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Converting Text to Outlines the Right Way, Updated

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Who would have thought that here, in the second decade of the 21st century, we would still find ourselves explaining how to convert text to outlines in order to print our documents?! It’s a crazy thing to do, completely unnecessary in the vast majority of instances, and yet we continue to hear requests from users who say they need to do it for one reason or another.

(Here’s a piece on why you shouldn’t convert text to outlines. I generally agree with Steve’s last comment, where he says if your printer wants you to outline text, you should find another printer. Unfortunately, that’s not always possible.)

A few years back, I wrote up a relatively easy hack that generated a lot of interest and excitement, because it allowed InDesign users to convert all text to outlines while exporting to PDF (or, god forbid, EPS), but still leaving you with editable text in your InDesign document. The problem is that this stopped working in CS5. Fortunately, Dov Isaacs at Adobe came up with a good solution, which I want to share with you here. [Editor’s note: Here is another, newer method that works in Acrobat DC.]

(Dov wants to make it clear that he does not actually want anyone to do this because he thinks converting text to outlines is crazy. But I begged him, so he’s being helpful.)

So here’s the trick. In my earlier article, I explained that that there were three steps to ensuring that all your text is converted safely to outlines:

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  1. Create a “convert all text to outlines” transparency flattener preset.
  2. Place some transparency on each spread (even if that means putting it on the master page)
  3. Exporting to an Acrobat 4 compatible PDF, or printing-and-distilling, or export an EPS file.

The new update follows the same steps with one exception: In step two, you need to ensure that the transparency you put on the page isn’t just any transparent object, but rather a transparent object that interacts with some text. As he wrote:

What you need to do is force some text, no matter how small or how ridiculously colored, into a situation that actually requires flattening. Thus, if on your master page, you were to create in the page margin a text frame with a 0.1pt period with a 0.5% black tint and overlay that with a very small polygon filled 100%K with opacity of 0.1%, you would force a condition that would cause the Convert All Text to Outlines to kick in, providing the “desired” results.

Unfortunately, while this appeared to work in CS5 for a while, some free update along the way seems broke it again! In CS5.5, it remained broken. Some bug crept in that seems to literally disable the Convert Text to Outlines feature upon export.

Now, for the good news: In InDesign CS5 version 7.0.4 and CS5.5 version 7.5.2 (the newest updates to both versions as of this writing), it appears to be fixed again. Not only that, but it’s even working the way it did back in CS4 again!

That means that as long as you have the newest versions, you can just put any transparent object on the spread (or master page) and InDesign flattens the whole enchilada with your custom flattener preset… and your text is converted to outlines in the output.

Hooray for progress! (Now I just hope the next “progress” update doesn’t break this hack again.)

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 LinkedIn Learning (Lynda.com) are among the most watched InDesign training in the world. You can find more about David at 63p.com.
  • Stix Hart says:

    When Adobe does an update to the PDF standard that forces everyone everywhere to scrap their old RIPs and use the Adobe PDF Print Engine (can you imagine it?) you will be able to stop posting font outlining hacks. Until then, please keep them coming, those of us in the “real world” (albeit the world using printers, newspapers etc without the cash to have the latest gear…) need the hacks and the secrets to use them!

  • Colmin8r says:

    It isn’t necessarily printers who ask this of clients. I work for a printer and I normally hear this request from third parties who are making embellishments for us such as emboss blocks or dieformes and taking my indesign-made PDF and then opening it in corel draw (or worse) and plotting it to a CNC or other machinery.

    I have my own opinions on the issue of outlining fonts. Rightly or wrongly, so long as people request particular specifications, i’m afraid orders are orders.

  • mckayk777 says:

    Would so love not to have to convert to outline, every time I do, it’s with a cringe!
    But…
    As Stix says… “those of us in the ‘real world'”
    Thanks for the great news David, might try to get the boss to upgrade to cs5 at least now with the knowledge that we can still outline fonts.
    Really looking forward to the new option in both ID and Photoshop.
    As I have said in another post somewhere (can’t remember where) I found a good use for outlining fonts the other day.
    When sending pdf to a digital 4 colour copier I found that the colours where leaking into the fonts and making them hard to read. By outlining the fonts they where then nice and clean of any bleed.

