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.

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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 🙂

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>";                            

Looking at InCopy for our Study Guides

16 12 2008

Given the current situation at the University, I want to see how we can continue to improve the process we started with our Study Guides. (earlier posts explain this process, including InDesign and it’s XML features to do various things).

I thought, I might as well look at InCopy.. So.. I’ve looked at it, and I’ve been thinking. It seems like a good tool for starters, I like the whole assignment based workflow idea where multiple authors can work on pieces of a document simultaneously. However. At this time I don’t see the value in adding InCopy to the study guide process and I’m going to abort my testing on it. Unless we significantly change things, it’s not going to impact or improve our workloads in any great beneficial way as far as I can see.

To get big gains on workflow we’d need to use InCopy completely instead of MS Word, and thus we would need to either:

ONE: get our real authors to use InCopy, our lecturers would then be more directly involved in their study material creation, but the downside is I’m sure they wouldn’t have time..? We would then take the designer role and manage the content and assignments – just like a real publishing house. OR;

TWO: get InDesign Server, develop a front end which lets authors edit their content without needing InCopy. This would take time, money, money and I don’t know what else! It’d be great, extensible, but we’d need to be careful and ensure that it met our real needs and improved our processes without getting carried away.

So, where to next? Who knows.

This is what I’d do if I had unlimited skills, time, and money from the University:

Look at MS Word’s XML docx format, investigate how we can effectively (automatically) transport this structured XML content in to InDesign, or generally just a more usable XML format than straight docx.

It’d be great to have a front end where the content could then be checked out for any needed updates – checked out by Authors or Designers – then at a certain date (or manually) the server does all the work.. TOCs, tagging, footers, PDFs for print and online, XML exports, web pages to display the content as well, the whole lot.

Hrm, wouldn’t that be nice.

Style maps behaving strangely in InDesign CS4

6 11 2008

How weird, the style mapping for importing word docs to InDesign CS4 seems to be really flaky.  

I’ve done a lot of things; originally I just plonked my old SMP files in to CS4’s word import presets directory – that didn’t work.  It picked up the smp file upon import, but when I viewed the style maps all the mapping info was simply not there.  Needless to say the mapping didn’t work in the slightest after placing the word doc.

So, attempt two; I manually re-created the style maps, saved a new preset file, and placed my word doc in.  No go again – completely ignored what I’d told it to do.

So I’m wondering, ‘maybe there’s some style map conflicts’.. So I go to place the doc in again; and see that there was only minimal conflics, say 3 conflicts, when about 15 styles didn’t map – so that didn’t add up.

I checked the presets that I’d created in attempt 2, and just like attempt one, everything I’d already entered in was gone.  Weird.

So, I re-created again, attempt number 3.  I then looked at the SMP files in dreamweaver, since they’re basically just XML.  The XML had all the info in, but still the maps didn’t work as they hadn’t in attempt 1 and 2.  I decided to replace the XML with my old XML – that didn’t work either.

I dunno what’s going on with it, but it’s got issues.. until I get to the bottom of it I’m very un-impressed.

Cell padding in InDesign

13 08 2008

We had a fair few hiccups in our overall Word to InDesign conversion recently (see previous posts regarding study guides and InDesign).  One of the problems involved table and cell styles in InDesign not applying the specified cell padding!

This was really frustrating, because even though you’d applied the table/cell styles to the tables in the document, you still had to manually add the cell padding in.  .. and yes, cell padding is entered in on the cell style specs so there’s no reason I can think of why it’d get ignored.  It is possible that the settings from Word were overriding the cell specs.. That’s probably all it was actually.

Anyway, a solution was found by trawling through the Adobe InDesign Exchange for third party scripts.  I ended up finding ‘TableStyle’, which was fantastic.  It lets you specify a whole range of table formatting, and does a selection or an entire document automatically.  All I had to do was copy the script into InDesign’s script panel directory and voila, double click on the scrip from the automation panel in InDesign and the whole document is done.

The only tweaking I did was to edit out the code which updated table borders and colours, since they interfered with our existing table styles.  That was only a quick 1 min javascript edit though.  Easy!

Overall I’m impressed by the scripting capabilities of InDesign, I’ll be looking in to what else we can do in the future to get around various problems.

