Review: PDF to InDesign Conversion Software for Book Layout: Markzware PDF2DTP

by Joel Friedlander on April 8, 2014 · 5 comments

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Yesterday we looked at one tool that creates Adobe InDesign files directly from a PDF file. This amazing feat of file conversion, however, came with big costs. (Here’s the link in case you missed it: Review: PDF to InDesign Conversion Software for Book Layout: Recosoft PDF2ID

Today we’re going to look at another popular solution to this problem, this one from Markzware, a long-time supplier of tools for those whose work involves digital graphics.

In fact, I used their software back in the 1990s, when I was creating books with QuarkXPress and came to rely on some of their outstanding file utilities.

Markzware PDF2DTP – PDF to InDesign/QuarkXPress Converter

$199 for a 1-year subscription — http://www.Markzware.com

Like the PDF2ID plugin for InDesign, PDF2DTP is very easy to install simply by copying the file to your plugins folder. Then you access it from inside InDesign, where it adds an option to your menu.

As you can see from the screenshot, I’m also a user of Markzware’s excellent utility that converts QuarkXPress files—even very old ones—into brand new InDesign files.

Adobe InDesign

PDF2DTP arrives with a 59-page PDF user manual, although about half of it is dedicated to installation, registration, and licensing info. More on that at the end.

Once installed, use is straightforward. Just select the converter from the Markzware menu and open your file. Conversion is very fast, and my sample document, based on one of our book templates, took just seconds.

Conversion Results

Because the plugin can identify the fonts used in your PDF, if it finds them resident on your system it will use the correct fonts in the conversion. My file had a couple of fonts that weren’t recognized, so the first thing I saw post conversion was the familiar InDesign FindFont dialog.

Adobe InDesign

I then got a look at what PDF2DTP had done with my PDF file, and to be honest, I was astonished. Here’s what I saw:

Adobe InDesign

Wow, now we’re in business, I thought. The page size, type placement, fonts, spacing were all exactly like the original PDF, only in InDesign. Pretty neat.

When I checked out the Paragraph Styles palette to see if PDF2DTP was able to reconstruct the styles from the original, here’s what I found:

Adobe InDesign

The plugin had created a separate Paragraph Style for every instance of type in the document, and had also assigned a style to every piece of text throughout. To be more usable, it would not be that big a job to reconstruct the styles from this point on.

Digging Deeper

As I scanned the file I found parts that converted well, and others where conversion glitches had occurred.

For instance, here PDF2DTP correctly sized and spaced the extract text in this quote, but lost the justification settings, leaving it rag right:

Adobe InDesign

In another case, superscript numbers used for footnotes were sized and scaled properly, but moved to the wrong position:

Adobe InDesign

Even this number list, with custom indents and outdents, came over fine, although once again the justification was dropped:

Adobe InDesign

The Dark Heart of the PDF

It was only when I exited InDesign’s preview mode to reveal the actual text frames and file construction, that I realized something was very, very wrong. Here’s that chapter title page again:

Adobe InDesign

Just like with Tracy’s test of PDF2ID, the page revealed that every separate paragraph or independent piece of text had been placed in its own text frame.

And none of these text frames were connected to each other, each was a completely separate entity.

This lead to errors like this page, where a photo was properly converted and placed in the file, but note that the photo caption has become part of a different text block entirely, just below the photo.

Adobe InDesign

And, upon inspection, this also applied to elements we usually place on InDesign Master Pages, like the running heads in the book:

Adobe InDesign

Of course, you can’t construct a book with bits and pieces floating all over the place, without any relation to each other, and my initial euphoria gave way to reality of the situation.

In extreme situations, like this featured quote box with a tinted background, every line was rendered as a separate text frame:

Adobe InDesign

Document Processing vs. Page Description

Programs like Adobe InDesign are document processors, adept at flowing huge quantities of text through hundreds or thousands of pages while keeping track of all the parameters we establish for the book’s typography and layout.

But PDF is strictly a page description language, not a document processor. When InDesign—or any other program—goes to create a PDF of our document, it sends what are basically printing instructions to the software engine, which then describes the exact elements that should appear on each page.

And that’s what PDF2DTP had converted—one page at a time. A PDF is really a collection of individual pages, and the plugin had been very accurate in rendering those pages back into InDesign.

But let’s face it, for book work, this result is basically useless. If we can’t generate a document with a complete text stream, we would have to try to link all these hundreds of boxes together and try to get the text to flow properly.

In my opinion, for most books this would be a waste of time. You could certainly use the conversion to create a file with the elements you need, then export just the text from the PDF and start your book over again. That’s not the worst result, but it’s a lot of work and defeats the idea of the plugin.

However, if you have short documents like posters, flyers, ads, book covers or jackets, or any single-page or short documents, this plugin would be a lifesaver. It will accurately reproduce your PDF file in an InDesign file that’s ready to be adjusted here or there and put directly into use.

But the master page strategy and flowing text file simply aren’t suitable to page by page treatment.

Buyer Beware

Before buying this software, you should be aware that both Recosoft and Markzware have a strict policy about product returns: they don’t allow them unless your software is defective, in which case they will replace it.

What that means is once you pay your $199, you own it. Obviously, both companies are trying to protect themselves from users who just want to “buy” the software to convert one file, then return it for a refund. Here’s how Markzware puts this.

All sales on the online Markzware Store are final. Please take a few moment to review all the items in your shopping cart before you proceed to complete your order… We can refund your Markzware product within 30 days of your online purchase, if you have NOT activated or installed it on any system. If you activate your product, we CANNOT return or refund your product, as it is considered an opened product.—Markzware

So make quite sure this is software that will work for your needs before you go through the shopping cart.

Markzware makes professional-grade utilities for graphics pros, and PDF2DTP is no exception—as long as you don’t want to use it for a book or other long document.

Resource

A more detailed examination of this plugin can be found here: Convert PDF to InDesign

Markzware PDF2DTP converter for QuarkXPress and Adobe InDesign.

Links within this article contain my affiliate code.

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    { 4 comments… read them below or add one }

    David Baird September 10, 2014 at 9:40 am

    Been re-reading your assessment of two tools for PDF to InDesign Conversion. Neither sound ideal. Have you come across any other tools you can recommend? The rights have been returned to me for a guidebook of somewhat complex design, with maps and many colour photos. I have the complete layout as sent to the printer on a CD. Is it worth/practical converting this into an ebook or whatever? A hell of a lot of research went into this book and it sold well so I do not want to abandon it. Any and all suggestions welcome!

    Reply

    David Blatner April 8, 2014 at 11:46 am

    These are great reviews and really helpful. But I do want to point out that (for obvious reason) they have a strong bias toward a particular kind of document: a book. I’ve had terrific success converting smaller documents (product sheets, flyers, newsletters, ads, and such) with Recosoft’s PDF2ID product.

    Also, note that the results in any conversion depend hugely on how the PDF was constructed (what product made it, and especially whether content tags were included).

    I think the best recommendation is to remember that any document you convert from PDF is going to require significant clean-up… and the more pages, the longer that cleanup will take.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander April 8, 2014 at 1:16 pm

    Totally agree, Dave, this Markzware product in particular is amazing in how it can translate the PDF into a pretty good InDesign file. Sadly, since I was only evaluating for readers who have “legacy” books trapped inside the PDF format, it didn’t work out as well for that use.

    Reply

    Mark D'Antoni April 8, 2014 at 8:47 am

    For years, even in good old Quark days, I’ve searched and hoped for a decent conversion tool (PDF to InDesign), but sadly I’m still waiting and hoping. Thanks for the update on these two products. And let us know if something comes up… but I won’t hold my breath. You’re right about the nature of INDD versus PDF.

    Reply

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