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How to Share a Custom Dictionary

Dave wrote us the following:

I was wondering if its possible to have the whole company sharing the same ID dictionary? We want to streamline everything so that if someone adds a word to the dictionary everyone else who uses that file will have the same word/dictionary. Is this possible?

It’s pretty simple to share custom dictionaries with your colleagues, as long as you’re using InDesign CS2. It’s not simple, though, to have everyone add words to that central dictionary. But it’s possible!

First, have one person create a new dictionary and put it on the server. (Solution for server-less workgroups follows.) It’s easy: In Preferences > Dictionary, click the icon for New User Dictionary.

Name the dictionary (keep the .udc extension) and save it on the server.

As soon as you create a new external dictionary, it’s added to the list of dictionaries in your Dictionary Preferences. Other users in your workgroup will need to click the Plus icon in their Dictionary Preferences to add the external dictionary. The Preference setting is “sticky” and will be in effect from then on, for any document they create or open.

One thing, though. Only one person can edit the external dictionary on the server from within InDesign – the first person on the network to “load” the dictionary by either adding it or by simply starting up the program when that dictionary had already been added to their Prefs. Everyone else will be able to use the dictionary, but they’ll see a Lock icon appear next to the dictionary name, meaning they can’t edit it.

A solution I recommend to my clients who want to share a dictionary is this:

  1. Appoint one person “Keeper of the Custom Dictionary” and have them choose an assistant who can fill in while the Keeper is on vacation.
  2. The Keeper keeps a copy of the Custom Dictionary on their own computer or perhaps in a fireproof safe guarded by hounds. Why? To fix accidental mucking up of the server version by others on the network.
  3. The Keeper is the only one allowed to add words to the Custom Dictionary. They do this by first adding the words to their local copy of the dictionary, then they update the one on the server to match. The fastest way to add a pile of words to a dictionary is by putting them in a text file – separate words by paragraphs, spaces or tabs – and then importing that .txt file via Edit > Spelling > Dictionary > Import.
  4. Users who want words added to the company’s Custom Dictionary send the words to the Keeper. They can type them out by hand and e-mail them, or export the list of words they added to the user (default) dictionary by choosing Edit > Spelling > Dictionary, choosing Added Words from the dropdown menu, and clicking the Export button. This creates a .txt file suitable for e-mailing, and subsequent importing by the Keeper.

If you’re server-less

Appoint a Keeper as above, and have that person create and distribute the first iteration of your Custom Dictionary by e-mailing the .udc file to everyone. Users can keep that file anywhere on their hard drive (a location safe from accidental deletion would be best) and should load it via Preferences > Dictionary as described above.

Now you just have to tell everyone not to add words to the dictionary without also sending those added words to the Keeper. They can send the words they added to either the default dictionary or the custom one in the usual way: Edit > Spelling > Dictionary, choose the Dictionary from the dropdown menu, choose Added Words from the other dropdown menu, and click the Export button.

Anne-Marie Concepcion

Anne-Marie Concepcion

Anne-Marie “Her Geekness” Concepción is the co-founder (with David Blatner) and CEO of Creative Publishing Network, which produces InDesignSecrets, InDesign Magazine, and other resources for creative professionals. Through her cross-media design studio, Seneca Design & Training, Anne-Marie develops ebooks and trains and consults with companies who want to master the tools and workflows of digital publishing. She has authored over 20 courses on on these topics and others. Keep up with Anne-Marie by subscribing to her ezine, HerGeekness Gazette, and contact her by email at or on Twitter @amarie
Anne-Marie Concepcion

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11 Comments on “How to Share a Custom Dictionary

  1. Anne-Marie did say in the first paragraph, “as long as you?re using InDesign CS2.”

    InDesign CS2 revamped the whole way dictionaries are handled, giving the ability to add multiple dictionaries and making it much easier to add words from a word list. CS just can’t do that.

  2. How do you import or get dictionaries for InDesign CS2?
    I am in Australia and would like to able to work more effectively without having to recorrect the auto correct or aaaaargh! is there any where i can get the Oz dictionary for InDesignCS2???

  3. Look out. If a custom dictionary set on a server is accidentally deleted from the server, all InDesign softwares partaking of the now-missing dictionary will stall badly.

    Mike Witherell in Washington DC

  4. I had a similar problem as Alexandra where I saved the dictionary onto our server and it became locked even from the serve computer. I also got a missing file icon when I tried to load the same dictionary onto another computer. Anybody had this? And Adobe can’t/won’t help because they say it’s a server-level issue.

  5. I guess I should clarify that we would like to have this dictionary accessible/editable by all computers by connecting to the server.

  6. I gather from this that one cannot share the InDesign default user dictionary. Is it best not to add and remove words from the default user dictionary and always create a custom user dictionary when words need to be added or removed? I’m not able to locate the default dictionary on my computer anyway.

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