Automate Your Publications with InDesign

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InDesign can produce a variety of publications from line sheets, sales lists, and collection reports to catalogs, look books and even labels and tech packs.Many of these documents share the same images; by using InDesign and linking the images, the user can maintain a single copy of the image. This drastically reduces the overhead of having to edit multiple documents every time a change is made to an image.

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.

Adobe Logo Image

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.

edit original

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.

Closing Remarks

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 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.

*Background vector designed by Freepik


In-Cat! makes your InDesign process steamlined

In-Cat! creates database-linked InDesign documents. In-Cat! can be used to create line sheets, catalogs and storyboards automatically from any standard database.
In-Cat! is an easily configurable extension that communicates with a simple web service to browse and select images and corresponding data then automatically populate a simple InDesign template file with minimal user interaction. Create your own templates, map the data from the web service to locations on your template with ease. Designate your own search criteria for browsing the database content. Select what you want and with the click of a button your InDesign catalog file is generated with images and data in a matter of seconds. Each object block is grouped and can be moved or manipulated after populating from the database. A simple click of the refresh button can update the content with current data without changing the modified layout arrangements.

Do you strive to cut weeks from your catalog creation process?


A Case Study:
La Jolla Group LLC reduces catalog creation time by 85% with E-Spec In-Cat!

Client Description
La Jolla Group, Inc. (“LJG”) is the world’s premier multi-brand apparel licensing company, with a portfolio of prominent brands including O’Neill Clothing USA, Metal Mulisha Clothing and FMF Clothing.

Business Problem
LJG creates and manages product catalogs for their many brands and distributors through the use of Adobe InDesign. This manual process involved several team members looking up styles in PLM and ERP business systems then copying product images and details line by line into the catalog documents. The continuous back and forth process of transcribing these product details between the business system and the InDesign catalogs consumed several man-hours. The manual process of verifying the information and updating as changes occurred in the business systems consumed additional effort and left open the probability for errors. La Jolla’s laborious task of creating a catalog was ultimately taking 2-3 weeks per document.

E-Spec Solution
The implementation E-Spec’s In-Cat! coupled with a digital asset management system provided the solution LJG was seeking. In-Cat!, an InDesign extension that connects directly with the business systems, provides LJG with the ability to browse and select images and the corresponding data then automatically populate a simple InDesign template file. Templates are created and data is mapped from the business systems to locations on the template. Search criteria are designated for browsing, selecting, and filtering the database content. Catalogs are now created “auto-magically” as coined by Andres Kalinowski, Sr. Director of IT.

“We went from a long 2-3 week process of creating catalogs to a short 2-3 days. It was a huge timesaver and productivity increased” says Andres.

Now when the catalog needs to be updated to the most current information, the users simply click a refresh button with their mouse, and the information is current and ready for publishing.

“Now we are going to tackle our Merch Guide using our InCat! Solution.” said Andres.

Technologies Used

E-Spec InCat! for Adobe InDesign
Extensis Portfolio Server

Business Benefits

Huge Time Savings by reducing catalog creation timeframe from 2-3 weeks to only 2-3 days
Increase in productivity
Helps with Auditing allowing the more accurate catalog to be used as the source
Catalogs can be updated with current information with the single click of a button

A down to earth solution for an out of this world problem

Oh NO!
When we first heard the report about NASA soliciting the public’s assistance in identifying and tagging over 1.8 million photographs taken from the International Space station, we gasped! This could have been prevented. We wish we would have known to call.

What Happened?
As it happens, the astronauts failed to identify and categorize photos as they were taken and neglected to indicate the subject matter or direction the camera was pointing. As a result the massive collection of photos became too large for staff to parse through and organize. 1.8 million photos is a lot to navigate and kind of useless from a data mining stand point without tagged context. NASA has resorted to crowd sourcing the identification in order to complete this monster task in a timely fashion.

What Should We Do?
If they had only used our tool Tag-It!, NASA could sort by any number of customizable categorization keywords like Earth, Deep Space, Moon and then narrow the focus therein. Using subcategories and descriptive text fields the photos could contain any number of identifying characteristics like urban or rural, country name, city name, time of day, weather pattern, you name it. Back here on Earth, we all find ourselves often falling victim of the same oversight. Does your business have an effective digital media categorization workflow?

Tag Early Tag Often!
At E-Spec we believe the best approach is to identify that media at the time of creation. Don’t let it build up into the monster like NASA did. Tag-It! early and Tag-It! often. The beauty of it all is once a file is tagged, the metadata becomes part of the file so no matter where it is moved or copied, the identification information goes with it.

Contact us for more information, and hey NASA perhaps you should give us a call sometime.