InDesign in denial or in decline? Then innovate!

At the same time every year when Adobe MAX comes around, I look at the new features in Photoshop and Illustrator and wonder “will the changes in InDesign be as advanced?” and for the last several years, I’m always let down by the new features that InDesign has in comparison to its companion software.

I understand that the engineers can’t implement all suggestions by the users, and when I’ve had a chance to speak to the engineers and developers directly, I’ll give my “top five” requests rather than give my entire laundry list of ideas, fixes etc.

Between 2015 and 2019, I made a point to travel – at my own time and expense – to attend conferences on the other side of the world, where Adobe InDesign’s technicians and decision makers would be in attendance, so that they could hear these suggestions and understand my determination of 24 hours of airline travel to give them my pain-points and ideas.

In defense

To be fair, InDesign has introduced what I would consider ten features since 2018, not counting bug squashing, catching up with operating systems or minor visual tweaks:

  1. 2021 – Capture fonts, color palettes, and shapes from any image, using the new Adobe Capture extension
  2. 2020 – Use HSB values without RGB translation
  3. 2020 – Locate Colors in your document
  4. 2020 – Intelligent subject detection and text wrap
  5. 2020 – Share for Review with text annotations
  6. 2019 – data merge can use semicolon delimiter and now has “use existing” for variable image frame placement
  7. 2019 – SVG Import
  8. 2019 – Column Rules
  9. 2019 – Variable fonts
  10. 2018 – Import comments from PDFs

For transparency, see James Wamser’s full guide of InDesign features.

I also note InDesign’s Uservoice site now incorporates three priority buttons (Not at all; Important; or Critical) so the development team can further focus on immediate needs rather than non-critical wants.

In despair

For the 2021 release of InDesign, I feel the community was disappointed with that it considered to be major features in the release, such as a change of nomenclature that adopted inclusive terminology.

While the change in nomenclature didn’t affect me either way, I understand that users who were offended by the previous terminology would have welcomed the change… though this should be called an improvement rather than a new feature. Unfortunately, that is where the changes to the pages panel ended, and other requested changes to the pages panel hadn’t been implemented, such as:

  • Ability to have vertical facing pages;
  • Facing pages for spiral binding;
  • Applying parent pages to all even or odd pages;
  • Variable parent pages for data merge;

Asides from this, the frustrating part for the community was, at the time of the new features announcement, there were 4062 requests on the InDesign Uservoice, though the three features listed for 2021 shown above were the ones given priority.

In backlog

There are major changes in backlog that have been in the InDesign Uservoice for years such as:

  • Option to split table rows across pages
  • MathML Support
  • Convert PDF to INDD
  • Make text variables/live captions breakable like normal text
  • Improving the various options of footnotes
  • Allow multiple character styles to be applied to characters
  • Actions Panel

These 7 suggestions above have at least 300 votes each.


I’ve been using InDesign for 20 years or so, and came to the conclusion that if I want great features in InDesign, I’ll either have to script them myself, or look to InDesign’s community of users who have written fantastic scripts and have websites full of great scripts that deserve to be in the UI of InDesign itself.

The community features dozens of great scripters, such as:

These scripters (along with many other InDesign scripters too numerous to mention) have written dozens of scripts that should be in all InDesign users toolbox… but many of these scripts were written because the features didn’t exist in InDesign (and still don’t).

In focus

Let’s highlight one area that was once an innovation for InDesign compared to its then main competitor, Quark Xpress: Tables. Let’s look at the tables panel in InDesign while focused on a table.

In contrast, let’s now look at the tables panel within Affinity Publisher while focused on a table.

At first glance, the differences are night and day, but upon closer inspection, InDesign’s panel does have the majority of items that Affinity Publisher’s panel contains, albeit shrunk in size, or represented icons. What InDesign is missing is the ability to easily select the table or cell strokes, something Affinity does quite well.

It’s what comes next – Affinity’s ability to autofit or sort a row or column based on contextual menus in each axis of the table.

