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Feb 1, 2006 12:00 AM
If desktop publishing applications were coffee, then plug-ins
would be the sugar, the cream, the cinnamon, the Kahlua, the Irish
whiskey—well, you get the idea. Like coffee, most DTP
applications are extensible; they can be customized to suit the
special tastes or needs of the user. As the number of vendors that
provide the primary DTP applications becomes smaller (Adobe having
swallowed up much of the competition), the number of companies
providing plug-ins and extensions to enhance those applications
continues to grow.
As DTP continues to evolve and we approach double-digit versions of our favorite applications (Photoshop CS2 is actually version 9 of that venerable favorite), the functionality provided by plug-ins often is rolled into the base application. Plug-in developers always are scrambling to offer ever more comprehensive tools for ever more sophisticated users. As a result, a base application like Adobe Acrobat can be turned into a prepress production center by adding one set of plug-ins, or into a digital book factory by adding another.
In this article, we will look at some useful plug-ins to augment a print/publishing workflow for the big five DTP applications: Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Acrobat and QuarkXPress. A great place to start looking for third-party plug-ins for any Adobe application is at Adobe’s online store (http://store.adobe.com/store/products/plugins). Here, one can search for plug-ins by the application they augment and then alphabetically by developer. If you can’t find what you’re looking for here, you will find a much more comprehensive list of options at www.pluginsworld.com, a clearinghouse for Apple and Adobe plug-ins.
As is true with many of the Web sites we will talk about, most of the plug-ins can be downloaded for a free trial period, measured either by days or by number of uses. Some, especially imaging applications, will place a watermark on files created while using the demo version, so no cheating is allowed. If you like it, buy it!
Photoshop has to be one of the most “plugged-in” of applications, with dozens—if not hundreds—of developers creating tools to add to what is now a monster of a base applications in its own right. Some of these products do more than the base application can; some simply do many of the same things, just more elegantly. Because there are so many Photoshop developers out there, quite a number of plug-ins tackle the same problem.
Take, for example, correction for photographic lens distortion. Andromeda Software, Inc. (www.andromeda.com) (Westlake Village, CA), a well-known developer of Photoshop plug-ins, offers a filter called LensDoc to correct for many types of lens distortion, such as barrel rolling and pin cushioning. LensDoc can be purchased alone for $98 or as part of a suite of Photoshop “software lenses” for digital cameras called Photographic Tools & Lens Effects for $265. Similarly, developer Jan Esmann and his company, Power Retouche (www.powerretouche.com) (Copenhagen, Denmark), offer Lens Corrector, a tool that repairs zoom, wide angle and even panoramic lens distortions. Lens Corrector can be purchased alone for $65 or as a Pro pack with all of Power Retouche’s tools for $175—including over 20 additional filters, like a fascinating tool that creates a new layer to draw “divine proportions” (golden sections, rule of thirds, harmonic triangles) to be used as an aid for composition or cropping. For Mac users, these filters work only with Photoshop, but on Windows, they work with Paint Shop Pro, Corel Draw, Illustrator, Fireworks and most other photo editing software.
Both suites also offer tools to color correct images, made distinct from the tools provided by Photoshop with unique interfaces or methods of correction. The folks at Master Colors LLC (www.master-colors.com) (Santa Barbara, CA) have gone so far as to develop a whole new color space they call Perceptual HVC Color Space. HVC stands for hue, value and chroma, three qualities of color that the developer claims resonate most with human intuition. The application, HVC Color Composer ($249.95) acts as an enhanced Photoshop color picker, detailing the contrast between any two colors and offering the option to build a color palette of colors that complement them both.
The color gurus who make up PixelGenius, LLC (www.pixelgenius.com) (Chicago) have developed PhotoKit Color 2.0 ($99.95). These color-editing modules offer non-destructive, layers-based editing and include a module called RSA Gray Balance. Prepress color correction experts usually agree that balancing grays will color balance most images, and this tool offers an easy way to do just that.
