Manipulating PDFs online

The full version of Adobe Acrobat is fairly expensive. Most desktop PC users have the free Acrobat Reader installed, but Reader offers few tools to manipulate PDF files. Sejda (currently in beta) is working to bring a fairly full feature set of browser based tools for PDF editing. Features currently offered include encryption, merging, splitting, rotating and combining. Future tools will include cropping, page transitions, text extraction and more. Potentially a very useful and public-spirited tool.

Viewing Photoshop Files without Photoshop

Viewing native files from programs such as Photoshop or Illustrator can be difficult if you don't own the often very expensive packages. Google has recently added a useful functionality to Google Drive — the ability to accurately preview a number of exotic formats, including psd, ai, ttf and dxf. You won't be able to edit said files, but at least you will know what they contain. Users do not need to join Google apps (though doing so is a good idea) but can just go here to view immediately in-browser.

A Muse yourself

Adobe has long striven to cater to code-phobic designers, via GoLive and later Macromedia acquisition Dreamweaver. Their latest offering (Muse) is the most intutive yet and aimed squarely at print designers with minimal web authoring skills. Muse looks and feels a touch like InDesign and offers similar object-oriented functionality. The program is currently in beta and is available as a free download until early next year.

Muse has its detractors in the web design community. Coders concur that the code it automatically produces is ugly and full of redundancy. They dislike the way Muse renders non-standard typefaces, the lack of dynamic page resizing, and argue that print designers should learn their web skills the way they did — via hard work and experimentation. 

Adobe Acrobat keeps on truckin'

Ebook and web evangelists have plenty of unpleasant things to say about Adobe's Portable Document Format (PDF). They say it is proprietary, a semi-closed system and antithetical to the freewheeling nature of the web. This is partially true (though PDF documents can be viewed via plugins in most browsers). Yet PDFs are a peerless way of preserving the intricacies of a print design layout for other viewers (without adding an extra layer of cost). The PDF carries with it typefaces and graphics and recreates the original design on other machines with almost perfect fidelity. The postscript language used by PDFs is the universal language of printers the world over. It is true that for web purposes, html5 would be a friendlier and more open road. Combined with new font hosting services, web designers may be able to assemble typographically sophisticated documents that display equally well on all browsers and for all users. Even the rather clumsy ebook formats may become more graphically capable. For the moment, however, PDFs remain the format of choice for print designers wanting to put content online without using code.

Adobe Air -- Rich Internet Applications

Adobe Systems is not quite in the same corporate league as Apple or Microsoft, but in terms of influence, it is a giant. The company has been instrumental in the development of page description language (Postscript) that dominates the printing and design industry, typeface formats (Type 1, and in conjunction with Microsoft, OpenType) used on tens of millions of computers, and the ubiquitous Portable Document Format (PDF) used to create platform independent documents. Hence, when Adobe strikes off in a new direction, many will take a keen interest. Adobe Air was launched in 2007, and is described as a "rich internet application".  While programs that use Adobe Air are installed to a user's computer and can run offline, they also add functionality via the Internet. For example, the Adobe Air-powered New York Times Reader allows users to download the entire paper, then access it even if offline. Adobe encourages software developers to write applications for the Air environment, and the Air Marketplace contains several hundred offerings. Productivity oriented examples include a job time log,  task managers, software shortcuts for all Adobe packages, Colour combination finder, and a surprisingly addictive graphics program specialising in dynamic brushstrokes. Adobe Air will have to build up a significant user and app base in order to survive. Web technologies need to have a critical mass behind them, or they tend to fade very quickly. Adobe claims 100 million downloads for Adobe Air apps, so perhaps the technology has a bright future.
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PDFs for free: online & on your computer

Portable Document Format (PDF) files are a common feature of the modern Internet. Generated by Adobe's Acrobat software, PDF files carry with them all image and font information, and do not have to be reconstructed by the receiving computer. The format was devised by Adobe as a way of bringing the invariant nature of print on paper to the variable world of computer-based documents. By giving away the Acrobat Reader as a free download, Adobe ensured that the PDF format spread widely and has become an unofficial Internet and corporate standard. Graphic designers also use the format when finalising a job, embedding all image, typeface and colour information in a single PDF file and optimising it for printer workflows. However, creating a PDF is not free. At the time of writing, users can purchase the full family of Acrobat software for AUD$555. This allows them to create, edit, add comments to and authorise others to comment on, PDFs. Users of Microsoft Word, Powerpoint, Excel, Photoshop, InDesign, Quark Xpress and a host of other packages are able to either 'print' to PDF, or create a postscript file that can be then 'distilled'.   For businesses that only occasionally create or edit PDFs, the cost of this software is quite high. Adobe is aware of this part of the market, and offers an online PDF creator for approx USD$9.99 a month or USD$100 per year. However in the everything-should-be-free world of Web 2.0, numerous alternatives have arisen that cost absolutely nothing. DoPDF is a small download available on Windows. Once installed, a PDF option appears in the print options box of all the programs from which you might want to create PDFs. CutePDF is a stripped down piece of freeware which installs as a PDF option available when printing a document. PDF online allows users to upload a file, enter their email address and have the completed PDF file emailed back to them. Simple, and no software installation required. Primo Online does the same thing as PDF online, also for free. Open Office (the free open source suite of programs that emulate the Microsoft family), allow users to save files as PDFs as a native capability. There are other fee-based packages such as Nitro PDF that offer a rather more extensive set of features, and are still cheaper than the full version of Adobe Acrobat.
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Take me to your Masters

