Author Archive: James Lockman

AEM 6.4 and InDesign Server workflows demystified

For many versions, Adobe Experience Manager has included support for parsing InDesign documents via InDesign Server. AEM admins could use pre-built workflow steps to send an InDesign document or InDesign Snippet to InDesign Server along with a set of scripts that InDesign Server would execute against the payload. It was possible to execute multiple scripts in sequence on the same payload, which was handy but not particularly efficient as it would invoke InDesign Server as many times as you had scripts in the workflow. In AEM 6.3, the workflow component matured to make the workflows more efficient, and to include a set of functions that help InDesign Server access content in AEM and to post output documents back to AEM for further processing. In AEM 6.4, the workflow component added a configuration to permit any MIME-type as the payload for InDesign Server, opening up a whole new set of use cases for AEM and InDesign Server.

Scripts Deconstructed

The InDesign Server workflow component is called Media Extraction. It began life as a way to extract the text, images and metadata from InDesign documents, and it’s a core part of the built-in DAM Update Asset workflow today. Media Extraction has a lot of power as a workflow ingredient, however, if you know how to use it. Let’s explore how the Media Extraction workflow component works in AEM 6.4.

Media Extraction works by sending a payload to InDesign Server, consisting of a document and a script that InDesign Server executes on the document. As stated above, earlier incarnations only allowed the payload to include an InDesign Document (.indd) or InDesign Snippet (.idms), but 6.4 lets us send any document, as long as it passes our MIME-type filter. You can specify the MIME-type in the Process Arguments section of the workflow step. It helps to know the MIME-type of your content. You can use one of the many resources online to help identify common MIMI-types, but you may want to upload a file of the desired type to AEM and then examine its /jcr:content/metadata/dam:MIMEtype node to see what AEM thinks it is.

MIME Types

Specify the allowed MIME types for your scripts. The default is InDesign and InDesign Snippet.

You will also need to send a script that can process the payload and return the resulting file back to AEM. The Media Extraction workflow component reads and sends .jsx files, which contain the actual script code, to your InDesign Server. The built-in scripts are located at /libs/settings/dam/indesign/scripts/ and you should not move or change them. You can copy them to /apps/settings/dam/indesign/scripts/, or leave them in place and put your own scripts in /apps/settings/dam/indesign/scripts/. The critical thing to know is that the .jsx files are actually script fragments, and that they are designed to be concatenated into one script at runtime.

Scripts are concatenated from top to bottom in the list of scripts specified in Process Arguments

There are four sections in Process Arguments: ExtendScript Library, Init Script, Extend Scripts, and Cleanup Script. It is not recommended to modify the ExtendScript Library, located at /libs/settings/dam/indesign/scripts/cq-lib.jsx, as it provides important functions related to processing the inbound payload and to returning the resulting file back to AEM. Read and understand the helper functions provided by the ExtendScript library; you will be glad you did.

If you look at the default Init Script, located at /libs/settings/dam/indesign/scripts/Init.jsx, you’ll see that it contains an unclosed try {. This try { encloses the scripts indicated in the Extend Scripts section, and it closes in the Cleanup Script, located at /libs/settings/dam/indesign/scripts/Cleanup.jsx It continues with a catch{}, as expected, for error handling. This means that each of the Extend Scripts can leverage the work done and functions defined by the preceding scripts, including the ExtendScript Library and the Init Script, as the workflow component will combine the jsx files into one before sending the single, combined script to InDesign Server.

If you do not specify an Init Script and a Cleanup Script, the Media Extraction component will use the default scripts. Study these two scripts to see how to prepare to handle the inbound payload, how to process errors, and how to clean up the temporary files mess left during your processing. It is a good idea to use the existing Init.jsx and Cleanup.jsx files as the starting and ending points for your solution, so make copies (and name them something that stands out!) in /apps/settings/dam/indesign/scripts/ and modify those for production.

Example, please

Let’s look at an example called IDSBasedThumbnails, that you can download and install from github. The package contains the scripts and a workflow model, which performs the following actions on PDF, AI, PS or EPS files:

  • Sends the file to InDesign Server as a payload
  • Places, scales and centers the document on a new InDesign document
  • Exports the new document as thumbnails (PNG and JPEG)
  • Puts the exported files back in the repository at /jcr:content/renditions/
  • Wipes out the debris and closes InDesign Server

You might be asking why would anyone want to do this? Well, it turns out that AEM doesn’t have native rendering for EPS files, and the default DAM Update Asset workflow uses ImageMagick to generate previews from EPS files. I thought that it would be better to use InDesign Server, as it can handle not only EPS files, but also PDF, AI, PS and a whole set of other asset types. In addition, InDesign can simulate overprints and flatten complex transparency during the export, which makes it a very accurate way to deliver color-managed previews for assets used in printing processes. Think of packaging, where there’s a lot of use of overprinting varnishes and spot colors. Also, InDesign Server is super fast at making these renditions, operates as a dedicated image processing server, and can scale to meet demand without impacting the AEM Server. Let’s dig in to the workflow and see some example output.

MIME-type and ExtendScripts for making thumbnails with InDesign Server

MIME-type and ExtendScripts for making thumbnails with InDesign Server

As you can see above, we have many allowed MIME-types to cover the various assets we want to preview. If you try to run the workflow on a Word document, it will not work, as it won’t pass the initial MIME test. We’ve left the ExtendScript Library alone, but we’ve made new Init.jsx and Cleanup.jsx files that focused specifically on non-InDesign documents as payloads. The bulk of the work happens in EPSThumbnailExport.jsx, and we’ll highlight some of that script here.

The function called exportThumbnail() does the most of the work, and there’s a helper function called myGetBounds() at the end that returns the dimensions of the rectangle contained within the margins of the page. I’ve not included that below. Also, I’ve included comments to help explain what each of the sections of code is doing. Know that many of the inputs of the exportThumbnails() function are defined by the ExtendScript Library and the Init Script, which is why those are so important to read and understand.

function exportThumbnail(document, folderName, fileName, resourcePath, host, credentials) {
    var myDocument = app.documents.add();
    //set the margins to 0
    myDocument.marginPreferences.top = 0;
    myDocument.marginPreferences.left = 0;
    myDocument.marginPreferences.bottom = 0;
    myDocument.marginPreferences.right = 0;

    //The following assumes that your default master spread contains two facing pages.
    //We set the margins on the master spread to 0 as well, on the left and right pages
    myDocument.masterSpreads.item(0).pages.item(0).marginPreferences.top = 0;
    myDocument.masterSpreads.item(0).pages.item(0).marginPreferences.left = 0;
    myDocument.masterSpreads.item(0).pages.item(0).marginPreferences.bottom = 0;
    myDocument.masterSpreads.item(0).pages.item(0).marginPreferences.right = 0;
    myDocument.masterSpreads.item(0).pages.item(1).marginPreferences.top = 0;
    myDocument.masterSpreads.item(0).pages.item(1).marginPreferences.left = 0;
    myDocument.masterSpreads.item(0).pages.item(1).marginPreferences.bottom = 0;
    myDocument.masterSpreads.item(0).pages.item(1).marginPreferences.right = 0;

    //We set the page width and height to 319px, with portrait orientation
    myDocument.documentPreferences.pageHeight = "319px";
    myDocument.documentPreferences.pageWidth = "319px";
    myDocument.documentPreferences.pageOrientation = PageOrientation.portrait;

    //One page only
    myDocument.documentPreferences.pagesPerDocument = 1;

    //These settings control how InDesign Server handles black ink.
    //False means that InDesign will attempt to display how the black ink 
    //will interact with the substrate and the other inks in the job.
    //True will use a faster but less accurate model. The faster, less accurate model 
    //is the default behavior in InDesign, which is why we need to change the setting here.
    app.colorSettings.idealizedBlackToExport = false;
    app.colorSettings.idealizedBlackToScreen = false;


    //PNG export options here. 
    //Disable anti-alias to hide boundaries between atomic regions
    //created by transparency flattening
    app.pngExportPreferences.antiAlias = false;

    //All pages must be exported for PNG. We only have 1 page, 
    //but we need to specify the range
    app.pngExportPreferences.pngExportRange = PNGExportRangeEnum.EXPORT_ALL;

    //We want to simutate overprinting. This works 
    //in conjunction with the black setting above.
    app.pngExportPreferences.simulateOverprint = true;

    //We want the color space to be RGB.
    app.pngExportPreferences.pngColorSpace = PNGColorSpaceEnum.RGB;

    //We want a high quality PNG
    app.pngExportPreferences.pngQuality = PNGQualityEnum.HIGH;

    //Resolution set to 72 to generate 319 x 319 preview. 
    //We will adjust for each preview size.
    app.pngExportPreferences.exportResolution = 72;

    //Enable PNG transparency
    app.pngExportPreferences.transparentBackground = true;

    //JPEG export options here. The same settings apply for JPEG as for PNG
    app.jpegExportPreferences.antiAlias = false;
    app.jpegExportPreferences.simulateOverprint = true;
    app.jpegExportPreferences.jpegQuality = JPEGOptionsQuality.MAXIMUM;

    //Resolution set to 300 for high quality JPEG for zooming.
    app.jpegExportPreferences.exportResolution = 300;

    //Prepare for the thumbnail files
    var jpegRendition=new File(exportFolderThumbnail+"/"+"cq5dam.rendition.jpg");
    var thumbnail319=new File(exportFolderThumbnail+"/"+"cq5dam.thumbnail.319.319.png");
    var thumbnail140=new File(exportFolderThumbnail+"/"+"cq5dam.thumbnail.140.140.png");
    var thumbnail48=new File(exportFolderThumbnail+"/"+"cq5dam.thumbnail.48.48.png");
    var thumbnail1280=new File(exportFolderThumbnail+"/"+"cq5dam.web.1280.1280.png");

    //Create a new page in the document
    var myPage = myDocument.pages.item(0);

    //Get the page size as an array
    var myBounds = myGetBounds(myDocument, myPage);

    //Create a new text frame
    var myImageFrame = myDocument.pages.item(0).rectangles.add();

    //Make the image frame fill the page
    myImageFrame.geometricBounds = myBounds;

    //Ensure that the placed file will center in the frame and fit proportiionally
    myDocument.frameFittingOptions.properties.fittingAlignment=AnchorPoint.TOP_LEFT_ANCHOR;
    myDocument.frameFittingOptions.properties.fittingOnEmptyFrame=EmptyFrameFittingOptions.FILL_PROPORTIONALLY;
    myImageFrame.frameFittingOptions.properties.fittingAlignment=AnchorPoint.TOP_LEFT_ANCHOR;
    myImageFrame.frameFittingOptions.properties.fittingOnEmptyFrame=EmptyFrameFittingOptions.FILL_PROPORTIONALLY;

    //Remove the black stroke on the frame
    myImageFrame.strokeWeight = 0;  

    //Place the payload into the frame
    myImageFrame.place(sourceFile);

    //Fit the payload in the frame proportionally and centered
    myImageFrame.fit(FitOptions.PROPORTIONALLY);

    //Export the JPEG Rendition
    myImageFrame.exportFile(ExportFormat.JPG, jpegRendition);

    //Export the 319 thumbnail
    myImageFrame.exportFile(ExportFormat.PNG_FORMAT, thumbnail319);

    //adjust the resolution and export the 140 thumbnail
    app.pngExportPreferences.exportResolution = 32;
    myImageFrame.exportFile(ExportFormat.PNG_FORMAT, thumbnail140);

    //adjust the resolution and export the 48 thumbnail
    app.pngExportPreferences.exportResolution = 11;
    myImageFrame.exportFile(ExportFormat.PNG_FORMAT, thumbnail48);

    //adjust the resolution and export the 1280 thumbnail
    app.pngExportPreferences.exportResolution = 289;
    myImageFrame.exportFile(ExportFormat.PNG_FORMAT, thumbnail1280);

    //Close the temporary document without saving
    myDocument.close(SaveOptions.NO);