  • Nicholas Lamme says:

    Well, sometimes I have to convert text to outlines, because the font I’m using, for some reason or another, doesn’t appear to be supported or I don’t appear to have the proper license to export to pdf. This happens from time to time with public domain fonts in .ttf format. So, the only way that I am aware of to get these things properly into pdf format without losing the design or redoing it, is to convert text to outlines before exporting. UGH!

    My understanding is that it is a problem with the way these fonts were made. Such is life. Thanks for the tip, David.

  • CreeDo says:

    Maybe I’m missing something, but what’s wrong with opening the finished (non-outlined file)… ctrl+A, ctrl+shift+O to outline all text, ctrl+E to export your pdf, close without saving, and call it a day?

    Are we just afraid of accidentally saving or…?

    • Jordan says:

      Some paragraph styes (including rules, bullets and numbered lists) will drop dead once converted to outlines. Tables too will lose their lines.
      For now this cute hack saves my life! Thanks Guys!

      • Pao says:

        It has saved my ass as well. We’ve been using this hack for as long as I’ve discovered it on this forum.

      • Marta says:

        ctrl+A, ctrl+shift+O discards bullets in the lists, sometimes discards last lines of text (when the frame is fitted to the text) ant it doesn’t affect text frames grouped with other objects, so the hack is necessery. Many thanks for it!

        And about accidentally saving the outlined file. Oh, yes, it happens. That’s why I love my Synology, where I can find many previous versions of my files safely stored.

  • Stix Hart says:

    @Creedo, you are missing something, multi page documents..

  • Rhiannon says:

    There’s a Preflight profile in Acrobat that claims to do just this. Does it not work?

  • marcus says:

    When converting to outlines just make a copy of your document and call it it converted. Then you still have your editable original.

  • Stix Hart says:

    @marcus, When commenting just read posts first. Doing it this way it is editable.

  • David, InDesign CS5.5 is 7.5 and not 7.0. Please reread the end of your article.

    But, in my InDesign CS 5.5 (7.5.2) the trick does not work at all.

  • It seems that the only way to make the trick work as it worked since InDesign 2.0 is to apply a 99.9% opacity on the text frame that contains the text to be outlined.

  • @Branislav: Thanks for the catch; I fixed the version number in the post.

    That is very strange that this trick does not work for you in your version of 7.5.2. We have tested this extensively. Make sure there is a transparent object somewhere on the page (not in the pasteboard or slug area).

  • Pam says:

    I’m with Marcus – I just make a copy of the document and name it such I can tell it was converted. I’ve never fretted about finding a workaround because of this. Sounds like a lot of needless work to me.

    I find I have to do this fairly often – we have a printer that we are required to use (and some places I’ve worked have to take a low bidding printer) and some places (newspapers or magazines) where we place ads require it, too. So sometimes it’s just a fact of life you have to convert fonts even if it’s not your own choice.

  • @Pam and marcus: I don’t understand; are you saying that you literally use the Type > Convert to Outlines feature on all the text? Perhaps you did not read this post on why outlining text is such a bad idea. The biggest problem, in my opinion, is that a lot can get lost (bullets, rule above, and so on).

    Using this transparency flattener trick is far, far, far better. (Even better, of course, is to find a printer who has a rip that isn’t from the 20th century, so you don’t need to convert to outlines.)

  • Andreas says:

    Thanka a lot for the Tip.

    To me (7.52) it seems to work only, when the Transparency Setting (Custom) is made on each Page. The global Setting in the Export-Dialog with the same Flattening Options doesn’t work. Can you verify that?

  • @Andreas: No, I just create a custom transparency flattener setting, and choose that in the pdf export options dialog box.

  • Andreas says:

    Hm, then I’m doing something wrong. Or maybe it’s a bug in my localized (german) version.

