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Creating PDF: Export or Use Distiller?

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In last week’s post I discussed how using InDesign’s Export Adobe PDF feature and PDF presets make it quick and easy to create a PDF for a particular workflow?commercial printing, a desktop printer or the web. But you may work with a printer who insists that you shouldn’t send them directly-exported PDF files. Instead, they say that you should create a PostScript file and process it through Distiller. Why do they ask you to do that, anyway? Is it really better?

Before I answer that question, let’s look at the alternative method your printer is suggesting. In InDesign and all the Creative Suite applications, it’s easy to create a PostScript file from the Print dialog box. Just select PostScript from the Printer menu at the top of the dialog box. Then you can choose a PPD file (I’d suggest selecting your Adobe PDF printer if you have Acrobat) or Device Independent (removing any printer dependencies, useful for some postprocessing workflows like imposition). Make your choices in the Print dialog box, and then click Save instead of Print to create a PostScript file. You process that PostScript file in Distiller using the PDF settings file your printer suggests.

Creating PostScript

It sounds like a lot of work doesn’t it? It’s two long steps instead of one short one.

Not only that, but you’re going to lose a lot of information when you make PostScript instead of directly exporting PDF: Because PostScript is an older technology than PDF, here are some things that will be lost:

  • Transparency is flattened.
  • It’s not possible to create PDF layers, useful for versioning, for example.
  • The file’s structure (called tagging) is stripped from the file. (I discussed this in my post on Creating Accessible PDF Documents).
  • Forget about a color-managed workflow; embedded color profiles are discarded.
  • Interactive elements (bookmarks, hyperlinks, etc.) are thrown away.

So why does your printer suggest this? One possibility is that your printer may have had an InDesign directly-exported PDF file fail on their RIP because of a PostScript error. (Techie alert: If the rest of this paragraph makes your eyes glaze over, just jump to the next paragraph!) Your printer may have an older RIP (raster image processor) which doesn’t support font encoding called CID-keyed or Identity H, which was used by InDesign CS and earlier when it created PDF files. This font-storage method has been part of the PostScript specification for over a decade but some older, non-Adobe RIPs don’t support it. This method is necessary to store some fonts with a lot of glyphs like OpenType fonts. Actually, it’s pretty likely your printer just hasn’t forked over for a RIP upgrade since all modern RIPs do support CID-keyed fonts.

The good news is that InDesign CS2 no longer embeds CID-keyed fonts by default, so its directly-exported files are smaller and more compatible with older RIPs.

But another reason your printer may resist is just fear of the unknown. Many printers find it easier to stick with the tried-and-true Distiller method than experiment with something new. (Some of them also still refuse to accept TrueType fonts!) So if you can’t get your printer to try your directly-exported file, you should at least use Distiller faster by choosing the Adobe PDF printer. To use this, you need a copy of Acrobat 6, 7, or (in a couple months) 8 Professional.

Here’s how it works: (I’m describing it in Mac OS X; it’s similar in Windows.) Choose File > Print, and select the Adobe PDF 7.0 printer (or the version that matches your copy of Acrobat). This printer uses Distiller in the background, and uses exactly the same settings files as you’d choose in Distiller. Make your usual choices for printing. To get to the settings files, click the Printer button at the bottom of the dialog box. Ignore the warning message or turn it off, and click OK.

You’re now in the Mac OS X Print dialog box. In the menu that shows Copies & Pages, select PDF Options. You can then use the Adobe PDF Settings menu to select from all the PDF settings files (presets) you’ll find in Distiller. When you click Print, you’ll be given an opportunity to save a PDF file. The Adobe PDF printer will take care of creating it.

Adobe PDF Printer 1

Adobe PDF Printer 2

But, by all means, use the direct export method if at all possible. It’s more efficient and faster, and it can include all the elements that PDF is capable of handling.

Steve Werner is a trainer, consultant, and co-author (with David Blatner and Christopher Smith) of InDesign for QuarkXPress Users and Moving to InDesign. He has worked in the graphic arts industry for more than 20 years and was the training manager for ten years at Rapid Lasergraphics. He has taught computer graphics classes since 1988.
  • woz says:

    I’ve been reading this site for a long time now and this is the first time I have to disagree.

    Sending non-flattened layer pdf’s to your printer is an accident waiting to happen. I would advice to your own flattening and see for youreselve what happens in the PDF. Furthermore, exported PDF’s from CS ans esp. CS2 can and will cause problems in the PDF workflow when processed by ‘InPosition’ software. i’m out of time now, but I’ll get back on this later. Regards, Woz

  • Woz, there is no doubt that some imposition (and other post-processing) software breaks with PDF files that contain transparency or layers. That happens because those programs are old and do not support newer versions of PDF.
    For example, if you are going to import a PDF into QuarkXPress 3, 4, 5, or 6, I would definitely not consider using anything except the flattened Acrobat 4 format (also confusingly called PDF 1.3). Actually, I prefer using EPS files for those versions of QX.