    //==== send files to AEM ====
    app.consoleout('Posting this file to AEM: ' + "cq5dam.rendition.jpg");
    app.consoleout('Posting to location: ' + target);
    putResource (host, credentials, jpegRendition, "cq5dam.rendition.jpg", 'image/jpeg', target);

    app.consoleout('Posting this file to AEM: ' + "cq5dam.thumbnail.140.140.png");
    app.consoleout('Posting to location: ' + target);
    putResource (host, credentials, thumbnail140, "cq5dam.thumbnail.140.140.png", 'image/png', target);

    app.consoleout('Posting this file to AEM: ' + "cq5dam.thumbnail.48.48.png");
    app.consoleout('Posting to location: ' + target);
    putResource (host, credentials, thumbnail48, "cq5dam.thumbnail.48.48.png", 'image/png', target);

    app.consoleout('Posting this file to AEM: ' + "cq5dam.web.1280.1280.png");
    app.consoleout('Posting to location: ' + target);
    putResource (host, credentials, thumbnail1280, "cq5dam.web.1280.1280.png", 'image/png', target);

    app.consoleout('Posting this file to AEM: ' + "cq5dam.thumbnail.319.319.png");
    app.consoleout('Posting to location: ' + target);
    putResource (host, credentials, thumbnail319, "cq5dam.thumbnail.319.319.png", 'image/png', target);

}

Once this script completes and all of the images have been written back to AEM via the putResource() calls, the Cleanup Script runs.

The result of this script is that all of the thumbnails for the specified Asset in DAM have been replaced with new thumbnails generated by InDesign Server. Here are some before and after images to give you an idea of the difference and why this model could be useful.

Previews without new workflow

Here are two EPS files and one PDF uploaded to DAM. ImageMagick preview has failed to generate a preview of the EPS files, and the PDF file shows no overprinting.

In order to run the workflow, you need to have InDesign Server installed, running, and your AEM instance needs to be configured to use InDesign Server. You can either open the workflow called DAM Update Asset with IDS Previews and run it on an asset from the Workflows panel, or you can open an asset and choose Run Workflow from the bottom of the Timeline panel for a specific asset. As configured, the workflow can’t run on a folder, since the MIME-Type filter doesn’t pass folders, so you need to run it one at a time on each asset. When you do, you will see the following result, and pay close attention to the difference in the PDF thumbnail:

Once the workflow generates previews, the new thumbnails replace the existing thumbnails with color accurate, overprint-simulated previews.

The PDF thumbnail now properly respects the overprint settings in the PDF, as well as in the EPS file. This is critical in managing assets that are designed to support print workflows that make use of overprinting and multi-ink composite colors, such as packaging and book covers. You might be wondering about why the previews for the CMYK Overprints.pdf and CMYK Overprints.eps are cropped differently. This is due to the way that InDesign interprets artwork boundaries when it imports assets. InDesign uses the page boundaries as defined in the EPS file when placing onto the page. PDF files can and often do have a number of boundaries available. InDesign, by default, will select the Bounding Box (Visible Layers Only) if it is available. This box is defined by the authoring application and typically exactly bounds the edges of any visible objects on the page as determined by layer visibility. You can learn more about PDF Bounding Boxes at this InDesign Secrets article.

InDesign defaults to the Bounding Box (Visible Layers Only) when importing PDF. You need to adjust the import preferences in your script if you want to change the default PDF import behavior.

InDesign defaults to the Bounding Box (Visible Layers Only) when importing PDF. You need to adjust the import preferences in your script if you want to change the default PDF import behavior.

The bounding boxes constants are: PDFCrop.cropPDF, PDFCrop.cropArt, PDFCrop.cropTrim, PDFCrop.cropBleed, PDFCrop.cropMedia, PDFCrop.cropContentAllLayers, PDFCrop.cropContentVisibleLayers. You can add a line before myImageFrame.place(sourceFile) to change the behavior to match how InDesign imports EPS files:

app.pdfPlacePreferences.pdfCrop = PDFCrop.cropMedia;

If you make the change, you will need to save the JSX, then reimport the JSX to your workflow, then re-sync your workflow in order for it to become available. Importing the JSX can be a confusing step, so let’s discuss that briefly. The built-in asset browser for JSX files doesn’t let you select a JSX from the file tree. It’s a known issue and it will be fixed in a later version of AEM, but for now, the Search bar is your best friend. Just enter the name of the JSX you want to import, and it’ll appear in the search results. Select it, and you’re all set.

