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What’s That Alert or Question Mark Icon in InDesign?

Christopher wrote:

I occasionally see question marks or yellow warning triangles with an exclamation point in them. I can’t figure out what they are trying to tell me.

InDesign has various alert icons scattered throughout the program, so I’m not sure exactly which you’re talking about. I’ll cover all the ones I can think of.

Links Panel

The main place you’ll see both yellow triangles and red question marks is the Links panel. Red means “missing” (InDesign can’t find this file on disk) and yellow means “modified” (the file changed since you imported it). You can use the Relink and the Update buttons to fix these solutions.

Colors and Swatches

The yellow triangle with an exclamation point that sometimes appears in the Color panel or the New Swatches (or Swatch Options) dialog box means the color you picked cannot be reproduced in the current CMYK color space. If you click on the little swatch next to the icon, InDesign will snap the current color to the nearest CMYK-valid equivalent.

Hyperlinks and Cross-References

The Hyperlinks panel can also show some alerts, including the “Hey, something is wrong with this hyperlink” icon (red flag), the “Hey, someone deleted the text that this cross reference is pointing to” icon (red flag), and the “Watch out, the text or page number of this cross reference needs updating” icon (yellow triangle). The latter two are CS4 only, of course (cross-references are new in CS4).

I can’t think of any other flags or alert icons in InDesign, though I’m sure some eagle-eyed reader will surprise us with another one or two. Any takers?

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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21 Comments on “What’s That Alert or Question Mark Icon in InDesign?

  1. Yes phil, especially when you have the book panel docked and it’s minimised, you have a file open from the book and you save and close, you expand the book panel from the dock and the file has a yellow triangle beside it because “it was saved when the panel wasn’t open”. (that’s not an accurate quote :) )

  2. The structure pane shows yellow triangles (with a bonus red stroke to make them extra scary) when your XML fails to validate.

  3. I think with most of the warning symbols that if you hover the mouse over it for a few seconds it pops up with a tip on what the warning is about.

  4. “Sometimes InDesign’s alert icons are mysterious to the unintiated. Here’s an explanation of a few of them.”

    Perhaps it should read, “Uninitiated.”

  5. I have one I still can’t figure out how to fix. It’s in the book panel. First, make a book with a bunch of cross references and bookmarks. Now, move the folder of files to another place on your hard drive. Now preflight the book. A bunch of mysterious black circle question marks icons show up in the book panel. And I can’t figure out how to fix them (short of moving the folder back to its original location). Any ideas?

  6. I too am getting the black question marks when preflighting a book and I haven’t moved the folder anywhere. I have no idea why it’s telling me there’s no preflight information.

  7. Has this ever been answered? I have a book with the white question mark over black circle. Is there a source explaining everyone of InDesign’s alerts, warnings, etc.?

  8. According to the Adobe help file:

    A green, red, or question mark icon indicates the preflight status of each document. Green indicates the document has no reported errors. Red indicates errors. A question mark indicates an unknown status. For example, the document may be closed, preflighting may be turned off, or the preflight profile was changed.

    What’s totally confusing about this is that the black circle is never mentioned in the Help file. My guess is that they just needed a way to make the white question mark show up against the light gray background and simply forgot to mention the part about there being a black circle behind the question mark.

    A clearer way of writing it would have been: A white question mark on a black circle indicates an unknown status.

  9. I have an exclamation point in a yellow triangle in one chapter in the book panel. How do I get rid of it? There are no preflight errors. I keep re-synchronizing the book and it doesn’t help. I opened the chapter and re-saved, and it didn’t help.

  10. @Mark: See Eugene’s comment above. This usually happens when you open the file and save it when the book panel isn’t open. Try opening the document FROM the book panel (by double-clicking it).

  11. Thanks, David. I did try it that way repeatedly and it didn’t work. I tried the exact opposite (opening the document from its location on my hard drive, then save-as to overwrite the old document) and it worked. The whole book folder is a copy of an original book I didn’t want to lose in case these changes I’m making don’t work, and I think the chapter may have been trying to link to the original book for some reason.
    I thought I’d go ahead and post this in case it might help someone else out there.

  12. I keep getting a gray triangle with an exclamation point as my cursers and I can’t load the timeline or anything in regards to this program Help

  13. I just opened an old file and found a square with a question mark in it. Find font doesn’t work (no missing fonts). To me, it looks like a missing glyph, in the original file it’s a short dash that I used as some sort of bullet. If I change the font, another weird square shows up. Anybody?

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