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Converting Text to Outlines the Right Way, Updated

Who would have thought that here, in the second decade of the 21st century, we would still find ourselves explaining how to convert text to outlines in order to print our documents?! It’s a crazy thing to do, completely unnecessary in the vast majority of instances, and yet we continue to hear requests from users who say they need to do it for one reason or another.

(Here’s a piece on why you shouldn’t convert text to outlines. I generally agree with Steve’s last comment, where he says if your printer wants you to outline text, you should find another printer. Unfortunately, that’s not always possible.)

A few years back, I wrote up a relatively easy hack that generated a lot of interest and excitement, because it allowed InDesign users to convert all text to outlines while exporting to PDF (or, god forbid, EPS), but still leaving you with editable text in your InDesign document. The problem is that this stopped working in CS5. Fortunately, Dov Isaacs at Adobe came up with a good solution, which I want to share with you here. [Editor’s note: Here is another, newer method that works in Acrobat DC.]

(Dov wants to make it clear that he does not actually want anyone to do this because he thinks converting text to outlines is crazy. But I begged him, so he’s being helpful.)

So here’s the trick. In my earlier article, I explained that that there were three steps to ensuring that all your text is converted safely to outlines:

  1. Create a “convert all text to outlines” transparency flattener preset.
  2. Place some transparency on each spread (even if that means putting it on the master page)
  3. Exporting to an Acrobat 4 compatible PDF, or printing-and-distilling, or export an EPS file.

The new update follows the same steps with one exception: In step two, you need to ensure that the transparency you put on the page isn’t just any transparent object, but rather a transparent object that interacts with some text. As he wrote:

What you need to do is force some text, no matter how small or how ridiculously colored, into a situation that actually requires flattening. Thus, if on your master page, you were to create in the page margin a text frame with a 0.1pt period with a 0.5% black tint and overlay that with a very small polygon filled 100%K with opacity of 0.1%, you would force a condition that would cause the Convert All Text to Outlines to kick in, providing the “desired” results.

Unfortunately, while this appeared to work in CS5 for a while, some free update along the way seems broke it again! In CS5.5, it remained broken. Some bug crept in that seems to literally disable the Convert Text to Outlines feature upon export.

Now, for the good news: In InDesign CS5 version 7.0.4 and CS5.5 version 7.5.2 (the newest updates to both versions as of this writing), it appears to be fixed again. Not only that, but it’s even working the way it did back in CS4 again!

That means that as long as you have the newest versions, you can just put any transparent object on the spread (or master page) and InDesign flattens the whole enchilada with your custom flattener preset… and your text is converted to outlines in the output.

Hooray for progress! (Now I just hope the next “progress” update doesn’t break this hack again.)

David Blatner

David Blatner

David Blatner is the co-founder of the Creative Publishing Network, InDesign Magazine, and the author or co-author of 15 books, including Real World InDesign. His InDesign videos at Lynda.com are among the most watched InDesign training in the world. You can find more about David at 63p.com.
David Blatner

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76 Comments on “Converting Text to Outlines the Right Way, Updated

  1. The original method you described works perfectly in the latest InDesign CC 2015.
    I could even place the tinted/transparent object on each spread as a link (I made it in InDesign as just a simple square) and it worked.

    How would this be done in Illustrator? I was poking around trying to figure it out, but wasn’t having any success.

    Thank you so much!

  2. We’re a manufacturer and have to edit contributed art all the time. Fonts have to be converted to outlines so that we can edit the art files. If we don’t have the font a customer has included in their art, Illustrator or Corel will substitute fonts, breaking the art. That is why it is still necessary to convert fonts to outlines.

    It’s also one reason I mainly use Corel Draw for art, since converting to outlines can be done while exporting the file either as pdf or eps. It also has the ability to add crop marks while exporting, something that Adobe apparently hasn’t thought of yet.

    • I’ve noticed especially that sign and large format printers will open PDF print files in Illustrator or some other vector program to preflight, make edits, add crop marks, whatever, which can adversely affect the art. In the past I’ve sent printers PDFs with transparency that end up printing with little white lines around shadows and gradients because they’ve used Flatten Transparency which converts everything to abutting rectangles and their print drivers try to make scaled raster graphics from that. And I’ve seen fonts that were substituted. Illustrator treats an entire document as either RGB or CMYK, so opening a PDF which can have RGB, Gray, Spot, or CMYK objects in it may lead to oddly converted colors.

      So my philosophy as a designer is that PDFs simply don’t work with large format printers and I send very large JPG files instead.

      But if you’re a large-format printer who must work with PDFs, I have some advice. There is dedicated PDF preflight software that may be helpful to preflight PDF files without having to open them in Illustrator. Acrobat DC does a better job than Illustrator of preserving the appearance as long as you don’t have to make many edits.

      If you just need to add crop marks, check size, check bleeds, check overprints, convert spots, add cropmarks, or even drop a dieline over the top of the artwork, you should use the “place” command to link the original PDF file in Illustrator or (better yet) an Indesign document so the artwork is preserved and all your preflights and checks can be done without affecting the artwork.

      Adobe programs can add crop marks but as a designer I rarely know how production will done; sometimes it’s flatbed printing on a pre-cut substrate. I prefer to add my own cropmarks the way I want for my printer than have them coming from a designer sticking 75% into the bleed, so I don’t send artwork with cropmarks to printers.

  3. Thanks David! This works great for high res print ready PDFs, but how do I export for a smaller low res PDF? Even if I try to reduce the file size within Acrobat, I cannot get my PDF smaller than 1.4 mb. I need to get my PDF down to under 200 kb. Any help would be much appreciated since my InDesign file has several tables. Thanks.

    • Rob: Very unlikely that you will be able to bring it down that small if you convert the text to outlines. Fonts are small for lots of technical reasons, but when you convert them to outlines, there are lots and lots and lots of bezier curves and points and you can’t make that small anymore.

  4. I have always used this method and it worked great but it seems to have stopped working for the NEW CC 2017 install…. anyone else have this issue or know anything on it??????

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