While there are many more Photoshop plug-in developers, one more that warrants mention is Reindeer Graphics, Inc. (www.reindeergraphics.com) (Asheville, NC), with its Optipix 3 suite of tools ($149.95). In addition to plug-ins to improve sharpening, contrast and focus, Optipix includes a tool that actually helps do one of the things prepress experts generally say cannot be successfully done to a digital image: add resolution, or “res up” an image. Using Optipix Interactive Interpolation filter to adjust sharpness, edge strength and grain first, an image can be scaled upward using the standard Photoshop “image size” option and the results are much nicer than one would achieve by just using the “image size” option alone. Reindeer Graphics also offers a free plug-in for 16-bit image enhancement. Called Wide Histogram, this provides a 512-, 768- or 1024-pixel-wide histogram, between two and four times the resolution of Photoshop’s built-in histogram tool.
Adobe’s plug-in Web site offers a couple of dozen InDesign tools, including Q2ID from Markzware Software (www.markzware.com) (Santa Ana, CA). Q2ID ($199) lets all of those QuarkXPress turncoats convert Mac- and Windows-based QuarkXPress and Passport v3.3, v4.1, v5.0, v6.+ files into InDesign CS or CS2 layouts much better than the far more restrictive native InDesign CS2. Once installed, Q2ID is used by default to open Quark layouts (although the user can override the option and use InDesigns filter instead). Markzware also offers a tool that allows users to open InDesign layouts in QuarkXPress called, predictably, ID2Q.
For designers of variable-data projects, XMPie, Inc. (www.xmpie.com) (New York) offers a remarkable new InDesign plug-in application, uDirect Standard (or Professional). Variable data can be daunting, as they typically require the designer to conform to unfamiliar application-specific rules or rigid template-based page structures. Not so with uDirect, which allows a designer to build and merge an entire variable project directly within InDesign. Many specific design options, like transparency, can be made variable with uDirect, so versioned images can blend into one another or variable text can follow a curved line. uDirect Professional allows rules-based versioning using database information (which can be as simple as an Excel spreadsheet). A postcard campaign for a auto maintenance center might, for example, offer an oil-change reminder to a regular customer, but a 25 percent discount to someone who hasn’t visited in over a year, based on a “last visit” date entry. The uDirect product goes for $2,500 and includes output capabilities for Adobe PDF and PostScript, and a choice of a specific VDP output format, including all major digital press formats and PPML/VDX. Documents made with uDirect can be posted, customized and sold online through the XMPie uStore Web-to-print product.
For designers of print advertising, the QuickPrint plug-in for InDesign (and QuarkXPress), QuickCut Limited (www.quickcut.com) (Sydney, Australia), is a godsend. Imagine being tasked with the creation of a half-page ad to run in a publication. Imagine having an option that allows you to choose that publication from a list and automatically create the base layout to the specified size, complete with bleed and live area indicators, without having to do any research to find out what they are supposed to be. Now imagine having a tool to automate resizing of that ad for another dozen publications for you. These are just a few of the QuickPrint plug-in’s capabilities. Quickcut contains a comprehensive and continually updated database of global press specifications enabling the designer to create a file adhering exactly to those specifications.
When the updated version is released in 2006, QuickPrint 5 will exceed the capabilities of the current versions by enabling users to create, validate, color manage and deliver print-ready files within the layout application. It will check each completed file automatically by running a comprehensive series of preflight checks against destination specifications using one-click validation tools to swiftly identify file problems. QuickPrint 5 software is designed to address many file problems automatically to ensure that the file will print as intended while providing significant time savings.
Adobe Illustrator plug-ins
Check out another major Web portal for all sorts of DTP plug-ins at www.thepowerxchange.com. Among the many Adobe Illustrator enhancers here you will find FoldUP!3D 1.5 from Comnet Co Ltd. (Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam). FoldUP!3D ($379.00) is a Illustrator plug-in for creating and proofing 3D mockups of flat package designs, eliminating the final need for that Xacto knife in the studio. FoldUP! 3D uses OpenGL, the industry standard for 3D imaging, to provide free object rotation, flexible resizing and clear image rendering. Models can be previewed as a transparent package, with standard paper, or as a fully rendered object.
Converting raster-based drawings into vector-based illustrations always has been a challenge, and Illustrator’s built-in Auto Trace feature sometimes requires a lot of additional tweaking to get a clean illustration. Another plug-in listed at the Power Xchange Web site is Comnet’s LogoSpruce ($199.00), which lets users clean up logos and other scanned artwork quickly using intuitive drawing and trimming tools. LogoSpruce automatically identifies endpoints, midpoints and tangent lines, and offers a whole batch of drawing tools, including auto-guides, trim tools, raster rotation to level edges, and a path conversion tools to convert paths to an arch and back.
