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Importing Excel documents into InDesign – a date problem

Mon, 2015-01-26 10:15

Some time back I was training an advanced InDesign course, and one of trainees had come across a problem and asked me for advice. The problem she had come across was, whenever she imported Excel documents into InDesign, the dates switched formats.

What was happening was that the date was formatted within Excel as an english date format (say 1/12/14) but after importing into InDesign it swapped into an American date format (12/1/14). And she could not figure out why.

After a few minutes of investigation I finally figured out why. Here is a screenshot of a simple Excel table. Just a column of dates, formatted (you might think) in the English date format.

Simple Excel table

Here is what happens when you place it into InDesign (or copy/paste)…

Placing an excel document into InDesign

As you can see the dates have clearly been swapped around.

At first I thought it was InDesign, some setting or preference – but there are no settings or preferences that deal with dates. So the next thing I looked at was the actual Excel document, and if you have ever dealt with anything within Excel, you now that dates and formulae are formatted – so I checked the formatting that was applied. Bingo!

Excel has various date formats that could be used, and although some look like an English format, some have an asterisk before them…


So, on the face of it everything was ok. But this was the default setting, and why put an asterisk in front? This, looking at the explanation below the formatting within Excel, was so that the date was formatted according to the computer’s country setting.  What? Why would this ever be the default setting? I have no idea, but obviously what was happening was the document formatted it as English, but the computer’s country setting was American.

So, changing the date setting to an English format (without the *) fixed the problem. Here is a screenshot of the formatting that was applied to the cells within Excel…

Excel formatting screenshot

Now I just changed the formatting to an English format (no asterisk in front) – job done. Placing the Excel document again produced the right result…

Placing for the second time

The moral of the story is, always check your styles and any formatting that has been applied, both in the source document and in the final document.

Some nice examples of forced perspective

Tue, 2015-01-20 11:20

I come across some entertaining stuff while I am browsing various photography and design related sites, and one that I always find quite amusing is forced perspective photography.

If you haven’t come across this before it is a photography technique that involves using optical illusions to make objects appear nearer or farther away than they actually are.  Of course you could do this stuff in Photoshop fairly easily, but here are a few examples just done with a camera and some clever positioning.  I guess you could call it Photoshop without any Photoshop.

Image courtesy of Brandon Cripps at

Image courtesy of Chaval Brasil at

Image courtesy of Kenzie Saunders at

Image courtesy of Matt Werner at


Image courtesy of Geee Kay at


Image courtesy of Mackee Lee at

Forced perspective shots can be carefully staged or just a case of the right place at the right time.  Either way they can often bring a smile to the face.

Balancing text columns in InDesign

Mon, 2015-01-12 13:56

If you’re the kind of person who can’t stand unbalanced text, you might recall the days when it took a fair bit of manual adjustment to make text columns line up evenly.

Unbalanced text columns

Fortunately InDesign CC 2014 (actually it’s been in here since CS5) has a nice balance columns checkbox which is found in the Text Frame Options dialogue box.

The feature works on multi-column text frames, and to use it you just need to select the frame in question and either go to Object> Text Frame Options, hit the shortcut which is Ctrl/Cmd+B or alternatively just right click on it and select Text Frame Options.

Columns are balanced

Check the Balance Columns box and InDesign will attempt to even up the columns of text. Note that it does not automatically align baselines. The result will depend on whether or not there are an even number of lines in the frame.

Balance columns can also be saved as part of an object style.

InDesign object style pane

It’s a simple but effective feature and very easy to apply.

20 Top Tips for Photoshop

Thu, 2015-01-08 14:19

Here are some of the must know tips for any regular Photoshop user. Once you have turned some of these into habit, you will be amazed at how quickly you can do stuff in Photoshop. These Tips and Tricks almost all work the same in previous versions of Photoshop.

Photoshop Shortcuts that make your life easier

1) Hide the panels or toolbars

Many people known that Tab will hide the panels and toolbar (if you didn’t that’s a bonus tip) but what is less well know is that Shift + Tab pressed together will hide only the panels. This is really useful on smaller screens where space is in short supply.