  • Steve Werner says:


    Read my previous post on this topic (Choosing the Right PDF Preset), and you’ll see that there are built-in PDF presets like PDF/X-1a that do flatten transparency. It all depends on what your printer’s workflow needs.

    However, the direction of the technology is to keep transparency unflattened, and have it flattened at the end of the process. If your printer ever upgrades his early 1990s RIP, he may get a RIP where the transparency can be kept natively.

    Ultimately, the prepress professional is the best person to do the flattening by making the proper choices at print time. But most printers aren’t there yet.

  • Steve,

    Excellent summary, which I appreciate very much. I thought I read a few months ago (probably from a comment by Dov) that CS2 tends to avoid Identity H CID-keyed fonts but may, on occasion, still embed them in the PDF that way anyway. Is that the case?

    Mike Witherell in Maryland

  • Steve Werner says:

    Thanks, Mike, you’re correct about that. When you’re doing a brief summary you always have to leave out details. One detail I left out is that BOTH CS2 apps when the export AND Distiller will use Identity H CID-keyed fonts if they have to.

    So those printers who are hanging onto those old, un-upgraded RIPs will still run into trouble with Distiller-created PDFs sometimes unless they break down and move into the 21st century.

  • Then my memory isn’t completely worn out!

    Well said on that last thought about upgraded rips, Steve. And many thanks again for the article. I copied a few of your words into my teaching notes.

    Best to you,

    Mike Witherell

  • woz says:

    Hello, I’m back again.
    @ David:
    Problems happens with PDF 1.3 and inposition programs. Several large printers overhere in Europe have completely banned CS2 exported PDF files for this reason.

    @ Steve:
    I read your prevoius post(s). All the PDF’s I send out are PDF/X1-a compatible. I use Enfocus Instant PDF. In Europe we have use the settings from the Ghent Group: SheetSpotHiRes, SheetCmykHiRes (for example). Every PDF we send out is a certified one. We use altered transparancy flattener presets if we don’t know how skilled the printers prepress departement is.

    And thats my point exactly: Flattening PDF files is something I would advice anyone to do themselves. The entire European PDF workflow was set up to be PDF 1.3 simply because to many printers use old(er) RIPS or because they do not really know how to handle this type of file.

    If you work for a larger design agency and you have to set up a workflow, Distiller is the smartest option. Distilling will never get you in trouble. You only have to teach your people one way to work.

    Yeah, so there arn’t any layers in the PDF but so what? Alle certified PDF’s in Europe are 1.3 and can’t contain layers anyway. It’s simply the safest choice.

    Furthermore we work for international cliĆ«nts. Some of witch use their own printers in different countries around the world. Sending Distilled certified PDF’s ensures us everyone is able to establish a good finished printed product. And that’s what it’s all about. In the end the guy who pays my bill doesn’t care if I distilled or Exported. He want’s a good product.

    PS: For the same reason I use a RGB workflow in InDesign. But what I send out is a CMYK (ISOcoated or uncoated or uncoatedyellowish etc etc) PDF. I will handle the translation to CMYK. And I will check it via my calibrated printer.

    I felt I needed to add this in the comments because some poor DTP-er might think it’s okay to start sending out exported PDF’s and might get himselve in trouble.

    PS: I love the site by the way. Your site is right up there in my bookmarks, next to I host my own INDD/PDF/CS etc site, but it’s in Dutch…

  • Steve Werner says:


    There are many different workflows. I’m glad your solution works for you, but it’s not the only workflow. I also like PDF/X, in fact recommended it in the previous blog. And that is where a lot of printers are now.

    But Adobe has introduced the Adobe PDF Print Engine which will allow a lot of elements like transparency, layers, embedded profiles, etc. to be kept live throughout the workflow, and only will be rasterized at the end by the printer. I’ll write more about that on a future blog.

    Best to you!

  • Anne-Marie says:

    I can tell you that in my design studio, when we have a say over “who’s printing this,” (about 75% of the time) we seek out printers that accept live transparency PDFs exported from InDesign. We want them to be responsible for the flattening, just as they are responsible for the trapping. FWIW I’ve had no trouble finding commercial printers who do an incredible job with this. I’ve had printers tell me they prefer to flatten because that way the PDF is more editable when necessary (not broken down to atomic regions), and their settings are tweaked for their own equipment.

    When I’m doing on-site training or working with a design client and they say that their printer insists on PDFX/1-a (which is supposed to be a “blind” standard, not for when you know the printer), I tell them to go to Adobe’s Adobe Partner Finder: Find A Print Service Provider, put in their zip code, and hit Submit. They get a list of local printers who are Adobe Partners and should be quite up to date with their RIPs. Then just go through the list, call them and check that they are experienced working with exported PDFs from InDesign, do they have any PDF presets they can send you, and so on. It’s worked wonderfully for dozens of clients so far.

