InDesign error "failed to export the pdf file"

Every now and again the life of a designer leads to pulling an all nighter, or at least a late nighter. Last night was one of those nights, as I finished up a layout for a client. Everything had been working just fine, in Adobe InDesign CS, and I had exported many PDF proofs along the way, but wouldn't you know it--just when I went to do the final export for my client (delivery was a PDF file) at 3:00 a.m. the darn thing failed. It gave me the cryptic message "failed to export the pdf file". Thanks Adobe.

So, being a good researcher, I type that into Google and come up with one hit, which is an Adobe developer support document that is strangely not about the error itself, but uses the error as an example of how to turn an error off. Hmmm. Well, it did mention that the error happens because of a full disk, so I made sure I was okay in that regard. 20% of my disk space free on my main drive--that's 20 gb--should be plenty, so that isn't the issue. Is it fonts? Nope. Is it a corrupt document? Nope. Is it corrupt InDesign? Re-install, nope. Is it my machine? Try on G5 in office--same error. Damn.

So, like any good troubleshooter I start tearing the file down bit by bit, and exporting each page individually to see where the problem is. Ah! I found it--turns out that I had some images stretching across two pages across the fold. Those images were grouped. I ungrouped them, and problem fixed. The file went out the door at 4:15 a.m.

So, the moral is this: if you are finding this posting via typing "failed to export the pdf file" into Google, and are working in InDesign, see if you have grouped images across a fold. If it happened to me, I'm sure it can happen to somebody else. I hope some designer, burning the midnight oil (mixed in with clumps of hair pulled out in frustration) and experiencing problems does type "failed to export the pdf file" into Google, and this does fix their problem. If so, leave me a comment and get that damn work out the door so that you can get paid!

Posted by: Martin McClellan
On the date of: February 10, 2005 02:09 PM
Same just happened to me (and yes I did google for that exact phrase:)) Slightly different, I had a text box going over the spread, nothing grouped, but you saved me a TON of time!!! Cheers Val
Hey! its not midnight but I still have my client over me. It happened exactly the same as you, Thank you very much, I can now send the file to my client. cheers!
I had this error. Thank you!!!
Try this one: I had a master page element jumping from a facing page over to the other side (even though the other side was linked to a completely different master page). Ithink it had something to do with the master page element being in the bleed area. Anyway, I had to weed through every page of the catalog - It was the second to the last page!!! BUT, it's only 1:30am. Peace be with you all.
I had the same problem, and thanks to you, it's fixed!
really useful, im aving the same problem and the first google result was you. thanx, thanx, thanx.
I'm a real InDesign amateur...self-taught in the last four weeks. I ran into this error tonight and the only reason I had this problem was because I'd had gifs overlapping. I removed the overlapping parts and voila, it was fixed. I believe this can be remedied while still having them overlap by putting the overlapping gifs on a different layer.
i have been having a problem with my portfolio. about halfway through the export, pg. 87, indesign dumps the remaining 60 pages. at this certain page i have imported some illustrator files, the remaining pages are simple jpgs, etc. have any ideas?
Sorry Wilson, I can't offer support beyond what I've already found with my own issues. I would recommend searching the Adobe site, Google, and posting on bulletin boards that designers frequent. Beyond that, try saving the file with a different name, and then start deleting your images one by one from page 87 and exporting until you find the culprit. When you do find the issue, I heartily recommend writing a blog page about it so that other people can benefit from your discovery.
You are my hero! What a vague error message to have pop up at such a critical time!! After googling and finding your Rescue Message, I narrowed it down to the page that wouldn't export, selected everything on the spread and discovered one stray image frame hiding behind another, left over from a previous version of my document. It didn't cross any page borders, but it was doing something to screw things up and it works fine now - thank you, thank you, thank you...
I am also self taught in InDesign and had this error for the first time today. I'm working on flyer for a nonprofit and have a bunch of sponsor logos at the bottom. I get the last few logos in and it'll no longer export to PDF. After reading the comment from Andy Wagner, I realized two logos were ever-so-slightly overlapping. I rearranged, and it exported no problem. You have saved me so much time and frustration! Thank you!!
great.. im troubleshooting InDesign and suddenly i end up in this blue holebox... oops..hellbox. Cool place guys. eVon
Thanks so MUCH i googled it too. This was so frustrating i wasted hours upon hours trying to figure out what it was Adobe needs to give more details in the error message. Thanks again!
