Troubleshooting InDesign problems

When Adobe InDesign starts to behave in a weird way, it can be very time consuming to figure out how to solve the issue. I have once spent half a day trying to get my set-up working again. In the end, a colleague fixed it in 5 minutes.

InDesign troubles

If InDesign is acting up, the first thing to determine is whether that only happens with one particular file or if InDesign acts up with any file. Separate paragraphs on this page deal with file and application-related issues.Jump to the next topic if that latter is true. This topic deals with troubleshooting one particular file

How to fix an InDesign file

When a document gets corrupted, there are a few things you can do to clean it up:

Save as

As a general rule, the first thing to try is use ‘Save as’ to save that document. This forces InDesign to clean up its file structure. Often a file is also much smaller after it has been resaved using ‘Save as’.

Export as an INX or IDML file and reopen that file

Next to the INDD file format, InDesign can also save files using two additional formats: the INX file format has been available since the release of the original CS version. The IDML format was added in CS4. Exporting a file to INX or IDML and then reopening it again in InDesign is a well-known troubleshooting trick. I must admit that I’ve tried this a few times with troublesome files but never had much success with it. Your mileage may vary.

Move all content to a new document

Don’t COPY and PASTE individual frames to a fresh new document. InDesign allows you to move entire pages from one document to another, which can be a very efficient way of cleaning up a file.

Revert to the previous edition

Smart designers will from time to time save their work with a slightly different file name (e.g. by adding a revision number such as _1, _2, _3 at the end). If a document gets corrupted, they can always revert to the previous edition. Really smart designers put the older editions on a different drive. Really really smart designers store those data or that drive at another location. If you don’t do any of this yet, don’t worry: sooner or later you’ll work this way. Most of us have learned about the advantages of back-ups the hard way.

Output issues

This site has extensive troubleshooting sections for both PostScript and PDF output.

How to solve InDesign application issues

Given its complexity, InDesign is a remarkably solid application. It is not perfect though and sometimes you’ll have to perform some magic to get it working properly again.

Reset the preferences

To reset all InDesign preferences, start the application while holding down the SHIFT, CTRL, OPTION & COMMAND keys (Mac) or SHIFT, CTRL & ALT keys (PC). This will reset all the application preferences and you’ll lose any custom document presets, print presets, transparency flattener presets and custom stroke styles. If you don’t have back-ups up any of these, this is a good time to first make sure that InDesign’s prefs and presets are reconfigured and then to make a back-up of them.

Add another account

I ran into some weird behavior with CS3 and couldn’t get it fixed by reinstalling the application (something which you should only ever do after having tried everything else from this page). A colleague suggested creating another user account on my system. Oddly enough creating an additional account actually fixed the problem for my regular account.

If the problems started after installing a new plug-in..

… then that plug-in might be the cause of your troubles or that plug-in might conflict with another plug-in.

If InDesign keeps crashing

When InDesign crashes each time it is started, this is most likely caused by a recovery file that gets loaded automatically and that causes the application to crash. Locate the folder named ‘InDesign Recovery’ where such files are kept and delete all the files in it.

Other sources of information

I really like the video tutorial on troubleshooting InDesign issues that Anne-Marie Concepcion made for A search on the InDesignSecrets web site or the Adobe support forums might also be a good idea.

40 thoughts on “Troubleshooting InDesign problems

  1. Thank you! Indesign wouldn’t open files. Deleting the preferences saved the day. I used that command before with Photoshop, but didn’t think it worked with Indesign.
    Thanks again, you saved me the arduous task of reloading the suite.

  2. Thanks! Eliminating old preferences solved an issue about not being able to create new color swatches. I couldn’t find the answer anywhere on Adobe help.

  3. I know someone who has Windows 7 64 bit, running Indesign 5 64bit and is having a hard time printing. When he tried to select his printer (both his Konica Minotla and his HP) it gives him an unknown error and it reverts back to what it was. It cannot be changed from Postscript file. Any suggestions?

  4. I’ve created my own stamp catalogue with CS4..Now my “story Editor” command won’t work & I have solid black lines going all across the page that can’t be removed with “Delete” that have other text above them but all on 1 layer. How do I get rid of these lines & not harm the other text present???

  5. Thank you soooo much! After two days of suffering with a corrupt ID file I finally found something that worked.

    Move all content to a new document
    Don’t COPY and PASTE individual frames to a fresh new document. InDesign allows you to move entire pages from one document to another, which can be a very efficient way of cleaning up a file.

    Thanks again!!!

    1. No, sorry but that problem description is way to generic. I am also not using ID as much as I used to and don’t have to troubleshoot it any longer.

  6. Hello.

    Have any of you ever experienced the following phenomenon?

    When I open docs from designers in CS5 and CS5.5 I sometimes get unwanted spaces between text, and sometimes on vectors strokes are added where there was originally none.

    These two occurrences are really hard to spot when working with hundreds of pages across different magazines, and needless to say, the suits are having a field day with this.

    I need to make it not happen. What am I missing here?


  7. I created a 416-page document in InDesign, only to discover that the preset dimensions were wrong. I need to change the height from 10 3/4 to 10 7/8. Oy! How do I change the document setup at this point?

    When I try just changing the size in document setup, it gets stuck or crashes.


    1. Not sure if any of these help:
      – Do a SAVE AS. Restart InDesign, open the saved file and try changing the dimensions again.
      – Try changing the dimensions on another machine
      – Try the export to IDML procedure

  8. Thanks for the advice. Exporting as an .idml file worked for me. Your helpful info is now in my “get out of problems quickly” Word file!

  9. When I open a file in InDesign CS3 it crashes with the following error: InDesign.exe has encountered a problem and needs to close. Happens every time. I’ve deleted preferences, canceled document recovery, now what should I try? Please help!

  10. When I print to a PDF in InDesign CS5 it looks like it prints but doesn’t. I’m on a Mac in OS x10.5.8. I have another Mac with the same specs in the office that has no problems. Any thoughts?

  11. The tool palette is missing in all InDesign files – even when I try to open a new file – no tools! I’ve tried the tab, the control, alt, shift when opening, etc. nothing works. Any ideas? Thanks.

  12. Indesign CS4
    MAC OSX 10.6.8

    I can get the program to open, but when I file>print, it thinks about it for a second then quits. No error message.

    I have trashed the program, along with all my other adobe programs, and reinstalled… same issue still stands.

    I am horrible at troubleshooting computer problems, please help.

    ** I am nervous to start moving things around in preferences and caches as I can not risk having issues with my other programs.

  13. Why does my text become un-formatted when placing in my file all of a sudden yet this same document is placed fine when I place it to a totally new file or a different one. I am going crazy and I have a dealine so I can’t start over!

  14. Do you know how to fix my moving selection on CS4? I reset my preferences, I have another computer with cs4 installed and comparing both are the same settings.

    It was working fine suddenly stoped working
    I Reset the preferences JUST LIKE THIS:

    To reset all InDesign preferences, start the application while holding down SHIFT, CTRL & ALT keys (PC). AND CLICK ON YES, BUT IT IS NOT WORKING.


  15. What versions of Quark will IDCS4 open for conversion? Will it open Quark Passport files? If not, what do I need to in order to open them?

  16. This is regarding the error message “Unable to Set Bounding Box.”

    I found that if I copied and pasted the vector elements into AI, I could resize them there. I opted to delete the bounding box they came it with, but once I pasted the newly resized objects back into ID, I could resize them without any problem.

    These were simple arrows I drew right in ID… nothing complex.

    1. I had the “Unable to Set Bounding Box.” come up when trying to scale a bunch of vector graphics. I fixed it by coping it and pasting it unto illustrator. Resizing it, and pasting it back in Indesign at the size I needed.

  17. I have inDesign CS 5 and it everytime i start scrolling in the font section it crashes? What shall i do? I have snow leopard osx.

  18. I just got a new mac and bought the creative suite. I made my husband a few stationery files that he can pull and print for his business. When I double click OR pull the file icon onto the program icon to open them I get this message “Missing required parameter ‘from’ for event ‘open’. What the heck is this?? I seem to be able to open the file only if I go to file, open, etc. I am worried because I bought this software from and it was MUCH cheaper than buying from Adobe so I am worried that maybe something is wrong with it. Anyone else have these issues??

  19. I’m trying to reduce the size of a spread but when i select all the elements such as imagery and type, then i try to reduce the size, an error message comes up “Unable to set bounding box” I have tried to reduce using both the scale tool and through object – transform. but the same message comes up. This has happened also when i tried to reduce a spread from a different file. Please can somebody help as I think I have done everything that I have found on the internet. I have a mac and I’m using InDesign CS

    Thank you for any help


      I’ve had the same problem and I didn’t wanted to copy my layout in illustrator and then paste it back in ID cuz i wanted to keep the text (not outlined).
      in indesign, go to the preferences. Chose general/object editing, and tick ”adjust scaling percentage” and your scaling should work. (grouped all my elements, selectioned them and resized them with black arrow+shift)
      note that im using CS5.

      Hope this helps! 🙂

    2. I forgot to mention to change back the scaling in the preferences after you have the correct size for your layout.
      (because if you dont your font size will appear in paranthesis and not be the real font size and that is annoying)
      Change it back : Preferences/General/Object Editing and choose ”Apply to Content” in the ”When scaling” section

  20. Creative Suite 2 InDesign freezes whenever I try to print. What gives? How can I fix it? Reinstall?

    1. I’m having the same problems not being able to print with InDesign CS2 in Snow Leopard. Anyone out there have any fix ideas? Need to get by until CS5 ships.

      OS 10.6.3/2.66Ghz Intel Core i5/CS2

    2. Save or export your indesign cs2 document as a pdf. Open the pdf in acrobat or acrobat reader and print from there.

  21. InDesign documents are over 500mg in size before any data of formatting is started. What is causing this and how do I fix it?

  22. My InDesign is printing with big white squares – ramdonly. What could cause this?? This does not happen with other applications, only InDesign.

  23. A temporary yet awkward fix is:
    – search the file
    – select it (simple click)
    – double click on the folder that contains it (bottom)
    – reselect the file
    – press OK

    Adobe… please stop quarrelling with Apple and fix those nasty bugs in time.

  24. Have you come across problems with InDesign in CS3 and Snow Leopard? It was wonderfully stable. Now it crashes frequently and often without reason, though often trying to link to a file after a search.

    1. I have CS3 installed on my Snow Leopard disk but only run it occasionally. It has worked fine up to now. Adobe have a technote on running CS3 on OS X 10.6 – which might help:
      Also check the Adobe forums – the most likely place to find more information on compatibility issues.

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