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Why is [Some Feature] Grayed Out in InDesign?

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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.

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Revert

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 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.
  • awh says:

    So explain “Object / Transform Again” for me! When does that really work?

  • awh says:

    So I know – Go read the previous article “60 Minutes”!

    Doh!

  • Jan says:

    When I try to open my old CS4 files from within InDesign CS5 (Mac), the file names are greyed out. From the finder I can open them in CS5 however, and they become “converted”. This last thing I can understand, but not that the CS5 File Open dialog differs from the Finder. Is this behaviour by design, or just annoying? Or there something with my system? BTW, the files are copied from my old computer, which has the Windows CS4 version.

  • Jan says:

    Addition to my previous comment: the issue is not InDesign’s, but comes with OS X (Snow Leopard) and Synology. My files were copied from an Synology NAS, and got an extended attribute “com.apple.FinderIndo”. When this attribute us removed, the problem disappears. The terminal command for “myfile” is xattr -d -r com.apple.FinderIndo myfile; to do it recursively on all files in a directory (“mydirectory”) and below, use find mydirectory -print | xargs xattr -d -r com.apple.FinderInfo. There may of course be other ways to do the same.

  • Miguel says:

    Hi

    Sometimes I find the little arrows (up and down), in the character panel, gray out; so I am not able to change the text size. This happens when I have the text frame selected, I have to select the text inside to be able to change something. any thoughts?

    Thanks

  • Ken says:

    I am currently having a problem with moving around in the document. The menu commands and shortcut keys for first page, last page, and next or previous page are not working and grayed out on the menu. Next and previous spread are working from the menu and or keyboard shortcuts.

    I am working in WinXP SP3, InDesign 6.0.5, 3 Gb Physical Ram. I believe it has to do with IDCS4 rather than a document issue. If I export the document to .INX and open it in IDCS3, I can navigate around in the document using menu or shortcuts. If I open the .INX in IDCS4, it has the same behavior as the original document.

    Has anyone experienced this problem and solved it?

  • Neil Isaacson says:

    In CS3 once I set the window size for my doc, it would reopen to that size. Every time I open a doc it full expands to the width of my 24″ screen and I have to resize it to where I typically use it, which is out of the way of my panel arrangement.

  • Neil Isaacson says:

    Let me clarify, every time I open a doc in CS5, it does not remember that I had it set to a certain size previously. It fully expands the width of my monitor.

  • @Neil: I don’t think InDesign can remember the size of the application frame. Or at least it forgets easily. :(

  • Neil Isaacson says:

    @David: Did that work for you in CS3? Was I just lucky?

    We upgraded to Snow Leopard before CS5, so I was wondering if it was just SL. But I just opened a doc from a month ago in CS3, and it slapped the page layout window right where I left it.

    With new docs it was always full width, but once I positioned it, and saved it, CS3 had my best interest at hand and always remembered my layout window size/position.

    We skipped CS4, so I don’t know if it broke at 4 or 5.

  • Clint Waters says:

    Thank you for the smart guides tip. I’d inadvertently turned on snap to document grid just as you’d said. You just saved me from a massive headache.

  • Dev Null says:

    Another THANK YOU from my blood pressure levels for that tip about document grid on preventing smart guides…

  • stephen says:

    Thanks for the tip on re-enabling Smart Guide. Was working on some other designer?s doc, and cursing them that they turned one of my favorite features off. I?ve calmed down. Thx!

  • IhateAdobe says:

    For some unknown reason, the option to change the stroke size of the brush has suddenly become greyed out and I can’t figure out how to fix it.

    It’s really irritating the ever-lovin’ Hell out of me!

    Anyone know of a solution?

  • IhateAdobe says:

    Forgot to mention … it’s in Adobe Flash CS5 ….

    Anyone know why this is happening?

    HELP PLEASE! o.O … I’m going crazy here!

  • Dear Hate: Um…. I’m sorry that you’re having trouble with strokes in Flash, but this is a site about InDesign. Most things about Flash frustrate us; that’s why we use InDesign.

