Thanks for coming to InDesignSecrets.com, the world's #1 resource for all things InDesign!

Outlining Fonts: Is It Necessary?

A person on the Adobe InDesign User to User Forum posed this question today: “I usually outline the fonts when I’m making PDFs to send to clients as proofs or to send to the printer. Is it even necessary to outline the fonts? I was always under the impression that if you don’t and the person receiving the PDF doesn’t have the particular font on their computer, it will default to a different font in the PDF.”

This is one of those urban myths of publishing?that you frequently need to outline fonts. The truth is that you should almost never have to outline fonts. Really only if you want to mess around with the glyph shapes for a special artistic effect. Unfortunately, it’s perpetuated by some print service providers and others who insist that they won’t receive a PDF file unless the fonts have been outlined.

The truth is that InDesign always embeds fonts in the PDF if the font vendor’s End User License Agreement (hereinafter referred to as the EULA) says you can. Sometimes users think they can get around restrictions on sharing fonts with others by converting text to outlines. According to Claudia McCue’s excellent Real World Print Production (Peachpit Press), “Surprisingly…converting text to outlines does not sidestep the provisions of the font vendor’s EULA. In fact, while some some font vendors’ licensing allows conversion of text to outlines, many expressly forbid it.”

Here are some other good reasons not to outline fonts:

  • The outlining of text will degrade the typographic quality of the text. Why is this? The glyphs are turned into normal graphics which lack the intelligence that fonts have in displaying or printing text, particularly on lower resolution devices. Fonts have hinting built in, which makes them look good at low resolution. This is lost when you outline type.
  • Certain attributes will be lost when outlining because they are not part of the font itself, but are applied by InDesign. Try adding these features to your InDesign type?underlining, strikethrough, bullets applied with the Bullets & Numbering feature, or footnotes. Then select the text and choose Type > Create Outlines. Guess what: Those attributes just disappear!

Almost always, the best answer is to (1) use fonts which allow embedding, and (2) let InDesign embed the fonts (which it does by default) when you create a PDF file. The resulting PDF file can be viewed in Acrobat or free Adobe Reader on either Mac or Windows, or printed to almost any printer with the fonts intact.

So the next time, a printer says that you need to outline your fonts, just say NO! And start looking for another printer who will take your PDF with properly embedded fonts.

Related Articles
Comments

77 Comments on “Outlining Fonts: Is It Necessary?

  1. Hah! I would invite numerous people in this thread, and OP, to work in prepress departments in a wide variety of printing methods…flexo, offset etc. and see the variety of needs of printers and different software. Prepress techs often have to do all kinds of things…open your pdf in illustrator, rip it to shreds and build it back up again, rebuild it from scratch in ways the designer doesn’t notice but is technically completely different than it was before. If your printer asks you to do something differently or supply something differently: listen to them. I guarantee you they work on many more and different kinds of files than a designer ever will.

  2. Just had another thought about this. Up until 2008 I worked in the graphic design department of a multi-national electrical products manufacturer. A very large company with many thousands of products. A good proportion of the work was packaging design and before having our press PDFs signed off by the PM we were ALWAYS required to convert all text elements to outline. It was my understanding that this prevented any font default issues at the other end. The ‘other end’ was often a printer on the other side of the world.

  3. Outlining fonts can be easier, i agree. But in my experience it DOES indeed reduce the quality of the printed product AND what happens when you need to go back and edit a doc that has no master? Only a bunch of outlined fonts… nightmare.

  4. “what happens when you need to go back and edit a doc that has no master?”
    If I’m ever in the position of having to outline fonts (occasionally) I always keep a copy of the editable master and name it ‘file name_edit.indd’

  5. I work as a printer and we deal with this issue all the time. This article is a good outline of the issue, but to say that one shouldn’t choose a printer if they ask the designer to outline text is odious in my opinion. You’re right that fonts typically will not be replaced with default fonts, but sometimes they will be replaced with strange characters or disappear altogether. This is an issue with font permissions, and as a printer we do not have the time to investigate each file that comes through – our job is to ensure that it prints as it is seen on the other end (that of the designer). It is better for the designer to outline the fonts on their end and notice if anything changes than to expect us to catch it on our end. Sometimes the only way to ensure that it will print correctly is to outline the fonts, or in some other way “flatten” the file, so that our drivers aren’t looking at the layers of the file. Yes, in a perfect world everyone would be using properly licensed fonts embedded in the file, but there are so many amateur fonts floating around and fonts being shared that it should not be seen as the printer’s fault for having to deal with that. Your comment should read – So the next time (no comma) a printer says that you need to outline your fonts go back and redesign your piece with fonts that you have licensed, .pdf it properly and kindly resend it to them. Don’t you think that is more appropriate?