Multiple Master (MM) typefaces were an interesting experiment in digital typography. Created by Adobe, MMs dispensed with the usual system of font weights (bold, semibold, regular, bold, etc) in favour of smooth variation in the axes of weight, width and optical size.  Many more variations were therefore available than could be achieved with a standard family of typefaces. Adobe released several attractive and useful typefaces in this format: Cronos (see image below), Bickham Script, Chapparal, Myriad, Minion, Ocean Sans and others.  However, the sheer time and expense involved in creating MM typefaces meant that other type designers were slow to come on board, and eventually Adobe allowed the format to lapse in favour of Open Type (in the context of the bigger debate surrounding the harmonisation of True Type and  Type 1). Adobe has released a collection of 'equivalent' Opentype typefaces with a slew of additional characters, but they don't fully recapture the range of subtle variations that characterised the MM format. mmfonts
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New Resolution

rgb1Not all digital images are equal. Some are so small that they are adequate for web purposes only, while others are suitable for the more rarified heights of print. There are a few simple rules of thumb to be employed when judging which is which and how much an image can be enlarged without ruining it. 
Image Building Blocks
The ancient Greeks were the first to guess that if you cut matter into small enough pieces, you would eventually end up with the fundamental particles from which all things are composed. Digital images are similar. Peer closely enough, and every photograph resolves into a grid of tiny dots. On a computer screen, each point of colour (or pixel) is composed of three tiny image elements. The three elements are red, green and blue, and when each is illuminated in various combinations at one of 255 levels, give rise to one of many millions of potential colours. Back out at the human scale, viewers see a seamless blend of colour, detail and motion. Dots Per Inch The pixel density on a typical computer screen is 72 pixels per inch, which means 72 pixels on each side of a square inch, yielding a total of 5184 pixels per square inch. Images for use on the Internet are hence set up at 72 pixels per inch. Unless the absolute pixel size of an image is quite large, it is relatively unusual for a web-optimised image to be suitable for print purposes. Print images usually require a minimum of 300 dots per square inch, which equals 90,000 pixels per inch squared. Hence, print demands much larger file sizes. Interpolation All digital photos are comprised of a grid of pixels, also known as a raster image. When a digital image is enlarged, the image software automatically adds (interpolates) additional pixels. If enlarged too much, the resultant image can become noticeably blurry. Judicious use of image sharpening software can correct this to an extent, but not if there wasn't enough information to begin with.  Also. many jpeg images optimised for web purposes suffer from the effects of 'lossy' image compression, where image information is discarded and the picture becomes 'blocky'. Sharpening an image degraded in this way can be counterproductive. For example: An 300dpi image that is 500 pixels along each side translates into a 4.2cms on a side print image. An 72dpi image that is 2000 pixels on a side works out as a 17cms on each side image when resized (without resampling) to 300 dpi.  Hence the image that is larger in terms of absolute pixel dimensions is always the best option, even if it is nominally at 72dpi. Resize without Resampling If using a good quality image editor such as Photoshop, it is possible to resize an image without resampling (interpolating) it. In other words, you are able to change the size at which an image will print without altering the overall number of pixels. The value that changes is dots per inch. For example, a 1000 pixel image at 72 dpi would print out at 35cms across. If the resolution is reset to 200dpi without resampling, the image will now print at 12.7cms across.  At 300dpi, the image will be 8.47cms across. The same image, the same overall width in pixels, but a changing relationship to the resolution, and hence the print size. Example from Photoshop CS3: resize without resampling example image Note the pixel size, print size and resolution After resizing without resampling The pixel size remains the same, but the relationship between the print size and resolution has changed Summary:
  • Try to use images at, or close to, the original size unless there is a lot of image detail to work with.
  • Look for images with large pixel sizes (1000 pixels and above, preferably). Anything smaller than 400 pixels across is likely to be of little use for print.
  • When saving in the jpeg format, use the highest or next highest quality level.
  • when converting an image from 72dpi to 300dpi or similar, resize without resampling to discover the 'true' size of the image at print resolution.
  • If an image has to be enlarged for print purposes, use a sharpening filter afterwards
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