Why Is InDesign Soooo Slow?
I am working on a brochure (40 pages, about 180 images). The document is running incredibly slow. It is not my computer, it is specifically inDesign. Every little action has about a 5 second delay!
There are many reasons why InDesign might be running slowly, but here’s a quick rundown of things I would try in this situation, more or less in the order I would likely try them.
- Enough memory? RAM is like air to an app like InDesign; if you don’t have enough, it will be sluggish or even die. I would never try to run InDesign on a machine with less than 2 GB of RAM, and I’m forever cursing that my laptop with 8 GB is not enough (but I’m constantly running 5 to 10 programs, often including Photoshop, Illustrator, and Word). Hard drive space can also be a cause of problems, especially if you’re working on a nearly-full drive. Common wisdom says keep 10% of your drive free. (That’s 50 GB for a 500 GB drive!) InDesign relies on your drive because when it runs out of RAM it writes to the “scratch disk” (this happens far more than you’d expect).
- Display Quality. There are three main display modes in InDesign — Fast, Typical, and High Quality (under View > Display Performance). Obviously, the higher the quality, the more InDesign has to think, and the slower it’ll become. If you’re working in Typical and it still seems like one or more images are in high-quality mode, then those images may have display quality overrides applied to them; you can disable those from the Display Performance submenu. InDesign also has other display modes that could potentially slow it down: view > proof color, and view > overprint preview. Normally, on a reasonably fast machine, those shouldn’t slow ID down, though.
- Preflight. This is a big one. InDesign is constantly looking at your document to see if there are any “preflight errors,” such as overset text. If you have created a custom preflight profile, then it may be looking for lots of different things. Adobe insists that Preflight only works in the background when you’re not working, so it should not slow you down. But there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that preflight can get in the way. I almost always leave it on, but if you’re running into slowdowns, it’s definitely worth turning it off. (You can disable it by double-clicking that little green or red dot in the lower-left corner of the screen, then turning off the On checkbox in the Preflight panel that appears.)
- Cross references. Probably the most notorious offender, causing slowdowns in InDesign, is the Cross-References feature. This is another example of “Adobe says it shouldn’t slow you down, but people keep coming up with examples that it can.” The biggest problem, as far as I can see, is x-refs that span from one document to another. This doesn’t surprise me because I’ve also seen problems when hyperlinks span across documents. I personally think something is deeply wrong with the way Adobe engineered the whole cross-document thing, and until it’s fixed I tend to think that cross-document referencing and linking should be avoided. Now, that’s not possible for everyone, so here are two other options: First, it sounds as though having all the documents of a book open at the same time can help. That is, just open all the files whenever you’re going to be editing one of them. Annoying, but it should help. A second option is to look at the Cross-References Pro plug-in from dtptools. I don’t know for sure, but it sounds as though their x-ref technology is more robust than what Adobe came up with.
- Live Screen Drawing. If you get stuttering or slow-downs when you move, resize, or rotate objects, then you should definitely consider setting the Live Screen Drawing pop-up menu to Delayed (in the Interactive pane of the Preferences dialog box). The Delayed option is how it worked in CS4 and earlier: if you click and hold the mouse button for about a second, then it kicks in to “patient user mode” (where you can see the effect take place as you drag. Otherwise, you just get a gray bounding box. I’m fine with the gray bounding box if it means InDesign works faster!
- Plug-ins (Font Activation). You know I dislike all the font management auto-activation plug-ins and recommend people not install them. (I don’t know who’s fault it is, Adobe’s or the add-on developers, but they’re just buggy as heck.) One person reported that turning off the “auto activate” feature that activates fonts inside graphics helped a lot. But I’d try disabling the whole dang thing and see if that helps, too.
- Rebuild Preferences. I’m not sure if rebuilding your preferences would help slow-downs, but if you’ve tried everything else, then I would try hitting it with this. In the same vein, if you can’t figure out what else is causing the slow-down, you might try logging into your computer under a different account (like a guest account). If the problem goes away, then perhaps it’s something else system-wide going on.
All that said, there are some times when InDesign is just always going to be slow. For example, it tends to quit slowly — and the longer you’ve been using it, the longer it takes to quit. There are some technical reasons for this (I believe it has a lot to do with code that is cached on the scratch disk), but nothing you do will get around that. Some folks say they just use Force Quit (or End Task on Windows) to speed it up, but jeez, that makes me nervous. I wouldn’t do that unless it was taking over a couple of minutes and it was clear InDesign had actually crashed. Note that InDesign only writes your Preferences to disk when you quit properly, so if you force quit you may lose those.
InDesign will also run slowly when you’ve asked it to do something that takes a long time. I know that’s obvious, but it bears saying. I was once editing a 40-page index with 8-pt type, and I edited the index paragraph style definition… with the Preview checkbox turned on in the dialog box. Every change I made took a loooonnnngggg time, because InDesign had to update thousands of index entries, checking line breaks changing, reflow, and so on. Turn off the Preview checkbox in those situations! (Unless you are paid by the hour.)
There could be a dozen other reasons InDesign is running slowly. (Or perhaps you drank too much coffee and it just seems like InDesign is moving slower than usual.) Do you have other suggestions that have been helpful for you besides these? Write ‘em in below!