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Adobe CS3 and AppleScript

Volume Number: 24 (2008)
Issue Number: 02
Column Tag: Application Scripting

Adobe CS3 and AppleScript

by Ben Waldie

Upgrading an application, despite giving you access to the latest and greatest features, tends to present some nagging questions. Will your existing documents still work with the new version of the application? Will any of your existing data, settings, or preferences be lost or overwritten? Will conflicts with other applications or software arise?

If you've incorporated the application into an AppleScript-based automated workflow, as is the case with many Adobe users, then some additional concerns may arise. Will your existing AppleScripts continue to work? If not, how long will it take to update them? The answers to these questions depend entirely on the changes made by the application developer. If the developer has changed the application significantly, then the AppleScript implementation may also have changed significantly too. If this is the case, then many changes to your existing scripts could be necessary.

Fortunately, Adobe applications seem to have good backward compatibility. In my experience, when installing updated Adobe software, I've generally found that only minor changes, if any, are required in my existing scripts. New terminology may exist for new application features, but existing terminology rarely seems to change much. And, if it does, then it's usually well documented. In this month's column, we'll explore some of the scripting changes in Adobe Creative Suite 3, as well as provide some tips for upgrading your existing AppleScripts.

Whenever upgrading an application, whether it's part of an automated workflow or not, it's always a good idea to begin by backing up your existing data. Then, if you've got the means to do so, set up a test environment, where you may conduct parallel testing with the new software. Make sure it works as expected, and make any necessary changes to existing AppleScripts. When you're sure things are working as expected, then begin integrating the updated application and scripts into your live workflow.

Acrobat 8.x

Throughout the AppleScript community, it's widely assumed that Adobe has ceased expanding Acrobat Professional's AppleScript support, in favor of the cross platform JavaScript. Therefore, I'm afraid that any new scripting functionality in Acrobat Professional 8.x (which is included with CS3) is JavaScript-specific. According to Acrobat's JavaScript API reference guide, Acrobat Professional 8.x introduces a handful of new and modified object properties and methods. However, none of these are directly accessible via AppleScript.

That said, you can access all of Acrobat's JavaScript functionality from AppleScript by using the do script command, and passing it the JavaScript code you wish to execute or directing it to a file containing JavaScript code. Just be sure that you've enabled JavaScript in Acrobat's preferences.

The following simple example demonstrates how to use Acrobat's do script command to retrieve the title property of the frontmost opened document:

tell application "Adobe Acrobat Professional"
   do script ";"
end tell
--> "My Document"

Acrobat Professional still includes limited AppleScript support for performing some basic functions, such as opening documents, deleting pages, inserting pages, and printing pages. If you've got an existing script that uses this terminology, then it will probably continue to work.

Acrobat's AppleScript terminology hasn't been updated in quite some time and it doesn't look likely to be expanded again in the future. Acrobat's JavaScript support is far more robust, and for best results and a greater chance of future compatibility, I recommend using it whenever automating Acrobat. You can find a comprehensive guide to Acrobat's JavaScript terminology on Adobe's developer website using the link provided later in this column. You can also test your JavaScript code within Acrobat itself by enabling the JavaScript debugger. To display the debugger, simply type Command+J. See figure 1.

Figure 1. Acrobat's JavaScript Debugger.

At the time this column was written, Adobe had not yet officially updated Acrobat Professional for Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard. According to Adobe's Leopard capability guide, the estimated release date for this update is sometime in January of 2008.

Acrobat Distiller

Like Acrobat Professional, Acrobat Distiller's AppleScript support remains unchanged in version 8.x. It contains a few basic terms, the most useful being the distill command, which may be used to convert a specified file to PDF format, using a specified PDF settings file.

Bridge CS3

Bridge CS3 introduces basic AppleScript support in the form of a do javascript command. Although this may seem insignificant, like Acrobat's do script command, this command gives AppleScripters access to Bridge's extensive JavaScript implementation. The following example code demonstrates how to use this command to run a slideshow of selected images, using Bridge's current slideshow options:

tell application "Bridge CS3"
   do javascript "var thumbs = app.document.getSelection();
end tell

Illustrator CS3

Illustrator CS3 includes a number of AppleScript enhancements. Here are some that may be of particular interest. For a complete list of changes, check out the Illustrator CS3 Scripting Guide.

