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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.

Steve Werner

Steve Werner

Steve Werner is a trainer, consultant, and co-author (with David Blatner and Christopher Smith) of InDesign for QuarkXPress Users and Moving to InDesign. He has worked in the graphic arts industry for more than 20 years and was the training manager for ten years at Rapid Lasergraphics. He has taught computer graphics classes since 1988.
Steve Werner

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110 Comments on “Outlining Fonts: Is It Necessary?

    • Sure, if font designers weren’t INSANE and kept trying to prevent users from using their typefaces by disabling embedding and outlining, your worldview would be valid. However, there is no “degradation” of quality when outlining a font for print output. There may be for items that are intended for digital display where editing the document or dynamically changing layouts and content are necessary (can’t think of anything other than a web application where this might be necessary), but for print, yes, outline the heck out of it. It will save you the stress of having 10,000 brochures show up on your doorstep from the printer with all your fonts replaced with Helvetica.

      • No, no no Ronald. Fonts, when converted to paths, outline the shapes and make everything slightly bolder. You can test this yourself on your printer. Every designer who provides printers with press ready pdfs needs to thoroughly understand the features in Adobe Acrobat Pro. That’s really the purpose of a pdf (portable document format). To hand off files with images, fonts embedded and ready to print. There’s nothing like getting a file that needs editing/revising and its all outlines… ugh. The ONLY time I will convert fonts is in a headline that I want to tweak characters, spacing, etc. When I review hard proofs, one of the main things I look for is substituted or reflowed text. If your printer knows what they’re doing, I promise you wont have an issue and if there is a hiccup, you should spot it and get it fixed before you have 10,000 brochures run.

      • Yes, yes, yes Ronald. You are exactly right. If you don’t want any hideous surprises then make it a best practice of converting text to outlines.

    • In what situation is it safer? If I’m sure all fonts used are embedded (which can be easily checked), what’s the risk?

    • It is best not to outline fonts. It makes text changes difficult.
      My suggestion is to output PDF/X-4, preserving transparency, with fonts intact. Design with the text above transparencies whenever possible.
      There is only a need to outline a font when licensing restrictions prevent embedding. I think this is legal so long as it is only going to the printer for them to RIP, proof and print, with no changes being made to the artwork. The only other option would be post script, which many printers would frown upon these days.
      However many people will disagree and will always outline fonts from this day forward. In this case I suggest putting a white box set to Darken blend mode, on a top most layer, covering all page contents. Then flatten transparency when exporting the PDF, using a flattener setting that outlines fonts. This will preserve text effects. If you do this you should use PDF/X-1a. Be aware of how the file flattens, and don’t have spot colors that should print as 4CP. In the event of changes that need to be made before print, you should make a new PDF, because it is very difficult for the printer to edit the flattened PDF with no fonts.

    • For the final artwork (and I am talking large format printing and not book/magazine work) I would always convert those fonts to curves. Producing the final product in our system usually involves opening the pdf into Illustrator. This is mainly done so cutting information can be placed. Improvements also are done. Since it seems most designers have no idea on what “black” means. That is a whole article in itself. Also the lovely “embed all fonts” options doesn’t happen all the time. Can’t tell you how many times I have received PDF’s with some fonts embedded and not all. Don’t take a chance. At the least it could delay your project if there is anything that has to be fixed with your file or adjusted… at the worst it prints and the fonts get screwed up.

  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.

    • If the pdf is print ready with the proper crops and bleeds then all is well you do not need to outline the fonts. If i have to open that pdf in illustrator to make the file print ready then i either need to own the font or have the fonts outlined in the original. Its that simple. Some printers are just tired of jumping through the hoops you have to do to get the pieces of the file they are probably fixing for free…

      • That is true to some extent Kassy, but not always the case. I have dealt with .pdf files that replace fonts with anomalies such as those square wingding-type boxes etc. I have also seen .pdf files that will change after being RIPd for printing, usually has to do with transparencies in the artwork. So, the issue of outlining fonts is more of an issue of “flatenning” for me, and I cannot find anyone with an answer to how to truly flatten a file coming out of InDesign these days. So, to further your comment – if the .pdf is print-ready AND truly flattened (transparency flattening), then there should be no issue. But yes, if there is a need to open in a native program obviously fonts would be necessary. In short, if Adobe were to integrate a way to truly flatten files there would be no need to outline fonts, but in my experience, no matter the export settings, files still retain some measure of transparency and font layer separation and that is what causes issues on the printing end.

      • Not outlining the text in your document before sending it to the printing company is equivalent to throwing dice and hoping for it to fall on a 2 or a 4.

        First, adobe’s technology related to the embedded font is really useful… for previewing and sharing. The problem still is that those embedded fonts are not always recognized as they should and can also be changed by other fonts if they are registered with the same name.

        Whenever a PDF with embedded font is opened, the system will look IF the embedded fonts are already on the reading system. If the fonts are there, the embedded font are ignored and the system uses the local fonts. This is a cause of MASSIVE amount of problems in the printing companies if the said company got a massive range of fonts and have a slightly different version of a font than you. Professional fonts are modified every 4-6 years with slight corrections. Best example is that there are close to 8 different generation of the whole Helvetica font family! (I’m not writing about the style or type, but there are 8 versions of, again as an example, of “Helvetica Neue Std 45 Light” and each have slight modification to their case, spaces and features. Not big changes, but something big enough that it might push a word onto the next line in a 300 words long paragraph and maybe make things look ugly/strange.)

        By not outlining your text, you’re accepting that the printing company uses their own fonts as substitute if necessary. If the blueprints (preview) they give you aren’t okay or have problem, you’ll be the one to pay the cost.

    • You are so right. I could write a book on the amount of useless files I have had to fix. Another one… for gods sake use the right program for the job. Designing a large wall mural i.e. 40’x18′ for example… don’t use InDesign. Actually I wouldn’t use that crap program ever, it is just one step up from ol painmaker (think any prepress people out there knows what I am talking about).

  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’

    • Exactly. I’ve always had a “_MASTER” file, occasionally make a “_BACKUP_[date]” file, and then I save an “_OUTLINED” copy BEFORE outlining the document.

      The printer my company uses requires the PDFs to be outlined. They do great quality work quickly and for a great price, so I deal with it.

      • I’m with you Chris. That’s how I do it too. I personally have never seen any degradation on outlined fonts so it must be microscopic or I need new glasses! B-)

  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

    • Have done many magazines. And we didn’t have our customers convert their fonts. But a large part of the process was in making sure the files didn’t have font issues and trust me there are many. This is all dependent on the workflow used. If one is working in a PDF workflow things can be a little easier. In the end there isn’t one perfect answer for the font issue. Just follow the advice of whom you are getting your printing done. This is the best advice. Different printers use different workflows and many of the times are specialized in a certain field. Dealing with books and magazines is different than dealing with outputting large murals, plexi mounts, museum displays and such. Step one… always always check with the prints on what formats would work best to get the best product in the end. After all that is the goal for all involved.

  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.


    • 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.

    • Actually it is. The prepress department is seeing an issue in the final output. Instead of just going ahead and printing with whatever the font issue is they are asking if you can help them in making sure your product is perfect. There are many many different types of workflows and unlike adobe and such RIP really don’t go through so many changes. Over lots of time the prepress department knows what can cause issues so it would be advisable to take their advice. Of course you just might be another so called “designer” that knows everything there is to know. Improper trapping.. image box overlapping a text box only in one area causing trapping to occur (hence a slightly thicker font). Or a lovely one back in Quark days… using the quark version of bold or italic when there is no such version of the font. Oh so many issues that designers don’t have to deal with.

  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.)

    • Thanks again Aaron,

      Yes, that is a possible solution, but I have found that opening files in Photoshop can produce a number of possible issues. First, it makes for extremely large files. Second, I have seen some anomalies occur upon opening a .pdf in Photoshop. As for opening in Illy or Acrobat, depending on the native program and how it was saved Illy may ask for fonts and you’re still in the same boat. It is possible to truly flatten from Acrobat, but the point is that it would need to be done on the other end before it gets to me to avoid any possible issues on my (the printer) end. If the person creating the file knows what they’re doing the .pdf would be truly flattened and we wouldn’t have to worry about embedding fonts, unnecessarily large files, possible issues opening .pdfs with layers, etc. I guess that goes back to the initial point – I wish Adobe programs had a way to truly flatten a document to send for printing — seems easy to me, but even with pdf/x I’m not seeing a truly flattened file on most files I create – and I still have issues with transparencies at times. Totally valid solutions you’re offering, but I guess we can all agree that there is no one way to flatten a file from InDesign, and even on the other end it is not always possible/feasible to do so. The struggle continues :)

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  16. I put together programs for a ballet company that includes ads. The problem with embedded fonts in the ads sent to me is that I’m not just printing the ad I’m importing it into the program I’m creating (I use CorelDRAW). The embedded fonts may include the right to print but does not usually include the right to edit. CorelDraw respects these rights and sees importing as editting and will try to substitute an installed font for the embedded font. So yes I request all fonts to be flattened/converted to curves, etc. The thing I can not understand is why it’s so complicated in indesign and so easy to do in CorelDraw.

    • “The thing I can not understand is why it’s so complicated in indesign and so easy to do in CorelDraw.”

      I haven’t used Corel Draw but I find outlining fonts in Indesign quite straightforward: Using the selection tool, select the text container> press shift+cmd+O outlines the fonts. Then output as a press PDF.

      • Pavlo,

        In Coreldraw you do not modify the working document. On the “Publish to PDF” settings is a checkbox that says “Export all text as curves”.

        The working document is never flattened but the PDF that is created is always flattened. 1 check box – that’s it. That’s why I said that.

  17. You really make it seem so easy together with your presentation
    but I to find this topic to be actually one thing that I think
    I would never understand. It kind of feels too complicated and extremely vast for me.
    I’m having a look forward for your next publish, I’ll try to get the hold of it!

  18. Speaking as pre-press support at a medium size printers, Kerry and Aaron are making the most sense here.

    Did someone mention converting to a tiff? Hmm, so all your outlined or fonts end up rasterised. How can that be good for text at 300ppi especially when vector is output at device resolution ie north of 2450ppi? Same with jpeg…both are last resort solutions.

    Pdf-x1a is our preferred route although this may change when our rip is upgraded to handle live transparency (via PDFx4 I believe)

  19. I just ran into a problem with a small newsprint publication and an ad that I exported as a press-ready pdf from indesign CS6. The editor suggests that I “embed the fonts” (which apparently indesign always does) or that I send her a tiff. When I asked specifically what problem she was seeing, she said, “the type was in blocks on top of the image” (whatever that means) but that she “fixed it.” Does anyone have any idea what could be happening here?

  20. “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.”

    This statement is very unsettling because a lot of designers will take it at face value. If your PDF is actually 100% print-ready with properly embedded fonts, chances are the printer wouldn’t ask for the text to be converted to outlines in the first place and this needs to be stressed.

    There are also special cases that call for outlined text regardless. For a process like digital embossing for example, the printer either needs to own the font or have the text converted to outlines. The only alternative would be for the prepress tech to manually trace over the text in PS or AI. This could take hours and produce sub par results.

  21. What can you recommend for this on one document? :
    Some text needs to remain as text
    (to be identified in another software and converted to hotspots),
    while some of the text needs to be converted to be non-text
    (so that it will not be identified in another software for hotspotting).
    The problem I have is that all the text that was converted with
    Create Outlines is appearing bumpy/not smooth/bad.
    Working with .ai .eps .dwg and need to get to .pdf or .dwg for other software to find and make hotspots of some of the text but not all.

  22. As a printer now for almost 20 years. This article is extremely frustrating to read.
    This is a debate that drives me crazy. Its like an architect telling a carpenter how to use his hammer. If the printer is asking for outlined font they most likely has good reason. In my shop we operate 5 different printers along with a CNC laser and a plotter cutter. Each piece of equipment requires a different parameters. Items that go through the cutter or the laser have to be opened in a native program to select the paths to be cut. Each of the other printers require different bleeds. For example our wide format direct to substrate printer require a 1/8 bleed with no printing marks. Where with other machines depending on application and size we could go from a 1/8th bleed to a 1″ bleed.
    What does bleed have to do with outlined fonts? Well depending on the process that best suites the job I will need to open the file in a native program to adjust the bleed and remove misplaced crop marks. ie the designer gave me 1/2″ of bleed but left the offset on the crop marks at the default settings of 1/16th.
    Now to put this in context I am a large format/wide format printer and mostly deal with graphic exhibits that are printed on vinyl, rigid substrate or fabric.
    My point being that every printer is going to have different needs. Why assume that you as a designer know what those are.
    Contact your printer find out the process being used on your job. Find out the best way to set up the files and if they ask for outlined fonts. Whats the point of arguing with them. Let the final product determine if you should continue using them or not.
    I have been doing this for a long time now and learn new things from almost every designer or employee that I work with. I keep an open mind and would love someone to show me how to navigate all of our projects with out using outlined fonts.

  23. When I get illustrator files off other designers and try to open them in illustrator, and the fonts haven’t been outlined, and I don’t have those fonts, guess what, the file looks completely different.

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