Monday, 24 July 2017

Designing your PDF: Part 2

In my last post, I asked the community: Which one should I try for: InDesign, Scribus or Web? I got some great response, and I think the results really pushed me to look into several options I was not aware of (thanks team!)

The Results to the Question:

I'm going to assume you've read Part 1, where I compare Scribus, Indesign and a small test of what Web with @page can do, and follow on from my questions. Then I'll revisit my original relevant points in the 3 main areas I looked at, and discuss my research results and how I think this may/can/will benefit myself and maybe other Indie RPG writers.

1. Can I create  graphical Templates

Yes, but No. You can data merge in InDesign, but can you data merge twice in the same document from two different XMLs? Can you layer your images in a data merge? I'm getting an InDesign friend to look into this. The generic answer seems to be "Make it in a separate document, then import.. which defeats one of the aspects/needs I'll flesh out later on in this blog.

1.b. Can I create Multi-layered Image files? and can they be in Templates?

Multi-layered Images is hard, and getting them just right is harder, Scribus and InDesign both have some semblance of this, but if you want to edit it after the fact, it does seem rather tedious.. maybe that's why we pay Designers, to sit there are do a lot of tedious pixel perfect manipulations.. maybe I can bypass this, See further on my thoughts..

2. Can I Dynamically change the backgrounds?

Yes, but not simple, would require a decent ammount of setup time and learning before the first version would be available.

3. Can I add a "blood stain' effect to some of the books,?

Yes, but No.. Again, hand crafting, one by one, yes, with a few weeks fiddling with each page, OR a few weeks fiddling with the data-merge into template system, but that asks the question.. can I data merge one background, behind the data merge of the foreground.. Which is a no.. A Template is created once, and each page uses that template to create each page from the data merge, so the blood stain would need to be built into the data-marge, or not at all.

Figure 1. The Example to Show
Looking at this example: Parchment colour, ink stains (could be blood) double stripe in red, Text and Character Image. Imagine doing this more than 3-4 times.. imagine 50 times or 500 times? Now imagine you need to change the colour of that red line 12 times, and change the stain graphic 12 times.. I got a general quote for around $1500 for such a job. at my hourly rate, that's a fortnight approx of work. I think I can write a webpage to do that in far less than a fortnight.

So, How 'COULD" I use XML Data Merge for InDesign?

If I wrote each page as an XML document, and each structure was built into the same template, like a dynamic web page already does, then I declared each bit to be toggled by the XML, then yes.. 

What that means for the layman, who for some reason is reading this, I would have to declare the blood stain location in the template for all pages, then toggle it in the XML to true or false, and if true, set its width, height and opacity, all by hand. Next, I'd be setting each page to tell me what kind of page it is, i.e. title page / text block / table / creature stat block. and ALL of those parts would need to be declared in the one single template. Sounds a bit messy to me.

Is it worth it? ... Not Really, For every hour I spend learning InDesign, or for every hour I pay a designer to do this tedium for me, I am asking myself, is this worth it.. and what if, 3 months down the track, just before printing, the printer says, the alignment is off, and I need to re-size these 3 pixels smaller. 

All the Advice, wrapped up into a paragraph or three

As I Stated before, InDesign and Scribus are, to some extent, scriptable. There are tools that some have made available online, there are aspects which are semi-pre-written. There is a learning curve to any and all of that.
There are several other tools, FOP, LaTeX, Serif, ReportLab or PDFSharp. Again, learning curve, which is going to do the job best, and how far along will I turn back with new knowledge that it cannot do whats needed and will fail me.

And if I'm going to program a PDF anyway, I may as well either use FPDF (PHP PDF Creator) or the Angular Web Test that I made before I started these last two blogs.

Except for one, small, issue.. do I want the PDF to be Electronically enabled. i.e. contents pages, click links to jump to pages in the book, or is this a pure print only PDF.

Current Test Results & Logic for Web

I Work in Web, Angular-JS, I've worked on a few large and small projects and its likely to be my career for the next few years at least. None of the above tools will be, so learning them, using them and finding all their bugs and issues will only be useful for this one single project, and I don't know if I mentioned it before, if I'm going to do something, I want it to benefit me more than once.

So, I took my Test Web-page PDF Creator for a spin, I looked up a few RPG books, had a look at their layouts, and realized one interesting thing.. No-one is able to / has tried to / is doing, what I thought they were all doing.. except maybe D&D. They have the money to pay designers to get their pages looking very schmik, no-one else does.

I'm going to go make up a few pages with my new tool, I'm going to try to do what D&D has done with their books, and I'll post a third blog about the results. Once done, I'm going to contact some designers (any volunteers?) to make up a similar page (I'll supply the images & numbers) and we'll compare the time taken, and results. but as it stands, I honestly think, this is a tool that doesn't exist right now. i.e. a PDF creation tool for RPG writers to make up clean, interesting and professional looking PDFs without paying $50 a month and spending months learning, just to save you some time and or money getting a professional to do, when you don't even have an audience yet.

I have 4 main page concepts for now "Object Page" which has a title, and something, such as an image. Typically this might be a page for chapters or just the front title page, but also, full page art, maps, etc. "Text + Object" pages, all text can (if you want) have its own sub-title and a 'thing' can be added to the page, such as an image or table, that the text will wrap around, so the image can have dominance. Tables can fit nicely into the text section if you want. "Specific" pages, which for me, is an NPC stat page for my test, has a very specific layout to set the text, values, etc, plus a main image and background images. This can be used for NPCs or Monsters for now, but with a tweak I can add locations (such as taverns/dungeon rooms) and such. Lastly are "stat blocks" or repeatable elements, I've use them for character backgrounds, weapon stats, shopping lists. The interesting part so far is the idea that the table for these items, is built BY the system, so you don't need to write up a table, just nominate the table you want, and the columns you need in it. All items in your whole book could be declared in one file, the you just designate them sections, and the PDF creator can do the rest.

I've opened a Patreon, Its set at a modest $1, While I will work on this for myself, and freely give out ideas on doing it for yourself, I don't want freeloaders snatching my code and selling it to others, and want people to have a sense of ownership if they contribute. So if you think you might have a page need, that I might too need, that doesn't match one of the 4 above, then lets work on that. Patreons can test it as I write it, and any feedback will become tasks that i can improve it with, so users can benefit from my tool.


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