If I highlight some cells but only want to merge the highlighted rows, neither application can do this from their panels or contextual menus, but this can be accomplished through scripting. Scripts from both Marc Autret and Dirk Becker accomplish this task, and can be added to the contextual menu (though at the time of writing, Dirk’s site appears to be down).

In fact, many table items in InDesign can be accessible via scripting. The late Thenis de Jong (aka Jongware) wrote a great article about this. Unfortunately, scripting isn’t something that every user can do without some training.

I can improve on both table panels though by using an Elgato Stream Deck: hardware that – in my case – is 15 configurable buttons that can be contextually based.

To save me time setting up the buttons, sideshowfx have an installable InDesign profile for the Stream Deck that has many of the buttons already set up, including features that aren’t in either InDesign or Publisher’s table panels as single click icons, such as select row, insert column, select body rows, etc.

Some “gotchas” with the profile is that it requires using sideshowfx’s keyboard shortcuts, and these may conflict with InDesign’s or users’ already established shortcuts. What is great though is that if the buttons you need aren’t there, Stream Deck allows these to be added, provided a keyboard shortcut to the desired action is added.

Invest in inventors

I note that the Adobe InDesign developers did add a folder in the scripts panel called “Community” where script contributors like myself were encouraged to add scripts to share to the community without charge. While many of the scripts shared by scripters are done so out of philanthropy, the scripts may be there to drive the website traffic of the scripters, perhaps in order to persuade a purchase of one of their paid scripts or software, promote their freelance work, or solicit a donation.  

Bluntly, Adobe InDesign has a team of developers, but scripters are usually sole operators. Speaking for myself, Colecandoo isn’t a team of engineers or developers, I’m it! If the Adobe developers reached out and asked me to include my pro version of the wall planner script to the community tab, I would consider this on a paid commercial basis. Remember, Adobe has a team of developers that could have written a similar feature for InDesign before I did, and they have revenues greater than I’ll ever see.

In Conclusion

InDesign is still the layout software I use on a daily basis, but there are so many innovations that could be made that – in the meantime – have been made by users, third parties or competitors. If the developers are reading this and looking for inspiration, then look no further than:

  • InDesign’s Uservoice site;
  • The InDesign Scripting Community; (i.e. fulfill script requests that haven’t been made; or invest in the inventors who have made scripts the community is using regularly)
  • Other software in the Adobe Creative Cloud; (i.e. look at features that work well in other applications, such as the Actions palette, and port them to InDesign)
  • Competing software; (e.g. the tables feature highlighted in this article)
  • Software innovations in general (e.g. ability to tie into other software using IFTTT or Zapier);

Highlighting the benefit of GREP… literally

I’m a fan of the GREP feature of the Find/Change dialog box in Adobe InDesign as it allows me to search for patterns of characters within text based on regular expressions.

As handy as this feature is, I always require assistance writing my GREP searches, just in case my patterns are either too greedy; or not greedy enough. For example, I have a GREP search to find duplicate entries and remove them, but in InDesign the only way to know if I have this correct is to press the Find Next button in the search.

A better way to identify if I have my GREP search correct is to see it in real-time. Luckily, text editors such as BB Edit have this feature.

InDesign’s latest rival, Affinity Publisher, not only has its own flavour of GREP, but also shows all results in the Find and Replace dialog box, though I have to click on each result in this dialog to see where they are.

But it would be great if InDesign highlight the GREPs ahead of time like these two applications. The good news is that it can, but it requires the GREP editor script from Peter Kahrel that has been featured on Colecandoo before.

Thanks to Peter’s GREP editor, I’m now able to see that in this example there are three search results and they are all highlighted.

This tool comes in very handy as it assists me to write more complicated GREP searches, such as this one that is looking for time formatting. This lets me know in real-time if my selection is selecting too much information, or not enough – and in this example, it isn’t enough as the times without the minutes aren’t getting selected.

As for longer, more complicated chains of GREP code, there are resources out there that have pre-baked search chains that other users have already submitted to sites such as or the Treasures of GREP Facebook group.

Stop Press!

After this article was initially published, I was alerted to another InDesign javascript by Kerntiff Publishing System that has a similar behaviour to Affinity Publisher’s search. The script is called GREP Xtra.

