PDF Won’t Export InDesign. Here’s how to fix it!

How frustrating. You have worked on a document or project. Go to export it and you get the ‘Failed to Export’ error message dialog box. Let’s look at why this is happening.

There are 3 reasons why you are getting this message

  1. Your InDesign needs updating
  2. Part of your file is corrupt
  3. One or more of your images is too large for the file

By the end of this article you will have the answer to which problem is yours. You will know why your file won’t export and also have the fix for it.

Your InDesign needs an Update

Your error message could be occurring simply because your InDesign Application needs to be updated. Updates don’t always happen automatically and sometimes need a restart of your computer to fully finish the update.

You may have clicked the ‘Try later’ or ‘Try Tonight’ without even realizing (sometimes we are just too busy to go with an update), but if the program is still open and running on your machine the update and restart won’t happen.
So first things first. Save your InDesign file. Quit your InDesign Application and go to your Creative Cloud App.

Check if any programs need an update. If they do click on the Update Tab. As I say the update might have already happened but needs a restart. If every thing seems up to date, quit all your applications and go for a restart.
When you’re back up and running open your file and try once again to export.

If this fixed your problem, well that is fantastic. Your file is created and you learned how to fix an error.
If it didn’t, don’t panic there are two other solutions.

Part of your File is corrupt

The first time you get this message it is usually panic stations. A a graphic designer for over 20 years I know exactly what it is like. File needs to go to print or to someone for an approval and it won’t export. You have no idea why and start to panic!

If the restart didn’t work it could be that part of your file is corrupt. This can happen with external files. They haven’t been saved correctly or have become corrupt in the transfer. The difficulty is that they look fine within your document.

So this is the trick I use. Go to file and select Export. As the file begins to export it will show the export bar. Follow the page numbers (they move pretty fast so you have to have a sharp eye). Make a note of where it stops and throws up your error box.

This is where your corrupt element is.

Click OK, and now try and export that page number on its own.

If this works, try the next page. Chances are you will now get your error message again.
So. What is on that page that is causing your error? It could be an image, a vector or a font that is corrupt.

It’s a little laborious but try removing items one by one and re exporting until you find the culprit. Once you find it go to the original placed file (if an image or vector) and reave it, calling it by another name and preferably into an alternative format. This is generally a good fix.

Re import / place the item and try your export once more.

If it is a font that is corrupt, I would simply select a different font, that looks similar. Unless of course it is part of a corporate logo.

If this is the case you will have to reload the font onto your computer and restart your machine.

Images within the Document are too Large

Simply, some images within your document may be too large. Often images are placed and never checked within Photoshop.

There are two ways to check the issue.
The first is within Photoshop. This can be time consuming if your document has a lot of images. Each page that has images will need to be checked.

You can do a quick check on any images that you remember had to be downsized significantly.
Print resolution for images needs to be 300dpi. If your image is 600dpi and you have downsized the image to fit in a small box on your page, the resolution will remain at 600dpi, which is totally unnecessay.
This uses huge amounts of memory and so your computer will just throw the failed to export error instead.

Select any images on a page (multiple can be selected at one time). Right click and scroll down to ‘Edit with – Photoshop 21, (or whichever version you are currently running).

Photoshop will then open.
At the top of your screen choose
Image – Image Size

Constrain Proportions should be on and Resample Image should be checked.
Enter the resolution to required amount and save file.

Return to InDesign, relink the file and re export.

Continue with this process until your file is able to export. I find that files that come to me externally are generally the issue. People think they are doing the right thing by changing the resolution to the highest amount possible. Or sometimes they change the resolution from 72dpi to 600dpi. You can’t ever go up in value, only down. If a pic is taken in 72dpi, it will always be 72dpi.

Hopefully the first quick fix worked with your file and if not you were able to work through the other options to get your PDF exported.

And that you learned a few tips along the way.

Here are some other posts you might find useful:

How can I tell if a PDF is CMYK?

Photoshop PDF vs PDF

Why is my InDesign PDF so large?

Tara Cunningham

My name is Tara. I am a Graphic Designer for the last 25+ years. Designing everything from Wedding stationery to Magazines. I have been using Adobe products since I was in college and know all the tips and tricks that make life a little easier when completing a project. Hopefully you will find the answer to your question on PurpleHotKeys.com

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