Damn, I got the same error in a 514 page document which takes 15 minutes to export. Thanks for the hint, and I sure hope it won't take more than a few hours to find the culprit...
THANKS FOR THE ADVICE!!! Removed items from the pasteboaord....I hate deleting stuff so I leave items there. I'll start blogging my graphic design solutions so people don't sift through google results and product tech support sites.
I got this error, plus "Adobe InDesign is shutting down..." and googling that, Adobe had an error from osX.2 that suggested to search for "Adobefnt" files and delete them... worked for me. Thanks for this thread...
All of a sudden I'm getting this error if I have 2 images overlapping :( At least I can get around it now, but Adobe's support wanted to charge me £38 to answer my query over the phone - idiots... Anyway, cheers Martin and everyone else
I had the same problem in a huge file. 80 pages, took 20 mins to export. Lots of overlaps and couldn't change it. Put all the pictures in different layers. Still the same problem. Exported per page. Turns out to be EMF pics that could not be exported. Got them from one of my engineers that calculated a bridge with MIDAS. Now converted to GIF, and it works fine.
i had this, did all of that stuff, and nothing worked until i switched my export compatability from adobe 5 to adobe 6. now it's perfect every time.
Hi! I´m Facundo from Argentina ( that´s the reason of my poor english sorry :)) I have a AMD Athlon 64 under windows xp service pack 2, with 1024 MB ram and big HD... I´m a amateur designer and i have to make a book of 80 pages A4 with at least 40 illustrations (illustrator files) and text (pdf files because the stupid indesign doesnt want to read the bold and italic styles in my word text)... I have the same problem than you... Sometimes say the "failed to export the pdf file" sometimes “out of memory” and sometimes something with memory instruction and sometimes simple crash, i try everything , but nothing works :(... Even i install the last updates of Acrobat reader professional 6.0... even i install the update of indesign 4.0.2... I mount the book and reorder with the inbooklet se plugin to a new document... and i dont have any idea anymore ... The only solution that i find was to export each 10 pages and with a big patience finally i have 4 parts of the book that i put together in Acrobat reader... but c´mon it´s a little stupid for a 700 u$s software... But Thank you anyway you make me feel that i´m not alone in this fucking software world!
I have been running into a similar problem exporting several documents from Indesign that were converted from Quark using Markware's plugin. After checking all the hints on this page, I was still encountering the problem. I began by removing images from the page one at a time until I isolated the images causing the issue. Looking at them under Link Details, all of them are EPS files that have been stripped of their color space for some reason. Simply opening them up in Photoshop and resaving seems to have reassigned the color profile, and solved the problem, but still, what a hassle.
YEP. Grouped images. You sir, are a star. Thanks very much for your blogging brilliance.
I had the same error message... slightly different solution to fix. I had a picture box with a drop shadow close to the gutter of a spread. Moved the picture slightly away from gutter and it solved the problem. Thanks for the post... it saved me a lot of time. Hail to Google and Hellbox.
Those who get the "failed to export the PDF file" error but have no grouped objects as explained above - you may have my problem... I've been putting barcodes on my page which are PNG files. Rather than place them and resize etc I was just *re*placing them. Some of these were longer than others which meant that they were getting cropped on the side. For whatever reason InDesign didn't like this when it went to PDF - all I had to do was pull out the side so the image was exposed and it was fine.
well, I am getting this problem on a 300 page doc that is replacing 100's of PDF images. Don't see a way around this. There are no overlapping images on pages because there are no facing pages - its a screen pdf
Thanks for all the advise. I had this same problem. Opened a PagMaker 6.5 Mac file with InDesignCS on the PC. Never had a problem doing this before. Got the dreaded "Failed to export the PDF file" message. Copying all & placing in a newly opened file did not help. All font designations are OK. There are no links. This is only one page with some rules & small amount of text. It finally made a pdf from the "Print" method rather than the shortcut "Pdf Exports Presets" I normally use.
Yes! Thank you so much! That solved it. It was actually a linked Illustrator document which contained small grouped elements. It spanned two pages over a fold. Very frustrating bug. But we'll upgrade to CS3 soon :)
My problem was even more bizarre, because the grouped elements were not even spanning across a spread, they were on an individual page. But it did solve the problem! Thanks, Martin. Your fantastic idea of blogging this error is still saving someone's bacon, even more than two years later.
Well ia have the same error, but it is on random pages. First I try to export 10 files to PDF from my .indd and i get the error message. Next time i try it goes fine but i get erro message on totaly different page. Anybody knows what is the prob?
hahaha, tonight happens to be one of those nights. wow, you are a lifesaver. thanks for helping. i was ready to pull my roommate's hair out.