Shortcuts for the Word template styles not working

1 04 2008

Word has been doing some crazy things with the keyboard shortcuts for the styles. I’ve set the keyboard shortcuts up at least 3 times now, and it keeps clearing them in a seemingly random way. One day the style shortcuts are there, then the next they’re all GONE! So.. you reset them… save the template.. and it’s good for another day or two but then they just vanish again!

It’s quite frustrating and so far I haven’t found out why it’s happening.. I’ll have to look in to it more but time is scarce.

So at this point, we’ll have to do without the keyboard shortcuts.. which is a real shame because it makes the workflow … flow! I’ll post a solution if I ever find one!

Problems with importing to InDesign

27 03 2008

Until yesterday the importing from Word to InDesign was going fairly well. One new problem is possibly related to MathType; the other, problems associated with trying to work between Word 2004 on the MAC, Word 2007 on the PC, docx and doc.

The equations from MathType transfer fine, it’s just the layout that goes crazy. Some equations seem to be layed out inside tables (so there’s some spots that have nested tables) – these seem to be completely ignored when I import to InDesign, and a nicely positioned equation comes out as a list of things half a page long!

So far I haven’t figured out what the best approach will be here. I’ve seen that a lot of people actually export EPS files from MathType and then separately place them in InDesign. While that would probably give better quality it seems like a huge stuff around.

The other issue I’m having is WORD! When I take a DOC file (created in Word 2007 in compatibility mode), edit it on my MAC with office 2004, then try and open it again on the PC (Word 07 again), word completely crashes!

This could be bad news, unless it’s just a glitch with my setup. We’ll have some authors using the MAC version of word, and our copy editors will be using the PC version of 2007. I will have to do some more testing to find out what is happening. I’m also wondering how everything will go when we get Office 2008 on the MAC..

Another small problem I have is that InDesign on the MAC crashes when I try to import a docx file; I’ve read that InDesign (CS3) will take docx files but perhaps not on the MAC, I’ll have to test on the PC.

From Word to InDesign – CQU Study Guides

19 02 2008

Semester 1 this year will showcase a new trail for learning material at CQU. By using a combination of MS Word and Adobe InDesign, we’ve created a process which allows us to greatly improve the look and feel of the study a in a semi-automated and timely manner.

The new process continues to allow authoring of course materials in Word, which seems to be the most familiar and user-friendly application for academic authors. It also means less change at the authoring level, which is a good thing.

InDesign was chosen for a few reasons. It’s an industry standard for creating magazine and book layouts and much more. It encompasses too many features to name, some of the most handy are: the extensive use of styles (not just paragraph and character styles, but also table styles, cell styles and object styles). It has great functionality with the Adobe PDF format; automatic TOC creation; easy to create and use templates for ‘official layouts’; … the list goes on

The key in the new process are the styles. When the styles are used correctly in Word (authors simply download our Word template which has the correct styles in it), (incorrect use is usually picked up in a routine copy edit), the styles in the word document are “mapped” to the styles in the InDesign template. So upon a simple and quick import, almost all of the InDesign formatting is automated.

All that remains are some manual table formatting, which is quite quick and easy thanks to the table styles (just select the table and apply the style!); as well as the object styles for inserting any icons (simply place the icon, apply the style and all the placement is done!).

We’re still learning as we go, but so far the process looks really promising. It will be interesting to see how the new version of word will change this process, if at all.Some of the simple problems we’ve encountered so far include:

  • Can’t export a tagged PDF from an InDesign book file. There seems to be a huge glitch and InDesign crashes every time. We will have to try and find a work-around for this at some point, because the tagging allows the PDF to be more accessible for screen-readers etc. At the same time, we want to still export the entire book rather than the individual document files because this way we can retain the auto-generated hyperlinks in the TOC..
  • Change any part of the main document and you have to do an update to the TOC.. if you don’t the hyperlinks can get completely ruined.

For the future, some of the things we may want to look at:

  • Adobe InDesign Server – perhaps this could help us; hosting our templates in a central location; and it may even help us further automate the process in ways we haven’t thought of yet.. not sure
  • XML – InDesign imports and exports XML; the new version of word also produced XML based file formats. Could this allow us to work the two formats together in an even more automated way? It’d be worth looking at in more detail when time allows. At the least, this may mean some cool things for web-based study guide creation.. variable data printing and who knows what else.