Adobe Acrobat plugins
The current version of Acrobat contains a full suite of built-in tools for print production, including preflight, color conversion, separation, the ability to resize pages, JDF job ticketing and a (limited) trapping function. Most of this functionality was not part of the base application until version 6 or 7, years after most of that functionality was available through the efforts of plug-in developers. In fact, it is fair to state that it was these developers who really pushed PDF into a viable means of exchanging files between content creators and printers—but offering prepress professionals a way to work with them. Early plug-in developer Lantana (now ARTS PDF, a division of BinaryThing Pty. Ltd) (www.artspdf.com) (Pleasanton, CA) offered Crackerjack, for many years the only way to print separations from Acrobat. Crackerjack 5.1 ($445) is still on the market and includes far more powerful output options than Acrobat alone, including page imposition, image editing, RGB and CMYK to spot color conversion and hot folder automation. ARTS PDF offers many more Acrobat plug-in tools, including ARTS PDF Aerialist ($341), a must-have tool for anyone building intelligent, navigable PDF files. Bookmarks, link management, creation of headers, footers or Bates numbering is simple and accessible from a special Aerialist toolbar. One of the simplest, and most useful functions for the print production pro is that Aerialist can split multi-page PDF files into separate documents or merge many separate files into one—as an automated batch process, if desired.
Enfocus (www.enfocus.com) (Gent, Belgium) is another long-time PDF workflow product developer. Its flagship product, Pitstop Professional ($599), now in version 6.5x, has become the absolute standard tool set for anyone working with PDF files for graphic production. Pitstop’s PDF Print Profile option goes far beyond what Acrobat preflight offers, including hundreds of potential checks and the automatic repair of dozens of problems, including color conversion and remapping, font usage and embedding and page sizing, to name only a few. Pitstop offers global change options for everything from color and font usage to page size, allowing the user to make changes to even the longest document in one fell swoop. Some of the real—and underused—power of Pitstop is its ability to create and use Actions, a series of steps that can automate many types of file correction. In fact, repairs done to a document using the Inspector or Global Change option can be recorded as an Action for continued reuse.
While Acrobat has started to roll some of the features that Pitstop has provided for years into the base product, Enfocus continues to offer more. Pitstop 7 will be available later in 2006 with a focus on easier usability and a more wizard-like approach to some of the more complex features of the tool set, like Action list building. The error-navigation option has been completely revamped so that, as the user browses through mistakes, the erroring element is left alone while the rest of the page is grayed out, making the problem stand out clearly. Fixes do not have to happen automatically; the user can navigate to the object in question and after reviewing it and can decide to correct the error right there.
While Acrobat allows users to import and view layered PDF files, it doesn’t allow them to create layers in PDF files. For that, you need pdfLayerMaker from Callas Software gmbh (callassoftware.com) (Berlin, Germany). Callas designed the preflight engine within Acrobat 6 and 7 for Adobe, so these developers know their way around the base product and offer a suite of enhancing tools. pdfLayerMaker ($99) lets you break a PDF into layers based on different criteria and turns out to be a great way to get at buried objects on a page. For example, you might want to break images onto a separate layer from text and vector art, or separate images from one color space from another. The plug-in lets you put a grid, solid color or black background behind the page—a handy tool to see the distinction between paper white and white-colored objects or check for transparency. Among other Callas plug-in tools is pdfCorrect ($149), a preflight and correction tool that detects and corrects over 100 different problems via a simple, intuitive interface.
While Acrobat offers a trapping option in Acrobat 7, it works only when a file is separated directly from Acrobat through the print window—it doesn’t create a trapped PDF file that can be saved. If you want to create actual traps in PDF files, you’ll need Heidelberg’s Prinect Trap Editor (Kennesaw, GA) (www.heidelberg.com). Based on sound trapping algorithms from Heidleburg’s DaVinci technology, just about every advanced trapping option available on high-end prepress workflow solutions is available directly in Acrobat with Prinect Trap Editor ($5,900). The plug-in offers object-based trapping, either using a global auto-trap option or any two objects can be trapped manually. Traps can be highlighted in contrasting colors so the user can easily spot them and ensure they are correct. The traps themselves are placed as separate objects within the PDF file. Companion plug-in tools include Prinect Color Editor ($1,950), the most advanced color manipulation tool for Acrobat, and Prinect PDF Assistant ($1,900), a suite of six print production specific modules that perform advanced options like extracting single PDF pages from a completely imposed sheet. This very cool (patent pending) function enables users to perform last-minute changes directly before a final plate or proof is output and to exchange individual pages of the press sheet.
