InDesign CS5.5, Export Tagging and ePub export frustrations

7 07 2011

I’ve got one massive gripe with InDesign CS5.5 and it’s ePub exporting. It’s not specifically the ePub export, but also the half-done Export Tags options as well.

If you’re a CS5.5 user you would have probably noticed that you can specify tag export options for character and paragraph styles. It’s excellent, and is a massive help for producing ePub docs from InDesign.  Especially if you’re writting your own CSS for your ePubs, but once you bring tables and objects in to the document, InDesign drops the ball big time.

The problem

CS5.5’s massive failure is that you can’t seem to add export tagging to table, cell or object styles in InDesign; and what’s worse is that the ePub you export will use a new class name for every table or div (which was an object in your InDesign doc).  This defeats the purpose of adding a class altogether, it’s as if InDesign logic treats adding classes like it does adding IDs (in HTML/CSS, IDs have to be unique whereas classes don’t).

So; for example, in my case I have several docs to my Book; each document has different types and amounts of tables. These tables are for completely different things and I need them styled differently. Even though in InDesign I’ve used totally different table and cell styles, the ePub will append an incremental digit on the end of each class name for each table!!!!

This is what you would expect InDesign to do:

<table id="table-1" class="Basic-Table">
<table id="table-2" class="Basic-Table">
<table id="table-3" class="Fancy-Table">

But instead, it does this: (note the -1 and -2 after the class name… tisk tisk)

<table id="table-1" class="Basic-Table-1">
<table id="table-2" class="Basic-Table-2">
<table id="table-3" class="Fancy-Table-1">

And again, I need to re-iterate, this is only really a problem if you’re attaching your own CSS to the ePub; because when InDesign generates the CSS for you it actually creates ALL THOSE CLASSES, which is pretty stupid really but at least it works.  The shortcoming overall is that you also just can’t do as much unless you really DO write your own CSS for the ePubs, and also, who the hell really wants to have to unpack, edit, and repack their ePubs if they’ve got a workflow of hundreds of books to do? Not me, and not a lot of other people!

A partial fix

So, you can imagine where all this leaves me.  CSS3 can help!  But, again, this is really disappointing, only iBooks on Apple devices will render this properly, if you’re using Adobe Digital Editions or Aldiko eBook reader or anything else on the Android, it doesn’t work.  By using CSS3 you can capture the tables still and apply styles to them like this:

table[class^="Basic-Table"] { styleshere }
table[class^="Fancy-Table"] { styleshere }

No real solution, yet

So, the short of  it is, if you want to style up tables and objects, and have them display correctly on Adobe Digital Editions or Aldiko etc, then you either have to wait for:

  • the eBook reader companies (except Apple who have owned everyone) to get their eBook apps to render CSS3 like the above; or
  • Adobe to release a patch or upgrade to add Export Tagging to tables and objects, which would then let you specify a static class name for tables and divs.
I wonder if either will happen any time soon? I hope so….
If anyone OUT THERE has a solid fix, or ideas to try please comment.

Easily force left alignment in ePubs viewed in iBooks

1 07 2011

Finally! I figured out a much more seamless way to force the headings and any other content to be left aligned in our ePubs for iBooks.  The goal of my ePub creation is really to have a seamless process, we can’t afford the time to unpack, edit html/css, and repack files just for one document… so everything needs to be able to come straight from InDesign and be ready for viewing in iBooks.

I’m also assuming that a large proportion of users probably don’t even know how to turn off the full justification setting for iBooks.. I mean, I didn’t realise the options were in the settings on the iPad for a LONG time myself.. So, by forcing the left align on the headings at least the ePub will look and read nicer with the justification setting still turned on.

The only solution I saw on the net to solve the left-aligned problem was to edit the html of the unpacked ePub (which is a massive no for our workflow) and add a span element inside the heading tags. It got me thinking though, and the idea suddenly came to me.  Get InDesign to just do it for you.

First off, create a new character style in your master document (the one that synchronises styles between all the docs in your InDesign book). Call it something like leftAligned. Go to the bottom option, tag formatting, set it up so a is added with the class of leftAligned.  Now, in your css file (the one you use when you export your ePub files) you can have a class that looks something like:

span[class*="leftAligned"]{ text-align: left; }

* little note; just found out the span doesn’t even need to have any styles at all, oh well!

Now, to use the character style and get InDesign to do the work for you; do a find and replace for every document in your book; and what I did was search for any H1 paragraph styles, and have it apply the leftAligned character style to them. I then did it with every other heading type and the referencing paragraph styles.

When I exported to ePub and viewed in iBooks, FINALLY I saw left-aligned headings. MUCH nicer, and much easier than unpacking, editing, and repacking the ePub.

ePubs from InDesign, workflow and problems

14 12 2010

This week I’m aiming to get an ePub format of the University study guides in working order. So far it’s been VERY surprising how difficult it is to take even a fairly simple previously-print-based document and export it to the ePub format whilst still making sure it looks nice and is bug-free.

The study guides are InDesign documents, and I’ve heard/read good comments regarding ePub support and so on. But so far, I really have been un-impressed.. annoyed more often than not actually.