I recently upgraded to CS3 and got the error last night. I really angry at this point because the document I'm trying to export is made up the same way I allways do. It's a magazine of 48+4p. I've tried everything that's suggested here and still it doesn't work. What frustrates me is the fact that it used to work just fine in CS2 and that I feel a designer should be able to do whatever he likes design-wise in an application. It's the application that should follow the designers not the other way around. When I use the oldschool print to ps file it works but my workflow is completely f*d up now. Thanks for that one Adobe! Oh, and I'm doing this on a Power PC G5 so no intel issue either.
Thank you! I still don't know what the problem is but I narrowed it down to one photograph and will deal with in the next couple days. No grouping was involved, the replacing post caught my eye, maybe it was when I placed it something happened. No idea, but great to read this and know where to go hunting!
Tyler - thank you! - I'm having the same problem - and can now attribute it to converted files via markzware - as long as I just relink the image files to themselves, it's fine. sooo irritating.
Hey Guys.. yeah same problem... googled it.. mine was a matter of changing the font! luckily I was able to isolate the page... But meanwhile when I was trying to find a way around it.. I was able to distill it (instead of a direct export) Good luck to all
Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! You saved me a lot of time.
You f00kin rock man! Same exact situation and this was my friggen savior THANK YOU MAN!
great thread. 7am. i have bunch of placed pdfs only. 1 per page. no type in document, or other images. not the best way to do things sure (i have printer issues at my office this usually saves me time) but has worked countless times before for me, never had this problem before. havnt figured it out yet but im thinkin i have a font issue from within the pdf document. good luck. thanks for all the posts.
I was not able to detect any of the issues quoted above. I did, however, solve the problem by packaging the project. I'm assuming this process cleaned up whatever issue I had. Perhaps worth a try for those still having this 'informative' error message.
I just got this error as well, the culprit was not grouped objects but a single EPS image—not sure why though. I resaved the image as a PSD file and it works fine now.
Same problem, with InDesign CS2 on OS 10.3.9. A client gave us a multi-page Word document, mostly text and photos, but one page had some complicated ads she'd composed using WordArt. I exported the Word document as a PDF, then imported the PDF into InDesign, so I could lay out the pages in the proper spreads for magazine-style printing. When I printed the spread with the ad-heavy page, I got that "failed to export" error. Since I don't know WordArt well enough to correct whatever problem it had (probably overlapping graphics), I decided that the easiest solution would be to import the PDF into Photoshop, turn the ads into a single 600-dpi TIFF, then delete the ads from the PDF and use the TIFF in their place. Problem solved!
Incredible, and a much deserverd thanks. I am now able to mail my portfolio.
This was solved by changing export version of Acrobat from 5 to 6. Thanks dude!
hey thnx for the tip...u were actually 2nd link i tried...first one was about memory error which didnt concern me. it turns out i had a pic slightly overlappin (grrr) all fixed now and it worked...but im doin an imposition file and now that wont export to pdf. craptacular. i better not b here til 4.15...i start work at 5...
I received this error message as well, and while none of the solutions above worked, I thought I'd publish my fix. Several of my included images had been moved to another internal drive, and the permissions on the new drive were not set correctly. The result was that I did not have read/write access to the photos, and this resulted in PDF export process erroring out. Changing permissions on the images in the Finder fixed it completely.
YOU ARE THE MAN. Cheeeeers.
Thank you! This was immensely helpful. I had a different strand, but the word 'fold' got me thinking. My error came because I had placed a multi-page PDF file into two image-boxes, and then centered it on the vital information. That's what it didn't like. So don't do that.
Had this issue happen for over an hour. Finally moved some files off my desktop, and it worked perfectly. Obvviously it was a space issue in my case. The indesign built in help was useless for this. Thank goodness you posted it on your blog. Many thanks Yoda.
Hah, wow, thanks for the thread. It seems my problem wasn't the same as most of you, but it's good to see everyone making an effort to help each other with this super vague error. "Error: Your stuff isn't working. Please guess and check until you find the solution." I thought I was boned as I was just helping with this project that wasn't mine, but I got lucky. Turns out both indesign cs2 and cs3 are installed on this machine and for some reason the file was opening in cs2, after originally being created in indesigncs3, and that was giving the error we all know and love when the project was exported to pdf. Haha, seems like a silly mistake, but i guess that's why a fresh eye on this kind of problem is a good thing. Good luck to anyone else who runs into this error!