Use the Search bar to reimport your modified JSX to the workflow step.

Use the Search bar to reimport your modified JSX to the workflow step.

Once you re-import the JSX, the change is automatically saved to the workflow, but the workflow needs to be synced to become active. Once you tap the Sync button, you’re ready to go.

Be sure to tap Sync after updating the workflow step.

Be sure to tap Sync after updating the workflow step.

After you update the JSX and re-sync the workflow, the PDF and EPS thumbnails will be similar.

After you update the JSX and re-sync the workflow, the PDF and EPS thumbnails will be similar.

You could also modify the DAM Update Asset workflow to remove ImageMagick and/or the built-in PDF renderers and replace them with a new step. You would likely want to expand the script to handle multi-page PDF and AI files, however. If you’d like to explore this option, here’s a great starting point from Mike Edel for importing multi-page PDF and AI into InDesign via scripting.

Conclusion

Being able to use InDesign Server to generate better previews for EPS and PDF and AI files is a nice new benefit of the new MIME-type options in the Media Extraction workflow. This is a relatively trivial example of what a developer can do with this new capability, however. You could create a workflow that sends a whole package of items to InDesign Server, which would do some action on those items, and then return a new file or other data to AEM. Integrators can develop new editorial and creative tools based on this new capability to enhance existing inDesign documents or create entirely new ones from scratch. We hope you will be inspired to add more InDesign Server to your AEM Assets workflows.

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Relinking placed content in Creative Cloud applications with assets from AEM

Customers who move from a file system to a Digital Asset Management (DAM) system such as Adobe Experience Manger Assets (AEM Assets) realize many benefits, including but not limited to more comprehensive search, access to augmented asset metadata, and workflows to syndicate content to multiple channels. Assets under management in many DAM systems tend to be locked in the DAM, accessible through a search interface that lets users collect assets for extraction from the DAM. Once the user downloads the assets, however, the “M” part of DAM breaks. This article presents best practices for allowing Creatives to use content from DAM such that DAM maintains control over the asset and the “M” part of DAM is preserved.

AEM Assets, like most modern DAM systems, provides two basic functions: asset and associated metadata storage, and access to those assets through a search interface in a browser. AEM offers a method to mount the repository on the desktop, exposing assets to end users as if they had been downloaded from DAM. When you combine search with the ability to expose assets as files, you get a very powerful combination that will be the subject of the rest of this article. AEM also provides robust workflows that can be activated through a variety of triggers. We will touch on workflows later in this article as a way to extend these core capabilities.

AEM 6.1 and higher has a UI preference to enable desktop actions. This means that if a user selects a file or folder, the user can choose to Reveal on desktop or Open on desktop. These actions are meaningful when you install the AEM Desktop Tool, which is a free application available on Mac and Windows. We will circle back to them in a few minutes.

The AEM Desktop Tool is a client that exposes the AEM Assets repository as an SMB file system. This allows any Creative Cloud desktop application to access DAM content without the need for any plugins or extensions. Download and install the AEM Desktop Tool from the Direct Download page. This page also shows any dependencies that may be required on the AEM side to support the current release of the Desktop Tool. Check with your AEM System Administrator to ensure that the correct packages are installed on AEM before you install the Desktop Tool. Once you have the packages installed and activated, you can install AEM Desktop. Once you install AEM Desktop, you can mount your AEM Assets server as a volume on your desktop. Login using your Author credentials.

Mount AEM Assets action on desktop

Once you login, your AEM Assets repository appears as a mounted volume.

DAM mounted as a volume

To enable desktop actions in AEM, you need to enable a setting in your user preferences in AEM. Navigate to your Preferences page (path varies depending on your AEM version, but is is usually found under your profile image in the upper right hand corner of the screen) and enable Show desktop actions for Assets. Click Accept and you’re ready to go.

Enable "Show desktop actions for Assets"  Additional contextual menu items

Reveal on desktop and Open on desktop actions appear when you navigate to an asset or folder in the Assets interface in AEM. Hover over a folder in Assets to see the Reveal on desktop icon, and hover over an asset in Assets to see the Open on desktop icon. Reveal in desktop is available under the more… indicator. Both of these actions will appear in the rail on an asset details page.