    • Totally agree with Steven comments,

      when you taking a design project , if your customer just send you a low resolution picture and expecting you to sort out with a high resolution picture for printing. will you bill you customer for this service?

      you can choose not to outline the artwork or not to setup the artwork properly, then you shouldn’t expect an express turnaround time without a premium charge!

      • Yeah sure, thus you print a client’s job without sending him at least a digital proof print where HE can see if anything is wrong and approve?
        You are a very strange printer. I work in this field from over 25 years and I don’t think we should continue to work as 25 years ago.
        Nowaday digital proofing is the MINIMUM required before printing a file.
        If you are an online economic printer then you don’t need that, you even print from jpg in RGB without sweating. If you are a professional printer you are paid to provide a digital proof at minimum!

  6. I realize that this is years old and there are many comments that probably say the same thing, but…

    I’m a Graphic Designer, and my first job out of university was working for a small printing business as the inhouse graphic designer, prepress operator and printer.

    So I can see all perspectives when I advise that when sending to a printer, it’s best to do outline your fonts, flatten transparency and if the person working in prepress for a printing company asks if you can send a file back in a certain way, try to do so from now on, otherwise they might spend an hour or more ‘fixing’ a file for print that could have taken you 5 minutes to re-save and resend. And I hate to say this, but you would be surprised at how many graphic designers either do not know how to save something out for print, or will be in a hurry and accidentally save a file out wrong.

    The percentage that your fonts might change is fairly low, but, just think; How would you feel if you sent a job to the printer that was worth a few hundred dollars and the fonts changed? The printer has no idea what your artwork was supposed to look like. They have potentially hundreds of files coming through every day… Now, what if that job was worth thousands?

    Ideally we would live in a world where a designer can just design and send a file and the printer would print it, and it will come out perfect. But in reality, printers and designers live in two completely different worlds and prepress operators are trying to bridge the gap.

    A designer will question the requests of a printer. A request that is usually made because of the limitations of printer drivers, not just to be a pain in the behind or are incompetent. Which, I hate to say it, are not exactly made with graphic designers in mind…

    And a printer will look at artwork sometimes and just can not fathom why a designer is trying to make their life hard. I had a conversation with my boss not long after I had started my job, when he made some comment, half in jest about my choice of putting a 3% grey background into a brochure. When I had a completely logical and thought out answer for him, he looked surprised. He had honestly just thought that it was some flighty design whim that I had had.

    The two ‘other reasons’ in this article for not outlining fonts are interesting, but:

    Outlining fonts degrade the quality? for the most part, this article is talking about doing so for printers, but then mentions this point about low resolution devices.. If you’re sending something to a client to proof, I probably wouldn’t worry so much about outlining your fonts. But I don’t know any printer that prints under 300 dpi, and for printing outlining fonts shouldn’t degrade the quality at all.

    Certain attributes will be lost when outlining… For indesign, this case is true, but indesign was created with an ability to flatten files when exporting, that negates the need to outline fonts.

    • We actually live in a world where if I send a file to a printer “for some hundred dollars” of cost I PRETEND a digital proof of print sent to me, the client then tells me if it’s all ok or there are errors, I correct errors and send the file back.

      That is professional working on both parts.

      But people are just used to use the worst mode of printing and the “safest” way to not loose too much time working. Then just print from flattened jpg and you solve all your problems -__-

      • I’m not sure what you are getting at with your comment. Are your “quote marks” and CAPS you attempting sarcasm? I don’t pretend to do anything, I have always and will always strive to be both professional and efficient. And when commenting on forums such as this one, I hope that what I write is informative and easy to understand.

        But yes, it’s true, you can always print from a flattened .Jpg. When working prepress, I’ve actually had to do this to files because the RIP hasn’t been able to accurately read a transparency layer or gradient. Doing this usually tends to bulk up the file size, which can also cause longer processing times through a printer. But this is a last resort step, and still needs to be checked back to the original file for discrepancies.

  7. I would like one of the Prepress professionals on this forum to let me know what they expect when printing a book. When printing a book, I have never once been asked to convert the 150+ pages to outlines, and haven’t yet had any issues come back to me regarding any issues from NOT converting the fonts to outlines. I would venture to say it is not something that has ever been requested since PDF has been introduced to the workflow.

    Having recently been asked to convert a package of 30 different event posters from PDF to EPS with outlines, I watched the size of the collection balloon from just over 50MB, to just under 2GB, I can’t begin to imagine the size of such a document if asked to do the same with a book.

    I expect then the question comes down to this… We wouldn’t ever consider converting the fonts in large, 100+ documents to outlines, so what is it about single page documents that might require this?