2) Undo / Redo

It’s generally well known that Ctrl/Cmd + Z enables you to undo your last action in many Win / Mac applications. Holding alt with those pressed will also let you keep stepping backward in time after that. What if you want to redo though? You could of course go to the Edit menu but why not just hit Ctrl/Cmd+Shift+Z instead. If you have gone back a few steps in history with Ctrl/Cmd + Alt + Z, pressing Ctrl/Cmd + Z will bring you back (or should I say forward) through your history again to the end.

3) Resizing Brushes and more

For those often using the brushes in Photoshop you may know that pressing the left “[” and right “]” square bracket buttons will reduce and increase brush size respectively. What you may not know is that holding shift while pressing either of those keys will allow you to increase or decrease the brushes hardness. If you want to change brush size another way in Windows, then just hold the Alt key down and with a right mouse click drag the mouse left or right.

You can also use the above shortcuts to resize other tools as well, for example the Quick Select tool or the Burn tool.

4. Reset Foreground / Background colours

Press D on the key board to reset the foreground colour to Black and the background colour to White. This can be especially useful when working with masks.

5. Switch between Forground and Background

Another useful shortcut can be the X key when painting on masks or working with something like the Quick Mask tool. This lets you quickly swap the background/foreground colours around.

6. Tool shortcuts

Common tool shortcuts to streamline your workflow: V – Move, B – Brush, E – Eraser, A- Direct Selection Tool, P – Pen Tool, C – Crop tools, J – Cloning tools.  Press these once to switch over to that tool permanently. If you only want to use a tool for a couple of seconds however try holding the key down to quickly use the tool then releasing it again when you are done, Photoshop will then jump back to your original tool.  Handy for example if you are on the brush and quickly just want to spot heal an area you missed, before continuing with the brush again.

7. Alt Clicking Tools

Alt clicking any tool that is a part of a set will select the next tool in the set. For example you are on spot healing and want to select the healing brush, just hold Alt and click on the tool.

8. Changing Numbers and Opacity

Want to change number for things like opacity, brush size etc. in a more visual way.  Simply click the label for something like opacity, fill or size and drag the mouse left to right to change the number.

9. Shift + Alt + Ctrl/Cmd + K

Bored or don’t like the default shortcuts? Use this one to completely personalise your Photoshop experience. Careful though, you’ll need to remember to migrate your shortcuts, for example if you move to a new machine.

10. Invert Selection

Sometimes it’s far quicker to select what you don’t want than what you do.  If so why not do exactly that, then just hit Ctrl / Cmd + Shift + I to invert the selection


Tips and Tricks to improve your workflow

11. Tips for Layer Masks

To disable a layer mask, Shift click the mask in the layers palette. To perfect your layer mask without the distraction of the image simply Alt click the mask in the layer panel. Alternatively to see the layer mask along with the layer hold Alt + Shift when you click the mask in the layers panel.

12. Duplicate Layer

Hold Alt when you drag a layer in the layers panel to duplicate that layer. To duplicate a layer into another document you have open, drag and drop the layer in the layers panel to the new layer button at the bottom. The popup dialog will then give you the option to select a different document to duplicate it to.

13. Hide Everything Else

There is often a need to only see one layer, but when working with many it can take time to hide all the other layers by clicking each eye. A much faster way is to Alt click the eye button on the layer you want to keep shown; all the other layers will hide. If you Alt click the same layer again Photoshop will bring them all back.

14. Aligning Identical Layers

If two identical layer do not snap into place when aligning them, change the top layer’s mode to Difference and then use the nudge tools to move the top layer around. When the top layer goes completely black the layers are aligned and you can change its mode back to normal.

15. Adjustment Layers

Adjustment layers, as standard, will affect everything below them. When you need it to only affect the layer directly below it, and not the rest, Alt click on the line between the two layers to “clip to layer” ensuring the adjustment only affects the layer immediately below it.

