Illustrator as a Tech Pack Generator
As recently as last week I was shown a complicated tech pack that was created in Illustrator. It reminded me how people tend to use the tools that they are most comfortable and familiar with. Prior to the advent of PDM/PLM systems, Illustrator was a tool of choice for tech packs. Designers used Illustrator to create tech packs because that was the tool they had installed on their computer. It worked better than the other options available to them – Word or Excel – but Illustrator was not intended to produce this type of document. Illustrator is an authoring tool for images and graphic designs and was not meant to handle the pagination and layout issues addressed by tools like InDesign. InDesign is a publishing/layout tool, suited for creation of a variety of documents and reports.
When Adobe released CS3, many of our customers purchased the Suite for the first time; instead of buying Illustrator, Photoshop and Acrobat individually, Adobe sold the full suite for cheaper than the three individual applications. For most, this was the first time they’d dipped their toes into the InDesign pool. And as it turns out InDesign has a steep learning curve so, naturally, many ignored it completely despite the fact they owned it. InDesign would have been a better choice for the tech pack.
Rather than forcing Illustrator to manage the abundance of text and image required in a tech pack, an InDesign template could have place holder text boxes along with associated image containers. This template can force uniformity among the tech packs and make printing much easier. The user can populate the placeholders with objects from the shared library (requiring few edits for this particular style) and publish the tech pack.
Link Images & Data in InDesign
When images that are created in Illustrator or Photoshop are placed into InDesign, they can be “linked” – meaning when the image is edited, the changes will appear in InDesign. The user can also launch Illustrator or Photoshop by simply right-clicking and selecting “edit original”. Once they save their changes, InDesign will also have the current image. This allows the user to use their authoring tools to create and maintain their images and use InDesign to create and maintain their layouts and publications.
In addition to linking images, InDesign can also link data. There are several methods (and commercially available tools) to link data from databases and even files to your InDesign documents. This can reduce data entry and typos as well as keeping the data accurate and up to date. There are even tools that will link InDesign directly to your PLM systems. This provides users with self generated reports from the PLM system with little or no programming required.
Best Practices: Templates, Shared Libraries & PDFs
InDesign templates can be used to enforce business standards; ensuring each user’s documents comply with a standard “look and feel” and layout. InDesign documents created from the templates can act as place holders allowing the user to start the publication while the images are still being created in their authoring tools. Text boxes can hold places for data that has yet to be defined. This allows the publication process to run parallel with the creation process, shortening the time it takes to generate all of your documentation.
With InDesign Creative Cloud (CC), users can share libraries of images and assets that can be used across the company’s publications. Common images like logos and other branding can be standardized. Multiple users can access and work on the same publications as well as the images and content.
InDesign files can create PDFs for easy distribution. InDesign is also part of the Adobe Digital Publishing Suite (DPS) so your output can go directly to your website, tablet, phone or almost any other device.
If you are one of the many who have InDesign available to them but have not mastered its use, you should take the time to learn how InDesign can change your publishing processes. There are a multitude of resources on adobe.com as well as several other sites: tutorials, sample templates, ‘how to’ guides, etc. It does require some effort but it will be worth your time to produce professional publications efficiently.
InDesign is probably the most underutilized application of the Creative Suite or Creative Cloud applications. It has the power to change how you design, collaborate, communicate and implement your business processes. When combined with content creation tools (Illustrator, Photoshop, Word, Excel, etc.) InDesign becomes the hub for your published information. Include a content or digital asset management system to keep track of all the individual assets and the final InDesign output and you have a complete enterprise publishing system.
By using InDesign and linking the images, the overhead of having to edit multiple documents can be drastically reduced.