02 Aug

Volume purchasing of software

Apple Volume Purchasing Plan

If you want to purchase software from Ghostotter e.g. Barcode Basics, Ai Auto Save etc on behalf of a business or organisation then here’s a tip. We’re hooked up with Apple’s Mac App Store, so you can take advantage of Apple’s Volume Purchasing Plan. The Volume Purchasing Plan makes it easier to purchase and distribute software in bulk for your organisation.

At the time of writing, the Volume Purchasing Plan is available in the following countries: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Spain, United Kingdom, United States.

Of course, you can still purchase individual copies of our software from the Mac App Store in the usual way if you prefer.

More info on Apple’s Volume Purchasing Plan

07 Jul

Do you know your BWR?

We’ve recently had a couple of users of Barcode Basics (our mac barcode software) ask us what BWR is.

BWR stands for Bar Width Reduction. This allows you to reduce the width of each individual bar in your barcode by a certain amount. A common mistake is to specify a BWR as a minus number which in fact leads to an increase in bar width.

Of course, there are some rare occasions where you might need to increase bar width. However, remember that to reduce bar width, you need to have a positive BWR value.

Why do we use BWR?

The width of the bars in a bar code is important and needs to be precise to ensure they will scan properly. Depending on how you’re printing you bar code, you might find that the width of the bars increases when you print them. Think of how the ink spreads when you draw on tissue paper with a marker pen. This could result in the barcode not scanning properly.

This ink spread is especially common in commercial printing using a traditional printing press, rather than the type of printer you probably have on your desktop. So, to make sure the printed bars are the right width, we reduce the width of the bars in our code by using the appropriate BWR value.

How do I know what BWR value to use?

For most types of digital printing, including desktop laser printers you almost certainly don’t need any BWR, so just set it to zero. If you can, make a code, print it and scan it to make sure it works (there are several good barcode scanners for iOS and Android phones). If the barcode scans then your BWR is fine. If not then you may need to experiment.

If your code is going to be printed commercially on a printing press of some description then its a good idea to speak to the printing company and ask what BWR setting you should use. If they don’t know then alarm bells should ring – a reputable printer really should know that!

Scanning your code

There are several barcode scanning apps for iOS and Android on their respective app stores. You could also use a hand held scanner such as this one (click the image for more info):

scanner

…none of them will check your BWR, of course, but if you can successfully scan your printed code then your BWR was correct.

While we have your attention, why not check out our flagship barcode app on the Mac App Store?

Barcode Basics on the Mac App Store

05 Jul

Automated image processing on Mac OS X

cogs

If you’ve ever had to convert a few hundred images from tiff to png, create thumbnails of them you’ll know how time consuming and boring it can be. It can also be surprisingly error prone as your mind drifts off halfway through to think about what you’re up to at the weekend. Computers were supposed to relieve us of this kind of drudgery, right?

Luckily, every Mac has a powerful system lurking under the hood called ‘sips’ (Scriptable Image Processing System). You can use it to do all sorts of interesting things to raster images (eg. jpeg, tiffs, png etc) without ever having to fire up Photoshop. In this article I’m going to show you some simple uses of sips, and how to roll them up into a handy Automator workflow.

A quick into to sips
First, lets fire up the Terminal. It’s just an app that lets us work on the command line and you’ll find it in /Applications/Utilities. Type the following at the prompt:

sips -s format png

…next, drag any image file other than a png file into the Terminal. You should now have something in your Terminal that looks like this:

sips -s format png /path/to/your/file.jpg

That tells sips that we want to change the format of the image we dropped to a png. All we need to do now is to tell it where to put the resulting file. We can do this by adding –out followed by the location of the file we want to be created, so add that into your Terminal like this:

sips -s format png /path/to/your/file.jpg --out /path/to/your/file.png

Note that for the output file path, I just copied and pasted the input file path and changed the extension to “png”. Alternatively, I could have used something like “~/Desktop/file.png” to save the file to my desktop, or I could have used any other path that suits my purpose. Now we have a full sips command, so hit return to execute the command and a file should be created at the location you specified with the –out parameter.