  • Natalie says:

    I work at a print shop (and was at another one previously), and while neither of the shops I’ve worked for are what I’d consider “high tech”, I’ve never run into someone requesting that I outline text. The only instance where I’ve needed to do it is when creating a PDF proof for a client, and I run into a dreaded font that doesn’t allow embedding.

    However, I’ll definitely keep this transparency trick in mind!

  • David says:

    I am curious. Why not just do this in Acrobat Pro with the Print Production / Flattener Preview? It seems faster and you don’t need to work about messing with your inDesign Doc.

    • @David: When I try using Print Production > Flattener Preview, it works on most PDFs but not at all on others. I’m unsure why it’s inconsistent. The other reason I like doing it from InDesign is that you can set it up once and export as many times as you want. With the Acrobat method, you have to do it to each PDF. But other than that, it’s cool that you can do it (usually) in Acrobat!

      • Joe Zapert says:

        It doesn’t work consistently in Acrobat for the same reason you need to add a transparent object in InDesign. Acrobat will only process files through the flattener if there is transparency to flatten.

        The standard solution in Acrobat is to use the Watermark feature to add a 0%-opacity watermark in the corner of the document first. Then, use Flattener Preview.

      • Ravi says:

        I exported a document having different fonts with High Quality PDF preset (default settings) from InDesign and used Acrobat’s Flattener Preview to Convert to Outlines. Checked under Properties>Fonts and all fonts were gone! And it is working consistently for me.

  • Clare says:

    this could be a silly question – but should you still be able to highlight the text in acrobat after using the transparency flattener? or have i done something wrong in the process?

  • @Clare: No, if you can select the text in Acrobat, then something went wrong.

  • Arman says:

    I was using your hack to create outlines for all the text in InDesign. The problem is that it was working with CS4 and doesn’t work with CS5.5 (7.5.2).

    I have indesign file with two pages. Both of them has 2 illustrator files on left and right side.
    I was using 1 pixel transparent photoshop file on both of the pages and also on master page. When exporting it to pdf, it converts native InDesign texts to oulines but doesn’t convert texts in illustrator files (linked). So I have to manually create outlines in Illustrator and then link the new files, which make editing them (and I edit them very frequently) rather difficult.

    Any help is appreciated. What do I do wrong?

  • Alex says:

    Hi, I run CS% (7.04) and I have set up mt flattener preset correctly and made the necessary settings for a PDF preset but it is not outlining the fonts for me. I am placing a white object at 0% opacity on the Master. Any ideas? Many thanks, Alex

  • demonada says:

    this is ridiculous. why would a printer be bad if he requires the documents with outlined text? there are so many problems with the fonts.
    where in the world should a printer have all the existing fonts from? most of them are not even free.

    i cant even print a document directly from indesign on my printing machine. it also requires converted text.

  • @demonada: I don’t mean to be cranky, but I’m not sure you know what you’re talking about. InDesign embeds all fonts you used in the PDF, so the printer doesn’t need to have them. If you can’t print directly from InDesign without converting text to outlines, something is very wrong somewhere. That’s crazy.

    • Joe Zapert says:

      I work with the printer who demands outlines and it makes me crazy. This is also the guy that is super needy about marks and bleeds in a way that suggests he is probably trying to open the PDFs in Illustrator before processing them.

      Illustrator doesn’t seem to respect embedded fonts.

  • Jon Schuster says:

    I’m having the same problem as “Alex” (along with a few others, it seems): I have placed a transparent image on my document, in both the Master page and on my document pages, I have the flattener preset properly configured, and I still can’t seem to get this trick to work. It’d be very nice to be able to get this to work, as InDesign is a major part of my workflow in the print shop that I work in. I’m using ID5 (7.0.4).

  • Heli says:

    Thanks for the tip! Just wondering one thing; since I need to use Acrobat 4, I suppose I lose my hyperlinks… Any tips for not losing hyperlinks and preserving the bullet points when text converted.