  • Ron Arnone says:

    The issue brought up by Neil Isaacson is driving me nuts, as well. Saving window size and position is so essential to a productive workflow, it’s hard to imagine there is not some way to control this. I am Mac CS5 upgrading from CS2. Neil, if you’re still following this post I’ve love to know if you ever resolved this little bugger!

  • Thanks so much! Couldn’t figure out why the smart guides weren’t working. Sure enough, the snap to doc grid was selected. Whew! So glad to get those smart guides back!

  • Jesse says:

    Recently in InDesign CS5 I have lost my links panel. The panel itself is there physically, but no link information shows up, the entire panel is just greyed out. Any help on this? I am using mac osx 10.5.8

  • Clinton says:

    Thanks so much for the info about Smart Guides disappearing.

  • Jesse says:

    @David: EXCELLENT! Thank you so much

  • bilglas says:

    You just saved my life … thanks.

  • Abi says:

    Why is the story editor greyed out in the ‘view’ panel?

  • kendra says:

    Thanks a bunch – the thing about smart guides really helped!

  • Sally says:

    Ditto with kendra on the smart guides. I pulled a few hairs out on that one!

  • latif says:

    I HAD A PROBLEM ABOUT THE SAME ,I HAVE MANAGED TO SOLVE IT ,SO YOU CAN GET THE SMART GUIDE BACK ON TRACK,ONE OF THE MAIN PROBLEM,IS YOU NEED TO MAKE SURE THE SNAP TO DOCUMENT GRID IS UNCHECKED ,WHILE YOU DOING THAT THE GRAYED SMART GUIDE NOW IS ACCESSIBLE.

  • Jongware says:

    Latif, in addition to this it seems your caps lock got stuck.

  • latif says:

    pARDON? wHAT IS CAPSLOCK?

  • Jongware says:

    It’s that thing that makes you type in annoying All-Caps.

    In forums such as this, typing in all-caps is considered “shouting”, probably because it’s very annoying to unsuspecting by-standers.

  • AN says:

    Re: Smart Guides ? nice one.

    That had me stumped for a little while. A bug that needs fixing for sure.

    Cheers

  • Olga says:

    Thank you so much for the post! Very helpful… saved me from hours of frustration

    o

  • TomL says:

    I bet there might be a way to write an Indesign script that says:
    Change window to X position, Y position, Width and Height upon opening. maybe then assign the script a hot key.

    Ron Arnone wrote:
    November 15th, 2010 ? 1:35 pm ? Link

    The issue brought up by Neil Isaacson is driving me nuts, as well. Saving window size and position is so essential to a productive workflow, it?s hard to imagine there is not some way to control this….

  • TomL says:

    I found a Java script that might work, but I don’t write Java – just Applescript. I can probably trudge through the code and use it as a guide to build a new script. If anyone wants to take a look at it: https://forums.adobe.com/message/1888557#1888557

  • Mike says:

    This is a new one for me. (CS5 on Windows 7.) I’ve created a text frame and pasted in some text copied from another document. When I have the text frame selected using the selection tool, I am able to make changes in the character and paragraph palettes, as usual. As soon as I thread overflow text into another frame, the character and paragraph palettes are grayed out. No difference if I first select with the selection tool and then switch to type tool (unless I actually click in the frame with the type tool). And it’s the same with threaded text frames created from scratch (not just with pasted text).

  • Tom Daley says:

    Smart Guides: This just happened to me. You are a friggin’ genius. Thank you!!!! I thought I was going crazy.

  • Dolly says:

    The panel for effects is greyed out and I an not able to use any of the effects, such as drop shadow etc in Indesign CS4

  • Lao says:

    Hi
    I have question. Indesign CS3 the table menu are grey, it can use at all so i don’t know how to fix.
    i want to make table.

    La0

  • @Lao: Sometimes features are grayed out because you don’t have the right tool selected or the right conditions. For example, to make a table, you need to have the type cursor flashing inside a text frame.

