Adobe InDesign Students, Please Create e-books. Or at Least Use Agri-fiber if You Must Print on Paper

As your career begins and progresses, step ahead and embrace a paperless world. Read Cradle to Cradle and understand the premise by McDonough and Braungart that trees are better left in the ground. Paper is “not a fitting resource to use in producing so humble and transient a substance as paper.”

In a thorough article by Eric Benson in the 2019 CA Typography Annual the concept of agri-based papers such as paper made from sugarcane, bamboo and the byproduct of wheat (straw) should be a design rule for the production of your printed work.

Benson reminds us that in 1975, Business Week predicted that personal computers would reduce the need for paper usage at work. This would be the so-called paperless office. Unfortunately, in 2016, global paper usage increased to 413 metric tons. 50% more than in 1980.

So, what is the cause of such an increase in societies that have been defined by the information age. Population is obvious, but there must be more answers. I am open to hearing your answers and following up on this topic with whatever you come up with. Keep designing with InDesign and keep learning every day at SFJ Academy.

The Principal,
Foster Johnson


After Effects is still the Swiss Army Knife for Digital Media

I recently completed three days of After Effects instruction for my long term contract employer at their west coast location. Future Media Concepts trains employees of major businesses here in southern California at their offices in Irvine. You can come take a class or visit Rodney there for more information. Locate them at 18301 Von Karman Avenue in Suite 570 in Irvine California

After Effects is more than 26 years old, released in 1993. It is a fascinating program within the Adobe Creative Cloud. Adobe has kept the initial metaphor of an animation stand and has held true to many of the original interface iconography and default layout. And that is interesting because it proves how well the original application design by the
Company of Science and Art was conceived.

I call it the Swiss Army Knife of Media. It functions uniquely for so many full time jobs and succeeds at everything from motion graphics, rotoscoping and the motion tracking of elements. It’s ability to maintain resolution independence by building shape elements and masks and the high integrity import of it’s sister application, Adobe Illustrator ensure crisp and perfect rasterization of vector art. This means your logo is as sharp as the resolution of the device presenting it.

Students aren’t always aware of the many things this program can do. It is always a surprise to learn more each day and explore the many methods and activities that one can create.

Erica and Blanca from Van’s Shoes corporate.

For the two seasoned digital artists from Vans Shoes in Costa Mesa the experience was one of enlightenment.

This program can be complex and difficult to get used to. Some times we were frustrated and even disappointed.

remembering the frustration.

But by the end we were having a blast.

Join me next time at FMC or at the Academy, right here online or in person. I think you will have a great time. I know you will add to your tool kit. And your skill-set will sharpen greatly with Adobe’s Swiss Army Knife of video, cinema and digital media.

After Effects Training by The Principal


Foster Johnson
The Principal at SFJ Academy.

Can You Teach my Group a 3 Day Class in 4 Hours?

A request came in to the principal’s office. A company wanted to learnĀ  how to use InDesign to typeset books. The request came across my desk with a list of 12 topics they wanted to cover. The interesting part of the request was the part about covering the list in 4 hours. I won’t go into detail about the contents of the list. Let’s just say it covered what I typically have my instructors cover in a three day Basic Intro to Adobe InDesign class. Obviously not in detail and not topic for topic, but this list was quite comprehensive.

In an effort to reduce Scrap Learning throughout the Academy (and the entire world for that matter), let’s examine the request from the perspective of a challenge requiring a valid solution.

Since there are twelve points of interest, the simple math would dictate 20 minutes per topic.

I believe that an InDesign expert could definitely demo each point successfully in 20 minutes, as I have been tasked to do many times in the past as a consultant not a teacher.

The real test is whether participants can execute any of the activities that are demonstrated at any point in the following three days.

It is my belief that they cannot and most likely will not. They have seen how to di it, but they did not actually have time to try it so they have not learned how to do it. If they could, the link to online tutorials and subsequent queries online would have answered their questions and supplied them with the skills (to a level) where they would not be seeking training.

Don’t Just Watch, Try
Training should include time for each participant to try “to success” each task in its entirety. In my short experience as an instructor I can safely say that a 20 minute demo, deserves a 20 minute hands-on exercise or set of exercises to reinforce and “brain stamp” the activity.

Can’t We Just Buy Four Hours of Training?
The answer is no. Four hours is a waste of time. Eight hours is about right, but as usual only if the participants understand the tool.

If they have no usage, are unable to learn the basic interface elements, and how the engineers at Adobe have built the app to do what it is designed to do, then pagination from master pages and typography are skill topics that are actually outside of the application. A publication designer should know both. Layout and typography should be basic knowledge. How InDesign accommodates these skills as tasks is too far a concept apart from the actual execution of these tasks.

Know the Tool Before You Try to Use It
If the basic mechanics and workflow of the app itself are not thoroughly understood a learner will waste time trying to memorize a step-by-step example instead of learning or discovering those steps as the application offers them (i.e. via menu commands, panels of tasks, context clicking).

SFJ Academy has a syllabus, the class detailed on the syllabus is what I sell. If customers are seeking to cut costs and corners by configuring what I sell into a shorter faster solution, they should be aware that there is then no guarantee that any participant will learn anything.

That guarantee is part of the concept of a serious endeavor attempted, worked through thoroughly and accomplished with sufficient time involved. Even a publication designer who started with PageMaker or Quark two or three decades ago will benefit from such a process.

It is “that process” that we sell. Success cannot easily be achieved by providing coverage of a short list of topics. The process involves the time, the desk, a modern appropriate system and the offer to let you focus with no distractions on the task to be learned. You can find an explanation on a list of topics anywhere where there is a search bar. We sell learning.

Have InDesign render a gray-scale version of a full color photo.

Managing updates and revisions to both a full color version and a gray-scale version of the same image manually is not easy. Allow InDesign to offer (on import) either version. To do this, take advantage of a feature in Adobe Photoshop called Layer Comps.

The problem can be illustrated with a document that uses a full color version of a photo in one graphic frame and a black and white version of the photo in a second graphic frame. You could simply create a color version and save a copy as a black and white photo. However revisions and updates now require twice the work and twice the caution.

Instead, open the image in Photoshop. Save the image file as a Photoshop Document file. A PSD. By saving the tiff or jpeg or png as a PSD, InDesign will recognize the Layer Comp feature and allow you to make a choice as to which Layer Comp you’d like to apply when you import the file. Make sure to check the option to “Show Import Options”. This is a check-box that should be selected in the lower right area of the Place dialog box.

How do Layer Comps work? The quick answer is that Layer Comps are stored “states” of the settings you can apply to the Layers in a Photoshop Layer’s Panel. You can store the visibility, position and appearance properties of any layer in a Layer Comp.

In Photoshop the first task is to make sure the Adjustments panel is open (normally nested above the Layers panel). Click right next to the Scales (Color Balance) there is a small icon that looks like a box, split down the middle. One side is filled in. The other is not. This button creates a new Black and White Adjustment Layer.

Bring up the Layer Comps panel. You can open it from the Window menu in Photoshop. Click the Create New Layer Comp icon it is a button, in the lower left corner of the dialog box. Name the Layer Comp, perhaps calling it “Black and White version”. Make sure the Apply to Layers: Visibility check box is checked.

Return to the Layers panel. Uncheck the “indicates Layers visibility” switch. It looks like an open eye. This will hide the Black and White Adjustment Layer and remove the effect it has on the layer’s below. Thereby returning your image to full color. You’ll need to save this state of the Layers panel as a new Layer Comp. Click on the Create New Layer Comp button again. Give the Layer Comp a useful name, perhaps “Full Color Version”. Save the PSD file.

When you are ready to import the color version from within InDesign. Select the Place command, make sure the “Show Import Options” check box is checked. Import the PSD file. In the dialog box that opens, look in the lower right side, there will be a drop down menu with the Layer Comp versions available to choose. Choose the Layer Comp for the full color version.


Import the same file again, only this time choose the gray-scale version.


You can now update a single file at anytime back in Photoshop. The state of the layer comps will always be available on update and on import when you return to InDesign.


Great tip for automatic alignment of an InDesign facing page layout

Here’s a possible solution to a problem a student described about the requirement to insert a new left side page into a spread and thereby making the original page 3 end up as page 4, the image was then next to the spine, when it was meant to remain on the outer edge of the page.

Q. How can you create a facing page layout, that automatically keeps a mirror format relative to the spine of a facing page spread.

A. An example of this problem could be a two column facing page layout, that has a left front cover 1 spread in the middle and a back cover (page 6). You’d like to add another page to eventually change the content on one side of the spread. The spread page or pages has a design where a photo covers the top portion of the outside column and forces a text wrap away from all sides of the photo. The problem arises when you attempt to insert a single page into the left facing page of the spread. After doing so, the photo that was on the left on page 2 is now on the left of page 3 and therefore is no longer a mirror of the design structure (where the photo is always over the outermost column away from the spine).


The solution is to use an inline graphic container for the photos. Anchor the inline graphic and apply a conditional anchor based upon the anchor object’s position away from the spine. See the illustration.

The setting that you would set in the Anchored Object Options dialog box after selecting “Custom” in the drop down menu is to check the option “Relative to Spine”. Then set the Anchored Object’s Reference Point box so that it is selected on the left edge (automatically on the right edge as well) and in the middle vertically.

A Position of Custom, and Relative to Spine setting can also be applied to any object on the page including text as long as the object is inline in a text frame. The frame itself can hold nothing more than empty paragraphs with insertion points for the relative to spine aligned objects. To make an object an inline object quickly, leave a copy on the paste board. Copy it and paste it into the text frame as if it were text.

Upon insertion of an extra page. The photo will always anchor to the outermost column, in flow with the page break and inline with the appropriate position in the copy.