Desktop actions on an asset     Reveal on Desktop on a folder

Now that we have the plumbing installed, let’s turn to best practices.

Updating linked assets from DAM

The most common question I encounter from customers who have moved their assets to DAM is “how do I relink my images in DAM from InDesign?” followed by “How do I relink my images in DAM from Illustrator?” This question arises because when these assets were stored on a desktop computer or on a file server, all of the linked images also resided on the same desktop computer or file server. When the assets were ingested into DAM, they no longer appear in the same path, so InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop get confused as to where these assets are in relation to the files in which they have been placed. Reveal on desktop turns out to be a deceptively simple solution. Follow these steps to relink your assets from DAM in your layout document.

  1. Open your layout document. For the sake of illustration, let’s use InDesign. InDesign will tell you that the links are broken and that they need to be updated. DO NOT LET INDESIGN automatically update the links. We need to do this manually in order to ensure that we make the right connections.
  2. Select the first image in the Links panel
  3. Choose Relink… from the Links panel. A file system browser will open. Do not browse to a file.
  4. Switch to your browser and navigate to AEM Assets
  5. Open your Search interface
  6. Search for the asset by filename or other metadata
  7. Reveal it on desktop. It will now come in focus in your file browser, and it will be selected.
  8. Drag the file onto your already open InDesign relink… file browser.
  9. Release the file and the InDesign relink… file browser will now have your DAM asset selected.
  10. Click open to relink the image.

If you have other images in the same DAM folder, you can then relink to the folder. When you run out of images to link, repeat the Relink…, Search, drag, Open pattern until your InDesign document has all new links. Once you are done, save the InDesign document locally so that you can make changes. Once your document goes through your approval process, upload it to DAM as a new document or as a new version of one already in DAM.

While this may sound cumbersome, once you get the hang of it, it will feel like second nature. Over time, as you make new documents using images in DAM, instead of starting with Relink…, start with Place… or just drag the found-and-revealed image onto your layout. InDesign will link to the image in DAM, and the next time you open the InDesign file, it will be properly connected. If you’d like to see an example, watch this short video.

 

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New life for old PostScript printers using CUPS

I have the good fortune to own a Xerox DocuColor 3535 printer. In its day, it was a workhorse, delivering oversized tab pages in full color at blazing speeds (for the early 2000s).  Mine happens to be the one with the embedded Fiery Controller, which had a lot of features, but wasn’t considered as robust as the external Fiery EX3535 or the Creo Spire RIPs that were available at the same time. Nevertheless, this machine is a trooper, producing high quality output year after year.

Unfortunately for me but also very understandably, Xerox stopped supporting this printer a long, long time ago. As a result, the last supported MacOSX version that works with the printer is 10.5. Yikes! Fortunately for me, the Fiery Command Workstation Java app still works, and it allows me to download PostScript and PDF files to the printer. The result is a clunky workflow that requires me to print to PS files on my desktop, as PDF jobs above the Acrobat 5 days will fail due to transparency and other issues, and then manually load them to the printer. This workflow was acceptable, and since it let me eke another few years out of the printer, I was not complaining.

Until yesterday, when I needed to print an XFA PDF from Acrobat. What the heck is an XFA PDF, you ask? Well, let’s gather ’round the fire for a moment and we’ll talk about it.

All PDF files aren’t created equally. Acrobat and Reader are very good at hiding this from you, which is by design. From Adobe’s perspective, the user shouldn’t need to worry whether a digital document was made using traditional PDF methods such as Distiller, a print driver, using a PDF library, or some other standards compliant method. For most applications, PDF is a way to describe the content and geometry of a document. Its roots are in PostScript, so it is no surprise that PDF is often viewed as synonym for digital paper. Over time, PDF evolved to include many interactive features such as the ability to play video, run JavaScript, and even play Flash content. Even with the interactive features of a rich PDF, however, PDF is really the closest we can get to Harry Potter paper. The pages all have a definite size, the fonts don’t change when you reorient the reading application, and the experience is definitely not responsive like a web page. This is OK, though, as PDF in its current form for most people is really about paper replacement, and as such there is no equal to PDF.

