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Convert Text to Outlines with Acrobat

UPDATE: I’ve updated this info on my new blog Start Screen Printing Now

I’m about to share with you an ancient yakuza graphic design secret that Adobe doesnt want you to know. If it weren’t for this secret I would have thrown Adobe Acrobat in the trash long long ago. Because its worthless you see. But not anymore.

Being a production artist I get a lot of design files from clients that are supposedly vector art, ready to be printed. But when it comes time to print, I open the file and *gasp* the fonts have not been converted to outlines. If you dont know what this means, it means that if you’ve given me an Illustrator file or PDF without converted fonts AND I dont have those fonts, Illustrator is going to replace all of the text with some boring system text like Myriad and you art work wont look the same to me as it does to you. Most of the time its difficult to explain this to a customer who isnt in the business or sometimes it takes too long to try and get converted art. Whatever the case, I’m going to tell you how you can do it yourself without bugging your customer.

First things first: I open the PDF file my customer sent me in Illustrator and lo and behold, I dont have the font they used to create their artwork.

and so their artwork looks like this to me:

Thats not what the client is looking for and for some reason Bleeding Cowboys was banned from being downloaded forever (someday) so I cant download it for my computer. So what do we do?

First I open the the file in Adobe Acrobat. When the file is opened in Acrobat, the font is rendered correctly because it is embedded into the PDF. Why it cant open that way in Illustrator is a mystery (and total bullshit).

Next I go up to the menu bar and select Document > Watermark > Add. This will bring up the watermark menu which is pretty obvious.

In the Text box I’m going to type in something that will be our watermark. It doesnt matter what you type in here because we dont really want a watermark. We’re just tricking Acrobat. Also what is important is to make sure your watermark does not cover up any of our artwork. So I bump up the watermark on the box that says Position. You can move it vertically or horizontally away from your artwork. Then change the opacity to 0% and press Okay.

Next we’re going to go back up to the menu bar and select Advanced > Print Production > Flattener Preview

In this dialogue box, find a check box called Convert All Text to Outlines and then hit Apply. You MUST hit Apply for this to work. Say Okay and then save your file.

Open your newly saved PDF in Illustrator again and you should have no more font problems. Your watermark is still there though and you can simply find it and delete it.

And that’s it.

UPDATE: I’ve updated this info on my new blog Start Screen Printing Now

Please note that all the steps here were done in Adobe CS3 programs on a Mac. If it doesnt work for you, I don’t know what to tell ya. Thanks for looking.


leave a comment
  1. Randy / Aug 17 2012

    I have been waiting years for this solution!


  2. Casey / Aug 17 2012

    I’m glad it worked for you Randy! Thanks

  3. mrbates / Oct 10 2012

    Works great, thanks!

  4. Kevin / Nov 30 2012

    I KNEW there had to be a way!

    thank you, thank you!

  5. Crystal / Apr 17 2013

    Thanks so much for this!! Often have this issue, and it’s been a pain trying to hunt down an odd font a client has chosen. Thanks sooooo much!!

  6. Casey / Apr 18 2013

    You’re welcome Crystal!

  7. pablo / Apr 19 2013

    you can also do this within illustrator, open the app. place pdf and with the pdf selected go object flatten transparency, a list of options will open as per acrobat.
    there you go

  8. Casey / Apr 19 2013

    Oh I didnt know that Pablo. Thanks for sharing. Good to know

  9. Uthistran Selvaraj / May 3 2013


  10. Chris / May 15 2013

    You just saved me a heap of font hunting and replacing. Thanks so much.

  11. Michael Csontos / Jun 1 2013

    Excellent idea. I do vinyl signs and am constantly getting files from people with weird fonts. Don’t want to spend the time hunting them down or even installing them. When i saw your tutorial i spent some time trying to find another way because I do not have Adobe CS3. I opened the file in Acrobat CS and went to print. There is usually a button on the lower left that says ‘PDF’. Click on that and select the option ‘Save PDF as Postscript. Give it a new name. When you then open the file in Illustrator no font issues result and you can easily change them to outlines.

  12. aYI / Aug 16 2013

    thank, you save my day.

  13. Chris / Nov 6 2013

    That is genius. Thank you so much.

  14. Jon / Nov 21 2013

    How did you figure this out??? This is genius! No more looking for free alternatives to missing fonts! Also, confirmed working on Acrobat XI and Illustrator CC.

  15. Andre / Dec 19 2013

    I’ve hated my clients (and others designers) for not knowing and having to explain what ‘fonts to outlines’ means, over and over again.
    This sollution is keeping me from growing an ulcer!
    Thanks a million!

  16. Sally / Dec 20 2013

    Thanks. Although I’m not going to let the pain in the ass customer that wants me to change other printers files for him that I know this little trick.

  17. Dug / Jan 27 2014

    You’re neferius. You’re a genius.
    You’re a neferius genius.

  18. Mark / Feb 17 2014

    Thank you so much Casey, this is great!
    It also works in CS6

  19. Jennifer / Mar 5 2014

    Oh my god! Thanks a million effin’ times!

  20. Jodie / Mar 24 2014

    Thanks to Pablo and Casey… this is awesome and the Illustrator trick has made my year!!! Thank goodness.