The sips command we just created is a fairly typical one. Note that the word ‘sips’ is followed by some parameters (in our case, “-s format png”), then the path to the source file, then we used –out to tell sips where to put the resulting file. One thing to remember is that having your input file path the same as the output file path is generally a Bad Thing.

There are many other things you can do with sips, including resizing images, changing resolution, applying ICC profiles and so on. The manual (aka man page) is available by typing “man sips” in the Terminal or, if you prefer, click here to view it online.

Using SIPS from Automator
There’s nothing wrong with using SIPS as shown above, but the Terminal isn’t particularly user friendly. It’d be better if we could just select a load of files in the Finder and process them, right? That’s what we’ll look at now. First, launch Automator (you’ll find it in your Applications folder). Create a new workflow, being sure to select “Service” as shown below.

screen 1

Next, set the “Service receives selected” popup menu to “image files” and select “Finder.app”. This means that our workflow will be available when we select images in the Finder.

screen 2
Next, type “shell script” into the search field and drag the “Run Shell Script” action into the area under the popups we just set. Change the “Pass input” drop down to “as arguments”. You workflow should now look like this:

Next, replace the default text “cat” with the following:

for theFilePath in "$@"; do

done

In case you’re not familiar with shell scripting, this is a simple loop. When we execute the Run Shell Script action, it will be passed a list of files called “$@”. What we’ve written is a script to loop through this list. The loop starts at “do” and ends at “done”. Every time the loop repeats, the variable “theFilePath” will be the next file name in the list. Your workflow should now look like this:

screen 4
At the moment, our script doesn’t do anything because there is nothing between “do” and “done”. We need to add some sips magic! In between “do” and “done” add the following:

sips -s format png "$theFilePath" --out "${theFilePath%%.*}.png"

Note that I’m using the theFilePath variable as the input. The confusing stuff as the output just knocks the file extension off the theFilePath variable and adds “.png”. Your workflow should now look like this:

screen 5
Next, save your workflow and give it a name. I chose “Convert Images”.

Okay! Now for the fun bit. Find one or more images (not a PNGs!) in your Finder. Click the file whilst holding “ctrl” down and scroll down to Services, then select your workflow.

services

Your selected files will be converted magically into PNG files! NB. If nothing happens then check you selected “Pass input: as arguments” in the Run Shell Script action.

If I want to create multiple images, then it’s fine to add extra sips commands. So if I want to create a thumbnail image then I can change my shell script to:

for theFilePath in "$@"; do
sips -s format png "$theFilePath" --out "${theFilePath%%.*}.png"
sips -s format png -Z 100 "$theFilePath" --out "${theFilePath%%.*}_thumbnail.png"
done

…see the sips man page to see how the -Z option works!

Hope that gives some you ideas and saves you some time!

01 Jul

Ten ways to avoid costly barcode errors

The world of barcodes can be confusing for us designers. It’s stuffed full of jargon and confusing technical language and, frankly, it’s not too exciting. However, its important to know your stuff because mistakes can be costly and embarrassing. Luckily, barcode errors can be easily avoided if you remember a few details…

1. Talk to your printer

No, not your trusty inkjet… However, if you’re planning on sending your files to a commercial printer for printing on a press then communication is key. Speak to your printer and ask them for barcode specs. At the very least, they should be able to tell you bar width reduction, minimum bar height (aka truncation) and scale (aka magnification).

2. Think about colour contrast

Contrast is everything in barcodes. You want as big a contrast between the bars of your barcode and the colour its printed on. If possible, go for a black barcode on a white background and you shouldn’t have any problems.

If you must colour your barcode then avoid colouring it red at all costs. The laser that scans barcodes is red too so red codes almost certainly won’t scan. Aim for nice dark bars on a light background and you shouldn’t go too far wrong. If you’re unsure, print some test codes in your planned colours and try scanning them.

Aim for good colour contrast. Avoid red bars at all costs.

Aim for good colour contrast. Avoid red bars at all costs.

