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Why is [Some Feature] Grayed Out in InDesign?

Something that drives me crazy: I try a feature and it doesn’t work. I know it should work, but it’s not working! Sometimes the feature is even grayed out (disabled) in some menu or panel, even when I don’t think it should be. What is going on? Well, it’s usually because the feature is “linked with” or “dependent on” some other feature.

Separations panel

For example, you may see all your inks in the Separations Preview panel, but they may all be grayed out. Perhaps they were active a moment ago, but not now! What’s up? Well, this panel is linked to View > Overprint Preview. That is, if you turn off Overprint Preview, the panel disables, too.

Smart Guides

Here’s another one that got me recently: Smart Guides (one of my favorite features in CS4 and later) wasn’t working in a document. The guides just wouldn’t show up! When I looked at the View > Grids & Guides menu, it showed it as “on” but it was grayed out. What the heck? It took me a while of searching around until I realized that someone working on the document had enabled View > Grids & Guides > Snap to Document Grid (a feature I rarely think about, much less use). I turned that off and, wow!, smart guides became enabled again. I still don’t really understand that one.

Wrong Tool

One of the most common reasons for things being grayed out is having selected the “wrong” tool. For example, if you have the Type tool selected and a text cursor flashing in a text frame, the Object Style and Effects panels gray out.

Alternatively, if you select a text frame with the Selection tool, the Character and Paragraph panels gray out, even though InDesign does allow you to apply text formatting to all the text inside a frame when you select it (or more than one text frame) with the Selection tool. The trick is to select the frame(s) with the Selection tool, then press T to switch to the Type tool. That enables the text-based panels and activates the text formatting options in the Control panel.


One last one that drives me bonkers: I’ll open a document, start working on it, decide that I don’t like the changes I’ve made, and try to choose File > Revert — only to find it grayed out. What the heck?! The clue is in the document’s title bar, which in these situations will usually include the word “[Converted]”. That means that the file was from a previous “version” of InDesign and the program converted it when you opened it. But “versions” are a slippery concept in InDesign-land. Sometimes adding a new plug-in you downloaded will trigger a new version; or even just a small “free dot upgrade” from Adobe might suddenly cause that ol’ Revert to gray out.

Are there other instances of “disabled” features that bother you? What’s the solution? Share your stories below.

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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124 Comments on “Why is [Some Feature] Grayed Out in InDesign?

  1. I’m still using InDesign CS5 as we can’t afford the current high rentals. Nearly always when I try to generate a replacement index for a document, the ‘Replace Existing Index’ is grayed out. Document is always freshly saved and no errors are indicated. What am I doing wrong?

  2. I sure hope you can solve this one! I sometimes can’t release an object from the master page by shift-command clicking. I sometimes need to go to the master page, put the item on a layer of it’s own, go back to the page in question, and unlock all on spread. A royal pain, but at least I have a solution.
    Now I have a file with that problem and I want to unlock all but the “unlock all on spread” is grayed out.
    Please help!

  3. One more thing: The problem does not occur throughout the document. And if I re-assign the master page to the problem page, it SOMETIMES helps.

  4. Nope, doesn’t work. Tried everything you suggested but still no snap, both regular snap and smart guides. I have to zero in and align the guides manually. I is driving me crazy and making life 10x harder.

  5. OK, update. Set the snap zone in preferences double what it was and it is better. Also Smart Guides are better, changed the color to red. But I seem to remember the snaps being much stronger than they are. Thanks, love your Lynda tutorials!

  6. Smart guides grayed out when you accidentally or intentionally checked Snap to Document Grid option. Uncheck that.

  7. Started with InDesign three months ago and have always typed and edited within Indesign, but have never used the Story Editor. Tried to use it today, but it is grayed out. Looked all over for reason, but nope. Any ideas? Appreciate!

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