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Rebuilding InDesign Preferences

Preference files for applications can become corrupt without warning: They hire their relatives for high-paying jobs they’re not the least qualified for, they bribe judges, plant evidence, hide ill-gotten gains in unnumbered offshore accounts, steal candy from babies and make your mama cry.

Or they just make your program act strangely.

The fix is to replace the bad, bad preferences file with a fresh new one. It’s the first line of defense when trying to solve an intermittent and often random problem that appears to affect all the documents a program works with. If an application can’t find an existing preference file, it builds a new one with factory defaults when it starts up, so simply deleting an existing preference file and restarting the program is usually enough to do the job.

The fastest way to do this for InDesign, InCopy, or any other program in the Creative Suite is to quit the program, then hold down the Command-Option-Shift-Ctrl keys (on Windows, hold down Control-Alt-Shift) while you start the program up again. You may need to choose “Open” from the program’s contextual menu to get the program to boot up because you’re holding down modifier keys, but you’ll figure it out.

While the program starts up, keep the keys held down until the splash screen appears along with an alert offering to “Delete InDesign Preferences File?”.  Release the keys and click Yes. InDesign will complete the boot-up process with fresh, clean Preferences to replace the sick one it just deleted. Test the program … chances are, the problem you were suffering is now history. That’s all, nice and simple!

When you rebuild preferences, you lose any custom application defaults you might have made in the Preferences dialog box, and any Presets you created (custom PDF presets, Document presets, etc.). Also, in early versions of InDesign you lose custom Glyph sets – poof, they’re gone. So, when your InDesign preferences are healthy again, back up the actual “InDesign Defaults” file (see below) for safekeeping. That way, the next time you need to rebuild sickly InDesign preferences (and there will be a next time), you could replace the generic InDesign Defaults file with your healthy backup containing your custom settings.

The good news is that some application-wide settings you might have added (as opposed to modified) do survive the rebuilding process. These include custom Workspaces, saved Find/Change queries, keyboard shortcut sets, words you’ve added to AutoCorrect, and custom dictionaries. Also, scripts and plug-ins you might have installed aren’t part of the program’s preferences, so those will always remain intact.

Where are the InDesign Preferences files stored?

In Macintosh OS X and Windows, each user of the computer has their own user account; so Preferences are stored in that user’s own set of application preferences. Technically, by the way, the file is called “InDesign Defaults” (not InDesign Preferences).

On a Mac, start at your Home folder, and go to:
[Home] > Library > Preferences > Adobe InDesign > version > language > InDesign Defaults

Windows XP:
C:\Documents and Settings\<USER>\Application Data\Adobe\InDesign\version\language\InDesign Defaults

Windows Vista or Windows 7:
C:\Users\<USER>\AppData\Roaming\Adobe\InDesign\version\language\ InDesign Defaults

“Version,” of course, means whatever version of InDesign you’re using. You’ll find a version folder for every version of InDesign you’ve ever installed on that computer. Version 3.0 = CS1, version 4.0 = CS2, version 5.0 = CS3, version 6.0 = CS4, and version 7.0 = CS5.

“Language” is your computer’s default language, such as “en_US” for US English. The language subfolder was added to the InDesign preferences path starting with version 6 (CS4)

Along with the InDesign Defaults file you’ll find a whole mess of files. The ones that get rebuilt if you hold down the magic keys at start-up are, as far as I can tell:

Color Settings
FindChangeData [starting with CS4 this file was moved elsewhere, see below]
FindChangeDataTmp [ditto]
InDesign ClipboardScrap [ditto]
InDesign Defaults
InDesign DragDropScrap [ditto]
InDesign OSXServicesScrap (Mac only) [ditto]
InDesign Recovery [ditto]
InDesign Saved Data [ditto]

Please don’t ask me what each of these do, I have only a vague idea. But I can tell you that when I delete my own Preferences (instead of having InDesign do it for me), I just trash the InDesign Defaults file, restart InDesign, and that usually brings InDesign back to health again.

More Preferences Tips

If InDesign freezes up or quits while you have documents open, the next time you start up the program you’ll see those documents re-open, like Lazarus back from the dead, very often with unsaved-changes intact. Woo-hoo! Save those suckers immediately (after giving them a once-over), they’re in a fragile state. You might want to save them with a different name in case you have to go back to the “good” saved file on your hard drive.

These zombie documents were created because InDesign had versions of them in its InDesign Recovery folder, also located in your user account’s settings files on your hard drive. If you’re using InDesign CS1, CS2, or CS3, you’ll find the recovery files in the same location as InDesign Defaults, as explained above.

In CS4 and later, these important files were moved to a different location:

Macintosh OS X:
[Home] > Library > Caches > Adobe InDesign > version > language > InDesign Recovery >

Windows XP:
C:\Documents and Settings\<USER>\Local Settings\Application Data\Adobe\InDesign\version\language\Caches\InDesign Recovery\

Windows Vista or Windows 7:
C:\Users\<USER>\AppData\Local\Adobe\InDesign\version\language\Caches\InDesign Recovery\

On occasion I’ve had a document get damaged enough that when InDesign starts up again, as it’s attempting to open the recovery file, it throws up its hands in disgust (I always imagine two little Hand tools waving in the air) at the mess I’ve made and immediately quits.

When that happens, I hie myself over to the Preferences or Caches folder for my version of InDesign and delete both the InDesign Saved Data file and the InDesign Recovery folder (including any files inside it). In most cases I can start up again with no problems, open the last officially saved version of my problem child layout, and keep working. (Though I’d probably export it to .inx or .idml and re-open it, saving it with a new name, to clear out any document corruption that might have contributed to the issue.)

