Monday, February 17, 2014

Working With FDFs: Forms Data Files

If you are a designer, you'll rarely come across an FDF file. In fact, you may have never even heard of FDF, since it's not among the familiar formats that designers know and love. But there's a lot to like about FDFs: their compact nature can simplify your workflow and in some instances, save you a lot of time and effort.

Read the entire article at Creative Pro.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Custom PDF Font Encoding: Why You Should Care and What You Can Do About It

As part of my production workflow, I regularly get PDFs of construction work orders. They are highly technical documents that contain all kinds of important information. Recently, I've come across some of these PDFs that were non-searchable. It took me awhile to figure out the problem, because the PDFs weren't scanned. They had live text. I could highlight and comment on the text using PDF commenting tools. If that wasn't live text, I wouldn't be able to use the text annotation tools.

And by non -searchable, I mean this: I see the word "work," in the body of the PDF, but when I search for that word using Acrobat's Find function, no matches are found.

So I tried searching for the word "WORK." But again, no matches are found. What the heck?! 

I tried running the PDF through a couple of different PDF conversion programs (PDF2ID and PDF2DTP) and got nowhere.

As converted by PDF2ID (Recosoft)

As converted by PDF2DTP (Markzware)

However, one of the conversion tools gave me a less-than-helpful error message.

I tried copying and pasting text from the PDF and into a text editor and my email program and I got the same gibberish.

For kicks, I tried saving the troublesome PDF as a Microsoft office document. Not only did Acrobat save it out correctly with editable text, it also converted even the text highlights!

Fast forward a few weeks and I got to thinking that perhaps the inability to search within the PDF has something to do with fonts. So I go to the troublesome PDF and I look at the Font tab within Document Properties. The encoding is listed as "Custom." Now, I'm neither a font developer nor PDF developer, but rest assured I have never seen "Custom" encoding before. I'm used to seeing things like "Ansi" or "Identity-H."

Custom Font Encoding

So I open a non-troublesome (fully searchable) PDF from the same client and check the font encoding there. It is "Built-in."

Built-in Font Encoding
Now, I don't know what "Built-in" means either, but I know that those PDFs are searchable. A quick scan of google leads me to other people that have the same problem. While it doesn't seem that there is an easy way to simply change font encoding, I have come up with a solution.

I remember reading a few years ago that adding tags to a PDF somehow fixes the document so that when you select a paragraph of text and then copy and paste it into InDesign, you won't get hard returns at the end of each line. I also know that tags are really important for making "Accessible" documents. Now normally, I never have to create Accessible documents, so I don't bother with learning all the details involved in their creation. But on a hunch, I decided to add tags to the troublesome PDF and see what happened.

After Acrobat has added tags to the document, a quick check of the Documents Fonts pane revealed something new. There was now something listed below the Custom font encoding.

Now I tried doing a Find. And sure enough, the Find function now worked as expected! Adding Tags to the document somehow fixed the weird font issue and also made it so that I could convert the PDF using my PDF to InDesign conversion tools.

If you're interested in taking a deeper dive into learning about PDF tags, check out this article at What are “PDF tags” and why should I care?

Monday, February 3, 2014

How Designers Can Utilize Mac OS X Accessibility Features

This article is for any of those designers who have ever had issues which make it difficult to be productive at a traditional workstation. Here are a few examples: one hand doesn't cooperate, you have difficulty typing, or can't sit upright in your everyday office chair. As a designer, my job is relatively easy on my body. I'm worked a number of physical-labor jobs in my life and I am so grateful that my daily work does not leave my entire body exhausted (like those plant nursery-worker and home improvement warehouse jobs I had many years ago). But still, there are sometimes when bodies just don't cooperate with our deadlines, and eventually, we'll probably all need to find creative ways to get our work done when certain body parts are working against the deadline. I've compiled some ideas that I hope will help some of my fellow designers still get work done on physically rough days.

Working One Handed

Let's say one of your hands doesn't work: maybe you broke your arm, or had hand surgery or something along those lines. For whatever reason, one hand is non functional.

One solution:  Change hands. If you're right handed, try working left handed. Move the mouse over to the other side. At first I tried just moving the mouse to the left of my keyboard. But even though I was working left handed, my left hand still knew that "left click" was supposed to be done with my index finger, and "right click"  was supposed to be done with my middle finger. So I had to also change primary button as well. It was a little slow at first, but I got used to it for the most part. To change the primary mouse button, go to System Preferences > Mouse.

Use speech recognition: This doesn't necessarily have to do with working one handed. But it can come in handy if typing is really difficult and you've got long emails to put together. Did you know that the Mac has built-in speech recognition? After a little digging around in System Preferences, I found Dictation. If you've ever used Siri on the iPhone, you'll find that Dictation works exactly the same, complete with autocorrect (or auto Incorrect, depending upon how it interprets your speaking). After using Dictation, I usually have to do a little clean up work. But Dictation can take a lot of the trouble out of typing complex emails. Unfortunately dictation does not work in InDesign (I wish I knew why). But it works great when writing emails.

Can't Sit Upright

Let's say you can't sit at your desk: maybe you have headaches, or you are in a full body cast, or you have to keep your feet elevated above your head. For whatever reason you are flat on your back but you still have to get your work done. One might think that the solution would be to take your laptop and just lay down on the sofa. But if you've ever tried working like this, you'll quickly discover that it doesn't work. Especially on a 13" laptop when designing oversized newsletters. So try this for a more productive workday:

Step 1: Chaise Lounge: Position a chaise lounge on the floor in front of your desk. Because the head and feet can be raised independently, you can put both at the correct angle for whatever your body needs.

Step 2: Move the monitor close to the edge of the desk and tilt it downward. 

Step 3: Get a lap desk and move your keyboard and mouse down there. In this case, a small wireless keyboard (without a 10 key) would work much better than a large wired keyboard.

Step 4: Zoom in. Now, we all know how to zoom in our favorite Adobe programs using the marquee zoom, but do you know how to zoom in on everything? When sitting upright at a desk, those Adobe panel menus are a perfectly reasonable size. But when you're several feet away from the screen, those panel menus suddenly seem ridiculously small. I used to think that the only way to increase the size of the panel menus was to decrease the resolution of my monitor, but the problem with that is that you lose way too much screen real estate once. I found a much better solution. Zooming in on the OS level! Watch the short video below for a quick demo.

This feature would also be really useful if you're screen-sharing from a small screen onto a larger screen.

Step 5: Giant Cursor: If your cursor is just too dang small and you keep losing it, go to System Preferences > Accessibility > Display. Change the cursor size from Normal To Large. The cursor will then display about ten times larger than normal. (I wanted to take a screen shot demonstrating how giant the cursor becomes, but whenever I tried, the cursor is either not included in the screenshot, or shown at its regular miniature size.) I also find Giant Cursor useful when doing training. The people watching may not be as familiar with the software as I am, so having a giant cursor makes easier for them to follow along.

I hope you find these tips useful. If you use any of these tips, I love to hear about it. Please leave a note in the comments. And if you know why Dictation doesn't work in InDesign, do tell!