    I experienced problems with text (fonts not found) opening a pdf with illustrator made by colleague so i don’t wan’t him to experience the same with my material…

  • @Heli: I’m not sure your question is logical. If you’re trying to send a document to your colleague to open in Illustrator, then why would you need hyperlinks? And if you need hyperlinks (for an interactive pdf), then you don’t need to convert the text to outlines. But that said: yes, you’re right that an Acrobat 4 document cannot have both transparency and interactive elements on the same page. Sigh. Tradeoffs.

  • Deepak says:

    I try your tip and also put a object with transparecy but it doesnot work. Pls help.

  • thomaus says:

    Not trying to hijack the thread, but thanks for the inspiration for solving a similar but even more stupid thing to do with Acrobat files.

    We got the request to convert all pages in a set of documents to rastered images inside the PDF file. This was to prevent re-purposing of the files (no stealing the content). But they still had to be printable and readable. (We currently use Acrobat Security, but it isn’t secure to someone committed to unlocking the files.)

    So I created a Batch command to throw a light grey ‘period’ watermark in the lower right corner of each page, set to 50% transparent. And then set the Output Options to Optimize using the Transparency setting with the Rastor/Vector slider all the way over to zero.

    It’s gorgeous. Each page looks now like a fax. Exactly what they wanted.

  • justin says:

    Thank you very much! This worked brilliantly for me on a 200-pg book with the occasional table that never outlined well otherwise. We rarely outline documents for press but the printer in this case is in eastern Europe and, well, never mind the details.

    For the record: OSX 10.8.1, CS5.5 (7.5.3); used only a small box on the master page(s) set to .1% black, .01 opacity.

  • K.L. says:

    Thansk for the tip. It worked almost. I have placed .ai-files to my InDesign document and havent converted those texts in that .ai-file to outline.

    All the text in InDesign were flattened to outlines when I created pdf, but text in those placed .ai-files didn´t convert.

  • Angus says:

    Same as K.L. I have several illustrator files placed in the InDesign layout and they do not get converted to outlines. I found if I placed a transparent object over the placed AI object then it would be converted. Does not get much more elegant than that, groan.

  • PriMarius says:

    Thanx for the tip – works great, but…
    by flattening, some fonts don’t convert out as they do in illustrator – after checking pdf in AcrobatPro, I saw that some fonts came chunky and not curved so I opened the converted and the unconverted pdf in AI – the converted one shows the same chunkiness as Acrobat, but unconverted pdf when converted in AI converts those same fonts just fine… here’s the preview
    https://dl.dropbox.com/u/741252/converted%20Indd%20flattened.png
    https://dl.dropbox.com/u/741252/converted%20AI.png

    Not that I’m a big fan of outlining fonts, just that there are some situations where we need to do it – preparing packaging for a smaller regional market placing three languages instead of one on the original package – with each language using some characters in adjusted localized fonts… and the factory we send it to needs to make some further additional adjustments … its much safer to have the fonts converted to avoid any potential problems due to the schedule the factory has, any small problem could lead to loosing printing timeline and not be able to have the product ready for the market … and I can’t risk that by assuming they have a pro there who knows how it should be done – usually it’s just the opposite

  • @PriMarius: Interesting! I have not seen that problem with flattening before. I wonder if it’s the fonts themselves, or the flattening settings you used. I guess it’s yet another good reason to proof every document (flattened or not) as a pdf before sending it to the printer.

  • Ahmed Fayaz says:

    Does this still work in CS6? I’ve tried both methods and can’t seem to get it to work.

  • johnny_jay says:

    It’s rare but there are some fonts that will not output at high resolution. We have found three that will not output at 2400 dpi: Segoe, Kalinga, and Kartika. I believe these are all 3 Microsoft Fonts. We have recently found one font that will not process, Roboto. These 4 fonts are the only ones we ask our clients to either convert to outlines or replace.

  • maya says:

    brilliant! thank you so much. it works!