Naturally then, this post specifically relates to creating ePubs from InDesign and the associated problems.

Read the rest of this entry »

Repurposing XML statistics for InDesign automation

22 03 2010

Well! I’ve been working on a lovely statistics prototype. Using the latest jQuery, theme rolled to match my employer’s corp ID, and the awesome free trial of Fusion Charts (along with a bit of php and xsl mastery), I’ve made a pretty cool stats prototype website.

All the graphs OR table views are rendered from XML files containing the institution’s statistics, both views support clickable drill downs and the whole interface is slick as, but it stops at on-screen graph/table viewing.. Even though the UI is rich and fun to use (accordion, nice jQuery forms and tabs), I’d like to make it a little more fancy than that. In comes InDesign.

Screenshot of the online statistics prototype I was working on

I don’t have a copy of InDesign server, and I’d love some training in scripting and InDesign server apps, but for the moment I’m working on a scenario with the InDesign CS4 client – here’s what I want to do.

I want a button on the prototype site that says “send me these stats”.. from the user’s perspective, they click it and next thing, an email shows up in their inbox with an attached PDF of beautifully formatted statistics, with the institution’s logo and so on. Sound nice?

From my perspective that means: I’d need the XSL for InDesign to transform the XML used by Fusion Charts and the prototypes XSL (in table view) – which would allow InDesign to import the data as an actual table, already mapped with table and cell styles. Obviously to automate all this and generate/email a final PDF I’d need the InDesign server, but hey, I’m just trying to prove a concept here that it’s doable.

It’s quite easy to import XML in to InDesign and have it all mapped with styles and automatic formatting. Take my XML for example:

<chart caption='Student Load (EFTSL) by Gender' subcaption='2006 Full Year' xaxisname='Student Modes' yaxisname='Student Load' palette='1'>
		<category label='Commencing' />
		<category label='Continuing' />
		<category label='All' />
	<dataset SeriesName='Male'>
		<set value='4275' />
		<set value='6245' />
		<set value='10520' />
	<dataset SeriesName='Female'>
		<set value='3401' />
		<set value='4532' />
		<set value='7933' />
	<dataset SeriesName='Both'>
		<set value='7676' />
		<set value='10777' />
		<set value='18453' />

And look at how I’ve done the XSL for InDesign, note the name space defs, in particular the aid5 one which is for the latest version of InDesign only ; )

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<xsl:stylesheet version="2.0" xmlns:xsl="" xmlns:aid="" xmlns:aid5="">
<xsl:template match="/">
<xsl:for-each select="chart">
<h3 aid:pstyle="h3"><xsl:value-of select="@caption"></xsl:value-of></h3>
<h4 aid:pstyle="h4"><xsl:value-of select="@subcaption"></xsl:value-of></h4>

<Table aid:table="table" aid:trows="4" aid:tcols="4" aid5:tablestyle="DataTable">

	<ColHeader aid5:cellstyle="BlankCell" aid:table="cell" aid:theader="" aid:crows="1" aid:ccols="1" > </ColHeader>

	<xsl:for-each select="categories/category">
		<ColHeader aid5:cellstyle="ColHeader" aid:table="cell" aid:theader="" aid:crows="1" aid:ccols="1" aid:pstyle="TableHeading"><xsl:value-of select="@label"></xsl:value-of></ColHeader>

	<xsl:for-each select="dataset">

	<RowHeader aid5:cellstyle="RowHeader" aid:table="cell" aid:crows="1" aid:ccols="1" aid:pstyle="RowHeading">
		<xsl:value-of select="@SeriesName"></xsl:value-of>

	<xsl:for-each select="set">    	
		<Cell aid5:cellstyle="TableBody" aid:table="cell" aid:crows="1" aid:ccols="1" aid:pstyle="TableText">
			<xsl:value-of select="@value"></xsl:value-of>



To get it in to InDesign, it’s quick as, you just import the XML using the above XSL file, easy peasy, and because the XSL transforms the XML in to a format InDesign ‘likes’, the table will be created properly.

Problems are always involved though. So far I haven’t solved these:

  • I had to set the table’s cols and rows manually in the XSL – this is totally not good. You can do all sorts of tricky things with XSL 2.0, so, I’m sure I could put the count of the desired nodes in to a variable and base the column and row count on that.
  • Look at how it comes in to InDesign – the table width!!! Or should I say LACK of table width. I want it to full width the table but I can’t set any static dimensions because the number of columns in tables will always be variable… what to do I’m not quite sure. I could probably create an InDesign script which makes the table the width of the page (within the margins) then distributes the columns evenly? Then again, I could also do some trickery and math in the XSL – count the columns, divide the page width by the number of columns and use the standard cell width in XSL?

Still, it does look promising nonetheless. I’ve seen lots of posts on the net with people having problems getting table data in to InDesign at all, so hopefully the above code snippets and stuff will help some people.

I’ll keep working on this though, and at some point, I’d LOVE to get my mittens on a copy of InDesign server to see what it can do to help me.

