Swatching the Detectives

Psychologists say that through focusing our attention, we ignore nearly all of the stimuli around us. 99% of all the sights and sounds vanish as if they were never there. Sometimes attention is a good thing, like when you’re watching that burrito in the microwave so it doesn’t explode. But then you don’t hear the train whistle in the distance, or the cat meowing from inside the piano. My attention runs in cycles. Sometimes I can focus for hours on a handful of pixels, or a sentence. Sometimes, it’s 5 seconds per topic, or even five topics per second. I blame years of exposure to Sesame Street, MTV, and the pencil lead that got stuck in my hand in the 3rd grade and is still there.

All this to say, that our tools are speaking to us all the time and if we pay close attention, we’ll see many more things they can do. Doesn’t matter if it’s a chisel or InDesign. Since this isn’t, let’s put on our detective caps and really examine a piece of InDesign, say the Swatches panel, and see what we’ve overlooked. Just keep one eye on that burrito.

The Thin Black Line
Last spring I did a post on Kuler, and some other Swatch panel tricks, including how to make shades using Mixed Ink Groups. Good enough. But once you’ve got a collection of tints or shades, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to flip through them quickly via the keyboard arrows? Or even summon a swatch by name? You can, if you pay attention to a thin black line.

First draw a frame.

No fill, no stroke. No shirt, no shoes, no dice.

Mesdames et messieurs, regardez, le panel de swatch.

Look closely. Now, dismiss the panel by pressing f5, clicking the close button (da little x), or choosing Window > Swatches.

Now, bring the panel back (f5 again, or Window > Swatches).

Notice anything different?

Immediately after you show the Swatches panel there is a black line around list of swatches. Note that it is not there if you open the panel from a dock, or click on its tab, only if you open it fresh from the Window menu or f5.

Hmmm, what could that line mean? It looks like InDesign is telling us that it’s focused precisely on that list. And sure enough it is. We can now use the keyboard arrows to move through the list, and the fill of our frame dutifully changes as we slide down the list.

We can also change the fill of the frame by typing in the name of a swatch. Hopefully you’re a fast accurate typist. Otherwise, you’ll be using the arrows. If you do like this trick, you’ll want to pay close attention to how you name and arrange swatches in the panel. Also note that InDesign ignores the brackets surrounding the invincible swatches, so to get [Black] you can just type a b, for [Paper] type p, [None] is n, and [Registration] is r. Actually InDesign pays attention to all the letters in a swatch name, so for example, you can fill the frame with [None] by typing n, o, or e. Any of them will get you to [None] as long as you don’t have any others swatches that start with those letters. Or w will take you to a swatch named Yellow2, so long as you don’t have another swatch with w earlier in the name. Because we’re focused exclusively on the swatch list, x won’t do it’s usual thing of flipping the stroke/fill control. Nor will j change the frame/text control. Sigh.

What if we hit tab? Focus moves to the tint field and we can type a different number or use the arrow keys to adjust the percentage.

Tab again and focus is back on the swatch list. Just remember, any time you click outside the swatch list, even elsewhere on the panel itself, you change the focus and all these tricks don’t work. So what do you do then? I can think of 3 choices:

Hide the panel and show it again (f5 or menu).

Click on the word tint to highlight the tint field, then press tab.

Or use the supersecret keyboard shortcut. Shhh! Don’t tell anyone else, but you can also place focus on the swatch list by command+option clicking on a swatch.

OK, now go get the cat out of the piano.

One Response

  1. Love it! I wonder if this also works in Ai. I’m gonna have to try it out…and check on that Burrito!


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