Monthly Archives: March 2013

Microsoft Word as a Design Tool

Unless you’re a professional designer, odds are very good that your workstation doesn’t have industry-standard design software like Adobe Photoshop and InDesign installed. However, you almost certainly have some version of Microsoft Word.

I won’t pretend that Word comes close to offering the quality and flexibility that professional design tools do. There’s simply no comparison. But with a little effort, it IS possible to create attractive and professional-looking flyers, newsletters, etc.

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Functional vs. Pretty

The single biggest design mistake non-designers make is to put too much emphasis on appearance.

But design is all about appearance, right? And we want everything we design to look good, right? Well, yes. But your #1 design goal should NEVER be for it to look pretty. Your goal should be for it to be functional and useful. Attractiveness should ALWAYS be secondary to functionality.

How many times have you seen a poster or a billboard and thought, “Wow, that’s beautiful, but I have no idea what it means.” Or “Wow, that was pretty, but the type was so small I couldn’t read what it said.” Sometimes marketers do this on purpose, and since I’m not a professional marketer, I can’t say if it’s an effective strategy or not. But as a professional communicator, I can tell you that you cannot afford ambiguous communication with your employees.

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Image Resolution

I can’t count the number of times someone has said to me, “I found this photo on the Web and want to use it in my document, but I can’t get it to print clearly. How do I fix it?”

I hate that question, because no matter how much I want to help, I always have to give the same answer: “You can’t.”

Why not?

Computer screens are low resolution devices. Printers are high resolution devices. If you take a file designed for a low resolution device and send it to a high resolution device, the result is going to be blurry or grainy.

To understand why, you have to understand image resolution.

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Compressing Photos in Powerpoint & Word

If you’ve worked with Powerpoint or Word much, you’ve probably discovered that adding lots of photos can result in a huge file that’s difficult to email or post online. This usually happens when large or high-resolution photos are dropped in and then scaled down. It also happens when the Crop tool is used to crop out large areas of a photo.

You can fix this problem by compressing your images.

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Printing Quantity vs. Price

Whenever you send something out for professional printing, you have to decide how many copies you need. Many people try to save money by figuring out EXACTLY how many they think they need and only ordering that many. That seems logical, but it often ends up costing them more money in the long run.

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A Primer of Graphic File Formats

“The print shop is asking for an EPS version of the logo and I only have a JPG…”

“A vendor sent me this AI file and I can’t open it…”

“I need a JPG and can only find this PNG file. Will it work instead?”

Does any of that sound familiar?

There are a staggering number of file formats around these days, so I bet you occasionally come across (or are asked for) a type you’ve never heard of.

Here’s a quick introduction to some of the graphic file types you’re likely to come across:

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You Can’t Un-PDF a File

At least a couple of times a year, someone brings me a PDF file and asks if I can “un-PDF” it for them so they can make changes to it.

Unfortunately, converting to PDF is a one-way process. There’s simply no way to convert a PDF back to its original format.* If you find yourself in this situation, your best bet is to do whatever you can to locate a copy of the original file.

How do I do that?

Start by asking the person who gave you the PDF. If they didn’t create it, they may know who did.

If that doesn’t work, try looking at the Document Properties in Adobe Acrobat. (File > Properties) If you’re very lucky, the author’s name or username may be listed there.

That didn’t work. What next?

You have a few other options, depending on what you need to do with the file.

Edit with Acrobat

If you have a copy of Acrobat Pro and you just need to make small text edits to the file, you may be able to edit the PDF directly.

Edit with a third-party PDF editor

If you don’t have Acrobat Pro, there are a number of other PDF editing programs available.

Export the text

If you just need to pull the text out and are willing to lose some or all of the formatting and graphics, you can export the text to another file format. The latest versions of Acrobat have a Save as Microsoft Word feature (File > Save As > Microsoft Word) that does a fairly decent job of converting PDFs to Word documents. The resulting Word document won’t look exactly like the PDF—you’ll lose some image quality, things will get shifted a little, etc. — but it will probably be better than starting from scratch.

Older versions of Acrobat will allow you to save the text in Rich Text Format (RTF), which can be opened in Word, Wordpad or just about any other word processor. It doesn’t save much of the formatting, though, so you’ll have to edit the text and then recreate the design.

Edit in Illustrator

Unless you’re a designer, you probably don’t have Adobe Illustrator. But on the off chance that you do (and you know how to use it), you can try opening the PDF in Illustrator and editing it there. This is the approach I use when I need to edit the graphics and colors in a PDF, and it has saved me countless hours of work.

*The only exception (that I’m aware of) is if the file was created in Adobe Illustrator. It is usually possible to convert an Illustrator file (.AI) to PDF and then back to AI.