Speaking of imposed PDF files, one of the first tools to come on the market to allow users to create imposed layouts directly from Acrobat was Quite Software’s Quite Imposing (www.quite.com) (Argyll, Scotland). Offered in a standard ($456) and a Plus version ($915), Quite Imposing plug-in tools offer simple, wizard-like interfaces that make page imposition relatively easy, even for novice users. A Lowly Apprentice Production, Inc. (ALAP) (www.alap.com) (Carlsbad, CA) was a newcomer to the Acrobat plug-in scene with the introduction of the Imposer Pro product for both Acrobat and InDesign, a few months ago. ALAP historically has been known for its Quark Xtensions before delving into creating plug-ins for Adobe products—it might revert to that position again, as Quark, Inc., acquired the company on December 14, 2005. Quark has not indicated if it will continue non-Quark-centric products.
QuarkXPress 7 promises to be very different and much improved upon its predecessor. Much of the functionality added by the army of existing Xtension developers might well be rolled into the base product. Among the Xtensions most useful to the graphic production professional are those that serve the catalog and variable-data printing segments of the industry. Meadows Publishing Solutions (www.meadowsps.com) (Schaumburg, IL) has been a long-time player in that market, offering a suite of Xtensions including the DesignMerge and AutoPrice database publishing tools. These tools allow the designer to work in the familiar territory of QuarkXPress while building links to external databases. AutoPrice, specifically, offers automatic updates to pricing information from a database, eliminating a great deal of manual work for catalog producers. Recently, Meadows AutoPrice and MPS Page Printer were the first tools from the company ported over to InDesign plug-ins.
Gluon, Inc. (www.gluon.com) (Maplewood, NJ) developed the first scaling Xtension for QuarkXPress, ProScale ($95), back in 1990. The product still is widely used to resize entire documents and scale groups of objects—the latest version offers text and column fitting. (ProScaleID for InDesign also is available.) Gluon also offers QC ($95), a sort-of virtual proofreader that a designer can run any time during the building of a document. QC checks for things like space around a comma or before a period, text widows and orphans, mismatched spot color designations, misaligned boxes and many other things that most preflight applications simply don’t touch. QC works from a profile list of user-definable check points; when one is flagged, it takes the user to the location of the offending element on the page.
Markzware offers a similar product called FlightCheck Studio, a QuarkXtension or InDesign plug-in, that works along the same lines as its standalone FlighCheck Professional preflight software (right down to the squawking eagle as the check is being performed!). FlightCheck Studio can be run when a document is opened, saved or manually at any time. If an error is found, the user can navigate to the offending object and many objects can be fixed.
Enfocus Instant PDF, a standalone application, augments many desktop publishing applications with helper tools to create good PDF files. For QuarkXPress (and InDesign) this comes as a File menu option, “Save as Certified PDF.” Using this option, the content creator makes a PDF file based on a PDF Queue, typically supplied by a print partner. The Queue includes a Pitstop preflight profile and actions that can be used to check and correct PDF files as they are created. The PDF Queue concept, in which a single supplied Queue can be installed and then affect many different applications, is unique to Instant PDF and a viable approach to influencing proper PDF creation from any application.
In an interesting twist, Enfocus recently disclosed that it is offering an SDK that will allow others to develop plug-ins for their newest product, Enfocus PitStop Automate. Built on Enfocus’ PDF preflight and Certified PDF technologies, as well as components of parent Artwork Systems’ Odystar workflow, PitStop Automate will provide an intuitive graphic user interface for designing complete workflows—allowing things like intelligent file sorting and conditional workflows based on file type, size and other file properties.
And so the evolution continues, with plug-in developers designing their own full-blown applications for which others can develop plug-ins!
Check out the plug-ins at these Web sites: