Frequently Asked Questions
Electronic Forms and Overlays – Source vs. Object
A User Has Questions About Changing an Electronic Form When the Source Code is Not Available
We need to make changes to some of our forms, but we don’t have the source code, just the object code.
Is there a way to go from object code back to source code? We don’t want to start from scratch, recoding the forms.
Some form design software, including packages from Elixir and Papyrus, will let you import the object code into the designer. You normally need to do a pure binary download of the form file and you may need a specific file extension on the file. From the form design software, you can make the changes you need and save the results in either a source format or as a compiled object code.
The automatically generated source code will be functional but may not be easy to read. It may set each word on the page in a separate set of instructions or it may use different units of measurement than what you are used to (inches, mm, or dots). You may want to edit it to make it more readable.
The machine-readable object code for a form in an AFP print environment is called an overlay. It can be decompiled into a human-readable format called Overlay Generation Language, or OGL. In a Xerox print environment, the compiled form is stored in an .FRM file. The form source is created in Xerox Form Source Language (FSL) or Host Forms Description Language (HFDL).
If you do not have form design software that can import the object code, and the volume of forms you need to change does not justify the cost and time of getting the software and doing it yourselves, COPI can help.
COPI can decompile both AFP overlays and Xerox FRMs and provide you with the source code to make your own changes, or we can make the changes you need and provide you with the source code, the compiled object code, or both.
Let us know how we can assist you.
As You Prepare for the New Decade Do Not Forget Your Forms Need Updating Too
As you prepare for your holiday festivities, have you realized that in less than 6 weeks we will be starting not only a new year but a new decade?
Soon we will be putting 2020 on our documents and forms. Have you made a list of all the forms you need to change?
Depending on what font you use for the year, the text spacing for 2020 may be wider than for 2019. If you are right justifying the date, you may need to move it a little to the left so that the alignment is correct for the new year.
Yearend is on its way and with it updates to production overlays. When changes are made to the overlay sometimes other files need to be updated too. So how do you know which ones?
Following is a guide on the items to consider when updating assets such as overlays. It depends on the complexity of the updates to what additional assets will need to be changed.
Here are three examples:
Unchanged Form Layout
If the layout of the form is not being changed, then you need only change one of the following:
The AFP Form Definition;
The Xerox JSL;
Your composition system setting that calls the form or overlay and places it on the page.
Altered Form Layout
If the layout of the updated form has changed from the old layout, in addition to the above three options, you may also need to consider changing either of the following:
The AFP Page Definition;
The template used by your composition system to place the data on the page.
Added Form Information
If the new layout includes new information or design elements added on the form, in addition to the above options, you may need to:
Update the code that is creating your input data file to ensure you have all the data you need to add to the form;
You might also need to create new font files or images to support the additional data.
If we have given you more questions than answers reach out to Dr. FontZ and the COPI Team.
Happy Thanksgiving to our USA readers.
If you need help on forms or overlays, fonts, images, page definitions or form definitions, schedule a consultation with Dr. FontZ using the button below.
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
Alternate Text Challenges Explained
In a previous article on the WCAG accessibility guidelines, I pointed out that to be accessible, a document must be perceivable, which means that a screen reader must be able to read or describe everything on the page out loud or via a braille device.
So how does this work?
If the text on your document uses standard ASCII/ANSI encoding, the screen reader just reads the text.
But sometimes companies build custom fonts by combining a few different characters from different fonts into an “all-in-one” font. The “all-in-one” font might contain 5 or 6 lowercase ‘e’s, so they will not all be encoded as the standard ASCII ‘e’ at hex ‘65’. A screen reader may not be able to read the text in this type of font correctly.
Other things you should watch out for are logos or signature fonts. In a signature font, a corporate officer’s signature may be rendered by typing “ABC” and another signature may be in characters “DEF”. Unless the alternate text is provided for the screen reader, the signature will be read as “ABC” and not as “John Smith”.
A fix for this challenge is to convert your signature fonts to images, then you can add appropriate alternate text.
The images in your document need to have alternate text descriptions that the screen reader can read out loud. There is a limit to the length of an alternate text description, approximately the length of a tweet. This works fine for “Company Logo”, “Signature of John Smith”, or “Picture of customer and agent shaking hands”.
But if your designers decided that the only way to fit your terms and conditions on the last page of your statement was to scan an image of the page and shrink it to fit, it will be difficult to make that page accessible. The amount of text included in the image is too much to include in an alternate text description. This can also happen with marketing images where the text is included as part of the image.
To solve the issue of having images of text instead of readable text, you need to create or acquire correctly sized fonts and use them instead of just images.
We are available to help, click the button below to reach out to Dr. FontZ.
Transforming Documents to PDF – Challenges with Alignment
After we transformed our documents to PDF, text that should be right-justified is no longer lining up correctly. What causes this and how can we fix it?
When you tell your composition system to right justify a block of text, it adds up the width of each character and space in the line of text and subtracts that from where you want the line to end to calculate where the line should begin.
Only the beginning position is stored in the composed document file. So, if the text string is 2 inches long and you want it to end at the right margin, 7.5 inches from the left edge of the page, then it will set a starting x position of 5.5 inches.
When your document is transformed to PDF, a True Type or Type 1 vector font will usually be used instead of the bitmapped printer font. The characters in the PDF font may be slightly wider or slightly narrower than the characters in the bitmapped font, so the same text string may be slightly longer or shorter than in the original.
The text string will still start at the same x position but may not end up in the same place on the right.
The way to fix this is to use a font in your PDF that has been tuned so that the character widths are exactly equivalent to the character widths in your bitmapped fonts.
To do this the m values of the vector font need to be a consistent multiple of the number of dots in the bitmapped character.
Contact COPI if you need additional help in getting fonts with matching character widths.
Audio Books - How Do Your Documents Sound?
Many of our readers listen to audiobooks during their commutes, but have you ever listened to your documents? You might be surprised by what you hear.
If a document has not been tagged for accessibility, the screen reader will attempt to read the words on the page from top-to-bottom and left-to-right. If the text is in 2 columns, the reader will read the first line of the first column, then the first line of the second column, then return to the left to read the second line of the first column. Think what your stories would sound like if an audiobook did that - very confusing!
Your company logo and any other images on the page will be ignored if they do not have alternate text tags. A white paper will leave the listener hanging if it just says “sponsored by” and then stops as the sponsors’ logos are ignored.
If you used underscores to draw lines on the page, the reader will read them as “underscore, underscore, underscore, underscore, underscore, underscore” and so on. It might repeat “underscore” 20 or 30 times for a signature line, or as many as 80 or 100 times if the line goes all the way across the page. To avoid this, you need to draw lines with the vector or graphics functions of your composition system, not the underscore character on your keyboard.
Be careful of what characters you choose for bulleted lists. If you use a lowercase “o” instead of an open bullet character the screen reader will voice the “o” as “oh!” before reading each item in the list – “Oh, Call us at …, Oh, Email us at …, Oh, Contact us …” and so on. Standard bullet characters are not voiced.
You may also need alternate text tags if you use initials that contain the same characters as a standard abbreviation. I once listened to a brokerage statement where the screen reader read “ML Retirement Fund” as “Milliliter Retirement Fund”. I don’t think the fund managers would be happy with that reading.
Do your documents start their lives on old mainframe programs? On early line printers (single font impact printers), programs often printed the same text twice to get the bold print. As these jobs moved to page printers, the double printing is not visible, so the underlying code may not ever have been changed. But the screen reader will read each word twice if it is in the code twice.
We are always available if you need help making your accessible documents be read properly by screen readers, contact COPI.
Three Sides of Disaster Recovery –
Physical, Equipment, Personnel
This week the United States has been beset with tragedies. Our hearts and prayers go out to the families that have been affected by these incidents.
But my thoughts also go out to the employers of those affected. Disaster plans are critical for the continuation of a business after a crisis. We need to plan for physical disasters, like fires, floods, earthquakes or tornados. We also need to plan for equipment failures, like hard-drive crashes, hackers or printer failures. And last, but not least, we need to plan for personnel failures, like key employees being struck down by accidents or serious illness, or simply deciding to move on to other employment without notice.
When you made your disaster plan, did you think about what would happen if key personnel were unable to come to work? Do you even have a disaster plan? Many small companies do not have one.
Do you have a secondary site that can take over your print jobs in case of a physical disaster? Do they have all the needed resources available (image and font files, special paper stocks, formatting software)? Does the secondary site have the same models or brands of printers? If not, you may need to have fonts, forms, images and formatting files in alternate file formats.
Do you have back-up printers and servers in-house in case of equipment failure? Are the current versions of software and resource files installed on the back-up systems? Is your data being backed up to an alternate site on a regular basis? Does any critical company information reside only on a single employee laptop? If you don’t know, it is time to find out, before anything happens.
Do you have key employees who are the only ones who have “the magic touch” to get certain jobs to run? If so, it is time to get their methods documented so someone else can run the job if needed. Does EVERY employee have a back-up person who can take over if needed? If not, it is time for some cross-training.
If you need assistance to get any of your print resources made in alternate formats for your back-up site, please contact COPI. We will be happy to help. Stay safe, everyone.
Fonts 101 – What is the best way to add Signatures to my documents?
Should I add signatures to my documents using custom fonts or images?
Back in the 1970s, some models of laser printers did not support images, so developers started making custom fonts for signatures and logos. This is no longer necessary, as modern printers all support printing of images. If your end goal is just printing on paper, either will work fine.
If you decide to use custom fonts, you need to be aware if your printer and your document composition tools use different font formats.
Most Windows design tools use TrueType vector fonts to display your page layout. But your printer may require AFP, Xerox, PCL or PostScript fonts. In that case, when you have a TrueType font built, you should have the same person or company create the printer format at the same time so that they match and the same part of the signature or logo is in the same character in both the display and the printer fonts.
If your documents need to meet ADA requirements (or other disability requirements for your country), then you need to think of how that signature will be read out loud by a screen reader. If you use a signature font with the signature in “ABCD”, the screen reader will read it as “A B C D”, and the listener may be confused.
If you use an image format, when the document is made into accessible PDF, an alternate text description will be assigned to the image. The alternate text will be read by the screen reader, so it could read out “signature of John Smith” instead of just “ABCD”. Since failure to make your documents accessible to your customers can lead to fines, it is recommended to put signatures and logos into images.
If you need help with signature fonts or images, or with making your documents ADA or Section 508 compliant, contact Dr. FontZ at COPI.
Flashing Lights and Color Contrast RegulatingWeb Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
Happy belated Independence Day to our readers in the USA and a belated Happy Canada Day to our neighbors to the north.
When you saw the holiday fireworks, were you tempted to add video fireworks to your documents or websites?
Be careful – flashing lights can trigger seizures in some people with epilepsy or other seizure disorders. Flashing lights can be a violation of laws regulating accessibility.
How about using red, white and blue to show your patronage?
Per WCAG 2.0, the minimum contrast ratio for text smaller than 18 point normal or 14 point bold is 4.5:1 for the AA guidelines or 7:1 for the AAA guidelines. The contrast helps people with limited vision separate the text from the background.
Pure red (RGB FF 00 00) on pure white is only a contrast ratio of 4:1. To get an appropriate level of contrast you need to use a slightly darker shade of red, RGB EF 00 00 for AA compliance or RGB B5 00 00 for AAA compliance.
You will do better with blue. Pure blue, RGB 00 00 FF, on pure white, RGB FF FF FF, has a contrast ratio of 8.59:1.
Stay in compliance by checking the contrast ratios of your chosen foreground background colors at https://webaim.org/resources/contrastchecker/.
Contact Dr. Fontz if you need help making your documents accessible, or with fonts, forms or images.
Rectangle Boxes Printing Where Blanks Should Be
Why do I sometimes see open rectangles printed on a page when I use a certain font? My logo is printing fine, but I am also seeing the rectangles printed which I do not want on my output.
Rectangles are often used when the data contains text in characters that are not defined in the font. TrueType (Windows) and Type 1 (PostScript) fonts usually have a character called ‘notdef’ that is used for any letter or symbol that is not otherwise defined in the font.
Sometimes the ‘notdef character is defined to just leave a space, but often it is defined to print an open rectangle. If you are using a signature or logo font, it may only have a few characters defined, like A, B, and C, or 0 and 1. If your signature is in ‘ABC’ and you type ‘abc’, you may see 3 rectangles instead of the signature. When you have a signature font made, you should always define what characters in the font you want to use for the signature. That way you shouldn't be using any undefined characters.
If you have questions on this topic or other font or overlay topics
What is WCAG and Why Should I care?
WCAG stands for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. WCAG was developed by the international World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and is included in the laws regarding document and website accessibility around the world, including the USA and Canada.
Millions of people around the world, including many of your customers, suffer from poor vision or other impairments that make it difficult to read. Not making your documents and websites accessible is not only poor customer service, but it is also breaking the law and could lead to fines for your company. So, what do you need to do?
There are 4 basic principles of the WCAG initiative. Documents should be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust.
To be perceivable, text alternatives must be provided for image data, and content should be able to be presented in different ways (like large print or braille) without losing information or structure. The user also should be easily able to separate foreground and background (high contrast).
To be operable, the functionality must be available from the keyboard. (This applies mainly to websites.) It also means that navigation tools such as tabs and bookmarks are provided in accessible PDF documents.
To be understandable, unfamiliar words should be defined in a glossary or adjacent text, and acronyms or abbreviations need to be written out the first time they are used. The language used should be understandable for someone with a 9th-grade education.
Robust documents should be able to be interpreted reliably from a wide variety of devices, including screen readers and other assistive technologies, as well as tablets and mobile phones.
Keeping these principles in mind during the design of your documents can help your company save on expensive reengineering for accessible delivery or costly fines or lawsuits.
I will go more into the practical implementation of these principles in future columns. If you need help making your documents accessible, we are available to help. Click the button below.
Designing Documents on iPad
Do you design documents on your iPad?
Or wish you could, but would like a better selection of fonts?
The new Apple iPadOS will offer the ability to get custom fonts to use with your designs.
This week, Apple announced that the new iPadOS will offer the ability to get custom fonts from the App Store to use with your designs.
They are also adding new gestural editing techniques.
In a coordinated announcement, Monotype announced that it will deliver a collection of fonts from its font library to iPad users. A font app developed by Monotype will be available in the Apple App Store later this year.
Users will be able to sync fonts they have already licensed from Monotype to their iPads.
If you need custom fonts for your mainframe or workstation applications, reach out to Dr. FontZ
Redesign Requires a Larger Logo -
How to Create Without a Fuzzy Look
We redesigned our letterhead and made the logo bigger, but now it looks fuzzy. Why would this be?
If your original logo was in a bitmap or raster format, extra dots need to be added to the image to make it larger.
Depending on how much bigger you make the image, software typically adds another line or column of dots every second, third or fourth row. This can cause curves or diagonal lines to look like stair-steps close up, or fuzzy at normal resolutions.
Dots will need to be added or removed around the edges of the design to make them smooth at the new size.
Fuzzy logos will draw the ire of your company's brand police. Visit Dr. FontZ to sharpen your logo in whatever size(s) you may need by clicking the button below.
Sans Serif Fonts for Large Print
We are told that we must use Sans serif fonts on documents requiring large-print to support our company’s accessibility objectives. What is it about Sans serif fonts that drive this request?
Serifs are flourishes like the little strokes or feet on the bottom of characters in fonts like Times Roman. Sans means without.
Sans serif refers to fonts without flourishes. Therefore, Sans serif fonts have characters with smooth or squared off ends.
Many form designers prefer Sans serif because studies have shown that it is easier to read fonts that do not have extra flourishes.
That easier-to-read factor is especially important for companies focused on meeting accessibility objectives for people with visual impairments.
For your large print documents, choose sans serif fonts like Arial or Helvetica.
If you need help with fonts or with creating large print or accessible PDF documents for your customers, contact COPI.
AFP – PageDefs, FormDefs and How They Work Together
We need to change one of our AFP form overlays this year due to new legal requirements.
My developers tell me we also need to change the PageDef and FormDef for that job. I sent them what we had been using to print with, but they say they need the source, not the objects.
Can you explain what they want and why they need it?
The FormDef specifies the name(s) of the overlay(s) to use, so it needs to be updated whenever there is a change to what overlay is being used. The PageDef controls the layout of the data on the page. If the change to the overlay is more than just changing a few words, you made need to change where the variable data is positioned to align with the new overlay by changing the PageDef.
AFP Page and Form Definitions are created in a format called PPFA (Page Printer Formatting Aid) script. These human-readable files are called the source. For efficiency, these scripts are compiled into machine code that is used when you run the job.
The machine code is called the object. It is very difficult to make changes in machine code, which is why your developers are requesting the source code. Because the source code is in a human-readable script, it is easier to make the changes to the script, then compile the new scripts to get the new PageDef and FormDef objects.
If you need to make changes to your AFP PageDefs, FormDefs or Overlays, contact COPI. We can even take your object code files and create the source code that your developer has requested. Click the button and reach out to us.
Fonts 101 – Bitmap vs. Outline Fonts
A subscriber wants to know why some of the fonts look fuzzy in her PDF documents.
When I look at my document in PDF, some of the fonts look fuzzy, while others are smooth. If I zoom in, the edges on the fuzzy fonts look like stairs. What causes this?
There are 2 different ways fonts get made – bitmaps and outlines. In bitmap (or raster) fonts, the characters are created with black and white dots or pixels, like coloring in the squares on a piece of graph paper to make a shape. Bitmap fonts are usually designed for a particular resolution and look fine when printed at that resolution. On the screen, the fonts may get scaled, which causes them to look fuzzy or jagged.
Outline (or vector) fonts are made of instructions that define lines around the outside of the characters, and the printer or the display device fills in the middle. These outline can get stretched to different sizes and still have smooth edges.
To avoid fuzzy fonts in your PDF documents, you should try to always use outline fonts. If you need help converting your bitmap fonts into outline fonts, ask Dr. FontZ.
Character Sets, Code Pages and Coded Fonts Explained
Our print shop says we need 3 files for an AFP font – a character set, a code page, and a coded font. Can you explain why?
Traditional AFP fonts do require 3 files, as they told you.
The character set file contains the shapes for all the letters in the font. If the character set name starts with “C0”, then the file contains bitmaps for the characters in a particular point size. If the name starts with “CZ” then it contains the scalable outlines for each character. The character set may contain characters for multiple languages. Since there may be more than 256 characters, each character is labeled with a glyph character identifier or GCID. The GCIDs are usually the same across multiple typefaces, so a capital “A” is usually “LA020000” in both Helvetica and Times Roman.
The code page file usually has a name that starts with “T1”. The code page defines which character or GCID is used for each hex value in your input file. This is also called the encoding. If your input file is in ASCII, then you would need to use a code page that says to use “LA020000” or capital A whenever it sees a hex ‘41’. If your input was in EBCDIC from your mainframe, then you would use a different code page that associates a capital A with hex ‘C1’. Code pages are usually associated with different languages, so a code page for Spanish or German would contain accented characters that might not be included in an English code page, and code pages for Greek or Russian might include a totally different set of characters.
The coded font is a very small file that contains the name of a character set and a code page. This lets you specify both aspects of the font with a single filename. The coded font file has a name that starts with “X0” for bitmapped fonts or “XZ” for outline fonts. One coded font file can specify to use a 10 point Helvetica character set with an ASCII French code page, while another one specifies to use a 12 point Times Roman character set with an EBCDIC English code page.
Need assistance - Contact COPI for help with AFP character sets, code pages, or coded fonts.
Character Sets, Code Pages and Coded Fonts Explained
In an AFP print environment, the Page Definition and Form Definition files control how the text data is laid out on the page and what paper should be used.
The PageDef defines a data map that tells the printer where to place the text on the page. It sets what font(s) to use and what direction the text should go in. The text data could be laid out into particular boxes on a pre-printed form or into the layout of a letter on blank paper. The PageDef can even look at special characters in your data to change the layout from page to page.
I was told that I would need a PageDef and FormDef to print my data on our AFP printer.
What are they?
The FormDef defines printing parameters, like what size paper should be used, what tray to pull the paper from, and whether you are printing simplex or duplex. It can control if you want to print multiple logical pages on one physical sheet of paper or if you need to add static text, lines or images with an AFP overlay.
Contact COPI if you need help creating or updating your page and form definition files.
Signature: What Is Needed to Have a Signature Digitized
I have IBM and Ricoh AFP printers and I need to get some signatures digitized. What information do I need to send you?
For digitized signatures, logos, and graphics we need the following:
Type of printer/software you are using;
Whether you want page segments (Image – S1…) or a font character sets (C0…);
How tall do you want the signature to be when it prints;
Have the signature person sign their name 3 times with black ink on a white paper;
Put an “X” next to the best signature and email it to
Logo to Mainframe Page Segments (PSegs)
We are in the process of a major corporate rebranding, and our company logo is being revised. Can we provide an existing mainframe page segment (PSeg) and have your font specialists match the graphic size, placement and surrounding white space of the new logo to the old logo?
This depends on the proportions of the logos. If the old logo is square or squar-ish and the new logo is an elongated rectangle (or vice-versa), then our team could probably match the height or width, but not both. It would be best if you could give our team the exact dimensions of what you want generated, with a copy of the old page segment as a reference.
Logo: Black and White and Color Logo
Question: Can you digitize my color logo as both black & white and in color?
Dr. FontZ: If you want the logo digitized as a graphic: All that is needed is a high-quality color print out of the logo.
If you want the logo digitized as font: That requires more definition of the application and the characters desired. Call us to schedule a project review call.
Font: Size Specifications
I have fonts I need to be converted to TrueType fonts and I need them to be a specific point size. Can this be done?
Yes, it can be done. Once the font is converted to TrueType format it is scalable to whatever size you want.
Signature Font in 240dpi AFP Format
Can you create an AFP 240 dpi signature and include the order (Font Identifier, Code Page and Coded Font) in which the font is to be?
For AFP applications the standard method is to create a signature as a Page Segment rather than as a font since PageSegs are easier for you to use.
However, if you need a coded font, our team can do provide the font with the code page, character set and coded font (font identifier). We need the height or point size for the desired font and whether the associated code page needs to be EBCDIC encoded.
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