Author Topic: Form Overlays for Fun and Profit  (Read 25874 times)

Alex Copeland

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Form Overlays for Fun and Profit
« on: March 19, 2010, 08:35:10 AM »
You can print your own form overlays from within Prelude without expensive forms software or dedicated hardware.  Assuming you're using printers that can understand PCL, all you need is your AIX box, a PC and a few free programs.

I reconfigured our AP check printing to send fonts and forms on demand from within Prelude.

Here's what I used:

  • pcloverlay http://aplawrence.com/KevinSmith/pcoverlays/ -- Create forms overlays for Lasterjet PCL printing by stripping out PCL commands that don't work with overlays. You'll need a C++ compiler on your AIX box, and you'll need to edit the program to put a couple extra includes to get it compile and run on AIX. I have a binary that I compiled that I'd be happy to share if anyone wants it.

  • OpenOffice Draw http://www.openoffice.org/ to design the forms.  You can really use whatever you want. This program is free and is nice for making the overlays.

  • A PCL print-to-file "printer".  In Windows, add a new printer -> choose "Local printer attached to this computer" -> "Use the following port: FILE: (Print to File)" -> Choose "HP LaserJet III' as the print driver -> name the printer something like "PCL".

  • Optionally, the free program PCLReader is handy to view raw PCL output without sending it to a printer: http://www.filetransit.com/freeware.php?name=Pcl2pdf

  • This page was also useful for deciphering PCL commands:http://www.piclist.com/techref/language/pcl/index.htm


Here's my method:
  • Make the form with OO Draw, then "printer" it to a PCL file.
  • Transfer the PCL file to the AIX box.
  • Run pcloverlay:
Code: [Select]
pcloverlay < rawpclfile.pcl > formoverlay.pcl
  • In the UniBasic program where you want the overlay, right after the "PRINTER ON" statement, put something like:
   
Code: [Select]
   VERB="! cat /path/to/formoverlay.pcl"
   EXECUTE VERB CAPTURING DSP
   PRINT DSP:

In a related note, you can send fonts (bar codes, MICR, etc) to the printer in a manner similar to above, but you have to make sure that you have an <ESC>*c#D (where # is the font ID number you assign) at the start of the font file and an <ESC>*c5F at the end. This page has some useful info: http://www.idautomation.com/kb/fonts-pcl.html#Other_PCL_font_issues 

I hope someone finds this useful.  We were using flash memory cards in our HP printers to store forms as PCL macros, but maintenance became a nightmare.  I researched some other form printing solutions and vendors wanted $10K - $30 for their products.

dgreenup

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Re: Form Overlays for Fun and Profit
« Reply #1 on: March 31, 2010, 04:19:42 PM »
Hi Alex,

Very interesting information. Thank you.

<plug> For what it is worth Minisoft produces a comprehensive forms solution with integrated emailing and faxing for under 5K. Still not free but much less than what those "other" forms solutions were charging. Called eFORMz, it also has a slick database access feature that lets you populate forms directly from a database. http://www.minisoft.com/pages/business/eformz/eformz.htm <unplug>

Alex Copeland

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Re: Form Overlays for Fun and Profit
« Reply #2 on: March 31, 2010, 10:59:21 PM »
dgreenup,

I will continue to try and post stuff on here that we use or have developed.  I'm glad you found it interesting.

--Alex


dgreenup

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Re: Form Overlays for Fun and Profit
« Reply #3 on: April 01, 2010, 02:54:52 PM »
Alex if you don't mind I thought I would pick your brain a little more. You seem to have a great handle on the Prelude software. So does Activant Prelude come with an electronic forms package bundled in? From the sounds of your original post it doesn't. Hence the desire to put something together like you did.  So most if not all Prelude users are potentially faced with the the same challenge as you regarding forms generation? Also what do Prelude users do when they want to email or fax a purchase order or invoice?

Thanks!

Doug Greenup
Minisoft

Tom Pellitieri

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Re: Form Overlays for Fun and Profit
« Reply #4 on: April 02, 2010, 06:47:32 AM »
Doug,

There are a few third-party vendors that Activant/Prelude uses.  Integrating them is always considered a customization.  VsiFax is available for faxing, and can fax to an e-mail address.  Optio is used for forms generation.

We only use VsiFax here.  I wrote some additional mods to allow us to e-mail PDF versions of invoices, statements and reports using VsiFax.  The standard software used UUCP encoding for attachments.  Unfortunately, there are some e-mail services that can't handle this properly, so I rewrote the routines to use MIME encoding.

We use PCL to enhance some forms (e.g., our business logo prints on all external documents), but generally use plain text.  Personally, I prefer the fixed-space fonts for business documents.  I find it's a lot easier to read lists of part numbers when the characters line up.

Alex Copeland

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Re: Form Overlays for Fun and Profit
« Reply #5 on: April 08, 2010, 01:30:13 PM »
Tom summed things up nicely. That's pretty much my take on things, too.