The stats of success

23 02 2010

Some time ago I posted about the eStudyGuide website I set up to match our InDesign study guide process. To explain it again, briefly, the XML from our InDesign TOCs get’s uploaded to a webserver along with the PDFs – the webpage reads the XML files and renders a download page for the course you’re looking for.

Well!  Anyway!  Term has started finally and this is the first semester that I’ve had the pages also hooked in to Google Analytics. I had this weird moment of doubt at some point, that the eStudyGuides weren’t really being used, and that we’d not really contributed anything of use to the University.  Not sure why on earth I thought that.  The stats for the first couple of weeks of Term prove how useful it is.

  • Over 4000 page views already
  • Over 1300 hits already
  • Over 5.5 minutes average on each page

eStudyGuide stats

I love Google Analytics, it’s damn awesome.  I’m looking forward to seeing the trends from now on, how each term differs from the next.

Overall, the InDesign XML features have really proved essential in all of this.  There are some glitches though that I believe I’ve never mentioned.  Some times carriage returns get tagged in the TOC when you map styles to tags – which means you get an empty XML tag in your XML document.

You’ll need error checking to make sure you’re not rendering that empty tag as anything on your website, especially if the count of XML tags matches a document count like the eStudyGuide set up.

I wonder though, would it be worth doing an XML Schema and having InDesign validate it’s output with the schema when we export our TOC XML?

The whole process, exporting the XML and PDFs, and then uploading the files is a bit labourious too, and mistakes happen.  With a bit of perl/php mastery, one of the more technical sauvy guys in our team has done some brilliant reporting around the setup, as well as a script that handles that uploading – a must have.  It checks document counts with the XML tags to make sure they match, checks for typos even, missing files, and more.  Many thanks to Damo for his help.

Onwards and upwards, I wonder what the next lot of improvements to the eSGs could be 🙂

How to serve up print-documents on the web?

23 11 2009

In a quest for continuous improvement, we’re having a think about our study guides. Most authors have their documents online for students, be it PDFs (mostly) or word docs.. what the students do with those documents, I’m not entirely sure, and as far as I know, there’s no stats or research that might answer that question.

Even the stats for the eStudyGuide pages (discussed in earlier post – taking the xml from indesign to make a web front end for the study guides) don’t indicate any trend, the stats only show that people are looking at the front end, from where, for how long etc. Actually, there’s a possible answer there, I wonder if there’s any server stats on the PDFs, would the stats indicate how long the document is open in the browser, or would the stats just record the hit? I’ll have to find out. There’s got to be some data we can look at to know more about usage.

In the mean time, tell me what you would do with a PDF study guide if you were studying:

So, anyway, back to the point of this, what is really the best way to serve up the documents online? If students are indeed reading on screen, perhaps we should put some time into looking at a better way to present it all, Adobe Digital Editions for instance might be a winner. Like Acrobat Reader, its a free program, but it’s for managing and viewing eBooks. Students would be able to manage and read all their study guides on their computer (making them more convenient, mobile, and so on), plus, the epub format would be easy as to spit out of InDesign (what our study guides are created in).

Web front end for InDesign docs

5 11 2009

Well well.. I’ve been out of touch with the InDesign stuff I was really getting in to last year.  Other projects, as well as the restructure and fallout from that.  I did however pick things up a little just recently, and finished making a first draft front end to display the Study Guides from InDesign.

As you may/may not know, part of our InDesign process with the study guides allows us to export XML from the Table Of Contents (TOC).  This is a great spot to get some really usable data about the document, for instance, how many chapters and what are the chapter titles!

After creating the PDFs, and exporting the XML from the TOC, we simply dump it all on a web server.  I made a nice little PHP page that takes requests and displays an interface for students to download those PDFs – the PHP reads the requested course’s XML file, creates the list with the chapter titles and so on.

Why’d I bother doing this?  A couple of reasons really… Well okay a few:

  • Its fun.
  • It saves academics time by setting up a page for them where students can download the chapterised PDFs for their Study Guide.
  • It also saves the academic the time of splitting their whole document PDFs up in to chapter PDFs, because we do it.

It works well for us really, I mean, all we do is export the goods and throw it on a server, it couldn’t be more simple.  The outcome is really quite nice.  Next challenge will be how to integrate this more with the new LMS, Moodle.

e Study Guide Page

This is the end result, the web front end for the InDesign XML & PDFs

In terms of the web front end, it was quite easy with PHP to read the XML.  I didn’t need to do anything fancy at all, I suppose it is pretty simple XML.  In fact, I used the simpleXML php module.

By parsing in the courseID as a variable in the URL, the page loads the requested XML file

//capture courseID from URL

//load the xml that contains the info on the documents
$pathExt = ".xml";
$docInfoPath = $courseID . "/eStudyGuide/" . $courseID . $pathExt;
$docInfoXML = simplexml_load_file($docInfoPath);
$docTitles = array();

Then looping through to display the docs was easy as this!

$i = 1;

foreach ($docInfoXML->TOClev1 as $docTitles) {
	if (strlen($docTitles)!=3) {
		echo "<li>
			<a href='" . $courseID . "/eStudyGuide/" . $courseID . "_" . $i . ".pdf'>" . str_replace('    ', ":  pg", $docTitles) . "</a></li>";