PDF troubleshooter

PDF files are used to send print-ready data to printers. The file format is also frequently used for submitting adverts to publishers or as a graphic file format for logos and drawings. Even though the file format itself is reliable, PDF files can still be troublesome.

Common PDF errors or mistakes

In 2017 GWG, a graphic arts association ran a survey regarding the use of PDF files in the graphic arts industry. Below are the main issues reported by the 1100 respondents. I’ve included how many people reported seeing each issue.

  1. The resolution of images is too low (70+%)
    Low image resolution leads to a loss of sharpness. When the resolution is really low images get a blocky or  ‘pixelated’ look and straight lines that are not perfectly horizontal or vertical will show a staircasing effect.
  2. Use of incorrect or unwanted color spaces (50+%)
    Many printers request CMYK files so any PDF file containing RGB or Lab data will be incorrect, even though modern workflow systems and RIPs are perfectly capable of properly processing such color spaces.
  3. Bleed is missing (50+%)
    Unless this is corrected a thin white line may appear between the paper edge and close by images or tinted areas.
  4. Fonts are not embedded in the PDF (40+%)
    This can lead to text getting printed with a wrong typeface. It can also cause the spacing of characters to be completely wrong, with characters partially overlapping each other while others have too much spacing inbetween them.
  5. There are problems with transparency (30+%)
  6. The PDF file contains an incorrect number of spot colors (30+%)
    Typically printers who ask for pure CMYK files get PDF files with spot colors in them. When spot colors are expected, the same color might appear twice or more, each time with a different name.
  7. There is an issue with overprint (30%)
    The inappropriate use of overprint is an issue by itself. In this particular case, we’re talking about there being a difference between the Adobe Acrobat preview (with overprint set to be honored) and the printed result. Issues with overprint can cause page elements to disappear or change color. Small text can become difficult or impossible to read.
  8. Total ink coverage is too high (30%)
    This can cause issues on press because the ink can’t dry properly. This can lead to set-off where the ink of a still wet area rubs off on whatever is stacked on top of it. Too much ink can also lead to muddy browns in neutral areas.
  9. Incorrect ICC profiles are used (30%)
    The use of incorrect profiles may lead to the colors of the printed result also being incorrect.
  10. The dimensions of the PDF do not match the requested size (30%)
    The PDF file format uses so-called page boxes to define page dimensions and bleed. These boxes are used to check if the PDF page size is correct, which sometimes is not the case. A typical example is a business card measuring 85×55 mm positioned in the center of an A4-size page. Obviously the worst problem is receiving a PDF file that has a different aspect ratio.
  11. There are issues with flattened transparency (30%)
    Flattening can cause thin white lines to appear. It can cause shifts in color or make text appear fat. Flattening can also cause white rectangles to appear in graphic elements such as artwork or images.
  12. Colors are not reproduced correctly (20+%)
  13. The output intent is missing or wrong (20+%)
    A typical example is the use of a US-specific output intent such as SWOP for files printed in Europe. This can lead to incorrect color separations
  14. The conversion of spot colors to CMYK differs from the expected result (20+%)
  15. Technical elements are not defined properly (20+%)
    A document may need to contain data for die-cutting, embossing, spot varnishing, or some other type of embellishment. A die line should, for example, be defined as a spot color named ‘dieline’ and set to overprint. If that is not the case, an operator needs to fix this manually or a new PDF file must be requested.

To a lesser extent people also reported issues with corrupted fonts, corrupt PDF files, incorrect CMYK separations, missing objects, RIP errors and incorrect use of layers.

How common are PDF issues

The above mentioned GWG survey also asked how often respondents encountered issues with incorrect PDF files.

  • 6% claim that over 90% of the PDF files they receive contain errors.
  • 17% report that between 50 and 90% of the PDF files contain errors.
  • 25%  report that between 10 and 50% are troublesome.
  • The remaining 52% report less or no errors.