  • Scott Citron Scott Citron says:

    Listen, Woz. If sending flattened PostScript files works for you and your vendors, great. But to insist that this is the only way to work is nonsense. The printing world has come a long way since writing PostScript, as others on this thread have indicated. In my business I always send PDF 1.4 (Acrobat 5) or higher files which support transparency whenever possible. Sending pre-flattened files is like sending pre-separated files; why would you do this when you have no idea what’s going to happen on the other end? Regardless, if you feel comfortable with your workflow and it produces acceptable results, then by all means keep doing what you’re doing. My point is simply to keep an open mind to other solutions and approaches.

  • woz says:

    @Scott: “Sending pre-flattened files is like sending pre-separated files; why would you do this when you have no idea what?s going to happen on the other end?” Sending out preflattened pdf’s is the safe-est choice. Every RIP can process them. Not every RIP supports live transparancy.
    Anyway, thanks everyone for your reactions and thoughts. I feel InDesign has awakened the entire industry. There is a lot of attention now for so many new things: RGB workflow, cert. PDF workflow, transparancy, etc etc. Remember when all we wanted was a ‘multiple undo’ in that other layout program?

  • Bob Levine says:

    Send pre-flattened PDFs may be the safest choice when you have no idea of the printer, but as the others have pointed out, it most certainly is not the best choice. I have personally refused to use a printer that demands flattened work since ID 2.0 was released. I’ve had no problems finding a printer that wants my money and for the most part my clients accept my recommendations for printing.

    When submitting ads, I make sure to design accordingly to avoid any problems and send an exported X/1-a file.

  • woz says:

    Hello Bob. ‘The InDesignguy’, nice title. ;-) Okay, you guys you’ve confinced me to at least start testing sending out PDF files with live transparancy. Does any one here know of an Instant PDF Queue I could use for this? The ‘usual suspects’ SheetCMYK en SheetSpotHiRes don’t allow it.

  • […] Sometimes the relationship between creative professionals and their printers is not the best. My recent blogs point out some of the tensions. For example, Bob Levine wrote in my Creating PDF: Export or Use Distiller blog, “Send[ing] pre-flattened PDFs may be the safest choice when you have no idea of the printer, but as the others have pointed out, it most certainly is not the best choice. I have personally refused to use a printer that demands flattened work since ID 2.0 was released.” […]

  • Mark Ashley says:

    On a somewhat related note: Is there a way to export each page of an InDesign document as a separate PDF (without having to do it page-by-page)?

  • Bob Levine says:


    Do you have Acrobat Pro? If so export the PDF from ID and then use the extract pages command in Acrobat.

  • Mark Ashley says:

    I have it, but my client wants to be able to do it. They only have InDesign. I’ll just tell them they need to buy Acrobat Pro.

  • woz says:

    It is possible in InDesign via a script. It’s a free script but I forgot the name. Just browse on Adobe’s site. There’s one for print-to-postscript’ per page. You can then distill every page and have a pdf for every seperate page.

  • Alan T says:

    I have to backup what Woz is saying here. sticking with 1.3 is the conservative (and Ghent WorkGroup approved) approach for working with a number of print suppliers. And it is by far the best way to minimise headaches if you want to have flexibility in print supplier (we print all over the world). Our rule is we do not make PDFs for specific printers demands. After all what’s so “P” about a PDF that you can’t later give to someone else to RIP.

    Our experience is that we often know better than the printers what they can handle. If you ask “can you handle transparency (1.4)” they will say YES often out of ignorance or just wanting the work. Now they pay when they get it wrong, but we don’t get compensated for the delay.

    And it’s not just a matter of RIP software being out of date. This year we discovered a bug in Creo’s latest RIP software that fails to use a feature from the 1.2 pdf spec! (pattern spaces) SO even modern rips have problems with 1.3 leave alone 1.4

    We are working towards direct export to PDF from applications, but we’re not going to switch away from PS -> distiller -> PDF for a good year or so i bet.

    (Great site BTW – bookmarked)

    ps i googled by looking for something on overriding in distiller the flattening settings in AI eps files

  • D. Barr says:

    I work in a prepress department with a pdf workflow. When I receive InDesign files (both Mac & PC) I export them directly from InDesign and do not flatten them as we have a flattener at the rip stage. We also import these files into our imposition program with no problems.

    We deal with a wide variety of clients, from designers to the person working from their home computer. I tell the unsophisticated client to use “press settings” when exporting to pdf and they should have no problem. If there are transparency issues, I then contact the client direct them on how to save their files correctly.

  • Anne-Marie says:

    D. Barr, thanks for posting. Can you enlighten us, from a printer’s perspective, why you ask for live transparency PDFs instead of flattened ones? What are the advantages?

  • Helen says:

    I export, Distiller fails sometimes

  • liliana says:

    do you know if there is a way of modifing the preflight preferences in InDesign?



  • Steve Werner says:

    Sorry, there are no preflight preferences in InDesign.

  • SilverDollar (Lance) says:

    –It is possible in InDesign via a script. It?s a free script but I forgot the name.

    Look for PageExporterUtility, in Adobe Exchange, Indesign, scripts. Will export either ps or PDFs, allows you to choose setting files, and will export as spreads or single pages, in the page range you specific. Very handy, simple, and reliable.

  • Chris says:

    I’ve recently sent a PDF to a printer and had problems with transparent images being shown 100% strength instead of 15%. We tried to solve this but couldn’t. In the end we had to remove the images. There were also problems with the Windings font, which had to be turned into outlines in Illustrator before it was accepted.

    I was told the problem was down to incompatibility between Macs and PCs. We use a PC, the printers use Macs. I’d have thought PDFs would have been compatible, but sadly not.

    It was recommended that I print to Acrobat’s distiller instead of exporting to a PDF from InDesign, because “that’s the way you do it on a Mac”. However, I’ve always used the Export command before, as that makes sense to me. Why would I print to something that’s not a printer? That’s weird.

    So I did some tests. What I found was the distiller GAVE WORSE RESULTS. When it came to a large image, even though I had upped the settings to maximise the quality, when compared to a directly exported PDF, the image was still showing compression.

  • Chris says:

    I also had problems converting a document that had 2 A4 and 1 A3 page into a PDF using the distiller. It would put the A4 pages onto A3, leaving a blank space next to them. Whereas exporting directly coped fine. (I’m aware of InBooklet SE to handle pages better, but this seems too buggy to use. It messed up my layout and changed some of the graphics.)

    In the end I had to redo the document as 2 A3 sheets. (Not sure if you’re always supposed to work this way or not!)

    I also noticed that in a PDF proof sent by the printers that they were using Quark Express 6.5. So maybe it was that to blame for losing the transparency of the images? Or some other software they use to prepare the plates for printing?

  • Chris says:

    I am also unsure what settings to use when exporting PDFs from InDesign. The PDF standard is set to “None”. Which option do I need from the following?


    The Compatibility is set to “Acrobat 4 (PDF 1.3)”. It goes up to “Acrobat 7 (PDF 1.6)”. Now you folk are saying to use PDF 1.3. But are we seriously saying that printers are still using Acrobat 4??? Anyone using anything less than 7 is way out of date! Are they still running OS X 8 or 9? Hmmm.

  • Chris, you have been bitten by printerus ignoramus. My favorite (not) part of your post was where you discovered that your printer was placing your PDF files in QuarkXPress and printing from there. What were they thinking? Were they raised by wolves?!

    QuarkXPress does not handle PDF anywhere near as well as InDesign. (It’s a bit better in QX7, but still…) In my opinion, no one should ever place a PDF file in QX4, 5, or 6 unless it is a flattened, PDF 1.3 file.

    However, your comment about having both A4 and A3 pages in the same document. This leads me to believe that you’re using DTPtools PageControl plug-in. Yes? If so, you’ll need to work that out with them.

    Re: PDF versions — Using PDF 1.3 (Acrobat 4) doesn’t mean that people are printing from Acrobat 4. It means that it’s a “lowest common denominator” version of PDF that even programs such as QX4 should be able to print. (Though I personally recommend using EPS files if there is any chance the file will be printed from QX4 or QX5.)

  • Chris says:

    I only know the proof was from Quark. Beyond that…

    A3/A4: no plug-ins, just InDesign itself. Which is the best page size to use?

  • Paul Mumford says:

    Hmmm, after having many horrors using customer provided pdf’s with our AGFA ApogeeX workflow and also a few hiccups with our own created PDF’s. I now print postscript to a ‘watched folder’ with PDFX1a attached and an applescript that then moves the file to my desktop. One click, trusted output, simple!

  • sam lee says:

    When I export PDF’s in Indesign my printer claims that it is not converting the files to CMYK. He is receiving them in RGB. Are there any specific settings which I have not set yet?

  • sam lee says:

    How do I get Times Italic Bold to work. I have installed the font together with the italic bold and regular but the Italic Bold does nor appear?

  • sam lee says:

    font explorer works only for Mac is there one for PC?

  • Vance says:

    Hi. I stumbled across this doing a search for some other PDF related information. I too work at in a Prepress Department. We’ve experienced different results than D. Barr. I have created custom PDF settings for each of the Programs that our clients use (including Distiller). All of these custom settings flatten transparency and are Acrobat4/PDF 1.3. We do this because it works. When transparency was still realatively new we kept running into problems. One of the first solutions I found was to drop the PDF version back to 1.3. Once I did that 98% of the problems disappeared. Additionally, we regularly update our RIP software to the most current version. However, just because your RIP manufacturer says it’s PDF 1.4 or 1.5 compatible doesn’t mean that you won’t still have hiccups. My experience has been that it takes serveral versions for the manufacturer to really get the support working correctly. All that being said I am currently planning to start testing PDF 1.4 files for problems. However, this change won’t happen until I’m thouroughly convinced that the 1.4 support works right almost everytime. It’s too expensive to reprint jobs for clients just because you want to keep up with the technology curve.

  • Chris says:

    sam lee – on a PC, open the Printer & Faxes applet. (From the Start menu or Control Panel.) Right-click on the Adobe PDF printer listed and choose Preferences. Press the Printing Preferences button via the General tab. Select the Adobe PDF Settings tab and use the Edit button next to Default Settings. Choose Color and there is an option to convert all colours to RGB or CMYK.

  • […] To save the layers for Acrobat, you need to directly export a PDF file. In the Export PDF dialog box, choose Acrobat 6 or higher compatiblity and check the Create Acrobat Layers option. As I pointed out in another posting, only directly exporting saves this information. […]

  • Claudia says:

    We often have to send our entire reports to cleints for revision. Hence we need to make the PDF file OK quality for printing but small in size to be able to transfer it or send it by email or FTP site. What settings should we be using?

  • Steve Werner says:

    When you say “make the PDF file OK quality for printing,” I assume you mean they’ll be printing it on a desktop printer. You could probably get away with 150 ppi for images. If the files are too large you could either break them into separate PDFs, or compromise on the image quality. You’ll have to experiment, there’s not a hard and fast rule.

  • ShoPro says:

    Hey, I just stumbled across your page and I’m enjoying it. Thanks!

  • You said: “Your printer may have an older RIP (raster image processor) which doesn?t support font encoding called CID-keyed or Identity H, which was used by InDesign CS and earlier when it created PDF files.”

    That’s what I keep telling people. Some printers keep saying that InDesign messes up fonts. No, that’s not the case. It’s the printer’s RIP that isn’t up to speed. That doesn’t mean that the printer is bad, but it would be good if some stopped saying that InDesign isn’t up to speed and actually got informed. I have had to explain to a few printers what their problem was myself, and I am a designer. Usually it’s the other way around, the printer has to tell the designer. Oh well…

  • michael g says:

    How about a “Real World” check here.

    I produce print ads for various publications from the New York Times to the local neighborhood weekly. All using different printers and prepress workflows.
    And of course, this is all done on an very tight timeframe.

    Producing a 4.0 (1.3) Acrobat PDF document using PS > Distiller is the only reasonable approach.

  • Maria says:

    We make EPS files to go to Quark from InDesign. When I export to the EPS and then try to open it in Preview as a PDF, I get “File error. Couldn’t open the file.” and “PostScript Conversion Error. Couldn’t convert the PostScript file to a PDF file.” If it doesn’t work in Preview, it doesn’t work in Quark either. Some of my files work and some don’t. Any ideas??

  • James McQueen says:

    If you can create a PDF from In Design directly without Distiller that will let you repurose it htta would be great.

    I have found that IDD PDFs when downsamples for web are not searchable.

    But if you use distiller for the PDF they can be downsampled and are searchable.

    Any Ideas. Adobe says the fixed it, but still a problem is cid font.

    *Please note that for Adobe?s Solution 1: Upgrade to InDesign CS2, we have found that a few fonts are still CID encoded and exporting directly to a PDF can result in the issues described above.

  • Dave E says:

    I have a customer supplying pdf version PDFX1a exporting direct from InDesign, the graphics go missing when viewed in acrobat 4 but are visible in acrobat 5, is it to do with OPI, any ideas?

  • Sam says:

    This article series was VERY helpful as I am new to the professional world of graphic design/printing (did lots of it in high school and college). I have encountered my first printer who requires I use Distiller instead of exporting PDFs directly from ID and this totally baffled me because I didn’t understand the difference; but now I see why the printer recommends this method (they most likely have an out-of-date RIP).

    My question is this: if I create a new preset in Distiller using all the settings the printer specified, is using that preset from within ID’s Adobe PDF Export menu the EXACT same as actually using Distiller? I guess I just don’t understand the purpose of Distiller as a standalone app if all its capabilities can be accessed from within the various CS apps. (I’m using CS3 if that matters)

    Thanks for your time!

  • pamela f. says:

    I am a huge fan of InDesign – haven’t used Quark in years. BUT a publication I’m working on now is using Quark 7 so I feel like I’m taking 2 steps back.
    My question is How can I make Quark 7 import & export InDesign pdfs? Is it possible without distilling?

  • Pamela, I hate to be a bother, but if you want good info about QX, you’d be far better off heading over to

  • Steve Werner says:

    Sam said: “if I create a new preset in Distiller using all the settings the printer specified, is using that preset from within ID?s Adobe PDF Export menu the EXACT same as actually using Distiller? I guess I just don?t understand the purpose of Distiller as a standalone app if all its capabilities can be accessed from within the various CS apps. (I?m using CS3 if that matters)”

    My friends PDF guru Stephan Jaeggi from Switzerland says that there are a very subtle, very technical differences between using the setting in Distiller and using the PDF preset in the other CS3 apps. But it’s so technical (and really so specialized), I’d have to dig out my notes from him to find it.