Finally, if all else fails, try this: Drag that entire InDesign Preferences and Cache folders to your desktop and then start InDesign again. It will recreate the folders it needs and their myriad files. I say “drag them to the desktop” instead of deleting because you might have finely-tuned workspaces or long lists of AutoCorrect entries that you’d like to hang on to.

So if deleting the folder puts InDesign back in the pink again, you can try bringing over a Workspace xml file or two at a time from those precious subfolders in your old Version n.0 folder to their homes in the new one, testing InDesign all the time to make sure everything’s okay before bringing over the rest.

And then … when everything’s working great … back it up! I keep a copy of my entire, healthy, customized Version n.0 folder (renamed My Version n.0 – backup) at the same level as the real one (don’t worry, InDesign sees the strange folder name and ignores it), so I always know where to find my healthy prefs.

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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139 Comments on “Rebuilding InDesign Preferences

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  2. I tried resetting preferences as suggested above but no luck. AllI’m trying to do is to get back the normal File Info window, which currently comes up as a blank (gray) useless window. Can’t use it like that. I’m using Windows XP and InDesign CS6. I’ve had this problem since CS5. Please help!!!

  3. I was throwing my computer out of the window(s) beofre I found this site. Thank You!!!

    (Indesign cs 5 and windows 7 and messed workspace)

  4. Pingback: Can’t Save or Save As or Save a Copy or Undo… Help! | InDesignSecrets

  5. My file became corrupted and InDesign CS5.5 crashed. Now I cannot even start InDesign 5.5

    It stops at ‘Executing startup services’. messages says that InDesign.exe has encountered a problem and needs to close.

    I have cleared the preferences using Ctrl + Alt + Shift and manually. Am using Windows XP

    No luck, any other suggestions??


  6. Unfortunately this hasn’t worked for me I still get the dreaded rainbow ring on startup, this has been ongoing for 3 weeks and I desperately need to finish up three projects that require Indesign including a paid client one (thankfully the client is patient).

  7. Samantha, did you delete the cache as described above? (not just rebuild the preferences) Sounds like you have a corrupt file that InDesign is trying unsuccessfully to recover. Deleting the cache will remove that file.

  8. I cannot find the file path described above for the cache folder. Using Windows 7 and CS6. Suggestions?

  9. Thanks so much for the tip on rebuilding preferences – it really saved my bacon. Just hours before I had a big deadline a file crashed and hung the computer. Your tip got it going again.

  10. Thanks, removing the preferences has made my program faster, great, sadly it did not find and replace my Crop tool, Red Eye and blotter tool(forgot the real name)so I’m off hunting now to find out where adobe hide these tools. lol. thanks again. Ian

  11. OMG! It totally saved my life!
    The Align panel was a blank, I gave him candies but it didn’t fixed! =D
    CTRL+ALT+SHIFT and “ok, delete the preferences!” worked for me!
    Thank you so much! Thank you thank you thank you!

  12. The rebuild preferences technique does not work here on ID CS5.5 on my Mac, where InDesign refuses to save, export or print any file, even an empty one, claiming that the document is corrupted and quoting ‘Error 0.’

    Holding Shift-Alt-Cmd keys down as I enter InDesign seems to have no effect. I should be grateful for any suggestions.

  13. my file is 64 pages is was working earlier today and now it crashes indesign any time I open it. I am past the deadline and have tried the control alt shift thing and pressed “yes” to delete preference. But I still cannot open the “damaged” file. I have read and re-read your post here and I cannot figure this out.

  14. Thank you for this! I’ve just updated the entire CC version of InDesign, went to use it today, and it lagged like a five year old after a nap. Nothing on the Adobe site/forums was helping, until I found a link to this. It’s not the perfection I get with CS6 on my Mac (we’re barely running Windows 7 at my workplace, so this could be a contributing factor here), but it still works much better. Thank you so much.

  15. Hi, I’ve, tried the above solution in In-design.. but its not working yet…
    I can’t able to workout with keyboard shortcut keys…. pl. kindly gimme solution for this….

  16. Hi I tried this but it did NOT work. I then realized that the issue was not in my preferences, but because had SPACES enabled. I turned off spaces and BOOM! My panels functioned perfectly again. Turn off those spaces (eventhough they are helpful in the workflow) while using InDesign.


  17. This is not working for me! CS6 on Windows 10. Have tried it repeatedly, and I get the “do you want to let this program make a change to this machine” question from Windows, but nothing ever happens with InDesign. Any other suggestions?

    • 1# Run InDesign
      2# Immediately just after run – press “ctrl+alt+shift” YOU MUST BE VERY VERY FAST

      Proper command should pop up on your screen

      Good luck!

      • Actually Matthew, there’s no need to jump on the keys, though we used to think so back when this troubleshooting step was first discovered.

        Instead, press the keys first, and keep them held down *while* you start up InDesign. Since you have the key for the contextual menu held down, you may need to start up InDesign from its contextual menu — choose “Open” — in the OS. Keep them held down until you get the alert, “Delete InDesign Preferences file?”.

  18. I love hearing that this simple step fixed so many people’s InDesign problems! Thanks for the feedback!

  19. The keys to change the background colour in Presentation view have stopped working – I’ve tried resetting the pref’s as above but it’s not fixed it – Any ideas??

      • Thanks Mike,
        That may well be the case – my colleague has not updated to the most recent vers. and her presentation view is fine. – I design with a fair amount of black so it’s very frustrating currently!! – I hope they fix it soon!!

  20. This may be an old article but it literally saved me from going crazy! Such a simple fix when I had a bad template that went roage.

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