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If you want to take the plunge into the world of Adobe Creative Suite automation, then The Designer's Apprentice is a good place to start.

Book Review: The Designer’s Apprentice By Rick Ralston

While using Photoshop, Illustrator, or InDesign, did you ever find yourself manually repeating the same tasks and think there must be a better way? Perhaps you were even aware that actions existed in Photoshop, but were either too busy or too afraid to spend the time to learn them. The Designer’s Apprentice was written to help get you started, and keep you going well down the road.

The techniques illustrated in The Designer’s Apprentice were developed out of necessity by author Rick Ralston during his 15-year career as a graphics design professional with the Coca-Cola Company in Atlanta. The book was written out of his frustration with the lack of adequate documentation, and holistic discussion of graphics automation. The other problem was that most other documentation on the subject assumes you know more than what you do, or that if you are not an expert, you have no business working with this technology anyway.

The Designer’s Apprentice is 252 pages, divided into 12 chapters, and three parts. I will break this down into the three parts; Automation Concepts, Tools, and Projects. The book focuses on three products: Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign, of which the author requests you be familiar with and have a good understanding of at least one of these. Most of the examples are posted at the Peachpit website.

Part I, “Concepts,” begins by explaining what automation is and how we can find it in our everyday lives, right down to our beating hearts. The author defines automation as a set of editable commands a computer can execute to perform a task. You will learn you can use automation to do things like resize files, apply filters, apply copyrights, edit text, find and replace, merge data, and export data, as well as a whole host of other operations to include doing multiple tasks as a single item.

Part II, “Tools,” will expose you to the tools available for automating Adobe Creative Suite. These include Actions, scripting, Automator (Mac), data-driven publishing, and server-based applications, as well as third party programs. With Actions, you can record and play back steps that perform an action. You can also halt and accept user input. Scripting comes in three flavors: AppleScript on Mac’s only, JavaScript on Mac and PC, and VBScript on PC’s only. Automator is the automation program that is built into Mac OS X operating system.

Each of the three Creative Suite products employs their own versions of Data-Driven Publishing (DDP). DDP allows you to target your market better by driving portions of your output to the correct target by data-driving it.

The author also covers other time saving devices such as QuickKeys, which is a macro software that records your mouse movements and keystrokes, and plays them back on demand, third party editors that allow data clean up, triggering software such as iCal, or iDo on the Mac, or Task Scheduler and Automate on Windows. He also describes server based graphic solutions such as DeBabelizer Pro; to automate optimizing, manipulating, raster images, Adobe Graphics Server; which also processes raster images, produces data-driven raster images, and creates data-driven SVG files.

Part III, “Projects,” is four chapters that take you through scenarios. Say you own a graphic design studio and you have a client who wants you to design a campaign to increase awareness in the new retail spaces they have. The chapters break out in to Photoshop automation, Illustrator automation, InDesign automation, and a system project, which links the three together.

The Designer’s Apprentice is overall a good book. It does a great job of covering actions and scripting. Since I do not have a Mac, I cannot truly surmise on Automator. The server section is too thin to be of more than informational use, and most users are not going to be interested in server installations that range from $4,000 to $60,000 dollars. If they did, covering it in seven pages would not be where they would make or base their decision. The rest of the book, however, was quite informative.

If you want to take the plunge into the world of Adobe Creative Suite automation, then The Designer’s Apprentice is a good place to start. You will find the basics of how to perform menial tasks without having to do them yourself. You will have, in essence, a designer’s apprentice.

About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.

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