    In truth, Distiller originated at a time when there WASN’T good export PDF option from applications (think QuarkXPress!). But some printers hang onto it because it’s worked for them in the past. (My opinion.)

  • Steve Werner says:

    Dave E said: “I have a customer supplying pdf version PDFX1a exporting direct from InDesign, the graphics go missing when viewed in acrobat 4 but are visible in acrobat 5, is it to do with OPI, any ideas?”

    PDF/X-1 should produce flattened transparency, and should be visible in the same way in Acrobat 4 and Acrobat 5.

    In fact, Acrobat 4 is getting VERY OLD and long in the truth. You really should be using a later version of Acrobat. The current version is Acrobat 8 Professional, and I’d bet there’s an Acrobat 9 not too far around the corner. It’s highly probably that if you can’t see something in Acrobat 4 it’s because of a BUG. Get a later version.

  • Ted Erler says:

    please help! I work for a newspaper, and every ad we do is exported to a pdf for every proof we do. The problem is that even though we never (or at least very rearley ever export the file as anything other thatn a pdf, we always have to go to the drop down menu and select PDF everythime. Doesn’t sound like much, but if you do this 300 time a day…!!!!! please, can anyone help, or can you point me to someone who can? Thank you

  • Steve Werner says:


    That sounds like a great use for scripting InDesign. I’m not a scripter, but I’d head to the InDesign Scripting forum on the Adobe User to User Forums. It may be that someone has already scripted that operation. Worth a look.

  • Anne-Marie says:

    Instead of choosing File > Export (and then choosing Adobe PDF), why not choose File > Adobe PDF Presets > and then choose the preset you need?

  • Ted, don’t forget you can also export a PDF based on a pdf preset by holding down the Shift key while selecting from the File > Adobe PDF Presets submenu. This exports the file without you having to look at the dialog box.

    (Same thing works with File > Print Presets and File > Document Presets. Shift bypasses the dialog box.)

  • Ted Erler says:

    You guys rock! You don’t know how long I’ve been asking our IT to research this.
    Thank you soooo much.

  • Quark says:

    We are on Quark 6.
    When we get pdfs from InDesign, most of the time we have to save it as a eps and run it through Distiller and it seems to work, but we have to do a lot of work to the pdf, because it comes over as rgb, however, when the client sends us the same thing exported as eps from the same InDesign job, it converts everything correctly. One of the main things is black appears on all plates for text, if we get pdfs instead of eps. so we ask clients to send both the eps and the pdf to us.

  • mEi says:

    Hello, I just finished reading the whole thing. Instead of guessing, I’ll do what Anne-Marie has suggested and talk to the printer about my prepress options.

    Thanks for all the information.

  • Jason says:

    I prefer Distiller.

  • edie says:

    How can I transfer an indesign page into a document that is editable with the same format I created in indesign (maintaining my layout)?

    When I export it, it is a pdf, which becomes an image when I try to make it a web page.

    From pagemaker, I used to be able to eventually make a page from the pdf into an editable page while retaining placement and format. But I can’t figure out how to do that with indesign.

    I want to be able to work on page layout in indesign and then save that page not as an image nor a pdf, but as a page with my text and images and with my layout from indesign, that I can then edit in frontpage.

  • @Edie: InDesign cannot export the whole page as editable HTML, with all the page geometry (where things are on the page). You can, use the XHTML export feature to export the document, but not with the page positioning.

  • O'Neill says:

    I am exporting an magazine made in Indesign (using the press settings pdf), but cant quit give more color “punch” to the pdf’s. Is there a way to vivid the colors and contrast?

    Its a Portuguese mag so I use europe prepress settings (sorry my english).


  • Nadya Miloserdova says:

    To O’Neill :
    Ask your printer to give you icc profiles, joboptions and other settings specific for its equipment. The result will be better.

  • Susi says:


    I have an issue at a client.
    They use mac osx and indesign and they export to pdf fine…..and save to their linux server fine. BUT as soon as they want to then resave a change to that same pdf on that same server they cannot do so….any other program works fine even notepad. We have definitely narrowed down the issue to indesign and pdf creation, any suggestions and help will be greatly appreciated :)

  • Jim Halcomb says:

    I have issues with atomic regions, I work for a Newspaper and we edit photos for color correction, the things is that the photos have atomic regions and cannot edit due to photo’s are in pieces. Is there a fix?

  • Jim says:

    When editing PDFs (color correction) w/photographs they turn into atomic regions, is there a fix

  • Jeff Potter says:

    @Jim: PDFs with atomic regions are flattened, and I doubt there’s anything to preserve them other than having them saved in at least Acrobat 5 (PDF 1.4) format.