  • Tatyana says:

    Thanks sooooo much for saving my sanity with tip about grey table panel thing. I was in such a hurry with client demands :)

  • Zoffix Znet says:

    Thanks so much! I had my smart guides disabled, and I would’ve never thought it was because of the document grid snapping!

  • James says:

    Thanks for the tip I was about to get crazy with the smart guides not appearing.

  • todd says:

    thankyou re the smart guides greyed out, i understand it, but would never have figured it out.
    cheers.

  • Laura says:

    Thanks so much for posting about disabled smart guides. I’m relieved to see my smart guides are working again.

  • Steven says:

    Had been bugging me also about grayed out smart guides.
    Great site, thanks.

  • Suroor says:

    I’m trying to hyperlink the title of a publication to the publication online. I select the text but when I go to Type, Hyperlinks & Cross-References, all the options except Convert URLs to Hyperlinks are grayed out. I don’t want to put the url into my text.

    I’m using InDesign CS5.5 on Windows XP.
    Thanks.

  • Laurie Barboza says:

    Thanks for the info on the smart guides! I was going insane trying to fix this problem of them not showing. Restart InDesign, turn off the Mac and restart, close document and re-open.. nothing was working. Normally I would have shrugged this off and just resided to working a bit harder, but this particular project I’m working on is an absolute to have smart guide preferences functioning, since I have many things that need to be perfectly aligned and same sized. This article kept me from being committed!!

  • Fernando Caicedo Albarello says:

    Thank you very much! I have ?lost? some files because of that. Problem fixed.

  • Laura Reoch says:

    THANK YOU!!! I wound up losing my preferences before I found your solution but now my smart guides are up and running. Thanks so much!

  • briana says:

    Thank you! Snap to thing was just what I was looking for.

  • csinclaire says:

    You totally answered my question re my greyed-out Smart Guides option. It was really frustrating me! Thanks much!

  • Irfan Kachwalla says:

    Thank you!!! LIFESAVER!!
    smart guides turned ON!

  • David Walker says:

    As other people have said – thank you so much. You solved my issue with greyed out smart guides.

    cheers,

    David

  • David says:

    Thanks for posting this. I just “lost” my Smart Guides and knew I must have hit a keyboard shortcut that inadvertently turned them off. Sure enough, I must have accidently done “command-shift-apostrophe” to accidently turn on the “Snap to Document Grid” feature, thus nullifying the Smart Guides.

  • Hike says:

    Thanks so much on the Smart Guides tip! I would have never guessed to change the Snap to Document Grid to activate the smart guides. I just switched from CS3 to CS6 so the smart guides are a welcomed feature.

  • Bernhard says:

    awesomely useful!!

    THANKS!

  • scott says:

    Thank you! exactly what I needed to know about my smart guides!

  • Ru says:

    Thanks! :) It help me a lot!

  • Elaine says:

    I have the grayed out problem with the Object Styles. I press the T and the Selection tool but when I click in the body, the Object Styles are grayed out again. How do I fix this?

  • Elaine says:

    It’s okay. I figured out what the problem was. I was selecting text and thought the style I applied was an Object Style but actually, it was a Paragraph Style.

  • Goh says:

    Thanks for your help!!
    I’m using Indesign CS6 now,
    and my Smart Guide suddenly missing,
    it won’t show up the green guide anymore!
    Luckily I saw your post,
    Smart Guide will diable when “Snap to Doc Grid” being selected,
    even all features is checked in Preference.
    Thanks again!

  • paran says:

    Hi…i don’t know why but my updates option under help is greyed and not working..Could you help me figuring out what the problem is..Thanks!

  • Michael Farnbach says:

    I found that as soon as I took off The ‘Snap to documents grid” it worked.

  • Aleda says:

    Thanks for your reply. I will check it out.

  • Thanks David! The smart guides being greyed out had been driving me nuts all week.

