Sunday, May 13, 2012

Making a Chevron Pattern Within InDesign

This is a pattern I saw recently while in the stationary aisle at Target. I like this pattern because it reminds me of the brightly colored crocheted chevron afghans that my grandmother made when I was a child. We had a number of these afghans around our house growing up, and after learning how to crochet at age eight, some of my first projects were efforts to duplicate her handiwork. My early efforts were not as well crafted, but they were good practice for me as I learned to be diligent in improving my craft.

So, how to create a chevron pattern in InDesign? At first, it's not clear. Usually, when creating a pattern in InDesign, I use TeaCup PatternMaker. Other times, I'll use tables and apply interesting stroke styles to them. But to create a chevron pattern, neither one of those methods will work. But I eventually found a suitable method.

But first, let's explore why my standard go-to pattern creating methods won't work.

TeaCup PatternMaker has a pattern type called "Waves," but it is exactly that: wavy. It's a really nice pattern, and I even wrote an entire blog post about it. But in this case, I need my "waves" to have sharp points, not curved points.

The "Waves" pattern is neat because you can change the amplitude stroke weight, and angle. can't specify sharp corners.

Another limitation of the Waves pattern (or any Teacup pattern) is that it must fill a graphic frame: you cannot apply Patterns to strokes. Nonetheless, the Waves pattern is pretty neat, and one of of favorite TeaCup patterns.

My second go-to pattern creating method involves tables and stroke styles. In a couple of instances, I've used the "Wavy" strokes style on a table. While the Wavy stroke style is great because you can (obviously) apply it to a stroke, you have virtually no control over how it is applied. You can't change the amplitude, wave length, number of waves... nothing. All you can do change the stroke weight.  There seems to be a fairly strict limitation on the shape of the wave, and the number of waves will change in order to keep the built-in wave shape relatively constant. Thinner strokes get more waves. Thicker strokes get fewer waves.

Now that we know why my first two ideas didn't work to give us the pattern we're after, let's talk about the method that will give us the pattern we're after.

But first, let's take a step back and look more closely at the image.

Do the blue wavy lines it remind you of anything in InDesign? No? Well, how about if the lines were red? Now do you see how it looks similar to the squiggly underline beneath a mispelled word?

So, we know that InDesign has the capability to create a chevron pattern, as demonstrated by the squiggly red underline of dynamic spelling. But we need to find a way to translate this chevron pattern into a printable, editable object. Now, I don't know of a way to print the dynamic spelling underlines (why would anyone want to? See note below...), But I do know of another feature in InDesign that also has a wavy underline. This feature is "Conditional Text."

In case you've never used Conditional Text before, it is a great feature. It's got to be among my top ten favorite InDesign features. Basically, conditional text let's you show and hide different bits of text. For example, if you are doing a textbook with both a teacher and a student version, you can use conditional text to hide the teacher's portion of the document (such as the answer key). You can also use conditional text to hide bits of text that perhaps you don't need right now, but might want to save for use later. But in this case, what's so cool about conditional text is that you can show AND print text indicators!

So, now we have a way to create a chevron pattern, and to also print it. So how to get a whole frame of these wavy conditional text indicators, but not have any text to get in the way and obstruct the pattern?

First, let's attempt removing the letters, while still having the conditional text indicator. The solution is a right-indent tab (Shift + Tab). Right indent tabs are neat because they are dynamic. However wide your text frame is, a right-indent tab will extend all the way to the right-most edge of the text frame.

Now, we need to get a whole bunch of these little conditional text indicators stacked on top of each other. You may think that we would simply add a bunch of paragraphs, and the tighten up the leading to zero. That will work, but it would be very difficult to edit. Plus, it limits you to one color of chevron. Instead, we simply need to make more Conditions. InDesign will by default, want to make them all different colors, so you'll have to change the colors one by one.

Because I want to replicate the chevron pattern I saw at the store, I'll make all my conditions Light Blue.

Now, select your text (which is just a right-indent tab), and apply all five conditions. You have a chevron pattern!

You can add as many new conditions as you want, apply them, and the little chevrons will just be added to the top of the stack.

If you want to change your chevron colors, simply double click on the Condition, and change the color.   Here, I changed all the odd conditions to Blue (as opposed to Light Blue). Note that the conditions at the top of the panel are actually displayed at the bottom in the text frame. The conditions are sorted alphanumerically (top to bottom) in the Conditional text panel and in the reverse order (bottom to top) in the text frame.

So now that we have a chevron pattern that will show and print, and it's the colors that we want, it's fully dynamic and will extend as high and as wide as we want it to... what if we want to edit it further? What if I wanted real live strokes instead of just conditional text indicators?

A few weeks ago, I heard about a new plug-in from Markzware that converts a PDF into an InDesign layout. There is another piece of software (PDF2ID) that's does something similar, but I haven't tried it. During the course of my experiments with chevrons, Markzware was calling for beta testers for their new plugin, so I leaped at the opportunity. I think the original intent of the plugin was to translate recognizable patterns in text formatting of PDF documents, and recreate that text formatting as InDesign character and paragraph styles. But the cool thing about the Markzware plugin is that it will allow you to OPEN a PDF and have live, editable vector objects right in InDesign. Wow!

So, I exported my chevron pattern as a PDF, and then converted it using the PDF2DTP plugin. Once it's converted, when you select all the blue lines, you'll see that they are now fully editable strokes (click on image to enlarge).

If I wanted to, I could further stylize these strokes. And you can see that I can now easily change the stroke width, the amplitude, the stroke height, the colors, and pretty much whatever I want to change about them. I now have a fully editable chevron pattern, created right within InDesign.

Author edit on 6-10-12: If you don't have a copy of PDF2DTP, you can still use this method to create a chevron pattern. Simply open your PDF in Illustrator. If you like, you can simply copy and paste the strokes from Illustrator back into InDesign. The PDF2DTP plugin is very neat, because it allows you to "open" PDFs and edit them without ever having to leave InDesign.

Author edit on 8-24-12 regarding dynamic spelling underlines: I found a plugin that will include dynamic spelling indicators when exporting to PDF.

Did you like this article? Then check out my article about Chevrons at Creative Pro. That article discusses how we see chevrons and the simplest way to create a chevron in Illustrator.

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