    At one of the papers I design, I rasterize the original page in Photoshop, delete all the non-photograph content, place both into a fresh document, superimposing the graphic with the corrected images. Or I suppose you could rasterize at 600 ppi, correct the images, and save the whole page as a PSD.

    If you’re worried about file size, you can delete the photos, atomic regions and all, from the original PDF with the Touch Up Object tool.

  • Jane Teis says:

    I thought that PDFX1a would guarantee a CMYK conversion with 300 dpi images for litho printing.

    I just discovered that a PDFX1a file that I generated from Indesign contained RGB images. There are some transparency issues in that drop shadows are in the document.

    I was shocked when I did an “export images” from the PDF file and discovered the RGB images.

    So instead, I did Print to Postscript file, and then used
    Distiller to generate the PDFX1a file, and the PDF file indeed had correctly made CMYK images instead.

    Is there a different joboptions that I should be using in Indesign to generate Repro PDF files for litho printing?

    Thanks so much for any help you can give me.

  • Steve Werner says:


    Choosing PDF/X-1a should definitely convert RGB to CMYK. Try restoring your InDesign preferences.

    Something is definitely WRONG.


  • sze says:

    I am having problem when doing a File > Export to pdf. My Gulliver fonts become like this:


    All the space are replaced with “-“. Anyone can help?
    When I looked at font,
    Gulliver (Embedded)
    Type: Type 1 (CID)
    Encoding: Identity-H


  • Chell says:

    I just had an unexpected problem when i exported to pdf from IDCS3. (I used pdfx1a). A border on 1 of the tiff images was very weak, almost gone on 1 side. We had previously printed directly from the ID application w/no problem, but this time had to outsource for a bigger sht size than we could handle and i exported to pdf. Didn’t notice what had happened till i received the finished job. Thought it was their fault, bad blanket etc, but no- went back to the pdf and there was the problem area staring me in the face. Never had this happen before and now am gun shy and worried i will have to be going over every pdf i send out w/a fine tooth comb. What a bother. Anyone else ever encountered this?

  • Kay says:

    FRICK! you all have me so confused!

    I’m a new kid on the block and my printer wants the font to be flattened or curved…

    oh sheesh.. don’t want to stuff this job up :(

  • @Kay: I know it can be confusing. To read about the topic of converting text to outlines, look for “outlines” on this page:

  • Garry Holland says:

    I have just had a hard drive crash, so I had to hire a technician to install new drive and merge all my programs, preferences, etc. onto new drive. When I try and send a In-Design3 file to Level 3 Rip it says ”Printer Not Responding” can anyone help. It also happens from Quark 6.5 also. Only way around at present is to save file as .ps and drop into RIP.

    About the font problems above, has anyone thought about the flattener transparency option in In-Design, you can create a new one – call it say Hi-End and click on ”convert all texts to outlines” + ”convert all strokes to outlines”.
    This will create all text as outlines and there won’t be any font problems when saving as PDF.
    Sydney, Australia

  • Tom says:

    Ok..using a digital printer 6500 konica
    graphics dept. is confused how to package their files.
    some tpye missing ..some screens / pictures coming out without melding into design…
    Is there any advice on how to set-up a preset for them that will work on our printer.

  • nick says:

    how do I set my indd cs4 to print PDFs at 300dpi for litho printing please? Or any other resolution I might require?

    I’ve just come out of the G3 Quark/acrobat 5 world and am now using an imac and cs suite 4.
    All was a POP (piece of p*** to use the vernacular) back then.

    In Quark I just went to page setup, pumped in the ad size, set to cmyk or greyscale, checked the preview, hit print and got exactly what I wanted. Turnaround time was brilliant.
    Why is everything now so predefined for me and confusing.
    I simply want to access PDFs at 300dpi for litho print!

    I can tell from a pdf file size whether something is of the proper resolution or not and when I read a csindd pdf ‘properties’ I know I’m not getting what I need.
    I ran a comparison between my old and new systems and got a difference of about a 30% between old Acro 5 of 922k (spot on) and new csindd (Export>high quality print setting) of 630k.

    What am I missing here?

  • Jongware says:

    nick: sorry to say this, but PDF files do not “have” a resolution.
    InDesign will never touch images with a lower resolution than set in the “Downsample to — for images above”. All other images are inserted “as is”. Did Quark perhaps upsample your images?

    If you always need at least 300 dpi images (which is, by the way, a good number) it’s your own responsibility the images you feed into ID are good enough. Note you can have Preflight flag too low dpi as an error.

  • nick says:

    jongware 25/4/10 – thanks for your answer, I can work with that.
    Very helpful.

  • Eugene Tyson says:

    Jongware – if you have a lower resolution and you use the transparency flattener that is set to High Resolution, then the images get upsampled.

  • Jongware says:

    They do? It sounds logical, as the transparency flattener pixelizes everything under the topmost transparent object.