There is also an additional script released in 2013 by Roland Dreger that performs as a combination between Peter Kahrel’s script and the InDesign user interface. That script is called Highlight GREP.

Outlining the problem… text outlining

From time to time, I will prepare PDF artwork for third party providers and then note that their specifications indicate “Convert all text to outlines” (also known as converting to curves or paths). But why do some third parties recommend this practice?

The PDF is opened in software other than Acrobat

For commercial printers, PDFs are usually imported into Raster Image Processing (RIP) software that will impose and trap the artwork for their printing methods. However, not all providers work this way and may need to open the PDF in applications other than Adobe Acrobat. For example, a third party that prepares cutting formes may open the file in Corel Draw or a CAD application that supports its CNC software.

This means that as the file opens, the application may ask for fonts not available to the third party.

This can be exacerbated if the PDF is opened not only in a different application than Adobe Acrobat, but also a different alphabet and writing system. Converting the type to outlines maintains the appearance of the type without requiring the font to be present.

Other reasons that text is converted to outlines

So special effects can be applied

InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop can apply interesting special effects to vector objects, but not all of those effects can be applied to live type. The solution is to convert the type to outlines, thus converting the type to vector shapes that can have the desired effect applied.

To prevent editing by third parties

Limited editing is possible within PDFs using either Acrobat’s own editing tools or using plugins such as Enfocus Pitstop Professional. These tools can allow last minute alterations to text so long as the text is type and not converted to outlines.

Locking the PDF with password protection isn’t an option as this can prevent the file from being placed into layout software or RIP software for output, so the password is then required to unlock the file. PDF password protection is also somewhat breakable, with many websites offering services where PDFs can be uploaded, and then unlocked and then downloaded without the password protection. There are also PDF editing and viewing applications such as PDF Sam that allow for decryption of PDFs.

Even without the Enfocus Pitstop plug-in, it is possible to open PDFs in Adobe Illustrator or Affinity Publisher and then – if the fonts are available – make the necessary alterations… though converting type to outlines will prevent this.

To circumvent the font EULA

A client may have acquired a font that has allowed for screen use only and prohibits embedding in a PDF, preventing the font from appearing correctly in the PDF. A way around this is to convert the type to outlines in the native application prior to PDF export, though it is worth noting that the End User Licence Agreement (EULA) of the font may forbid this workaround, so it is worth reading the font EULA.

That doesn’t mean it should be done!

There are issues that arise from converting type to outlines. Dov Isaacs – Principal Scientist for Adobe Systems – has a brilliant PDF that details this (and much more) but the basic takeaways concerning type to outlines are:

  • Increased filesize that takes forever to download or view onscreen
  • Smaller typefaces do not render as well
  • May potentially breach the font’s EULA

In addition, there are other issues such as:

  • Potential issues with fonts where type overlaps itself (it can knock out holes in the joins)
  • If the conversion from type to outlines has been done in the native application and then accidentally saved and closed, this means the type will no longer be live in the native application.
  • It can prevent or hinder minor type alterations being made in a PDF submitted for print.
  • Text (as outlines) that has special effects applied (as described earlier) may not always be able to have the same effect applied to live type. This can create issues with variable data campaigns where the effect needs to be applied to a text variable.
  • It can make it difficult to identify the font used, as the font’s information is no longer in the PDF and the only other way to identify the font is visually or with apps such as what the font, adobe capture, or identifont.
  • The conversion is usually a one-way conversion. There is a fantastic Adobe Illustrator plug-in from Astute Graphics called Vector First Aid 2 that – in some circumstances – can convert outlines back to type, but it isn’t a magic bullet (though definitely worth a look).

If your hand is forced…

In a perfect world, I’d only deal with providers that fully supported PDF/X-4 files. Unfortunately, not all providers do, and occasionally our hands will be forced into providing PDFs specifically as the provider has requested, which may mean converting text to outlines. Rather than doing this in the native application (e.g. InDesign or Illustrator) there is a great way to quickly convert all type to outlines using an Adobe Acrobat Preflight that is detailed over at CreativePro.

%d bloggers like this: