedia, media such as flash can now be embedded in a PDF. However, seemingly less complicated features of web pages cannot be replicated in a PDF. At least not very easily.

        PDF hyperlinks are typically within body text. I have often wanted to have my PDF hyperlinks be a little more noticeable, but not with a big tacky underline. This is possible in web sites by using cascading style sheets, but it is not so simple to replicate in a PDF. However, there is a way to replicate this feature, and to do so, we will be using the button palette.

        In InDesign, text within a text frame can be styled with paragraph and character styles, but it takes a few extra steps to create a rollover effect for a span of text within a text frame.

        1. Highlight the piece of text you want to create a rollover for.
        2. Cut it out and place it in it's own text frame.
        3. Fit frame to content. That is because the button size will be based on the size of your text frame.
        4. Create a new character style for what the text will look like in its hovered-upon state.
        5. Select the text frame and create a button from it.

        6. Click on the rollover pane of the buttons panel. The button serves as a sort of container for both of its states. Both states can be stylized and manipulated independently, as can the button itself. To either of the states, or to the button as a whole, you can add a drop shadow, varying levels of transparency, any any number of visual effects.
        7. Now stylize the text with the new rollover character style. You may find that if you use an underline, you may need to expand the text frame just a touch. Note that the two states of the button must now must be manipulated independently.
        8. So if you need to make the text frame larger, you'll need to do it to both the normal and the rollover state of the button. If you find that your text effects result in overset text, it is a good idea to undo few steps and make the original text frame just big enough to house the effects you're going to apply. That way, you won't have to make both the normal and rollover text frames larger. This is important because if you don't make the sizes of both the normal frame and the rollover frame match exactly, the text will jump around inside the frame when you hover over it. And that's just tacky.
        9. Once you text is styled for both states (normal and rollover), you're ready to put the text back in it's place within the flow of the body copy. So, select the button and cut it.
        10. Place your text insertion point back into the spot you originally cut the link from. Paste the button. The button text may not rest exactly at the baseline with the rest of the text, so nudge it down a little to make it match.
        11. Now, export a PDF with the interactivity check box checked. When you mouse over the hyperlink, it should now have a rollover state.
        This is a fairly labor-intensive technique, and probably isn't suitable for documents containing hundreds of links. However, it is a nice technique to dress up a special PDF. Click here for an example of the technique in action.