  21. Zach / Mar 27 2014

    You are my hero. Thank you.

  22. Maclein / Apr 18 2014

    Awesome tip! Tried this in Acrobat 9 and it works perfectly, without even doing the whole watermark thing. Just open the PDF in Acrobat 9 and go straight to Flattener Preview, check ‘Convert All Text to Outlines’ and save. Open it in Illustrator and every piece of text is outlined.

  23. Casey / Apr 22 2014

    Great! Thanks for letting me know. I was thinking about updating this since the info is kind of old now.

  24. Andy / Apr 25 2014

    Thank you x million

  25. Mothusi / Apr 30 2014

    It worked like a charm.

  26. Hope / Apr 30 2014

    not too bad using acrobat pro:

    View > Tools > Print Production > Flattener Preview

    And as mentioned previously check “Convert All Text to Outlines”, apply and save as

    Flattening did some funny things to my pdf so I opened the original and the flattened document in AI and pasted just the flattened text in place in the original document

  27. Mary / May 6 2014

    I work in Acrobat 9 and I used that technique after much trial and error.
    But then it stopped working and I started making hi res tiff to print the copy
    I just spent a couple of hours tonight and nothing, until I added the watermark.
    Text instantly converted to outlines. Who knows, I may be able to skip the watermark step now. I am working on a PC so this might be a software problem. Its good to be back in control. Thank you

  28. Damien / May 28 2014

    Brilliant! Absolutely brilliant! This is the handiest thing I have found in ten years of working in the graphics industry. Could not justify Pitstop Pro (around $1K Australian) Life saver! Thanks!

  29. Casey / May 28 2014

    You’re very welcome Damien. That will be a thousand dollars please.

  30. Ubi / Jun 15 2014

    Good tricky way to convert text to outline. Very helpful! Thank you!!

  31. Antoine / Jul 8 2014

    Thank you very much Casey. How do you feel still being thanked almost 2 years after the fact?

  32. Max / Aug 4 2014

    Where is the watermark section in Acrobat 11?

  33. Great post. I used to be checking constantly this blog and I’m
    impressed! Extremely helpful information specifically the final phase :
    ) I handle such info a lot. I used to be seeking this certain info for
    a long time. Thank you and best of luck.

  34. Don Alister / Sep 9 2014

    Good afternoon my boss you are too great.
    Many Thanks

  35. Debra / Sep 12 2014

    You are so awesome!!!!

  36. Nick / Sep 17 2014

    very helpful, has plagued me for years.

    Thanks you

  37. Colleen / Sep 22 2014

    Whoo hoo! I layout a technical journal, and I get Word files with equations from authors who work on a PC using Microsoft math and symbol fonts that do not come with the Mac version of Word. Microsoft wants me to purchase these fonts for $35 each. Fuck that! I usually open a pdf of the Word file in Illustrator and save each equation as a vector eps and import it into InDesign as a graphic file, and it works UNTIL I run into one of those pesky Word for Windows math fonts, and they render as little boxes in Illustrator. I end up grabbing the equations from the pdf and saving them in Photoshop and they don’t print as nicely as a vector file. This is a GREAT workaround. Thank you!

  38. Hector / Oct 2 2014

    Three years since you post this and still going strong!!! Can’t tell you how many times clients sent me their logo applications in PDF with embedded fonts and this procedure has become into my standard. Thank you very much. Muchas gracias from Mexico!! If you ever come to Ciudad de Mexico, there will be a bottle of tequila and a couple of lindas seƱoritas waiting for you.

  39. Adriana / Oct 24 2014

    Worked wonderfully! Thank You!

  40. Bryan / Nov 10 2014

    Are you freakin’ kidding me?, I’ve been doing this for over 20 years and didn’t know this. I can’t think of how many jams this would have got me out of in prepress. You always can learn something new I guess!

  41. Karl / Nov 12 2014

    Lifesaver! Thank you, worked fine.

  42. Hai Vu Minh / Nov 19 2014

    Thank you so much, you save my day!!!

  43. Sol Kornfeld / Dec 1 2014

    This technique worked perfectly without any issue. Thanks so much!

  44. Josh / Dec 8 2014

    Hey this is a great trick that still works on Acrobat XI. View>Tools>Pages has the watermark menu and you can get to the Flattener Preview through View>Tools>Print Production.

    Wish I had known of this much earlier. GREAT tool. Thanks.

  45. Brian / Jan 6 2015

    That was absolutely magical!!! Been dealing with this problem for years and now I’ve finally found my magic wand. Thanks!!!

  46. Andrei / Jan 27 2015

    Thank you Casey, just what I needed!

  47. Trevor / Feb 6 2015

    Worked, thank you very mucho.
    Also tried Pablo’s post directly in Illustrator. Also Worked!
    This helped me so much….

  48. f. laredo / Feb 18 2015

    There is a simpler way. Open a new file in Illustrator. Place the pdf in the artboard. Make sure when you place that you check link artwork. Then, go to documents, flatten transparency, check convert to outlines and hit enter. That’s it. You have a fully vectorized file. You can then save back to PDF if you need to use it elswhere…..

  49. Nikki / Apr 9 2015

    This is fantastic, thank you so much!

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