Reasons why PDF files contain errors or are troublesome

One of the reasons why many of these problems go undetected is that designers have the habit of making proofs from their layout, checking those proofs, and then creating PDF files. These PDF files don’t get looked at, they are sent straight to the agency or printer. It would be far better if designers created PDF files and then made a proof of these files. This way the consistency between supplied file and proof is much better!

Troubleshooting bad PDF files

Many of the above issues can be fixed with Adobe Acrobat Professional. For some problems having a plugin like Enfocus PitStop may make it easier to troubleshoot the file.

There are a number of prepress workflow systems that also offer built-in tools to correct PDF issues. The preflight engine of the Apogee Prepress workflow of Agfa Graphics is an example of such a solution.

Next to PDF files having some kind of issue, it can, of course, happen that a PDF cannot be ripped or rendered at all. Here are some typical things to try when this happens:

  1. Use PitStop or another tool to get rid of any irrelevant data in the PDF file. Delete forms, scripts, animations,… and then use ‘Save As’ to create a new clean PDF file.
  2. Refry the PDF file if you don’t have access to the source file(s).
  3. If you have access to the source file: clean it up and recreate the PDF: Make sure that any spot colors that are not printed as spots are converted to CMYK in the original file. Delete any unused data (stuff on the pasteboard, elements hidden underneath others, unused pages,… ) You also may want to merge layers, paths, or channels. Then do a ‘Save As’ to create a clean source file. Export directly to PDF if the application has an option to do so.
  4. If the above fail and you have the source files, try recreating the PDF using a different procedure: if the problem file was created by exporting to PDF, try creating a PostScript file and distilling that. If the problem file was created using Distiller or Normalizer, try using ‘Export to PDF’.
  5. If everything else fails, try opening the PDF in Photoshop and saving it as an image. This operation converts all text to a bitmap so it really has a huge impact on the quality of the output but if everything else fails, this is your last resort.

75 thoughts on “PDF troubleshooter


    PDF files open comments section, but I can’t highlight any text.
    I can write comments on the page. These are pages without

    How do I get to highlight parts of a page?

  2. Really good to know. Recently happened with me that I got a PDF in RGB and when I converted it to CMYK using Adobe Acrobat on the MAC one of the logos in the PDF that was white went transparent.

    Also happened other issues with converting from RGB to CMYK with Adobe Acrobat that thin white lines appeared in some areas, almost undetectable.

    Not sure if anyone ever had this issue.

    Problem that the first case, with the missing logo, it went to print because no one saw it (I was paid to layout the magazine and ended up having to convert 30 + PDFs, so I could not really look if all went well).

    My bad luck was that the people that print said that it is impossible to happen (it was printed in Brazil and our companies many times have the fame to blame someone else), but I just saw it happen. I converted again later few more times to be sure I did not get crazy and it happened again (not all the times I converted), but it really did.

    Anyone else had a similar problem?

  3. I didn’t see this covered above or I missed it: The bottom half of the last page in each PDF is cut off (unable to scroll down further) . I have tried all of the resizing and rotation tools but the issue remains.
    Sincerely, Teacher Needs Help

  4. Trying to send quarterly reports to Colorado State Secretary. When I sent the report the PDF attachments were incomplete. I made corrections, saved and resubmitted it. On the receiving end they keep getting the one that is incomplete. They don’t receive the version with the changes I made. I have tried so many things that I am now at my wits end on what more I can do. Any suggestions please?

    1. WAAAAY more information is needed to properly answer the question.
      1) Windows or Mac?
      2) What software app is creating the report?
      3) Are you just saving the report or exporting/printing the PDF?

      For instance, if you’re using Excel, you must use the File->Save As… and change the type of PDF, according to Microsoft. You can alternatively use the File->Print… and print to the Microsoft PDF printer (Windows) or click the PDF button in the lower left of the print dialog (Mac OS).

