Recently I had finished designing a booklet for a client in Adobe InDesign, and needed to prepare it to go to print. All looked perfect — I just needed to go to Type > Create Outlines and save it. Done. I sent it to the printer. The printer sent me back a proof, and all looked good.
Only a day later did I realise that in creating outlines of my text, the bullet points had disappeared from the last page. What the eff!?
By the point I noticed the mistake, the lithographic plates had already been made and it was too late to amend it. Ughhhhh.
I did a Google search of ‘create outlines bullet points disappear’ and found that a) this is a common problem when creating outlines from text and b) there’s a lot of debate about the need to even create outlines in the first place. This went against everything I thought I knew. I can’t remember when or where I was taught to do it, but it just stuck and I’d never questioned it. So do you need to create outlines or not? Argh! After a load of research, I decided to write this post to attempt to clear it up.
So, should you create outlines or not?
The short answer: it depends.
The long answer: buckle up, kids. This is the internet: no one can ever agree.
These guys argue that you should create outlines, and this is what I thought I knew:
Fonts can cause problems when sending artwork to press. If you’ve used a typeface that your printing house doesn’t have, the document will print incorrectly. This is why you’ll find that fonts within most vector logos (containing text) will have been converted to outlines, or paths. This effectively means that the text is no longer text – it has become a graphic, and the text cannot be altered.
99 Designs agree:
Most fonts come with legal licenses that restrict them from being shared. You should never upload or share a font file with a client.
Instead, convert any text in any logo design to shapes (or “outlines”) before you give the logo to your client.
This way, the client won’t need to have the font installed on their computer to be able to open the file, and your logo design will always look as great as it does on your computer.
For designs like business cards and flyers, where the client will want to be able to edit the text easily in the future, make sure the text is editable in the EPS & PDF files you supply to them. But remember to also provide the client with the details of the font you used, and tell them where they can buy it.
According to the above arguments, it all seems to come down to whether you are using a font that you can embed in a PDF. So, if you’ve created a booklet in InDesign that you need to export to PDF and send to the printers, you’ll need to make sure that your font can be embedded in the PDF when you export it. If not, and the printers don’t have the font installed on their computer, there’s apparently a risk that it will default to a font that they DO have. Imagine you’ve designed your document in Helvetica and then it defaults to Times New Roman. That’s not what you want!
This is a very good explanation of the steps you can follow to find out if your font can be embedded.
If your font cannot be embedded because of licensing restrictions, then maybe you should create outlines with your text before you export it and send it to the printers, especially if you have legal concerns about whether or not you can share the font you’ve used with them.
Some people, however, argue that you absolutely shouldn’t need to create outlines. Like this person and someone on here named Rikard Rodin, who argues that any printers who require outlined fonts are ‘incompetent’:
The reason the PDF format was invented was to resolve this very issue. It is a portable document format that holds inside it all of the images and fonts used in the document. In the old days, you would have to provide all images and fonts with your document.
Then came the PDF.
Then came PDF standards just to be safe.
Then came preflight of PDFs to be extra safe.
Are there printers that want all files outlined? Yes. But the reality is that these are not great printers.
Outlining a font creates problems; a) if any of your text is stroked, outlining the font will usually change the stroke from the outside to the center of the letter shapes, b) outlined text will generally print slightly bolder than non outlined text, c) the file size will increase exponentially which can create problems in prepress.
I’ve been on both ends. I’ve worked in offset and digital printing. I’ve done prepress. And I’ve been in graphic design for 14 years. There is no good reason for a printer requiring outlined PDF files except incompetence.
Someone on here called Scott reaffirms that PDFs should remove the need for fonts to be outlined:
PDF is designed to be a self-contained, all inclusive, format unlike other applications. If you were to send an .eps or .ai or .psd file, then yes, you need to also send the fonts or if not sending fonts, outline the type. But none of that is needed for the PDF format, especially not for PDF/X files.
And back to the aforementioned Quora thread, Aaron Tipton also argues:
If by expand you mean convert to outlines, then generally, you shouldn’t have to. For offset printers, most all of them will do just fine with a PDF and properly embedded fonts. For other pieces like vinyl signage, promotional item imprints, screen-printing, and just about anything other than offset printing, I would outline your fonts. A label would probably fall under offset printing. Even the ones who say they need fonts outlined probably just don’t know what the #@&% they are doing. I haven’t had a problem with a PDF where I needed them to send me a font since the 90’s.
The more I read about this the more lost I got. On the Stack Exchange thread, someone mentioned ‘hinting’, and by that point I mentally gave up.
This is very unfeminist of me, but thankfully my partner is very technically-minded and so I asked him about hinting (he knows basically everything about everything — it’s annoying, but often useful). He explained that it’s very similar to anti-aliasing in Photoshop. Anti-aliasing is the option to slightly blur lines so they appear smoother and less jagged:
Graphic: Ugur Catak, 2017
It seems that ‘hinting’ is the font equivalent of this. I didn’t understand EVERYTHING my partner told me — he started to go into things like ‘sub-pixels’, by which point I wanted to cry — but here is what I think I remember. So when you leave a font in tact (i.e. DON’T create outlines), the finished document is sent to PDF with a lot of specific information concerning the geometry of the font, measurements and so forth. Your graphics card uses this information to render the font in the best way for your particular monitor. I presume ‘best’ means most aesthetically pleasing, consistent with the font geometry, and smooth. I imagine that this is also relevant in print — if you create outlines, I wonder if it’s essentially the equivalent of turning off the anti-alias option in Photoshop. The thing is, when you turn off the anti-alias setting in Photoshop and you zoom out, things will often seem sharper and you won’t see the jagged edges because you’re not zoomed in closely enough. In some cases it’s even recommended to turn the anti-alias setting off or convert the image to Bitmap for this particular reason.
So I now understand what hinting is, but I still don’t know the finer details of how it may or may not affect fonts when you create outlines.
If you’re like me, you just want to be a good designer. I’m not interested in the fine techie details: my brain is not good at processing that stuff. I only want to know what I NEED to know in order to be good at my job.
In the face of the lack of consensus and a lot of information I don’t quite understand, the best compromise I can come up with is this:
- When you’re done with your design, make sure you keep one copy of it in its original format. Leave it with editable text. This means if you need to go back and make any changes to the text, you still can (it’s super annoying when you’ve converted everything to outlines and then the client wants to change something or you notice a typo). This can be your master copy. You can export this to PDF and it will keep everything in tact in terms of ‘hinting’ (such a weird phrase).
- Save another copy with the text converted to outlines.
- Call the printer in advance, or have your client call the printing company they wish to use if you are not in charge of the process. Find out what the printer prefers you do. Ultimately, you need to meet their requirements.
- Personally, just to be safe, I now save one text version and one outlined version and I send both (clearly labelled) to the printers. They can choose whichever one they need. To be EXTRA safe, these are also packaged up in a folder which includes the fonts I have used (not sure whether or not this is legal O_O).
I get the impression that when you’re using text as a graphic — for instance in a logo or vinyl or sign — that you should create outlines. If you’re outputting to PDF for something like a booklet where the text is to read, you should leave the text as it is.
If you know about this and you’re able to clarify all this, I’d love to hear from you.