Now, Adobe gave PDF to the world as a standard in 2007 as ISO 32000-1 to promote the broader adoption of the format and to encourage companies to build solutions that can consume PDF built using traditional methods. You can purchase a PDF of the PDF Standard at the ISO 32000-1:2008 specification download page or download a free PDF version of the PDF Spec at the Adobe Developer Connection. Kind of meta, right? Also included in the PDF specification is a section about forms. As you are likely aware, PDF files can also behave like forms, and there is a forms editing capability in Acrobat that’s designed to help convert a paper form into a digital form. Using Acrobat’s built-in tools, you can take a picture of or scan a paper form, prepare the form, type on it to complete it, and then send it for electronic signature. Pretty awesome, if all you want to do is replicate a paper process.

Now, deep in the PDF specification is a section about XFA, or XML Forms Architecture. XFA is a PDF variant that is the basis of JetForms’ Accelio’s Adobe’s  LiveCycle solution, which is now known as Adobe AEM Forms. The idea is that a document could be written not as something based on a page description like a sheet of digital paper, but rather as a structured array of content that could be rendered on the fly by Acrobat or other rendering technology. It was designed for forms, because in many cases, form responses were longer or larger than the space provided. With XFA, the form can just magically get longer to accommodate. It also allowed forms designers to include interactive and design features for the person who completes the form, such as buttons to add and delete sections or fields to a form, network connections to database solutions so that the form can have up-to-date content, and much more. This all sounds amazing, right?

While Acrobat can make a form using form fields, these Acrobat-made form fields are fixed on the page in location and dimension, and the average user can’t modify the layout of the page to accommodate more content. Acrobat can’t make an XFA form, but it can read, display and  XFA forms. In order to make XFA forms, you need to use the Adobe LiveCycle Forms Designer or make it through automation using AEM Forms. LiveCycle Designer was previously included as a component of LiveCycle and in other desktop software bundles, but it is now only available to LiveCycle and AEM Forms customers. Why, you ask? XFA is used heavily by Insurance, Financial Services, Health Care and Government customers who use the business process, security, digital signature, document automation, system integration, and other capabilities of LiveCycle or AEM Forms. In addition, while XFA is included in the PDF specification, few other companies have invested resources in developing solutions around XFA PDF. This includes reading and viewing and interacting with an XFA PDF, so the only way to read, view and interact with an XFA PDF is to use Acrobat or Reader on a desktop computer. This is just fine when the intent is to enable workers in an Enterprise to engage with Enterprise business process using complex forms, but for the general user, it’s overkill.

This doesn’t mean that companies don’t use LiveCycle Designer to make standalone forms, which takes us back to the original premise. The Boy Scouts of America uses LiveCycle Designer to produce a the forms that Scouts use to manage and make the final reports for their Eagle Scout project. This form is great, because the Scout can use it as a notebook for their project. It includes fields with text, tables and photographs, and it allows the Scout to add and remove fields as necessary to accommodate the details of their project. For my son, this document grew to 34 pages and over 30 MB due to the inclusion of many photographs of his project. Now, even though the form is electronic, the local group that reviews the Eagle Rank Advancement wants a printed binder that includes these 34 pages as well as some other content, which is why I needed to print the PDF in the first place.

Printing the PDF proved to be very challenging. My usual method of uploading the PDF to the Fiery didn’t work, since the Fiery doesn’t support XFA PDF. I knew this ahead of time, so I tried to convert to PostScript from Acrobat. This also didn’t work. I knew that I could print to my inkjet printer without issue, so I decided to see if I could print to the 3535.

I remembered that Apple’s printing system is based on CUPS, their open source *nix printing architecture. I also know that it supports a wide array of network connections and adheres to the PostScript Printer Description model of defining the capabilities and limitations of a printer. I knew that while the printer has a built-in AppleTalk server and a built-in port 9100 server, neither of these connections work with modern Mac OS. I also remembered that the printer makes a Windows printer, and I was unsuccessful in printing to this printer.

I wanted to look at the options for the printer, which means either using the embedded web server (which doesn’t support anything beyond Internet Explorer on a Mac. Seriously.) or using Command Workstation 5. The Printer Setup utility requires the Apple-provided Java 6, so I needed to install that in addition to Java 8 (which I use for other applications, including Adobe Experience Manager). Now that I had Java 6 installed and Command Workstation 5 installed, I found the LPD and IPP options buried under the Service2 tab of the Network Setup. Nice! I ensured that these were enabled and went back to my Mac to try an add the printer. With the proper PPD in hand (I downloaded the software installer from Xerox), I opened up System Preferences and then the Printers & Scanners option, then clicked the + button to add a printer. I tried first with IPP, and I was unable to add a printer. I next tried with LPD, and again was unable to add a printer. In both cases, you need to specify the IP address, the queue you want to target (in my case I want the hold queue), and the PPD. Then I remembered that the printing system is CUPS, and that CUPS has a console.

The web interface to CUPS is off by default. You can enable it by going to Terminal and running the command “cupsctl WebInterface=yes”

Now that the CUPS web interface is enabled, open http://localhost:631 and you will see CUPS in all its 1994-styled glory, complete with buttons and hyperlinks that all tell you exactly what they will do. This interface is designed to be USEFUL, not pretty, so don’t go all UX on me now. You want the Administration tab, so click it and then click on Add Printer under the Printers section. You will need to enter your administrator’s user name and password, which is expected. You will now see several sections, including your installed printers, printers that CUPS can see, and also a the bottom, the Other Network Printers section. You want to click the radio button (I told you it was antique) next to LPD/LPR Host or Printer, then click the Continue button.

Select LPD/LPR

Select LPD/LPR Host or Printer

On the next screen,  enter the complete URI for your printer, including protocol and queue. For me, I used “lpd://192.168.1.22/hold” There are three queues available on this device: “lpd://192.168.1.22/direct” “lpd://192.168.1.22/hold” and “lpd://192.168.1.22/print” Enter your URI, then click the Continue button.

Enter your URI with protocol and print queue

Enter your URI with protocol and print queue

On the sext screen, enter a name and description for the printer. The name needs to be web friendly, so no spaces or slashes or hashes. If you want, you can also share the printer so others in your house or work group can access the printer. If you do, then your computer will become a print spooler for the Xerox machine, so be prepared for network activity if you’re in a company or group with several folks who’ve been jonesing to print to your 3535. IN addition, you will need to go back to the CUPS Administration page and enable the “Share printers connected to this system” option, which will force a restart of CUPS on your computer. When you’ve finished debating the pros and cons of becoming a print server, click the Continue button.

Add a name and description to your printer.

Add a name and description to your printer.

Now, this is the part where you need your PPD. Click the Choose File button, and browse to your languishing PPD from the turn of the century.  Once you’ve selected click Create Printer.

The final step is to add your PPD.

The final step is to add your PPD.

Voila! You now have a functional printer that prints to the Xerox 3535 embedded Fiery hold queue. You should see a page asking you to set the default options for the printer, which are defined by the PPD. These will apply to every job you send if you do not override the defaults, so it’s a good idea to browse through the settings one by one and tune them to your specific setup. Once satisfied, click the Set Default Options button.

Set the default printer options for your printer

Set the default printer options for your printer

After you set the default options, you should send a test page. Return to the CUPS page and click on the Printers tab, then on your newly minted printer. You should see two drop-down menus under the printer status line. Click Maintenance and then choose Print Test Page. This will send a test page to your 3535’s hold queue. You’ll need to go to Command Workstation to verify that the page was sent, but can get instant satisfaction if you built a printer that points to the print queue instead of the hold queue.

Be sure to print a test page to validate your setup.

Be sure to print a test page to validate your setup.

All of this work was to print an XFA PDF, remember?  Heading back to Acrobat, I was able to print a copy of my son’s Eagle Scout paperwork lickety split on my very old, out of support PostScript laser printer. If you’ve got one of these or other older seemingly unsupported PostScript printers lying around, power them up and see if you can use CUPS and a PPD to get them back in service again.

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