      Another demon to watch out for is WHERE is the PDF being saved to. I’ve had clients save the first PDF to their Desktop and they send it from there. However, the app defaults to their Documents folder, meaning the new copies were saved OTHER than the Desktop. So, they kept sending the first PDF over and over and over again.

      Hope this helps!

  5. Hi When I create a PDF from different apps (Pages and Highland 2), the line height of the 4th line in each page of the PDF is always shorter than the rest. Looks cut off at the bottom of the line and the bottom half of capital letters looks visible squished smaller. Ie The lower loop of “B” is a smaller and distorted version of the top loop. Can anybody help me with this?

    1. Hello, I have exactly the same problem, existing in all my macs, ipads and win11 pcs. First time I recongnised that on print out and thought it was printer jam. Later on I realised it is on display as well. Have you found an answer for that?

  6. Lots of problems with Acrobat is checking big files. Its just a pain in the ass. The software crashes if you use detailed settings. Solution export pages in sections, but thats tedious.
    Most times i make images files of pages if it takes to long to tackle. Better be safe than sorry and wasite shitload of time checking PDF files

  7. I download my pdf via Final Draft and its FDx file. It used to work ok and fill the whole page lately it’s gone wrong and leave regular long empty gaps at the end of each page. Despite this it doesn’t affect the page count. You just wonder why each page has this gap. It’s like imagining the A4 page is the wrong type. Final Draft use Courier 12 and spacing is in accordance with screenplay format.
    Have you any idea how to solve the problem cos’ Final Draft can’t? They said it could be a Registry problem but I haven’t tried it yet.

    1. I haven similar problems. Every time I save my final draft work on OfF my work jumps leaving me with gaps and empty pages between my work.

  8. I’ve designed 15 books and every book showing errors. I’m using adobe Acrobat Pro. When i try to upload books interior file on Ingram Spark website it showing me different error against every file.

    error 1:

    PDF fule contains layers: we request flattered file ( no layer).
    Enen I’ve saved the file using the default setting PDF/ X- 1a:2001.

    Error 2:

    Unnecessary high resolution images.
    Even i had set all color and gray-scale images in 300ppi and set 600ppi for bitmap images.

    Error 3:

    PDF file contains ICC color profile.

    Please let me know how can i resolve these errors.

  9. I have a publisher PowerPoint presentation. I drew on it and it saved nicely. However, when I saved it as a pdf file, my drawings do not show up.

  10. Thanks for all the excellent work you’ve done on this site, I’ve referred to it many times over the years and I pretty much learn something new each time I visit. Here’s a question that may be of general interest: InDesign exports to PDF with my custom settings nicely, but when I use the Print Booklet feature and PRINT to PDF using the same settings, a black rectangle appears around a vector (Illustrator) graphic on top of a photo. I’ve gone through the settings and can’t find a difference. (Except for the discovery that Acrobat defaults to using system fonts instead of document fonts, which is frustrating considering it’s an Adobe product and they should know better.)

    Perhaps you can fill me (and others) in on why printing to PDF is different than exporting to PDF, and/or specifically why this graphic works fine on export and fails on print with the same settings selected in Acrobat. Thanks again for all your excellent work here, well done!

  11. I’m using Photoshop 7. Sometimes it saves a PDF file that it then can’t read! loading the file into Acrobat Pro, saving it as am image, loading that into Photoshop and saving the file again as a PDF SOMETIMES fixes the problem. Any thoughts?

  12. When I go to digitally sign the document i receive a “fuzzy” signature and an error message stating has not been added to my trusted certificates. How do I add it to my trusted certificates?

  13. I am trying to edit some spelling errors and typos in a pdf but everytime I do it, it doesn’t allow me and all the text moves/shifts to right (outside the box). Sometimes I have to make last min edits in my documents but this issue doesn’t allow me. Please shed some light if you have any suggestions .

  14. I am trying to work with some of my saved pdf files in the laptop. Unfortunately, each time I open a file within few seconds it disappears and hence I cannot work with the files. Please let me know whether there is any remedy?

