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Million Dollar Mistake in Text Formatting


A recent court ruling has put a major voter initiative in peril… because of text formatting. The details of the law-in-question aren’t important (it has to do with gun rights in Washington state, where I live). What is important is that literally millions of dollars may be wasted, partly because strikethroughs and underlines were missing from the text.

Don’t let something similar happen to you.

There are many ways to lose text formatting like underlines and strikethroughs in InDesign. Here are two examples:

lost underlines and strikethroughs

The original text is in the upper-left corner. To the right: I selected the text frame and chose Type > Create Outlines. As we’ve discussed before, this strips out strikethroughs, underlines, rule above, rule below, and other formatting. Bad!

In the lower-left corner, I selected the text frame with the selection tool and clicked the “remove overrides” button in the Paragraph Styles panel (highlighted here with a green circle). One click = all local formatting gone. Oops!

If I had applied the strikethrough and underline formatting with a character style (rather than just local formatting), it would have survived the “remove overrides” button-click. But it would still disappear if someone “innocently” converted it to outlines.

There are other ways you can lose formatting in InDesign… but these are the most common.

Have you ever made a horrible text-formatting error? Share it in the comments below.

David Blatner is the co-founder of the Creative Publishing Network, InDesign Magazine, CreativePro Magazine, and the author or co-author of 15 books, including Real World InDesign. His InDesign videos at LinkedIn Learning ( are among the most watched InDesign training in the world.
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  • There’s an issue in this dispute that matters far more than the money. It’s the rule of law. Here’s an explanation from a link that’s not pay-walled.

    “The main problem with the initiative as printed on the back of each petition sheet was that it did not contain underlines showing proposed new additions to state gun law, nor were there strike-throughs showing what parts of existing law would be removed. As a result, plaintiffs argued, people who signed the petitions could not possibly know what the initiative would do.”

    In other words, those signing were not being told what changes would be made. That is a serious omission, and yet the state supreme court has overruled that judge. Would they have done so if the mistake had been by the other side in this debate? I suspect not. It’s that kind of thing that teaches contempt for courts. And my hunch is that a mistake this obvious wasn’t a mistake.

    • Sally G says:

      The judge made the correct decision regardless of the issue—people have to be able to understand what they are signing, and it would have had to been gibberish with both additions and deletions in plain text. IDK how any organization could have collected signatures without at least one signer or signature-gatherer questioning the text; if it was questioned and ignored, shame on them.

    • Charles Ross says:

      To the contrary, it is your specious and speculative (everything must be biased) reasoning that teaches contempt for the courts

  • It doesn’t affect me as I use a Wacom tablet, but my colleagues are sick to death of having font sizes change as a result of “hover scrolling”. This is also an easy way to cause catastrophic damage to an ID file through no intentional fault of our own, and unfortunately, it can’t be turned off…

    …unless the InDesign team is convinced otherwise:

    • Lindsey Martin says:

      I don’t think that the teams working on InDesign and Illustrator understand what integrity of the text means.

    • Kelly Vaughn says:

      Ah, yes. Good old Hover Scrolling! I have spoken with Adobe Engineers about that. Most people never encounter it because it only seems to happen when people use a trackball mouse. Currently, there is no way to turn it off. Please vote for that bug fix on the User Voice page!

  • Karsten Winther Jensen says:

    I have worked with law text and explanations to laws. It is as you explain a serious matter and you need a 100% reliable reviewer And as a rule of thumb you never ever approve your own work. One article might have up to several proofs before it is sent to print.

  • Adam Becker says:

    My bete-noire is not accounting for obliques when replacing all italics with character style emphasis

    • Karsten Winther Jensen says:

      . . . and the difference between obliques and italics? Perhaps you can explain the difference . . .

      • Dwayne Harris says:

        I’m guessing it’s more of search/replacing italic with italic character styles. But some fonts have oblique and not italic–thus the search and replace won’t work for those fonts. Or I could be wrong. I guess Adam can explain for himself.

  • Karsten Winther Jensen says:

    @Dwayne Harris, @David Blatner: Thank you Dwayne – makes sense now. Would be great if we could discuss this in a new thread. It’s an everyday challenge

  • Kelly Vaughn says:

    I worked in a retail print/copy shop years ago. There were two designers and a couple of CSRs/production folks. One day, both of us designers were out, and a customer came in to sign off on their proof. It was a marketing piece, and some of the black text had white strokes on it, to differentiate it from the background.

    We were sending the job out to one of those discount online printshop that requires customers to outline their fonts. The CSR decided to move things along (I mean, how hard can it be, right?), and so she prepped the file for printing by going into InDesign, doing a select all, then convert to outlines, and finally exporting an EPS file, which she uploaded to the online printing website. Fast forward about a week, and we got the print job back. I don’t recall if the customer saw it before we discovered the error, but as you know, when stroked text gets outlined (in InDesign), the stacking order of the strokes changes, and the strokes are moved to in front of the fill. The stroke was technically the same weight, but now instead of half the stroke being behind the letters, all of it was in front of the letters, filling them in partially with white. After the blame-game was over, we had to correct the file and upload it once again to the online printing website, and pay for it all over again.

    • Simon S. says:

      Do you remember how the file has been fixed ? Because one thing I truly hate is how InDesign manages inside/outside stroke alignment on compound paths :

      • Mike Rankin says:

        Simon- Here’s my workaround for problem of stroke alignment on outlined text: make a stack of 3 copies of the outlined text object (copy > paste in place). The one on the bottom has the stroke aligned to the outside, the one in the middle has the stroke aligned to the inside, and the one on the top has no stroke at all. Group them so they don’t get knocked out of alignment. It’s goofy but it’s fast and it works.

  • Anton says:

    So is there a way to convert to outlines without losing formatting?
    For example I find all the time when using bulleted lists the bullets are removed on convert to outline (and it caught me out once -but never again!). The workaround was to use option+8 (mac) to insert a bullet character and then use an appropriate para style.

  • David Blatner says:

    @Anton: Yes, there are a couple of good methods for converting text to outlines, including this:

    @Kelly: Great example! Thanks for adding the stroked-text problem.

    @Karsten: We’ll write something up about that. In the meantime, you can vote for “font mapping” here:

  • PC says:

    What ever happened to the proof readers—before going to press, and checking the printer proofs…

  • alex says:

    Dealing with longer documents like books, I run a script (PerfectPrepText) as soon as i import a new word doc that implements character styles for all the bits a pieces of manual formatting (italics, bold, underscores, etc) that editors and authors have added throughout the document. It is a life saver. Then nothing is accidentally lost/stripped when I’m applying paragraph styles. Pretty sure i learned about it here on InDesignSecrets, lol

  • Bob Sampson says:

    I wonder what has happened to proofreaders?

  • Civi B says:

    Another time creating outlines is a problem is when your text frame has fills and strokes. I’ve had reverse type in a black box – when I created outlines I was left with invisible text. You can be sure I never made that mistake again! Simple solution is to duplicate the text frame, create outlines, and delete the text in the box underneath.

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