    But I’d hesitate to use this as a way of upsampling lo-rez images automatically. I’m always very careful to feed ID just what I need — no less than needed for photographs, and, in reverse, no more than needed for deliberately low-res images, such as screen captures of web pages. When printed on an offset printer, these look very realistic and sharp in their original (low!) resolution but horrendous blurred when forcibly upsampled.

  • kim says:

    Hi everyone, great forum. About mid way there was some mention converting a mixed size document (A3 and A4) to a pdf. I am a teacher with a little tech knowledge and have about 30 of these docx’s (between 40 and 80 pages long) to covert and need to maintain the mixed sized documents. I have the CS4 suit and tried to create pdf through Adobe Pro, Distiller and now through the Print option in Word 2007. When I conver, it reformats the pages so that they are all the same size learning reduce versions of original pages with lots of white space. My current solution is to pdf the A4 parts, then the A3, then the A4 parts, then the A3 parts and then merge -phew!!!

    Can anybody help?

  • PK says:

    I think each printer has a preferred process and it is best to follow that process. They have seen all the errors and know how to prevent them. I output from InDesign to PS, then use Distiller to do the pdf, following all the specs the printer recommends. A 5 GB InDesign file will convert to a 8 GB pdf in this two step process, at the print quality and specs needed. Second guessing what the printer needs or why they do it is not a good idea. Just pick a good printer and work with their process.

  • Mark Godfrey says:

    PDF Print Specific PS3 Emulation PDL PPD

    If printing to a device with PostScript 3 Emulation test it by distilling a PostScript file made with the device specific PPD. Compare to an Exported file using the same PDF preset options. On a Canon (PS3 Emulation PDL) we get noticeably better definition of type (OpenType, PS1, TT) using a PDF made with the Canon PPD / PS / PDF — or printing from the live application file, using the device PPD.


  • SallyJ says:

    Great post – helped me a lot with some PDF/Distiller questions.

    Where I work, we used to be able to use printers we chose but now have no say in the process and no contact with the printers which makes providing themwith their preferred print settings difficult. As a result, and after reading this forum, I will provide distilled PDF files now as it seems to be the safest option when I don’t have any communication with the printer. Particularly as I’ve had issues with transparencies in print recently.

    Thanks to all for the really useful info and all varying points of view and can make a more informed decision of what I provide now. I come from a print background originally and can appreciate how different each print shop is and why.

  • Okay I’ve got a question that I hope be answered;

    How do I maintain my hyperlinks within Indesign (CS5) when I create a PS file (print dialog box) then use distiller to create the pdf? My links in the pdf don’t show.

    I use this method of creating a pdf because it generates a much smaller pdf then simply export out of Indesign.

  • @Grahm: You cannot maintain hyperlinks or any other interactive stuff. I strongly recommend using File > Export instead, and figure out the right job options to match or get close to the file size you’re getting from Distiller.

  • Steve says:

    It’s been 6 years since Steve Werner wrote the original post…and I am wondering: What has changed? Are there still strong advocates for creating PDFs using Distiller, over the ease of using InDesign’s “Export to PDF” feature. If so, why the reluctance? Is it based on issues with your vendor, or have you experienced real issues when your files were printed?
    This question is very timely and pertinent, as I’ve just landed in an environment that uses the “postscript/distill” method…which I haven’t seen in a decade…and no one here knows the reason why.

  • @Steve: Great question… yes, there are still adherents to the distill method, and most of them don’t know why they do it. “Our ancestors learned many moons ago that if we stood on our left foot (not the right foot!) while chanting hava nagilah, the document would print reliably.”

    I am sure there are still a few holdouts that really do have good reason (like if they have really old equipment), but the vast majority of folks should be using File > Export.

  • JJ says:

    A5 booklet in InDesign CS2 printing to pdf holds the crop and bleed marks but lowers the quality of the photographs. Exporting the file results in high quality photographs but displays crops marks only, not the bleed marks. What am I doing wrong? I cannot find any settings which would seem to cause the differences.

  • Jessica says:

    Is there a way to save either a PDF or INDD to PostScript without breaking or stripping internal and external hyperlinks? If not, is there a way to manually edit the broken hyperlinks in the PDF? I’m able to add new hyperlinks to the resulting PDF, but I’m unable to edit existing links. Acrobat’s “Links” tool did not solve this problem. After saving to PostScript and then resaving as a PDF, hyperlinks that went over one line were broken (i.e., they still showed up as hyperlinks, but the URLs were missing any text that flowed to the next line). I tried to “Remove all hyperlinks,” but that didn’t actually remove the hyperlinks. Suggestions are much appreciated.

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  • Val D says:

    I am currently working with a printer that needs ABSOLUTELY a PS/distilled file. Problem is, when I use “save as”, the pdf turns ok. But when distilled, images are dropping and we can only see a white shadow of the images. I work with Illustrator CS3. I never had problems with any printer before this one.

    I ask 3 graphic designers and none can tell what the problem come from, neither can my printer…

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