    1. I looks like your PDF viewing application (most likely Adobe Acrobat Reader) is crashing. Reinstall it or install an alternate viewer.

  15. Sorry for getting off-topic. As a frequent requester of commercial-quality print jobs from VARIOUS print shops, even until today, I prefer to use 350dpi CMYK TIFFs with matching color profile vs fighting above surprises in the uncoordinated jungle of PDF specs and incomplete preflight checks.

    1. That just means the computer has “associated” the extension “.idd” as a PDF file icon. Has nothing to do with the file itself. It’s all THEIR computer having the wrong extension associated with PDF files.

  16. I have the weird issue that any indesign file that is with file extension .idd is showing on one IBM computer as an I design file but on someone else’s comouter they are seeing the PDF icon???
    Something is wrong we are just viewing files not even opening. Any ideas???

  17. I have submitted a time sensitive PDF. I have gone back and revisited the document to print it but it will not print successfully. Is there someway I can print the document I wrote?

  18. I am printing free PDF fake music. Many of the pages are cut off at the bottom, although they appear to be the same size on page I am viewing. How can I stop this from happening when the printer for these files does not allow options for fitting the PDF to the page?

    1. There are a number of (free or cheap) affordable ‘virtual’ printer drivers available that allow you to print to PDF. Install one that does support scaling.

  19. I had a pdf document emailed to me i forward the att. when the email was opened by the recipient the document was changed. names were missing and moved to other places on doc. I need someone to tell why.

  20. Any idea why I am getting random (??) “#”s in the header area of a MS Word docx (resume) that I am converting to a pdf using Acrobat 9?

  21. i have a pdf file which is damaged and when i open it a error comes that the file format is unknown or damaged
    please help me it a very important file
    thank you

    1. If the PDF is damaged, it is unlikely that you can actually get it fixed. One thing you could try is place each page of the file in a new document in an application like InDesign, in the hope that you can recover everything expect one single damaged page. If the file format is unknown, check if it isn’t something trivial like a bad file name extension.

  22. Hi,
    I have an “image” PDF, pages scanned at 600 dpi. I tried “refrying” it, just for fun. But, no matter what I choose in the Distiller settings, the resulting PDF always ends up at 300 dpi instead of 600 dpi. Any ideas? In Distiller I chose “High Qualiy Print,” which specs monochrome images to be 1200 dpi if they’re over 1200 dpi. I changed it to be 600 dpi if over 600 dpi.


  23. Dear Sir, adobe X (57) error
    by binubhaiya (not verified) – 01/24/2012 – 22:55

    Dear Sir,

    adobe X (57) error solution (Fix-A) NOT WORKING on my PC.

    (some files open correctly
    some files giving error (57)

    (I am not confirm, whether these files are corrupted !)

    I want to submit those files (how can I do?)

    please instruct through my email.



  25. Hi everyone,

    I am thinking about using the Ghent output suite for checking the status of a packaging printing workflow, but I am not sure that I should use all the test patches since not all of the PDF/X-3 specs apply to package printers.


  26. Craig,
    Quark support never was really helpfull. The callcenter-agents are – in my opinion – not well-trained enough to understand all functions which QuarkXPress has. And it’s nearly impossible to get a 2nd level supporter on the phone. In addition to that I saw that Quark is selling support-plans meanwhile, which you can subscribe for some money. But I have no idea if that will provide any better support.
    Certainly Adobe is not doing anything better for their customers.

  27. Thanks Michael, I have switched over to indd as I do mags and need to import PDFs. It was as if Quark just could not answer my questions about this. Maybe they wanted me to pay for support??

    I appreciate your comment, thanks.

  28. Hi Craig!

    We’re having the same problem using QuarkXPress 8.
    QuarkXPress 8 does ONLY support PDF 1.3 format when loading PDF into picture boxes. If you’re using PDF 1.4 or higher it will result in defective transparency flattening.
    It’s a known problem and also in the list of “known bugs” on Quark’s website.
    Meanwhile we’re only importing “old-fashioned” EPS-files into QuarkXPress 8 to keep the workflow stable.


