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 to 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.

Every item in the previous list, which was published in 2008, is also present in this new overview, indicating that the above issues are unlikely to be resolved in the near future.

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.
29 August 2017

44 responses to “PDF troubleshooter”

  1. anshul says:

    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

    • Laurens says:

      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.

  2. Peter Bailey says:

    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.

    Thanks,
    Peter

  3. abdulmalick says:

    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
    and
    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.

    -REGARDS

  4. Christina says:

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  5. FAISAL says:

    WHILE I M COVERTING DOCX FILE TO PDF FILE MY TEXT GETTING CUT OF OR SOME TEXT ARE MIX WITH EACH OTHER CAN ANY ONE HELP ME PLzzzzzzzzZ.

  6. manguera says:

    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.

    Thanks

  7. Michael says:

    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.
    Michael

  8. Craig says:

    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.

  9. Michael says:

    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.

    Michael

  10. Craig says:

    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!!

    craig

  11. Ash says:

    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
    ==============================

  12. Bonnie says:

    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.

  13. Chris Hooks says:

    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?

  14. deb c says:

    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?

  15. Maria says:

    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?

  16. Linda M. says:

    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

  17. PDF compare question says:

    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.

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  19. vip says:

    The PostScript file “Untitled-1.ai.ps” could not be converted to a PDF file.

    How do I resolve this error

  20. Gayle says:

    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.

    • Laurens says:

      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.

  21. Thais says:

    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.

  22. sokchea says:

    %%[ 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. ] %%

  23. Hjelmen says:

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

    Thanks
    Hjelmen

  24. Lorraine says:

    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?

  25. Laurens says:

    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.

  26. melinda says:

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

    thanks,

    melinda

  27. Sergio Sousa says:

    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.

  28. somaye says:

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

  29. Gretchen says:

    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….!

  30. jenn says:

    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

  31. cinebibliophile says:

    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?

  32. j ahlgren says:

    What are -custom halftones- and should they be removed from a pdf?

  33. Elise B. says:

    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!

  34. Laurens says:

    <p>That is actually a PostScript error, probably related to a network /driver/storage issue on your system. Maybe updating your printerdrivers might help – see http://www.prepressure.com/postscript/troubleshooting/errors/startdata

  35. Elise B. says:

    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
    OFFENDING COMMAND: StartData

    STACK:

    57
    (Hex)
    -savelevel-

    Do you know what the problem is?

    Thanks, Elise

  36. Laurens says:

    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!

  37. 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

  38. Laurens says:

    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….

  39. Samer Habib says:

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

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