Archive for March, 2010

Word Forms

March 23, 2010

Used to be, I’d encourage people to fore-go using Word for creating forms. And by forms I mean a document that has fields, check boxes, dropdowns, etc. Sure I could design a form in Word but then I’d just turn around and convert it into a PDF and make it a form using Acrobat. There was, I thought, a lot more flexibility with Acrobat. Of course this would require that the user have a full version of Acrobat, not just the free Reader.

Oh how times have changed. While I’m still a big fan of Acrobat and PDF forms, I’ve come to realize that they too can be limiting. The problem with PDF forms is they’re not super dynamic and anything ‘outside’ of the fields is set in stone (pretty much unless you know how to use the TouchUp tools but even then there are issues so we won’t go into that). I mean there are times when you want the fields for users to fill out AND also allow them to modify the rest of the form. Or the rest of the text needs to flow if they put in a lot of text.  This is where Word rules.

The pain is if your users want to jump from field to field. Unless you protect your document, thus eliminating the option for modifying the non-field information, tabbing between fields doesn’t work. Your users have to click into each field and lets face it, Word can be incredibly fussy here. If you don’t get it in just the right spot, it’ll do something else or nothing.

So in my current work, this is definitely the case. I have users who need Word forms but want the structure that comes along with fields in a PDF form (meaning the ability to tab from field to field).

Well if you’re brave, willing to dip you toe into coding, you can accomplish this. Using VBA (Visual Basic for Applications) you can create a UserForm for your fields. What that, you say? Think of a popup dialog box where you can type in your information and when done it populates to your document. Not an easy task as it is coding but when used with bookmarks in Word it can make your users experience a little better.

Check out the resources for VBA on About.com

Appropriate Use of Graphics

March 23, 2010

I see this all the time:

Questions from friends, former & current students, random strangers (well ok maybe not the last one); “I’m creating this *printed piece of choice* and it looks ok on the screen but it *prints horrible, came from the printer horrible, etc*.”

What’s the deal? Let’s talk about the appropriate use of graphics here. I know it’s confusing, I know it’s not intuitive; don’t worry, I’ll hold your hand.

There are a lot of different types of graphics out in the world. Most people just don’t pay attention to that. It’s either a photo, a graphic, a logo, whatever. But the type of graphic it is makes a huge difference!

So let me break it down in simple terms. If you want more information, check out this post over at the Digital Photography School website.

When it comes to types of graphic files it all comes down to 2 things – Resolution and File Type (or extension). The first is the most important but the second can tell you something about the first is. Confused yet?

Resolution means, in the simplest of terms, how good the quality of your graphic is. You want high resolution for printing and lower resolution for “on screen” viewing (I’ll explain this later).

How do we measure resolution? There are 2 ways that are interconnected, very similar, but completely different. For the sake of simplicity we’re consider them the same thing (yes yes you professionals, I hear you screaming at your monitors. Now pipe down, this post is for beginners and it’s a start. You can further their education later).

Where was I? Oh yeah, staring at your screen. That screen shows all those wonderful images, text, whatever; through tiny blocks of color called pixels. So resolution is measured by the number of pixels that can be crammed into an inch. Thus we get the measurement PPI (pixels per inch) or DPI (dots per inch).

*pause* Ok I know I was trying to make it simple but I can already hear some of your scratching your heads in confusion. “Wait, I thought he was talking about pixels? What’s with the dots all of a sudden?” While your screen uses those squares, most printers use dots to print. There’s a correlation between the 2. OK?

So resolution is measured as either DPI or PPI. The more you have the better the quality. This is where the file format comes in (remember, the extension part I mentioned above). Certain file types limit the resolution of the file itself. For example the typical resolution of a .GIF file is 72 ppi/dpi. That’s because screens can only display 72 pixels per inch. You can have more pixels in your graphic but it doesn’t do anything for your graphic except to add to the file size. Which will then annoy those who are looking at that graphic as it cause their computer to take longer to load the file.

So you’re probably asking yourself “what does this have to do the the appropriate use of graphics?”

Good question. They type of file you use and the resolution of that file are important to your use of the file. Resolution is tied heavily to use. Low resolution graphics are ok for onscreen viewing but not necessarily for printing out. High resolution graphics are great for printing but are overkill for onscreen viewing (they just take longer to load and do nothing to the view).

So picking the right file type can be a challenge.  In my next post I’ll tackle files types and their uses.