  29. We have used QuarkXpress for creating magazine files for years and now that most ads arrive as pdfs we get inconsistent results when placing them into Quark, then outputting to final pdf for printing.

    We preflight ads in Acrobat pro – images high res, cmyk, etc
    We place them into Q8
    We output with press settings to printers pdf

    Then when we look at that press pdf we get chippy low res type in some areas on some ads.

    I sent Quark an original supplied pdf that I had preflighted in acrobat, also sent them a one page quark file with the ad placed, also sent them the resulting press pdf with type problems and they were unable to understand, or offer any advice on the subject. (darn those overseas telsupporters!)

    We of course are using indesign for any new work now (ouch-53 years old learning a new program!) but still do lots of work in Quark because some staff wont switch over!! and some work is updated periodically.

    Any help would be greatly appreciated!!


    1. We very seldom use Quark anymore. We did have some problems once and a while when we used a pdf in quark, the pdf we created would have odd fonts that seemed to have pieces clipped off. Now use Indesign and have not had that problem yet. We also have a markwarze plug in to open quark files in indesign, seems to work well

  30. I get This Error When I Try To RIP My PDF File With Harlequin 5.3 rev 2….
    %%[ Error: ioerror; OffendingCommand: Do(PDF) ]%%
    %%[ Flushing: rest of job (to end of file) will be ignored ]%%
    Can Anyone solve this error?
    I Make PDF File From InDesign

  31. I get trouble on imposition in Fiery rip when client provide PDF files. The page size is incorrect when I add crop mark or bleed. I found out that the problem is from the page size but you will see all pages is the same size on PDF arcobat. I think client create the file from differnt application and gather all the page in PDF arcobat, so any idea to fix up?
    I have tried to crop page in arcobat but it didin’t work too.

  32. I am trying to create a PDF of a 116 page information guide for our men’s basketball team, and it gets all the way through the printing to PDF process and just simply says…FAILED TO EXPORT PDF…. What in the heck is that? Anybody out there have any suggestions?

  33. When creating a PDF for web, a large square shaded box appears in the lower left corner, in the background of all pages. It is not in the original InDesign file.

    Any idea on why this is happening and how to keep it from happening?

  34. I´m trying to send an pdf to my rip, but keep getting the message “The Interpreter reports the following error: Camelot-error.” What is this?

  35. I am working with Indesign5, and having trouble with eps images in this document. When I view “display performance – high quality” portions of the eps image files don’t show….more importantly these “non-showing” elements don’t show up in the pdf I am trying to save from this document (in preparation for printing). Is this an illustrator saving problem? an Indesign5 problem? Help much appreciated

  36. I am trying to create a clean compare (plain text to text, number to number) of two pdfs. It doesn’t compare well at all. The PDFs I receive to compare are created from a proprietary sofware and must contain a lot of garbage. Is there a way to strip out everything. Would that be the case where I would need to open it in photoshop to create an image? The problem is that it is about 60 pages long.

  37. Is there any way to control the size of a final PDF x1a file? My job requires that I send publication material globally and sometimes there are language barriers, so e-mailing a PDF is the most fool proof way of doing this but sometimes the PDF x1a files end up being too large to e-mail.

    1. Nothing stops you from (re)compressing a PDF/X-1a file to make it smaller. This risk is however that the quality of images suffers so I cannot really recommend this. If you want to stick to e-mail instead of FTP or some portal solution, cutting the file into separate parts which all get mailed separately also keeps file sizes down. What I did experience recently is that many companies seem to have eased up on the maximum size of attachments. People that in the past could only receive 5 MB attachments suddenly have no problems receiving 40 MB files.

  38. We have been having issues with text and formatting being dropped out when distilling Word source files. We’ve used the Acrobat/Create PDF option. We’ve used the server group distiller. We’ve printed to a post script file and distilled.