16. Tools don’t appear to be working?

Ever had a situation where you can’t clone part of an image for example or the brushes just won’t paint at all. We have all been there at some point, and you want to slap yourself when you realise why.  The most common reason this happens is you have a very small active selection somewhere on the image, and Photoshop will only apply changes within that selection.  Just hit Ctrl / Cmd + D to deselect everything, and lo and behold your tools should start making a difference again.

17. Quickly resize the canvas

If you want to quickly resize the canvas why not use the crop tool to do it.  Just click on the crop tool and then drag the handles out to enlarge the canvas.  Once you have the size you want simply hit Enter to commit the changes. Job done.

18. Copy a selection area to a new layer

The real power of Photoshop comes when you have everything in separate layers, allowing you to make independent changes.  If you want to copy a selection of an area on one layer into an independent layer of it’s own just hit Ctrl / Cmd + J.  If you want to do this but remove it from the original layer at the same time then hit Shift + Ctrl/Cmd + J.

19. Mattings

If you have a layer where the background has been cut out, but there are some pixels around the edge that still remain, choose Layer > Matting > Defringe to change the colour of the edge pixels to the same colour as the pixels just inside from them. You can change the width to higher values to change the colour of more pixels.

20. Selection Tips

Accurate selections are vital when working in Photoshop. Don’t forget to use the options for add (Shift), subtract (Alt) and intersect (Shift+Alt) to perfect your selections.  Also remember you can hold the space bar to move a selection around as you are creating it. This can be really handy for example when using the elliptical marquee tool to select a round object.

We hope these prove useful and if you have any other stand out tips you find especially useful in Photoshop feel free to add it to the comments below.

Useful InDesign CC scripts

Tue, 2015-01-06 09:45

Many people do the same task again and again in InDesign, but are wary of using InDesign’s automated scripting functions to make the job easier. Some may be simply unaware of the scripting capabilities within InDesign, while for others scripts are daunting and technical. In reality scripting can be very easy, especially if you don’t have to write the scripts yourself!

By default InDesign has a number of free scripts which ship with the product and you can find these in the Scripts Panel under the Window menu. You can also download free and commercial scripts from Adobe Exchange and you can write your own in any of Javascript, AppleScript or Visualbasic.

The following are a number of useful scripts that may change the way you work. The first 7 are already installed InDesign and those further down can be downloaded from the links provided. To install a script, copy it to the Scripts Panel folder inside the Scripts folder in your InDesign application folder and restart InDesign. (tip: quick way to find this folder is to right click on the User folder in the InDesign Scripts panel and select open in explorer.)

  • Add Guides. This script adds guides onto the page around the selected object or objects.
  • Export all stories. Usually text flows into InDesign but there are many reasons to export it out again. If you click with the type tool in any text box, then go to File>Export, you will be offered a range of text formats to export as, however this only works for the selected story. The Export all stories script, exports all text from the whole document (including master items).
  • Imagecatalog. A useful script that can take the pictures from any folder and display them in a grid with file names in a new InDesign page. This is a bit like the old InDesign contact sheet feature in Bridge.
  • Makegrid. This is quite a neat script which allows you to subdivide an existing box into columns and rows, it then duplicates the original content across the new boxes saving you quite a bit of time in the process.
  • PlaceMultipagePDF – Using file and place to put a PDF into InDesign only lets you place a single page from the PDF.  If you want to place multiple PDF pages onto multiple InDesign pages this script gives you a much quicker alternative.
  • SortParagraphs – Ever wanted to sort selected paragraphs alphabetically, well now you can with this script.
  • SplitStory – This script allows you to split a story up into seperate unlinked text frames.

Some other useful scripts which work in the InDesign CC 2014 version include the following:

  • Text anchors – This script allows you to see a list of all text anchors in a document and whether they are in use or not.
  • Unembed Images – If you have a document with a number of embedded images in it, you can use this script to unembed all the images, copy them into a folder you create, and create links in InDesign to the image files.
  • Sort tables – InDesign tables are great for layout and presentation, but are not designed as an alternative to a spreadsheet package like excel.  Sometimes though it would be nice to be able to sort your table alphabetically based on a particular column, and that’s exactly what this script does.
  • SwatchWatch – If you want to present a client with a nice grid of all the swatches used in a particular document then grab a copy of this swatch and run it. That’s exactly what it does.
  • Calendar Wizard – If you need to create monthly / yearly calendars then Calendar Wizard is a good starting point, enabling you to generate a calendar aat the click of a button.

Hopefully you find some of these scripts worth using but if you come across others that you find useful please feel free to post them in the comments below.

Tips for using Brushes in Photoshop

Tue, 2014-12-16 13:40

Using Photoshop generally means using a brush at some point, and not just for painting. Several tools within Photoshop  also use a brush – Eraser, Dodge, Burn, etc. Here are some useful shortcuts when using a tool that uses brushes…

Constraining Brushes

Click, let go and shift – click elsewhere in your document and you will get a straight line

Click and hold with your mouse button, then hold the shift key, and then move your mouse – you will be constrained to horizontal/vertical lines.

Multiple steps using brushes

When using things like eraser, dodge, burn, etc, Photoshop sees one stroke as mouse-down and mouse-up. If you just paint with one mouse down, and then let go, you will get one long stroke with one application of your effect (like with the dodge tool you will only lighten a little bit, not build up as you might expect). With this in mind it is best to use short strokes, and let go of the mouse, short strokes, etc.  This means that you can also do multiple undos and so have a lot of control of how you step back, and you can see the effect build up as well.

Changing the Size and Hardness of a Brush

Using the [ and ] keys will let you decrease/increase your brush size on the fly, or use Shift + { and } keys to decrease / increase the brush hardness – very useful.

Better still hold the Alt key then right click (nb: right click not left click) and drag up or down on the image and you can change the hardness setting.  If you do the same and drag left or right you can change the brush size.

If you want to switch to the Previous or Next Brush then just hit the , or . keys to do so.

Switch between Foreground and Background colour

If you want to quickly switch between the foreground and background colour simply click on the X key to do so.

If you can think of any other shortcuts you find useful when working with brushes, just post them in the comments below.

Working with Masters in InDesign

Mon, 2014-12-15 16:59

Masters within InDesign are very useful – they provide a common background for whichever page(s) you are working with. But here are some not so well known/used tips regarding masters and pages.

A master can have a master

Say you want a master for Chapter 1 – usually a header and footer. But the footer may be fairly general, just Page X say. This would be the same for Chapter 2, 3 etc.

If you setup a master with just that footer, the next time you create a master (Pages panel > options in the top right-hand corner > New master) notice that you have the option of basing the new master on one already created.

It is here that you can choose the background master just created, i.e the one with just the footer in it. What you will end up with is a set of chapter masters, each of which have another master set as their background – then these are applied to you pages.

This can save you a lot of time in creating and maintaining your pages.

Save time by reusing past Masters

Why spend time creating a Master from scratch when you used one that was almost identical in that last catalogue / magazine / flyer etc. In the pages panel go to the Master Pages option and load master pages from a previous InDesign document.

This will load the masters straight into your pages panel and save you having to recreate them from scratch.

Master pages (for facing page documents) do not have to be identical.

The left page can be set up for two columns and the right for three, say. Just make sure that you have one master page (left or right) selected within the pages panel when changing the columns/margins (Layout > Margins and Columns).

What’s the black triangle?

Have you ever wondered what the little upside down black triangle is at the top of page 1 in your pages panel?

This is the section marker – this indicates when a new section is to appear and how the pages are to be numbered.

To create a new section (and a new black triangle will appear above the page you select), just right-mouse click on a page within the Pages panel and go to Numbering and Section options. Once there you can specify how the page numbering is to be handled, i.e. as letters, numbers etc, and also whether you wish to restart the page numbering – useful for contents pages and index pages.

Which Master are used where?

Sometimes it can be hard to see the little letters on the Page thumbnails, that identify which master has been applied. Why not give the masters a Color Label. This can be found in the Pages Panel menu under Page Attributes and puts a small coloured bar under both the master pages and any pages they are applied to, so you can see at a glance which Master are being used.