Aperture's book worms

Not long ago, I implored you to commit your most precious images to hard copy form and, as was rightly pointed out in the forum by Xenophos, the best way to do this is to put them in a photo book. I couldn’t agree more.

Aperture 3’s book layout tools are vastly improved over version 2, with better control over some crucial design elements. Among my favourite are the improved text handling tools you invoke using the ⌘-T key combination. My favourite button in the pane that pops up is the letter width tool, which looks like this:

Professionals refer to letter width adjustments as tracking and kerning. Tracking adjusts the amount of width space applied to all body text and kerning applies to adjusting the space between a pair of letters. You can use A3’s letter width tool to both track and kern. Select all text to adjust tracking, or select a pair of letters to adjust kerning.

And what’s the big deal? The big deal is that going to the trouble to adjust tracking and kerning to improve legibility can add a professional touch to your books. For instance, in most fonts, a capital A and a capital V have a huge gap between them that can impair the way the human eye scans across a page. Kerning them so that they are closer together improves legibility.

You can use tracking creatively, too, by putting additional space between letters. Think of the poster for the film Aliens as an example of this treatment. Best not to to over-use that one, though. It’s already a bit tired. I can’t offer a lesson in tracking/kerning techniques here. It’s not really my strong suit but, if you want to know more, you could have a look at some tutorials here.

I won’t say any more on it, other than to suggest an exercise. In a new book layout, enter the words “This is a headline” into the cover’s default text box — which is the only text box on the page, you can’t miss it. Then select the text and hit that ⌘-T combo. Then start playing around with tracking and kerning. I won’t tell you how to make it look better. Just look at what happens and decide for yourself. You’ve had plenty of practise reading, so let your own eyes be your guide. As an example, I’m a fan of the HeadlineA font for, well, headlines. Problem is the spacing between words is massive, as if you had hit the space bar twice, so I always select the first and last letters of adjoining words and track them together.

This is just one new feature among many that makes A3’s book layout mode a terrific way to get your photos and the stories behind them into print and looking sharp. However, there is one aspect of ordering a book from Apple that might lead to tearing your hair out. It involves managing the title on the front cover and the associated spine text. I’ll outline the problem and offer some workarounds.

The problem: If you didn’t already know, A3 automatically generates a PDF when you push the “Buy Book” button. Generating the text that goes on the spine of your book is built in to the PDF creation process that A3 undertakes to generate files to be sent to the printer. The spine text is picked up from the default text box on the front cover. If you use two lines of heading, and do so by using a hard return, A3’s PDF generation can't parse it as a single line of text for the spine and truncates the second line. It’s there, but you can’t see it. In some fonts at some sizes, you may see the ascenders (ie the top of an L or P) jutting from the bottom into the line of spine text you can see. This is hardly acceptable.

A3 also defaults the text colour on the spine to black, so if you have a black background the spine text is entirely obscured. You can’t see it. Again, it’s there, but you can’t see it.

The workarounds: If you want to use two lines of heading in one text box, you can work the automated spine text process in your favour as long as you’re not creating a cover with a very dark or black background. Here’s how.

Enter the title in the default text box. Make it any size you want but small is best. Manoeuvre the text box to a position on the cover where it won’t obscure other page elements and lies within an area of solid colour. On a wraparound cover, you can even move it to the back cover. Then use the text colour tool to sample the colour around that text box and apply that colour to the text. This will cause the text to merge seamlessly with the background. However, A3’s PDF generates a line of black text for the spine. You are then free to add additional text boxes to the cover page to handle headline text in any way you like.

Multiple lines, different fonts, sizes and colours — whatever you do with additional text boxes won’t affect the spine text, as long as you don’t delete the original default text box.

But what if you have a cover with a black background? There’s a way to get white type on the spine. In fact it’s better than the previous workaround, as long as you’re using a wraparound cover. You simply create a new text box, enter the title, choose an appropriate size — nine or ten points is good for most fonts — and rotate the text 270 degrees. The rotation tool is in the Layout Options pane, which you hide or reveal from the gears icon menu that sits under the page thumbnails.

To get this vertically-aligned text box dead centre in the wraparound layout for your cover, create a guide by adding another text box sized to exactly the width of the cover. The text box “handles” located in the centre of this empty text box will reveal the dead centre of the wraparound layout. You can also use an empty picture box but you should remember to delete these empty boxes before sending the book to be printed.

One last tip is to be sure to softproof your book. After you press the “Buy Book” button to get your order under way, there is an option to preview the book in PDF form. You should definitely do this is you want to be certain your workarounds with the book title haven’t generated any unexpected outcomes. If you do see something unexpected (and there may be other glitches in the book during the PDF generation), cancel the order and go back to the drawing board.

I’ve noticed when ordering the extra-large book size that elements can slide around the page when the PDF is generated. This may lead to a white border around an image that appeared to be flush to the edge of the page when you were designing the book. The simple workaround is to go back to the photo box, select it, and resize the photo box so that its edges lie beyond the edges of the page. This may be tricky with tightly cropped shots that already are near the edge of the page. You may need to re-crop an image or select a different image. I haven’t seen these anomalies occur when creating the smaller sizes of books, so I have a suspicion there may be something weird happening under the hood.

To finish up, I want to offer some kudos to the people at Apple online services, who did an amazing job helping me while I worked through the problems that led me to offering you these workarounds. I ordered an extra-large, 82-page book through Apple that came back with an inking error on one of the pages. It looked like a bit of hair or fluff had landed on the paper during printing, preventing the ink from coating properly.

When I registered a complaint, the cost of the book was refunded without question. When I re-ordered the book, Kit at Apple internet services, upon his own initiative, picked up that there was an issue with the spine text and cancelled the order on my behalf so I could fix the problem and re-submit the order. I then went to the trouble of outlining the problems I’d been having, along with my workarounds, and complained that A3 doesn’t offer users enough flexibility in managing title text and spine text.

Apple responded by saying my concerns had been passed on to the Pro Apps group for further support. Each of these email exchanges involving book order issues were turned around within hours. Apple has been getting some pretty bad press lately and while I’m not yet sure if it deserves the negative coverage that “antenna-gate” has caused, I do know of many instances in the past when Apple support has gone totally off the rails. When that happens, Apple deserves a rap on the knuckles. However, there are times when exceptional customer service deserves to be highlighted. And this is one of those times.

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