I had the same problem and have tried all the methods above. I didn't have any overlapping issues or others as described above. What solved my problem was packaging the document and exporting it again. I hope it helps! Thanks for the blog, it's so helpful.
A SOLUTION! Hello, I've had exactly the same problem - after manually relinking all of my images, creating a whole new document from the template and changing numerous settings to no avail I've finally found an answer. INDESIGN WILL NOT EXPORT AS A PDF IF THERE IS A LINK WITHIN THE DOCUMENT TO ANOTHER PDF. I wanted a vector image so I simply changed my linked pdf image to an eps in photoshop, relinked it and bingo - months of work saved. Hope this helps!
What a pain!! Same elusive error message, but none of the same issues such as overlapping or grouped objects. I narrowed it down to a series of high res jpegs that were linked (tried embedding, to no avail). when I left the jpegs at their original size the PDF could export no problem, however when I tried to resize within a frame the error message would come up. I just resized them in PS and relinked. Exports fine... phew!
Thanks Alys, the final comment worked! I love Indesign, but what a stupid set of issues for such an expensive package! Thanks for a great thread all.
Another potential reason is to do with the point by Alys above and the compression you set to export at (only when setting it at custom). I had mine set to export at a downsample size of 600dpi for images over 600dpi. This didn't work. When I increased it to downsample to 600dpi for images over 1500dpi, it worked. I think it has something to do with when you reduce the size of a file, it's resolution in Indesign increases.
This is odd, I couldn't find any consistency in the cause for the errors, but it usually had to do with objects (mainly images, and not even all images) crossing the spread separation. thanks 03:05 am and 800 Israeli Shequels saved!
Hello, I had the same problem. In my case there wasn't enough free space on my harddrive. Thanks for the article.
Thank you very much. I had the same problem today and tried export each page individually and the problem was in a page contains a grouped images, although they doesn't across a fold, but they cover the entire page, i didn't recognize that this is the problem until i googled and found your post, thanks again :)
Well, here we are over 2 years later and ID is still generating the same cryptic error message! My suggestion [based on some of the comments here]: instead of fishing through your document looking at every imported graphic, just adjust the compatibility level of your PDF file. The default in ID CS3 is still to make your PDF compatible with Acrobat 5 and above. My problem was solved immediately by changing that to Acrobat 7. Cheers and hope to never need this site again!
Hey Guys, For me, I had linked EPS files that didn't have the ".eps" ending on them. Adding them solved the PDF export problem... Thanks, I wouldn't have figured it out without the comments I read. db
You are an angel! Same thing happened to me and your research saved me!
I'm having the exact same problem now!! Thanks for posting this! I can still make my deadline! @___@
This is a great page. Thanks for taking the time. Anyone having issues with PDF files exported out of InDesign CS that won't open in Acrobat Reader 9.0 on PC? My clients says it asks her to buy the full Professional version. Help?
That was two and a half hours of my life that I'll never get back. What ended up working for me was a combination of overlapping and grouping-based solutions above, but also turning off the color conversion. Not crazy about losing the overlapping in my portfolio, as it was intentional, but this allowed me to get a working PDF up on the web to respond to this job posting that closes today. Thanks!
Thanks for the tip - that saved me hours and much hair pulling!
Thank you! I had some text outside the page border that I moved onto a hidden layer and voila! Out comes my pdf! Any plans for all the good karma you've earned?
I had problem with overlapping objects on the same layer, in some cases InDesign text over a placed Illustrator file. On different layers and all sorted now. Many thanks to all.
Thanks so much, you saved me from wasting so much time finding the problem!
i've tried all of the above suggestions on various occasions but both times that this has happened to me it is because the total size of the images in the indd doc exceeds the size of the ram on the machine - quick solution is to export document in sections (and recombine in acrobat if necessary)
I got the "failed to export" message suddenly after having made several pdfs from the same document. I had recently copied an image made of grouped tiffs and a small bit of text from another ID file so I resaved both tiffs in Photoshop, re-input the text, then for good measure, ungrouped them all, but still the same message. I also tried rebuilding everything in a new document, but was only able to export to pdf after converting all the text to outlines. Lucky for me it's a small document! Happy (?) four-year anniversary of this post and thanks for continuing!
Ok, for me I had to re-do all the photos in the document. i.e. open the originals, crop, save, and place into InDesign. Still easier than starting from scratch and retyping (12-pg booklet.) Thanks to all for letting me know I am not the only one who encounters things like this!