Commands have been added for undo and redo. To undo the last operation, you would use the following code:

tell application "Adobe Illustrator"
end tell

The path item class now possesses a read-only length property, allowing you to determine the length of the path, in points. Previously, you would have had to calculate this, based on the position of the path's ends.

tell application "Adobe Illustrator"
   tell current document
      length of path item 1
   end tell
end tell
--> 116.14274597168

Open file and export options have been expanded. AutoCAD and Freehand open file options are newly accessible via AppleScript, as are AutoCAD export options. In addition, Photoshop open options have been expanded to include a preserve layers property and a layer comp property. Flash export options have also been expanded to include additional properties, including export all symbols, export version, Flash playback security, include metadata, and more. Consult the Open Options Suite and Export Options Suite in Illustrator's AppleScript dictionary to access these classes and properties.

InDesign CS3

InDesign CS3 only appears to have a handful of scripting changes. This means that you should have few, if any, changes to make to existing CS2 AppleScripts, in order for them to work with CS3. Primarily of interest are the following:

The place command, which is used to place a file onto a page, spread, or page item, has been updated to return a list of items placed, rather than an individual item placed. The reason for this change is that in some instances, the place command may be used to place multiple objects. For example, the following code places a specified image on two different pages in the active document:

set theImage to choose file with prompt "Choose an image to place:"
tell application "Adobe InDesign CS3"
   tell active document
      place theImage on {page 1, page 2}
   end tell
end tell
--> {{image id 218 of rectangle id 222 of page id 177 
of spread id 172 of document "Untitled-1" of application "Adobe InDesign CS3"},
{image id 223 of rectangle id 225 of page id 201 of spread id 196 of
document "Untitled-1" of application "Adobe InDesign CS3"}}

The resize, rotate, and shear commands have been replaced by a more generic transform command, which can be used to perform multiple types of transformations. To use this command, your script must first create what's known as a transformation matrix, which will serve as the settings for the transformation. A transformation matrix object possesses various properties, such as horizontal and vertical scale, shear angle, rotation angle, and so forth, which may be specified when the transformation matrix is created. These properties will control how the specified objects will be transformed when the transform command is used. See figure 2.

Figure 2. The properties of a transformation matrix.

This is sure to confuse even the most experienced scripters. So, perhaps the best way to illustrate the creation of a transformation matrix and the use of the transform command is with an example. This example code scales the selected page items in the active document to 25%.

tell application "Adobe InDesign CS3"
   -- Create a transformation matrix that will scale to 25% horizontal and 25% vertical
   set theTranformationMatrix to make transformation matrix with ¬
   properties {horizontal scale factor:0.25, vertical scale factor:0.25}
   -- Get the selected page items
   set thePageItems to selection
   -- Transform the selected page items using the transformation matrix that we created earlier
   transform thePageItems in parent coordinates from top left anchor with ¬
   matrix theTranformationMatrix
end tell

Some additional related commands have also been added to InDesign CS3, including transform again, transform again individually, and clear transformations.

Script Versioning

InDesign possesses a unique feature, which I have yet to discover in any other scriptable applications. This feature, known as script versioning, allows InDesign CS3 to run scripts that were written for earlier versions of InDesign. This means that you theoretically should be able to run your existing InDesign CS or CS2 AppleScripts in InDesign CS3 without making any terminology changes. Actually, script versioning is not new to InDesign CS3, and was around in CS2 as well.

To utilize this feature, your script must be written to target InDesign CS3, but use terms from InDesign CS or CS2 (utilizing AppleScript's using terms from clause). You must also set InDesign's script preferences (via your script) to use the scripting implementation version appropriate for your script. For example:

-- Target InDesign CS3
tell application "Adobe InDesign CS3"
   -- Change the scripting implementation version to CS2
   set version of script preferences to 4.0
   -- Perform some CS2 code
   using terms from "InDesign CS2"
      -- Add your InDesign CS2 code here
   end using terms from
end tell

Please note that, in order for the code above to compile, you would need to have both InDesign CS3 and CS2 installed on your development machine. However, only CS3 would need to be installed on the machine that will run the script.

Photoshop CS3

Like the other CS3 applications, Photoshop doesn't introduce a large number of scripting changes. Here are a few:

There are now two separate versions of Photoshop, each with slightly different options. The version you have depends on the Creative Suite package you have purchased. Creative Suite Standard comes with Photoshop Standard, whereas Creative Suite Premium comes with Photoshop Extended. Your scripts can now determine the version of Photoshop installed by using the new feature enabled command. For example, this code checks to see if Photoshop is the extended version. A boolean value is returned.

tell application "Adobe Photoshop CS3"
   feature enabled name "photoshop/extended"
end tell
--> true

Photoshop Extended includes a new feature that allows you to manually count items in an image by placing markers throughout the image. These count markers are accessible via AppleScript using the count item class. The following example code retrieves a list of count items in the current document.

tell application "Adobe Photoshop CS3"
   every count item of current document
end tell
--> {count item 1 of document "My Photo" of application "Adobe Photoshop CS3", ¬
  count item 2 of document "My Photo" of application "Adobe Photoshop CS3"}

Photoshop now includes a refresh command, which may be used to allow the application to refresh prior to proceeding with further script execution. For example:

tell application "Adobe Photoshop CS3"
end tell

Photoshop now includes a Photoshop open dialog command. When executed, this command displays Photoshop's open dialog, allowing the user to choose the desired files. See Figure 3. References to the chosen files are then returned to the script for further processing.

tell application "Adobe Photoshop CS3"
   Photoshop open dialog
end tell
--> {file "Macintosh HD:Users:bwaldie:Desktop:My Photo.png"}

Figure 3. Photoshop's Open Dialog.

Scripting Documentation

Adobe's scripting documentation is quite extensive, and it keeps getting better with each new release. When upgrading to CS3, one thing that you're likely to notice is that much of the scripting documentation has been re-organized and/or expanded. You can find the CS3 scripting documentation in the following locations:

Acrobat Scripting Documentation (JavaScript only)

Online at

Bridge Scripting Documentation (JavaScript only)

Online at

On the CS3 Content CD in /Documentation/Scripting/Adobe Bridge CS3/

Illustrator Scripting Documentation (AppleScript, JavaScript, and VBScript)

Online at

On the CS3 Content CD in /Documentation/Scripting/Adobe Illustrator CS3/

Installed with Illustrator in /Applications/Adobe Illustrator CS3/Scripting/Documentation/

InDesign Scripting Documentation (AppleScript, JavaScript, and VBScript)

Online at

On the CS3 Content CD at /Documentation/Scripting/Adobe InDesign CS3/

Photoshop Scripting Documentation (AppleScript, JavaScript, and VBScript)

Online at

On the CS3 Content CD in /Documentation/Scripting/Adobe Photoshop CS3/

Installed with Photoshop in /Applications/Adobe Photoshop CS3/Scripting Guide/

In CS3's scripting documentation, you'll find example code, terminology guides, tutorials, scripting version histories, and more.

In Closing

As we've discussed, the AppleScript enhancements in CS3 primarily offer AppleScript support for new features, or enhance existing support with new properties or parameters. Not too many actual changes to existing support have been made, with the exception of a few bug fixes here or there. Because of this, it's unlikely that you'll encounter major issues when upgrading to CS3. However, it's still recommended that you conduct parallel testing and make any necessary changes prior to implementing any new software in a live workflow.

As you continue scripting the applications of the Adobe Creative Suite, be sure to consult the scripting guides and documentation, as these are valuable resources that can often help to clarify things and put you back on track, should you run into trouble. Adobe also provides online user-to-user forums, which offer an excellent way to ask questions, find tips and tricks, network with other users, and more. Here, you'll find scripting-specific forums for all of the CS3 applications. Search them often, and don't be afraid to post questions of your own.

Until next time, keep scripting!

Ben Waldie is president of Automated Workflows, LLC (, a company offering AppleScript, Automator, and workflow consulting services to Mac-based businesses. For years, Ben has developed professional automated solutions for companies such as Abercrombie & Fitch, Adobe Systems, Apple Computer, CNN, Microsoft, PC World, and Time Magazine. Ben is the author of Automator for Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard: Visual QuickStart Guide (Peachpit Press) and AppleScripting the Finder, as well as an AppleScript training CD (VTC). Ben is a frequent presenter at Macworld Expo and other events, and is president of The Philadelphia Area AppleScript Users Group. Ben can be reached by email at


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