    This activity is sporatic and not the same text and formatting is dropped.

  39. %%[ Error: undefined; OffendingCommand: setdistillerparams; ErrorInfo: CalCMYKProfile U.S. Web Coated (SWOP) v2 ]%%
    %%[ Flushing: rest of job (to end-of-file) will be ignored ]%%
    Error accessing color profile: U.S. Web Coated (SWOP) v2
    %%[ Warning: PostScript error. No PDF file produced. ] %%

    1. we had the same problem as sokchea. in our case the drivers in the c:\windows\system32\spool\driver\color directory were corrupt.

  40. We had this problems when we are printing. This error get print out
    ” Error: undefined
    Offending Command: Tg8
    We are printing out on Xerox pro 238 and pro 255.
    Can some help me??


  41. To avoid high printing costs on an MF450 colour copier, is there any way I can check using either InDesign or Acrobat that I’m as close as possible to 5% Page Coverage before going to print?

  42. Acrobat Professional has limited text editing capabilities and there are a few plug-ins that offer more powerful editing tools. PDF isn’t meant to be an editable file format, so it is always a better idea to alter the actual source files.

  43. please assist me, i need to change the dates on my documents that were created in indesign, they are pdf files.



  44. Try the Enfocus Pitstop Pro software in order to check PDF files BEFORE sending them to the imposition software. You can use some of the PDF profiles already included in the software, but it would be best if you create your own PDF profile.

  45. Error: undefined; OffendingCommand: setdistillerparams; ErrorInfo: CalCMYKProfile U.S. Web Coated (SWOP) v2

  46. Hi. I’m having trouble when exporting my InDesign leaflet to PDF. One PSD image goes white (the shape of the image is there, but the details disappear – the background was removed with Background Eraser tool in PS). I have a layer (filled with a grey pantone colour) underneath this image. When I remove the grey layer, the image prints fine in PDF, but I do need the grey area to be there….!

  47. I have an excel file with photos in each line of the table.
    When I make a PDF of it the photos shift down.
    The photos at the bottom are more shifted than the ones at the top.
    any suggestions? Thanks

  48. I have a customer supplied PDF that has several bands of color butting up against each other across the page. The PDF is fine on screen––of course––but when I proof it on a small phaser printer I––and the customer as well–– get these blobs and streaks on the file. Does any of this make sense or sound familiar to anyone?

  49. Hi Laurens,
    We’ve had this problems for over a month now, intermitently. Searching the web, I read, somewhere, that it could be due to a faulty cable connection. Although we could print any other kind of documents without any problem, I checked the cable just for the heck of it (pushing it tightly)….

    I printed the same pdf document, a colleague also tried, and both worked just fine. Sometimes, it’s just a mystery to me.

    In any case, thanks for your answer!

  50. I don’t know that this is the right place to ask but here I go. I have a pdf document and “sometimes” get the following error message when I try to print. I can preview the document alright, but it won’t print.

    ERROR: ioerror



    Do you know what the problem is?

    Thanks, Elise

  51. The Document Properties window of Acrobat Professional tells you which PDF version a PDF file is and which the originating application (PDF Producer) is. I think you can also see if a file is a PDF/X file but I usually use PitStop to preflight incoming PDF files. Preflight tools like PitStop tell you everything there is to know about the resolution of images,… The preflight tool that is built into Acrobat Professional also isn’t too bad for basic checks!

  52. Hi Laurens

    Good idea, …I’m new to this site (I saw your post on PP forum) but I have a query
    do you know of a way of checking what ‘flavour’ a PDF is? ie can you tell if a PDF is x-1a or print quality etc etc

  53. The idea is that each of the 10 issues is turned into a link which takes you to a page with possible solutions. Give me a bit of time to work on this….

  54. Some of this info are well known specially when you use pdf files for printing.
    what do you advise?
    thank you

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *