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Preserving Vectors in Photoshop Files

Sandee “vector babe” Cohen mentioned this in our latest podcast, but I figured I’d better write it up here: If you have type layers (or other vector layers) in Photoshop and you want to maintain those mathematically pure vector lines while bringing the image into InDesign, you should save the Photoshop file as a PDF — not a PSD or TIFF!

Both PSD (native Photoshop document) and TIFF will rasterize the vectors (turn them into pixels) when you print or export from InDesign. Vectors are maintained, however in PDF. (They’re also maintained in EPS files, but I try to avoid EPS files when I can… it’s a dying file format. We’ll have to cover the relative merits of PDF vs. EPS some other day.)

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 are among the most watched InDesign training in the world. You can find more about David at
David Blatner

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17 Comments on “Preserving Vectors in Photoshop Files

  1. Watch out just for two important things : even if the Photoshop PDF is in CMYK mode and if a pure Black text is used (C:0 M:0 Y:0 K:100), this Black will not overprint in InDesign because Indy does not inherit overprint and blending modes from the imported Photoshop files.

    Also InDesign can’t choose which layers of the Photoshop PDF you want to display or not. If at least InDesign could do that it would be easy to import separately the layers containing only the texts and objects colorized with a pure Black and to set the picture image in overprint.

    Until Adobe extends InDesign’s support of Photoshop PDF files, you will have to save a separate file containing only Black objects and texts and put them in overprint in InDesign.

    Am I understandable enough ?

  2. Hi Branislav, yes, you’re understandable enough. But I think you’re describing a very particular and relatively uncommon situation IMO, and even in that case, there’s a fix for the majority of even those few cases.

    You have to work — have to take deliberate steps — to get pure black in Photoshop. The default black (clicking the little black square to the right of the color ramp in the Color palette) even in a CMYK file is a rich black. So most designers who want black vector text in their Photoshop file will have no problem saving it as a Photoshop PDF and getting the black text to overprint. That’s because the black they specify is most likely going to be a rich black, which looks good, and overprints by default.

    To get *pure* black text they have to edit the CMYK percentages in Photoshop … change to 0/0/0/100 … in the Color palette while the text is selected. If the text is on top of colors, it looks way too washed out because pure black is not dense enough.

    Anyway, there are some designs you do in Photoshop where pure black text is the best solution … small type perhaps? Not sure.

    If you want that pure black text in your Photoshop file to overprint other Photoshop colors behind the text, you can select the text layer in Photoshop and set its blending mode to Multiply. I discussed this very issue of overprinting Photoshop pure black (and the fix) in a recent issue of DesignGeek here:

    The only time that Multiply trick won’t do you any good is if, as you say, some or all of the pure black text is 1) on a transparent background in the Photoshop file; AND 2) will end up on top of colored elements in InDesign. As you say, InDesign doesn’t support Photoshop blending modes when they interact with InDesign elements, so that type will knock out any ID stuff behind it.

    How often does a designer create a Photoshop file that meets all of the above criteria (text changed to pure black from the default rich black, the text is on top of transparency, same text ends up overlapping colored ID elements) …? Maybe 2% of the time?

    Note that the problem with pure black text in Photoshop knocking out instead of overprinting is not just a Photoshop PDF issue, you run into the same problem with PSD files and even flattened TIFFs.

  3. Hi Anne-Marie,

    > The only time that Multiply trick won?t do you any good is if,
    > as you say, some or all of the pure black text is
    > 1) on a transparent background in the Photoshop file; AND
    > 2) will end up on top of colored elements in InDesign.

    This is indeed what I was talking about ! ;-) But your comment is a great clarification to the issue.

  4. Why EPS is a dying format:

    (1) Designed for PostScript printers. Those without PS printers only low-res previews (except in InDesign, which can rasterize the PostScript)
    (2) Doesn’t support transparency (even QX 7 now supports transparency)
    (3) While raster EPS can support vectors and text, it’s one-way only. If you open a PS EPS, the vectors are rasterized
    (4) The information is encapsulated so it can’t be changed. This doesn’t work well for a color managed workflow

  5. I completely agree with Steve’s comments about EPS. That said, I should mitigate my own comments: EPS will never really “die.” It’s an important file format and many people will rely on it for years.

    I should have said that I recommend avoiding EPS when possible but that people should go ahead and use it when they need to. For example, I do not recommend people create PDF files if there’s a chance they’ll end up in QuarkXPress 4 or 5. I feel slightly more comfortable importing PDF into QX7 (because of the apparently tighter integration of Quark with Global Graphic’s PDF and flattening technology), but I haven’t really tested it enough. So, if I’m sending a file to someone using QX, I send an EPS file.

    EPS also has a number of features that are completely lacking in PDF. For example, EPS can contain procedures (little programs that create effects) while PDF cannot. (That’s why the PatternMaker plugin creates EPS files. They’re tiny, they’re efficient, and they make really cool effects.

    But for most cases, in an InDesign workflow… I stick with PDF most of the time.

  6. If you want to preserve the vector capabilities of a clipping path do yoy have to import it in In Design as a PDF or an EPS file, what happens if I import it as osd file?

  7. Great question, Liliana. InDesign understands clipping paths in EPS, PSD, and TIFF files. However, I tend to use TIFF when saving Photoshop files. Strangely, PDF files do not appear to retain the clipping paths from Photoshop properly (unless you use vector layer clipping masks, but that’s a different subject).

    Whether you use TIFF or PSD, in InDesign you can use Object > Clipping Path to choose that Photoshop path. (In fact, InDesign can see all the paths that you created in Photoshop’s Paths palette, so you can choose which path to use as a clipping path if there is more than one.)

    While many people still use EPS files for images with clipping paths, I shy away from that because they aren’t very flexible. (For example, it’s dangerous to put more than one clipping path in them.)

  8. I encountered this tip a while back, and rely on it. The only frustration (applies also to TIFFs) is that it defeats the Edit Original function, to which I have become addicted. InDesign doesn’t have a way to override its (and the OS’s) default file associations, so all flavors of PDF open only in Acrobat. Not too useful. Worse: TIFFs open in whatever the default picture viewer happens to be.
    So I work around it by retaining the PSD format until the design is finalized and client has blessed it, then do the conversion.
    If there are too many such files (most times, there aren’t) then this would be counter-productive, but for the most part it’s been a decent compromise.

  9. Thanks, David. I just found Ann-Marie’s post a few minutes ago. Should have thought of PDP… I have “PDP” so firmly associated with early Unix boxes that it never crossed my mind. (Old dogs. New tricks. Ah, well…)

  10. We use InDesign to separate our PDF files and some of the PDF files are knocking out black text. Is there anyway within InDesign to fix this. I have created an action in PitStop that does the trick but then we have to open each file to perform the action or purchase PitStop server for $$$ just to fix that one problem. Any thoughts ideas or suggestions would be great.

  11. Hi i am preparing a file to be printed on a Man Roland Press. However I layout the texts in Indesign, and uses photoshop to convert and touch up pics then bring them into indesign. When I finished the layout i then export all the pages separately as PDF for the CTP machine in the prepress room. Now the CTP is rejecting the PDF files. I then had to open the PDF files in Photoshop as CMYK then save it back as PDF from Photoshop. Now I know that this is not the way things should be done but the CTP didn’t have a problem it just burn the plates and then went to the Press Room. Everything printed out and it looks alright But when i look at the black texts through a magnify glass it was not pure black. Now can anyone tell me what i did wrong? I would appreciate it since i am working at a printery in Guyana.

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