My doc didn't like one of my photos saved as an .eps file in photoshop, took about 30 mins to narrow it down, but once saved as a .psd file it works fine now! Thanks for the tip!
This was helpful, but didn't let me know which page contained error. I found another hint: create a pdf of each page until you find the page that throws the error "Failed to export the PDF file". Once I found that correct page, then this posting came into play and was right on. The image was corrupt. Thanks, tons, all!
Oh guys, I love you all! Thanks! Thanks for this! I was having quite the same problem BUT mine was a bit tricky: It had to do with two letters in a line of text in a table. Yep. That was giving me that freakin' error. I tracked down the problem to a table in a spread. There I started deleting text until I noticed that in the word "flexible" both the "f" and the "l" letters dissapeared everytime I wrote that word. I just changed it for a synonym and voila! 30 minutes took me to realize that thanks to this post and the comments (which gave me ideas to track the problem), otherwise I would've never know and would have gone crazy. Thanks :D
Bless you Martin! That is EXACTLY what I Googled and yes it's 1:30 am. and yes this is the final PDF that needs to go early tomorrow –– or should I say today? THANKS!
I had the same error, and it was because I (stupidly) copied and pasted some photos from a Word document into InDesign!
Found a great tool to locate the problem for the failure to export to pdf. Export the ID file as an eps; if there is a problem, it stops generating eps's. See where it stopped and you then know where the problem page(s) are. Continue doing this until it creates an eps of all the pages, then you know it will export as a PDF! If for some reason it still won't, run the eps pages through distiller to create a pdf.
It's not helping me with a booklet of near 200 pages and same amount of images but it's a great idea and it sure makes me feel less lonely in Indesign-error-world. Jess Holland
Wow, who would have thought there were this many ways to have a problem. In my case, none of the above worked. I could not find the errant page, and the more I tried to export it, the more random the failure became. Turns out I had too many custom colors in my palette. When I removed a bunch of them, I first exported to an .IDX format, then reimported, then exported as EPS, and found a text box crossing two pages. Nothing was grouped. It was just a text box that spanned a spread. Now, only four hours later, all is well.
Thank god this blog is here! I had this problem for like 2 monthes (almost gave up my document, really!) I finally knew what went wrong. I had 50 pages to export to pdf, but it stopped at page 20. I looked at my pages and found out that page 20 was transparant (window>pages). I removed the picture on that page and saved that same picture as a jpg. I placed that jpg and voila!!!! The page didn't turn transparant (window>pages). After monthes of stress I could export to pdf! Thank you....
Really!!!! What the h#@$ll is this? I had it too. One tiny little corner of a textbox that went over the spread and there it was: the message! Although I had made many pdfs before. I couldn't believe that moving the textbox was going to make the difference, but tried it anyway, after reading all the comments and it worked! UNBELIEVABLE! So I can't place anything over the spread anymore?
I had the same thing happen just now. Nothing wrong with file name, links, images across pages. I found that I had 2 linked text boxes. As soon as I separated them to their own text box - it worked. Seems this issue is just strange. There are no similar aspects to any of the issues we have all had! Thanks for your help, this post was helpful!
Thank GOD for this whole page. All the responses got me on the right track and I was able to fix the problem by exporting page by page till I found the culprit. Turns out that it doesn't like images imported inside a word doc. Fortunately someone had sent me the image files in an e-mail so instead of trying to extract them from Word, I was able to open them and edit them in photoshop and re-place them from a folder on my drive. I had already tried embedding all the photos, and no luck with that.
Thank GOD for this whole page. All the responses got me on the right track and I was able to fix the problem by exporting page by page till I found the culprit. Turns out that it doesn't like images imported inside a word doc. Fortunately someone had sent me the image files in an e-mail so instead of trying to extract them from Word, I was able to open them and edit them in photoshop and re-place them from a folder on my drive. I had already tried embedding all the photos, and no luck with that.
Yep! same nightmare for me! at 4 in the morning! So I resorted to the old way of exporting the file to 'print' rather than straight to pdf. This is where I was able to isolate the problem, because it came up with a warning page to say that all of the 14 pages were 'blank'!!! So I went to layers tab and double clicked on the first layer, which brings up 'layer options'. For some unknown reason, the box that said 'print layer' was UNTICKED??? So after ticking I was able export the pdf as per normal (i also ungrouped everything in the document, just incase) .. Now all is back to normal. Awesome help from everyone that posted hints before me .. helped me to think outside the square!
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