    • Hi Kraeg,

      I’ll start with the size issue first. I’m not sure why the printer needed the .eps file (unless they were using it for embroidery purposes). But you should be able to save a print-ready pdf, with all the fonts outlined, at a relatively small size if you un-check the box ‘Preserve Illustrator/Photoshop editing capabilities.’ (or something similar) This takes a lot of the background data out of the file and shrinks the file size, without degrading the quality of the print.

      As for the book versus poster issue: A lot of printing places run several different types of printing machine, not just one press. So, if it were at the place I worked at, I would say that it was because the different types of jobs ran on different machines.

      A simple book, with black print (text), also doesn’t contain much background data and will run through a printers RIP (raster image processor) without too much trouble. The press operator should be able to dump it in the driver and set it up and print, no problem. (I am assuming that it was a simple book that contained mostly text?)

      However, a colour poster file is different. It will be run on a different press. It’s likely to have multiple layers? transparency? and likely a lot of background data, which can sometimes get stuck processing in the RIP of the printer driver. Every now and then, we would get a file that could literally halt the press for an hour or two, or all together stall the machine until it’s switched off and on again, just because the driver didn’t like the file. Not because of any errors in the file, but just because it was trying to read and interpret a transparency layer, or a drop shadow… No one has time for that.

      So what does this have to do with outlining fonts?

      Well, Prepress operators are there to make a designers life easier when something like this happens. Instead of the printer coming back to you with; ‘something is wrong with your file, fix it’, the prepress operator will take your file and muck around with it, alter it, optimise it, delete background data, re-save it from another program in 5 different ways, anything to get it to run through the rip. Most of which they can’t do without fonts being outlined.

      Printing drivers and graphic design programs are not always compatible.

      I hope this explanation made sense?

      • Thank you it did. It has also made me more aware of the liberties I’ve been taking with transparency in my support files

  8. Good point Kraeg, and you’re right that considering file size for multi-page documents means that outlining fonts might not be the viable solution. To answer your question simply, it is the same issue with fonts whether there is one page or 100 when it comes to pre-press – that is the issue that fonts contained in documents that are not truly flattened .pdfs can sometimes act funny when opened on the other end, because those font permissions aren’t available on the designer/prepress operator’s computer. I’ve seen them turn to boxes and weird symbols, give errors, cause a variety of problems on the other end. That is why it is always good to have a file where the fonts are outlined, so that issue doesn’t arise. However, you’re correct that it can be time-consuming and cause issues on the end of the original designer, as well as make for huge file sizes.

    I think it comes down to this – with so many ways to export to .pdf, and many of them being interactive for web use and keeping layers in tact etc. it is becoming difficult to deliver a “flattened” document to a printer or pressman. For instance, I work in InDesign for page layout and have yet to find an easy way to just “flatten” my documents so there are no embedded fonts in the document that could cause an issue on the other end. When it comes down to it, all a printer needs is a single crisp image and no other information, so why would we need to have fonts in separate layers in the .pdf? I think it is a way to protect fonts from being used improperly, and I think that is why there is no easy way to “flatten” documents without rolling back to an old version of Adobe when the program really did create on single image for a .pdf

    I’m interested to know if anyone has a single solution to the font issue – i.e. a way to “flatten” a document and get the file size down while turning the fonts and everything in the document to a raster image at 300 dpi — again, unless you’re making changes or printing a sign why would you need vector type data etc.?

    • It is the time consuming aspect that chafes me. I know once I have released a file for print I no longer require the ability to edit. It’s a throwback to the days when requesting a new file meant another delay and/or courier charge. But the extra time required with one supplier when others seem quite capable is a source of constant irritation. This site has helped me to prepare files in a better manner and today continues to do so. Thanks for your addition to the conversation.

  9. So how should one go about negotiating a license to embed? Or should one be prepared to spend beaucoup bucks to develop a new brand identity specifically to get away from non-embeddable fonts?

  10. There are ways to outline fonts within Adobe Acrobat pro. True – it takes a little bit of backdoor work-around, but it’s possible. Wouldn’t it be nicer if Printers had the ability to one-click outline fonts from a .pdf reader, like acrobat pro; as oppose to spending precious time going through the process linked below?

    To be honest, I’m tired of being asked to do something that should be completely unnecessary. I’m even more tired of getting artwork to fix from other “designers” that were told by their printers that outlining fonts is industry standard; then finding that I can’t make edits to their file because all they saved was an outlined document.

    reference: http://bestfontforward.wordpress.com/2012/07/27/outlining-text-in-adobe-acrobat-x/

    • Isn’t that more the designer’s mistake for not keeping a working and editable file? If a designer is organised, this shouldn’t be an issue. but lets face it, a lot of ‘designers’ are not organised, and I have had to deal with this problem myself.