3. Don’t mess with the font

Barcode fonts are usually OCR-B or Helvetica. It’s possible to change the font as you see fit without stopping the code from being scanned, although we’d strongly recommend against it. If you change the font, make sure the text is still easily readable by the human eye – if your code doesn’t scan, someone is going to have to read and type that number!

4. Make sure you get the bar height right

This is sometimes called truncation. In short, its the height of the bars that make up the code. Generally codes will have a bar height of between 12-16mm. If the bar height is too small then your code may not scan. Again, its always best to check with your printer to see what specifications are needed.

5. Positioning

Think about where your barcode goes on your artwork. If its on curve, e.g. on a can then make sure the bars go with the curve of the can. If possible, put the barcode where it’s unlikely to get crumpled or distorted.

Barcodes on curved surfaces should be positioned so the bars follow the curve.

Barcodes on curved surfaces should be positioned so the bars follow the curve.

6. Quiet Zones

A quiet zone is an imaginary border around the bars of your code. You shouldn’t have anything printed in that area. No text. No graphics. Nothing. If you print anything in the quiet zone it can confuse a barcode reader and your code may not scan. Generally speaking, 2-3mm is plenty. If in any doubt, it’s better to have too big a quiet zone than to small. The minimum quiet zone is sometimes indicated by a ‘light margin indicator’ on some bar codes. This is usually a ‘>’ symbol to the left and/or right of the code number.

7. Test your code

Print your code out and scan it to make sure it works. There are free apps for iOS and Android e.g. Zbar which will at least verify that the code is readable and contains the right number/text. There are also more expensive solutions for industry.

8. Avoid barcode fonts

Its possible to buy barcode fonts where you simply type your number in, change the font to your barcode font and hey presto, you have a barcode. These are not professional solutions. Avoid them! You cannot add bar width reduction which rules out production on most professional presses. Also, you may have issues if you send your document to someone who doesn’t have your font. Or worse, someone who has a subtly different version of your barcode font.

9. Don’t distort the code

Once you’ve created your code in your barcode software (did we mention that Barcode Basics for Mac OS X is a rather excellent barcode generator?), resist the temptation to scale it, stretch it, warp it etc. If you find you need a bigger or smaller code then regenerate it and replace it.

10. Use a reputable barcode generator

You tend to get what you pay for… to a certain extent. There are free barcode solutions but they are usually font based which means they’re not useful for serious work (see the section on avoiding barcode fonts above). However, don’t be fooled into spending a fortune on an app stuffed full of functions you’ll never use. Apps such as our own Barcode Basics will do the job for under $10.

Some barcodes are just never going to scan... make sure the  numbers are legible

Some barcodes are just never going to scan…

21 Jun

How to recognise common barcodes

question

Sometimes you may be asked to recreate a barcode. You’re given a picture of a barcode and told, “Make one like that, but with a different number…”. So you fire up your trusty barcode generator but then realise you don’t know what type of barcode it is. Is it an EAN13 or a UPC-A? Or maybe a Code 39?

You could try every barcode type one by one in the hopes that one looks sort of right. However, that’s time consuming and annoying. Luckily, if you know what to look for then it’s easy to identify some of the more common types of barcode just by sight. Here’s a free guide to help you the next time you need to turn barcode detective.

Click here to download your free guide

Click here to download your free guide

And remember, if you need to create a barcode on Mac OS X then Barcode Basics supports all the barcode types in our guide and many, many more!


Link to Mac App Store to purchase Barcode Basics - Mac barcode software

09 Jun

How to batch convert Adobe Illustrator files into EPS files

automator

Recently we were contacted by someone who had hundreds of Adobe Illustrator files to convert into EPS files. They wanted to use Automator so we recommended our Ai Actions – our Automator actions for Illustrator package. I’ll show you how we did it here.

1. Get a copy of Ai Actions
Adobe Illustrator doesn’t ship with any actions for Automator. Luckily, we make a set of handy actions for Illustrator that you can use in your workflows. Click here to see it on the Apple Store.

2. Launch Automator and set up a workflow
Launch Automator and create an Application document. If Ai Actions is installed correctly then you’ll have a set of Adobe Illustrator actions in your Library. Simply drag the actions into your workflow and configure them as shown below (Click the image to enlarge).

workflow

3. Save your app
Save your document somewhere handy and name it something sensible, such as “Save As EPS.app”. Next, try dragging some Illustrator documents onto it. It should work something like this: Click here to see the app in action

You can automate all sorts of tasks in Adobe Illustrator thanks to Apple’s Automator coupled with Ai Actions. Get your copy today from the Mac App Store!

Illustrator Actions for Automator, Automator Actions, Automator Illustrator Actions

15 Feb

Using TimeMachine to back up to a Windows share


Apple’s TimeMachine provides a really easy way of backing up to an external hard drive, or an Apple-made TimeCapsule on your network. If you want to back up to a non-Apple drive on your network – for example a Windows share – it’s not so straight forward.

In short, what we do is create a sparseimage and copy it to the Windows share mounted on our Mac. Next, we mount that sparse image on the Mac and set it as our TimeMachine disk. Let’s look at that in more detail.

Create the sparseimage

  • Open your Terminal (it lives in /Application/Utilities)
  • Paste the line below into your Terminal, then press return. This should create a sparseimage called “TimeMachine” on your desktop.
  • hdiutil create -size 500g -type SPARSEBUNDLE -fs "HFS+J" ~/Desktop/TimeMachine.sparsebundle

    The 500g bit sets the size of the sparseimage (in Gb). It needs to be at least as big as the Mac’s hard drive, but give it as much as you can on your Windows share.

  • Mount the Windows share on your Mac and copy the sparseimage to the Windows share.
  • Delete the sparseimage from your Mac’s Desktop to avoid confusion
  • Double click the sparseimage on the Windows share. You should notice what appears to be a disk called TimeMachine appear on your Mac’s desktop. This is actually the mounted sparseimage on the Windows share.
  • Set up TimeMachine

  • Next, go back to the Terminal, paste the command below and hit return. This tells Time Machine to use the mounted volume:
  • sudo tmutil setdestination /Volumes/TimeMachine

  • Check in your Mac’s System Preferences that Time Machine is now set to use the new share.
  • What could possibly go wrong?

    There are two potential gotcha’s here. The first one is that backups will only happen when the Time Machine share is visible. You *could* just remember to connect to the Windows share and double click the sparseimage to mount it every time you restart your Mac. If you’re forgetful like me then you can do it automatically with an AppleScript

    try
    mount volume "smb://path/to/your/windows/share"
    end try
    do shell script "hdiutil attach -mountpoint /Volumes/nameofwindowsshare/ /Volumes/nameofyourwindowsshare/TimeMachine.sparsebundle"

    …simply paste this into a Script Editor window, and select save as Application. Add the saved application to your login items (System Preferences>Users & groups) so it mounts the sparseimage automatically on login.

    The second gotcha is that if you need to rebuild your whole Mac (as opposed to just restore files from a particular date) for example after a hard disk failure then you can’t use OS X Recovery. You’ll need to install OS X from scratch, mount the Windows share and sparseimage then use Migration Assistant. Not particularly difficult, but worth making a note of to save you a panic!

    09 Feb

    Acrobat Fix: Preflight audit trail could not be embedded

    If you use Adobe Acrobat on Mac OS X to embed preflight audit trails into PDF files then you may have noticed a strange error saying “Preflight audit trail could not be embedded” appear as of yesterday afternoon (8th February 2016). This is an issue with an expired Adobe certificate and will prevent you embedding your audit trail and will give you an error that looks like this:

    Preflight audit trail could not be embedded

    Preflight audit trail could not be embedded

    How to fix it…
    The error is down to an expired certificate, and the certificate is just a file that lives inside the Adobe Acrobat app. The first thing to do is to get a new copy.

    To do this, download a new trial version of Acrobat whilst making sure you don’t delete your old copy. So, download a copy of Acrobat DC from here. When you get a dialogue box like the one below, make sure that you untick the box that says “Remove old versions”.

    Be sure to untick "Remove old versions"

    Be sure to untick “Remove old versions”

    Once you have Acrobat DC installed, the next job is to find a copy of the new certificate. Find the app in your Applications folder, control click it. Select “Show Package Contents”. This will show you the contents of the app as a folder structure. Look in this folder:

    Contents/Plugins/Preflight.acroplugin/Contents/Resources/

    …and find a file called Preflight.p12. This is the new certificate file.

    Now, find your old copy of Adobe Acrobat, do the “Show Package Contents” trick again and find the Preflight.p12 file. Delete it and replace it with the new certificate file. Note that the Preflight.p12 file is in different locations depending on which version of Acrobat you have. You may have to hunt around for it.

    If you’re on Acrobat XI (as we are) then the location is:

    Contents/Built-in/Preflight.acroplugin/Versions/A/Resources/

    Restart your Adobe Acrobat and you should be able to embed audit trails again.

    10 Dec

    Barcode creation for OS X is now even more accessible!

    Get it while it's cheap!

    Barcode Basics – affordable barcode creation on OS X

    We’ve lowered the price of our OS X barcode creation software, Barcode Basics to $8.99 with immediate effect. We’ve also added compatibility for OS X 10.8 (Mountain Lion) and OS X 10.9 (Mavericks). So if you’re looking for a cost effective way of producing your own print ready barcodes on a Mac then Barcode Basics just got a little more accessible!

    Barcode Basics supports a huge range of barcode types including EAN, UPC, ITF, ISBN, pharma, postal codes and many, many more. It supports vector output (eps format) or bitmap format (jpg, png etc) along with standard features such as BWR, magnification etc making it the perfect choice for the print and packaging industries.

    Grab a copy now at the Mac App Store!

    Mac_App_Store_Badge_US_UK

    04 Nov

    How do I get a barcode for my CD?

    Music CD

    We’ve had a few Barcode Basics users ask us this one recently. Especially things like, “How do I enter the title, artist and price for my CD and get a barcode”. The short answer is that you don’t. At least, no barcode software is going to do that for you. The artist, title etc isn’t encoded in the barcode.

    What is encoded in a barcode is a unique number that identifies the CD, or any other product. That’s the numbers printed underneath the barcode.

    When someone in your local record store scans your CD, the only information they get is the barcode number. It’s then up to their computer system to look up that number (probably in some kind of database) and identify what CD it is.

    Retailers will usually ask you to fill in a form when they agree to stock your CD. On that form you’ll enter your barcode number and the rest of the information about your CD. They will enter that info into their database system and, hey presto, when they scan your CD the right details should come up. So, how do you get a barcode number for your CD? You can’t simply make one up – if you did then you might accidentally choose one that someone else is using for their CD or even a can of baked beans. It must be unique to your CD.

    For the purposes of this article, I’m assuming you’re an independent artist, otherwise your record company would be dealing with all this for you. So you need to get a barcode number allocated somehow. You could contact GS1 directly (who allocate barcode ranges internationally for CDs and other products), but that may be too costly and a little daunting. Luckily, there are organisations who will act as a middle man between you and GS1 and will offer some discounts. For example, it might be worth becoming a member of the Indie Artists Alliance or similar organisation.

    Once you have your unique number, it’s easy to create the barcode. Most of the world uses EAN13 barcodes except the USA which uses UPC-A. The USA is supposedly transitioning to EAN13 but they’re taking their time… If you’re printing commercially (that’s to say, on a printing press) then the printing company should be able to tell you some of the specs for the barcode e.g. BWR, magnification. It’s a good idea to check whether the intended retailers of your CD have any special requirements too.

    Once you have your number and your barcode specs you’re ready to go, and an app like our very own Barcode Basics makes generating barcodes very simple for the Mac OS X users among you.

    So, here’s a quick check list:

  • Get a unique barcode number allocated for your CD (GS1 or an organisation like Indie Artists Alliance can help)
  • Produce the barcode using something like Barcode Basics (check specs with printers and intended retailers)
  • Make sure retailers add your barcode number and associated info to their database
  • Good luck, and remember us when you’re a rich and famous rock star!