  • vinyl says:

    I am Working with Windows (7) CS 5.5 – Version 7.5.3

    I made everything with the transparent object overlay a text and 0.1& transparency and even the flattener options are set correct and chosen, but the exported PDF has still no outlines. Still editable text.

    Any suggestions?

  • Q*ris says:

    The trick worked for me but now I got the dreaded thin white lines when I view my PDF.
    How to get best of both worlds: flattened text and no thin white lines on screen
    (I know they are not printing but it’s still dirtying when reading the pdf online).
    thanks!

  • Pretty frustrated with this tip. I have been trying for several days to make it work and cannot seem to get it right. I am working on a large menu project and I followed all the steps correctly. I am using InDesign CS5. I go to export the document and every time, I just get a pdf of 0KB in size… it won’t even open in Acrobat. I am using the High Quality Print setting with a Transparency Filter, saved out for Acrobat 4, but InDesign simply does not want to output the document. Could it be that the pdf is too big? The only reason I am using this method is because I am using rules, and they don’t get converted to outlines. Ugh!

    • Marwan, it doesn’t sound like it’s the tip… it sounds as though it’s your PDF export. Can you export any pdf files? If you continue to have problems with pdf export, I suggest asking on the Forums above (more people will see it).

      • Marwan Salfiti says:

        Ok. I will do that. I have, however, been able to export a standard pdf, as Acrobat 5. This was just using the standard output, no use of the Transparency Flattener. I do think there might be a glitch in my workflow that I am not seeing. Ultimately, this is a great resource, I just need to be able to make it work.

  • M Asif says:

    I design four magazines. I have to send my Magazines’ final files packaged, (File>Package) to the printer. After packaging I have to outline all the text in the document. I am very tired of the process (outlining every spread separately). So here I wished to share my problem with you experts. If anyone can have the solution that Is there any way to make all the text of a document with shortcuts or by applying some other tricks?
    I have to outline some 400 to 500 spreads before sending the 4 Magazines to the printer. Please Help me.
    Thank you all.

  • Al Wilson says:

    I have tried the above options (both changing export & using acrobat pro) and although it converts the text to outlines, in doing so it is leaving thin lines and changed colour (where the boundry box is) for a indesign graphic object which is on the page (the graphic is a group of overlapping shapes). Any suggestions of how to stop the graphic item from playing up when it is flattened? (PS I am using Adobe Cloud versions of software)

  • Cedric says:

    Just putting it out there: the trick with a simple “transparent” non-text object works with CS6 8.0.1

    Thanks!

  • Henzo says:

    Please please please please… STOP using Raleway as a webfont. It’s difficult to read and extremely off-putting. I was going to read this article because it sounded interesting – changed my mind and going elsewhere. Bye.

  • Pao says:

    Adobe’s Indesign engineers should be reading this forum everyday before they start working!!!

    • Ravi says:

      We do. Probably not everyday but every other day!:)

      • Pao says:

        An Indesign Engingeer! Oh Please see all these basic needs of print designers be put into the next version of InDesign! There so much unnecessary tools and flashy gear in the latest indesign while these basic issues (among many others) are still unsolved for so long!

  • Karen says:

    I’m using ID CS 6. Will this method work? Or should I be using the non-updated method – as you said that worked again in older versions? Many thanks – And indded! Pao is right:
    “Adobe’s Indesign engineers should be reading this forum everyday before they start working!!!”

  • Santosh says:

    It worked for me David, Thanks a tone.

  • Wendy says:

    How come when I do this hack, when I export to PDF, in the “advanced” tab my Transparency Flattener box is grayed out? In order for this to work, don’t I need to be able to choose the Transparency Flattener that I defined in the directions of the hack?

  • Gorky says:

    I am using these outline font hacks because I’ve noticed multiple random glyph substitutions back on actual printed magazines, resulting in a jumbled mess. Its happened on different fonts at different times with seemingly no connection, so we have no other idea how to stop it otherwise. I’m sure if there’s no fonts in the PDF there’s no way to substitute glyphs in the RIP or whatever they’re using. The Acrobat DC method seems to work better than older methods.