      I think that what a lot of people don’t understand, is that while technology is getting better. The people who make the programs that run the printers, and the people who make the graphics programs we use, don’t really communicate enough to weed out the issues that can pop up that cause the need to outline fonts just in case that one job out of 100 or more is the one that the font changes when being set up to print.

      Outlining fonts isn’t a 100% necessary MOST OF THE TIME. It’s a precautionary measure to stop things from going wrong.

      It’s like anything else we should be doing to make sure the end result comes out the way we expect.

      • Sure it’s their fault. But it’s a product of not knowing what they’re doing and having the printer “educate” them.

        Here’s my perspective though – we have in house printing. Often I’m asked to fix files supplied by our print only customers, many times created in publisher. Very rarely do our sales staff want to go back to the customer, so they don’t mind letting me charge 10 minutes of billable time for an easy fix. 99% of the time, all I’m doing is fixing bleeds – and I never have their buggy font that I don’t want to install anyway. Almost every time – I outline the fonts.

        Why do printers place responsibility on the person supplying the file when they likely don’t even know what they’re doing? I don’t want to train people on how to do basic pre-press functions and neither do our printers. When I need fonts outlined, I do it myself through acrobat. I wish more printers knew this was possible. I also wish it was easier.

        This problem would be solved much quicker and less designers would have complaints if there was a one click from Acrobat. When printers run into issues – open in acrobat & outline. It shouldn’t matter if the art was created in inDesign, Illustrator, Quark, Corel, powerpoint, whatever…

        But maybe I’m missing something.

  11. I’m coming to this page because a magazine asked me to outline fonts for an ad, and in book publishing, I’ve never run into this. I don’t really get it. If you save to PDF/X-1a, no font problem of any sort should arise. Everything is verified and certified before the file is even saved.

    Embedded fonts should always be subset. This entirely prevents them from being replaced on the press. It’s as simple as that. And this is part of PDF/X-1a, along with flattening of all graphics layers. It’s a form of PDF specifically designed to avoid all printing problems.

    Am I missing something? Is anyone aware of problems printing a PDF/X-1a file?

  12. Not to mention, in what other industry does a professional go back to their customer wringing their hands in frustration and tell them to perform task ______ before they will help them? This is not customer oriented behavior.

  13. Aaron – That’s a good point, I have looked into PDF/X-1a as a possible solution to some issues that arise from customer files, but I have found that even that does not seem to truly “flatten” everything within the file – I’ve had issues with transparency effects etc. out of InDesign. I’ll check my settings against yours and see if it produces a better file. I dunno, I guess it comes down to the fact that so many variables can present situation specific problems, and there doesn’t seem to be any one universal answer – but I agree, PDF/X-1a is a start, let’s hope Adobe creates a .pdf that is truly flattened so there cannot be any font/graphic issues.

    NovelIDEA – I think you’re looking at this in the wrong light. In my opinion, the printer should avoid making changes to files whenever possible. The customer in this case is not a “customer” in that sense, they are a professional producing a file for print (if a pro didn’t set it up, then yes, the customer is going to have to feel the burn for using an amateur), and if the designer has set things up incorrectly they need to fix it in the native file (InDesign, Illustrator, god forbid WORD! etc.). That is because of a number of things – consider that if I open a page from your .pdf in Photoshop to fix something and then re-save it and add it back into the document, I can’t be sure that a change in color, graphics, etc. might have happened as a result (believe me, it sometimes will, and sometimes hardly noticeable anomalies). Furthermore, if I go in and fix it for you this time, what happens to those corrections if you want to make alterations to the native file and print again in the future? Now your native file won’t have the fixes I made and I’ll have to perform them all over again.

    In short, it isn’t a way of castrating the client because they did something wrong, it is educating them and ensuring that they have proper files to work with on their end in the future.

    Final thought – I’ve never asked a client to outline fonts, but I think it is a viable solution if they’re using fonts that cannot be embedded or the printer is having problems with a file, it is the responsibility of the client to provide print-ready files – it’s nothing personal.

  14. Steve, if you want to flatten EVERYTHING, you can just import the PDF into Photoshop or Illustrator or Acrobat and save or export as a single-layer TIFF. (InDesign does not save to TIFF.)

  15. Users can inform if their computer is employing Windows XP by right-simply
    clicking on ‘My Computer’ then clicking on ‘Properties.
    Works with internet plus a PC or Laptop, No satellite dish needed.
    In addition, set a system restore point prior to changes in your
    settings in Windows Vista.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>