    Heads on this one, the Snap to Document Grid option kills a lot of key commands as well like range left and range right plus increasing and decreasing point size with the key board. Seriously annoying!

    Spent most of the week unfairly cursing the InDesign CC Development team… apologies dev crew.

    sf d-)=

  • Sherry says:

    The only way I was able to get this to work was to do the following:

    1. Go to Layout/Create Guides and click remove existing ruler guides
    2. Go to Layout/Ruler Guides and change the color and view to something other than what was already there
    Then it didn’t matter if I had on the snap to document grid on or off. Before that, nothing I did changed it at all. Very frustrating. Thanks for the post. I have been searching for a fix for over a month!

  • Erin says:

    Hi – I cannot figure out why my LINKS PANEL has the RELINK aand RELINK TO FOLDER grayed out. I have checked every setting mentioned in the posts above. Nothing has allowed me to fix this. I have never had this happen and am at my wits end. Does anyone have a solution? Thank you!

  • asakour says:

    Thanks a lot for the tips :)

  • Jennifer says:

    THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU! I have been trying for several days now to get smart guides back on and this post made it happen in seconds!

  • akbar says:

    Hi David. The updates option under help is greyed out. How can i activate it so that i can download the DPS add ons.
    Please help!

  • Sylvain L. says:

    Thank you so much for the Smart Guides tip. Back to work now !

  • Gemma says:

    My colour panel seems inexplicably greyed out, I can change between swatch colours but I can’t just change CMYK, RGB or Lab. Any suggestions?

    • Steinar says:

      Gemma,I had the same problem as you; I couldn’t make use of the color panel (InDesign CS6 for Mac). I was unable the find the reason why this annoying problem suddenly appeared, but I got around it by clearing the InDesign preferences:
      Start InDesign and then instantly afterwards press and hold
      
Cmd+Alt+Ctrl+Shift


      See this page for other ways of how to reset InDesign, or if you are working on a Windows PC.

      • Gemma says:

        Thanks Steinar. I had the problem in CC, I’ve since downloaded the CC 2014 and haven’t had it occur since so maybe it’s fixed but I’ll keep this in mind should it rear its head again.

  • Chirakit says:

    Thanks a lot for the smart guides tip.

  • Neil Sutton says:

    Hi – My InDesign 6 does not have a type on a path tool (which I urgently need). The type tool icon in the tool bar does not have a fly-out option where I should be able to find it. I un-installed CS6 via the Adobe un-installers then re-installed it via my CC account …same thing, no type on a path tool.

    Can anyone help resolve?

  • Sharon Silver says:

    Thanks that worked perfectly! I can’t operate without those guys on!

  • erin says:

    Thank you! Migrating from a Mac to a PC, I was about to throw the new machine out the window with the greyed out smart guides. You saved me.

  • vanessa says:

    not helping

    why is my swatch panel for the save swatches greyed out i am going to blow a gasket!!!!!!! CS IND6

  • Amie says:

    Oh, thank you so much! The grayed out Smart Guides was driving me nuts.

  • Add my thanks to the others. My Smart Guides was greyed out too. I was hunting all over for why and came on this posting. Google to the rescue again!

    Greyed out menu options are quite common with ID and enormously frustrating. Since ID itself knows why it’s denying us that option, maybe Adobe could add a Tool Tip or whatever that’d say something like:

    “To enable this option, turn off Snap to Document Grid in the View–Grids and Guides menu”

  • Emily Sper says:

    I’ll add my thanks! So much frustration over Smart Guides now history.

  • Ruth Gilmour says:

    I’ve been trying to unprotect an Excel document to modify/update various cells but can’t recall the password I used. Trying to follow a process found on-line which requires that I access the “Show Ink” selection within Review tab but it’s greyed-out.
    Any ideas on how to activate/by-pass?

  • Becks says:

    All the tools in the tool panel have greyed out but the type tool. What has caused this? Its really frustrating me!

  • Miguel Agawin says:

    Thank you!

  • Cashmirek says:

    I experienced grayed “keep in frame” checkbox in rule below/above UI dialog.
    Sometimes greyed, sometimes not. Can’t figure what it is depends on.
    Someone knows?

  • Peter Mullen says:

    Hi
    I have a greyed out main toolbar in one particular doc. Is it to do with permissions? Ive tried saving as template and a copy but the toolbar is still unavailable. Anyone with thoughts?

    Thanks

    Pete

  • Raaj Kanchan says:

    You saved a lot of time. Thanks a lot for this very good article. Nice content. Keep posting.

  • Patty says:

    I’m trying to switch from RGB to CMYK in the print output dialogue box for inDesign and it is greyed out. Wondering why? And if this will help solve my problem of the yucky box around some of my images.

  • Mau says:

    Thank you a lot. You save my day!!!

  • pg1602 says:

    This was a great help

  • Judi Rich says:

    All I can say is thank you. This proved invaluable!

  • Nokomis says:

    My problem is when i open a new document and open paragraph style options,the “apply style to selection” is grayed out. Is there some trick?

  • Adam Fox says:

    All these years enjoying Smart Guides without problems. Your tip got them working again. Thank you!

  • Lisa Milazzo says:

    I need help! InDesign was working perfect yesterday and now when I open any document and try to access the tools they are all grey and I can only select the type tool. Any idea what happened and how I can fix it? HELP

    • Peter Mullen says:

      As has been said previously, export the file as an .idml file. When you open that file, the tools should be “active” again.
      I still havent figured out why this issue happens with my files.

  • Jessica says:

    Thank you so much! that helped a lot.

  • David says:

    Not sure what happened but my smart guides are not working and I can no longer drag images from one canvas tab to another… can anyone help with this? I probably hit a combination of keys and messed something up

  • ligia smith says:

    AWESOME! Thank you! – The smart guides ARE BACK!!

  • Jenny says:

    Thank you so much, very helpful :)

  • Elizabeth Whitmire says:

    Thanks so much! A big help!

  • Thank you! This was driving me crazy too. Love me some smart guides :)

  • majd says:

    merkers numbering is greyed out and idk what to do!

  • Ray Forma says:

    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?

  • Reepal says:

    Yeeeee! –smart guides ARE BACK!! :) :)
    Thanks.

  • Tony says:

    You’re a life-saver! Or at least a time-saver and me-saver! Thank you a lot!

  • Kate says:

    Thank you! I can always rely on you for help with wacky problems.

  • Civi B says:

    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!

  • Civi B says:

    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.

  • jigme says:

    Thanks a lot. Your solution to grayed-out smart guides saved my day.

  • Steve L Herman says:

    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.

  • Steve L Herman says:

    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!

  • Rue Cataquez says:

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

  • Sharon says:

    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!

  • Joe Hrdina says:

    What about the Baseline Grid panel in InDesign Preferences? Mine is grayed out and can’t figure out why. ….

    • Joseph B Hrdina says:

      To answer my own question, it was a bug. I run InDesign CC 2015 in an Enterprise environment linked with Wood Wings DAM. They’re plugins tend to much things up and I need to regularly “claw” reset my preferences. The other day I could only export low res PDFs no matter what presets I had chosen.

  • Ellen says:

    Thank you smart guides are well and working again !!!

  • HIRO LIEW says:

    Thank you so much!! 21/11/2018

  • Arya says:

    Hi, thank you for your post.
    In my case problem in Type>Text variables>Insert variable> and here is all grey
    Please can you help with that section?

  • Liviu says:

    For me the “Adjust the stroke weight when scaling” option in the Transform panel options is grayed out. Any idea why? Thanks!

  • nene says:

    thankyou man you are a life saver!!

  • Diana says:

    Hi Dave, My ” Apply Style to the Selection” box is grayed out in the Paragraph, Character and Object styles panels. Any advice on how to make them active? I’ve highlighted and placed a cursor in the text but it still is grayed out.

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