An American Editor

October 12, 2015

The Proofreader’s Corner: Creating Your Own Proofreading Stamps for PDF Mark-up

by Louise Harnby

In September 2015, I wrote about the benefit of being able to mark up PDF proof pages with stamps – digital versions of the symbols you would draw by hand on a traditional paper proof, usually for a publisher client (after all, not every client understands the standard proof-correction language employed in the publishing industry). I also promised to show readers how they can create their own stamps for onscreen work. This is the focus of this month’s essay.

A caveat

I’m a UK-based proofreader so I’ll be referring to the British Standards Institution’s (BSI) BS 5261C:2005 “Marks for Copy Preparation and Proof Correction” throughout this essay (readers can buy a hard-copy list of these marks from the Society for Editors and Proofreaders). You may be used to seeing different symbols to indicate the same instructions. That’s because, depending on where you live, different standards may apply.

Compare, e.g., the Canadian Translation Bureau and BSI marks for a selection of instructions:

Comparison of Proofreader's Marks

Comparison of Proofreader’s Marks

What matters is not which proof-correction language you use, but what your client requires.

Recap of existing digital resources

If you want to use the BS 5261C:2005 proof-correction marks to annotate a PDF, visit “Roundup: PDF Proofreading Stamps (quick-access links)”. This provides the access links to a full set of downloadable PDF proofreading stamps in black, blue, and red, as well as the installation instructions.

US stamps files are available via the Copyediting-L site, under the Resources tab. Scroll down to “Diana Stirling’s (2008) editing marks for PDF documents (Zip documents)”.

Finally, search the Editing Tools section of Katharine O’Moore-Klopf’s Copyeditors’ Knowledge Base using the key words “PDF Editing Stamps”. This will bring up a number of other useful resources.

Why might I need to make my own stamps?

You might wish to create your own stamps for three reasons:

  1. The standard symbols required by your client might not be available for use on PDF. Use the resources in the above recap section in order to identify whether the mark-up language you want to work with is available digitally.
  2. The existing digital resources might include only the standard symbols developed by the original issuer (BSI, CMOS, CTB, etc.). However, I’ve sometimes found that I’m repeatedly making a particular amendment that isn’t covered by these standards. For instance, a nonnative-English-speaking author may use the word “is” when the author means “are” repeatedly in a file. Rather than annotating the PDF using the typewriter tool for the text, and using the “replace” symbol (slash mark) for each correction, it could be more efficient to create a new stamp that incorporates the text and slash mark. In the stamps files I provide, I’ve created several nonstandard symbols that I thought would be of benefit to users, including:
Author created nonstandard symbols

Author created nonstandard symbols

  1. For the sake of efficiency, you might wish to modify two existing standard digital marks. For example, I often need to change a hyphen to an en rule, and I have to stamp two symbols in the margin — the “en-rule” mark followed by the “replace” mark. I decided to create a single symbol that incorporates both of these marks (this symbol is now included in the digital stamps files that I make freely available on my blog).
Combining of two symbols into one

Combining of two symbols into one

When we modify standard stamps in this way, we save time — every second we save stamping only one symbol rather than two adds up to significant increases in productivity.

Creating your own stamps

There are two ways to go about creating your own customized stamps.

First method

You can using a snipping tool to copy a mark that you’ve drawn, typed, or found online. If I want to create a new stamp — for example, the “change is to are” instruction mentioned above — I can use my PDF editor’s comment-and-markup tools to type the word “are” and stamp a “replace” symbol after it. Then I simply click on my snipping tool, select “New,” and drag the cursor over the marks I’ve made. I then save this as a PNG, GIF, or JPEG file. The image is now available for upload into my PDF Editor’s stamps palette.

In Windows, the snipping tool looks like this:

Windows Snipping Tool

Windows Snipping Tool

Where your snipping tool is located will depend on which version of Windows you’re using. For Windows 8, click here; for Windows 7, click here.

The advantage of using a snipping tool is that it’s very efficient. I’ve pinned my onboard Windows snipping tool to the task bar at the bottom of my screen, so it’s always accessible. If you are using an operating system that doesn’t include a snipping tool, there are of alternatives available online.

There are disadvantages to using this method.

  • The definition of a snipped stamp is poor in comparison with a symbol drawn in a desktop publishing (DTP) or professional graphics program. The images usually look fuzzy, especially when enlarged.
  • It’s not possible to control the size of the snipped image, so the symbol may have to be resized every time it’s stamped in the margin, which wastes time.
  • Snipped stamps don’t have transparent backgrounds. This can be aesthetically unpleasing when you are stamping onto tinted pages. If you’ve created a stamp that needs to be placed in-text on a PDF, the lack of transparency will cause problems because you’ll be masking content that your client won’t want to be hidden.

Using the snipping tool to create stamps is recommended if you need a quick solution and you don’t think you’ll need to use the new symbol in future jobs. If you do think you’ll use your new symbol time and time again, it might be worth considering the second method.

Second method

You can use a DTP program such as Microsoft Publisher, Adobe InDesign, and QuarkXPress, or a graphics program like CorelDraw and Adobe Illustrator. I use MS Publisher because it’s included in my MS Office bundle. I’ve also found it quite easy to use — this is partly because it’s entry-level DTP software and partly because it’s an MS product so the functionality is quite similar to that of MS Word.

Once you’ve drawn your new symbol in your DTP program, you need to save the document as a PDF. This can usually be done very simply, using the “Save as” function. The image will then be ready for upload into your PDF editor’s stamps palette.

The disadvantage of using this method is that it requires greater investment in time in the short run. I’d only recommend it if you are creating a stamp that you think will be useful for many jobs to come.

The advantages of going down the DTP route are:

  • The finish of the stamp is more professional — the images are much sharper than the snipped versions.
  • You can draw multiple stamps in a single DTP document — just make sure that each image is drawn on a new page. Then you have to save one document as a PDF from which you’ll upload your new stamps.
  • You can control the size of the stamp. This may take some experimentation, but once you’ve drawn one proof-correction mark that you know produces a stamp that you can universally use on PDFs without having to resize, you can use this as a template for any future stamps you create.
  • You can control the transparency of the stamp. Users of my stamps files will know that some of my symbols don’t have fully transparent backgrounds. This is something I plan to rectify when I have time!

Using a DTP/graphics program is more time consuming but gives a more professional finish and is worth it if you think you’ll use the new symbol in multiple jobs.

Saving and installing your new stamps

If you have used the snipping tool to create a new GIF, JPEG, or PNG stamp, you can save it wherever you wish. I usually choose the Downloads folder. Then open your PDF editor and upload the stamp.

Installing snipped images to PDF-XChange

  • Open the PDF you wish to mark up
  • From Menu: Tools > Comment and Markup Tools > Show Stamps Palette
  • From Stamps Palette: Click on an existing Collection or create a new one (using the New button with a small green cross); select “From Image”
  • From a browser window: Locate your image from the folder in which you saved it, e.g., Downloads, and choose “Open”

Installing snipped images to Adobe Acrobat (v. 9)

  • Open the PDF you wish to mark up
  • Click on the stamp tool on the top ribbon
  • Select “Create Custom Stamp”
  • From browser window: Locate your image from the folder in which you saved it, e.g., Downloads. Note that in Acrobat you will need to choose the relevant file type in order for your symbol to show up. So if you saved your snipped image as a PNG, you’ll need to select this from the drop-down menu under file type; “Select”; “OK”
  • You can now name your stamp and assign it to a Category (you can use an existing Category or create a new one, e.g., Proofreading)

Installing snipped images to Adobe Reader (v. XI)

I haven’t found a way to import snipped stamps into Reader; the only option is to upload stamps that have been saved as a PDF, which isn’t possible with the Windows snipping tool at least. Given that PDF-XChange is still a very affordable editor, with outstanding functionality, I’d recommend trying it as an alternative to the free Adobe Reader and the rather more expensive Acrobat Professional.

Saving and installing DTP-created images

If you have used DTP software and saved your stamps in PDF format, you may need to save into a specific folder. The installation process is a little more complicated and will depend on the PDF editor you are using. If you are using PDF-XChange, Adobe Acrobat Professional, or Adobe Reader, carefully read the installation instructions I’ve provided on The Proofreader’s Parlour.

Related reading…

If you are new to PDF proofreading, you might find the following links of interest:

Louise Harnby is a professional proofreader and the curator of The Proofreader’s Parlour. Visit her business website at Louise Harnby | Proofreader, follow her on Twitter at @LouiseHarnby, or find her on LinkedIn. She is the author of Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers and Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business.

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