  • Sinihte says:

    It’s 2016 and I still have this bookmarked because I still need it on a regular basis… So thank you. :)

  • dhunter says:

    The original method you described works perfectly in the latest InDesign CC 2015.
    I could even place the tinted/transparent object on each spread as a link (I made it in InDesign as just a simple square) and it worked.

    How would this be done in Illustrator? I was poking around trying to figure it out, but wasn’t having any success.

    Thank you so much!

  • ken says:

    We’re a manufacturer and have to edit contributed art all the time. Fonts have to be converted to outlines so that we can edit the art files. If we don’t have the font a customer has included in their art, Illustrator or Corel will substitute fonts, breaking the art. That is why it is still necessary to convert fonts to outlines.

    It’s also one reason I mainly use Corel Draw for art, since converting to outlines can be done while exporting the file either as pdf or eps. It also has the ability to add crop marks while exporting, something that Adobe apparently hasn’t thought of yet.

    • Gorky says:

      I’ve noticed especially that sign and large format printers will open PDF print files in Illustrator or some other vector program to preflight, make edits, add crop marks, whatever, which can adversely affect the art. In the past I’ve sent printers PDFs with transparency that end up printing with little white lines around shadows and gradients because they’ve used Flatten Transparency which converts everything to abutting rectangles and their print drivers try to make scaled raster graphics from that. And I’ve seen fonts that were substituted. Illustrator treats an entire document as either RGB or CMYK, so opening a PDF which can have RGB, Gray, Spot, or CMYK objects in it may lead to oddly converted colors.

      So my philosophy as a designer is that PDFs simply don’t work with large format printers and I send very large JPG files instead.

      But if you’re a large-format printer who must work with PDFs, I have some advice. There is dedicated PDF preflight software that may be helpful to preflight PDF files without having to open them in Illustrator. Acrobat DC does a better job than Illustrator of preserving the appearance as long as you don’t have to make many edits.

      If you just need to add crop marks, check size, check bleeds, check overprints, convert spots, add cropmarks, or even drop a dieline over the top of the artwork, you should use the “place” command to link the original PDF file in Illustrator or (better yet) an Indesign document so the artwork is preserved and all your preflights and checks can be done without affecting the artwork.

      Adobe programs can add crop marks but as a designer I rarely know how production will done; sometimes it’s flatbed printing on a pre-cut substrate. I prefer to add my own cropmarks the way I want for my printer than have them coming from a designer sticking 75% into the bleed, so I don’t send artwork with cropmarks to printers.

  • Rob says:

    Thanks David! This works great for high res print ready PDFs, but how do I export for a smaller low res PDF? Even if I try to reduce the file size within Acrobat, I cannot get my PDF smaller than 1.4 mb. I need to get my PDF down to under 200 kb. Any help would be much appreciated since my InDesign file has several tables. Thanks.

    • Rob: Very unlikely that you will be able to bring it down that small if you convert the text to outlines. Fonts are small for lots of technical reasons, but when you convert them to outlines, there are lots and lots and lots of bezier curves and points and you can’t make that small anymore.

  • Fadi says:

    The only problem is that we have to avoid shadows, is there any solution for that?

  • Meredith says:

    I have always used this method and it worked great but it seems to have stopped working for the NEW CC 2017 install…. anyone else have this issue or know anything on it??????

  • Trista says:

    This method has always worked for me until now. I am using CS5 7.0.4 — and the font I’m having issue with is Century Gothic! HELP! Why isn’t it working?!?!

  • java900 m says:

    We often fail some methods due to version updates.
    I provide another solution, first output the PDF with the embedded font, and then convert the PDF font to the outline.
    Adobe Acrobat or Ghostscript can be used to convert PDF fonts to outlines.
    The already mentioned ghostscript is the free standard tool for this problem. If the use of the command line looks too daunting, you could use a free web service like: https://pdf-editor-free.com/pdf-to-cmyk . You won’t have any control whats really happening with your images, but the results are good as far as I tested. You can choose different output profiles.

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