Outlining Text in Adobe Acrobat

Update 27 July 2012: This article describes how to outline text in Adobe Acrobat  versions 7, 8, and 9. A newer article has information about outlining text in Acrobat X.

Okay, this post does not have much to do with typography per se, but we’ve all been (okay, not all of us) in that situation where we need to replace a graphic or make a small change within a PDF or EPS file at the last minute. The deadline is approaching, the printer is waiting, your designer just left for a three-week vacation and took her files with her, or worse, your designer isn’t on vacation, but doesn’t understand what it is you want to begin with. So, you throw up your hands, figure you know enough Illustrator to get yourself into trouble, and decide it would be faster to fix it yourself.
You open the PDF or EPS file in Illustrator, and what do you get?

Adobe Illustrator error: Font Problems

A message saying you don’t have the fonts installed on your computer. Of course! If you proceed by clicking Open, the type with the missing font will be reformatted using a font that you have installed on your system, thereby, undoing your designer’s beautiful typography. Whatever you want to fix isn’t worth that headache.
What you should do instead is open the PDF or EPS file in Adobe Acrobat Professional or Extended and convert the text to outlines.
A few notes before you should consider doing this:

  • The text will retain its formatting, but will no longer be editable.
  • If the PDF is going online, screen readers for the visually impaired will not be able to read it.
  • If the problem you want to fix is textual, you’re screwed. Call your designer who’s on vacation; she’ll need to modify the source file. (You will owe her for the rest of your life.)

This procedure used to be fairly straightforward until Adobe released Acrobat 7 a few years ago. Now, it’s a little tricky. Follow the steps below to convert text to outlines in Acrobat Professional or Extended:

  1. Open the PDF or EPS file in Acrobat.
    (You want to open the file in Acrobat, because Acrobat will display the type correctly, using fonts embedded in the file, even if the fonts are not installed on your computer.)
  2. Click Document, select Watermark, and select Add.
    The Add Watermark window opens.
  3. Type a period (or any other character) in the Text text box.
  4. Drag the Opacity slider to 0%.
    Add Watermark window
  5. Click OK.
  6. Click Advanced, select Print Production, and select Flattener Preview.
    The Flattener Preview window opens.
  7. Select the Convert All Text to Outlines check box.
  8. Select the pages you need to convert to text from the Apply to PDF group.
  9. Click Apply.
    Flattener Preview window
  10. If Acrobat warns you that the operation cannot be undone, click Yes to proceed.
  11. Click OK to close the Flattener Preview window.
  12. Click File and select Save As to save your outlined text PDF as a different file from your original.
  13. Close the file in Acrobat and open it in Illustrator.

You’ll notice that the text displays as it should, because it’s outlined. You can’t edit the text, but at least you can change the graphics to your heart’s content.

Outlined text in Adobe Illustrator

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  • John Harries  On 5 October 2010 at 5:24 am

    Only Adobe could end up with such a crazy state of affairs, where you have to add a watermark before you can convert text to outlines. I would love to hear their rationale for this bizarre decision.

    • Michael O.  On 5 October 2010 at 7:10 am

      Yeah. 99% of the time, I believe Adobe has top-notch products, but then they go and make something like this so complicated. Actually, the made this complicated on purpose, but I can’t figure out why. In Acrobat 6 Professional, you did not, need to add a watermark in order to create outlined text. Create Text Outlines was a simple menu command.

      The only rationale that I can think of is someone complained that schmoes like me were opening PDFs and screwing with their work.

  • JQ  On 29 July 2011 at 12:34 pm

    This is a fantastic tip! Just saved my skin. Thanks very much for posting.

    • Michael O.  On 29 July 2011 at 1:20 pm

      I’m glad to hear it! Thank you for letting me know.

  • Nick Voronin  On 9 October 2011 at 3:44 am

    Thank you! I would never have guessed right sequence for this. It definitely looks more like easter egg than application feature 😀

  • Mike Grant  On 11 October 2011 at 12:53 am

    It’s a fine method, but if you want to remove the watermark it can be a struggle. An alternative method (assuming you have Illustrator; I tried it in CS4) is to place the PDF in an empty document using File > Place, making sure the “Link” checkbox is selected. Then just select Object > Flatten Transparency, which will offer the option to “Convert All Text to Outlines” and there ya go!

    • Michael O.  On 11 October 2011 at 2:20 pm

      Thanks, Mike! I hadn’t considered placing the PDF into Illustrator as an option. I checked it out in CS5, and it worked like charm.

      As for getting rid of the watermark in Acrobat, it’s really a nonissue. I generally just type a period at a small point size and knock its opacity down to zero (steps 3 and 4). An empty path (no stroke, no fill) remains on the page where the period was, but the reader will never know that it’s there. Leaving a stray path behind isn’t a very clean solution, but it works in a pinch.

  • Samus  On 30 November 2011 at 7:04 am

    Thank you so much for this tip. I wasted an hour searching adobe forums for a solution, but their response is “You don’t ever NEED to outline fonts.” Creative Suite gets more complicated and less useful with every new release. I never used to cringe when I thought about upgrading. Thanks again. Now I can get back to work!

  • Tony Cronin  On 24 February 2012 at 5:48 pm

    You just literally saved me 3 hours. Thank you.

    • Michael O.  On 24 February 2012 at 10:32 pm

      I’m glad to help! Thank you for leaving a comment. Cheers!

  • Kathy  On 27 March 2012 at 8:08 am

    Great tip! Can’t believe I couldn’t find how to do this before. I think Adobe would much rather people buy the missing fonts than be able to outline them.

    • Michael O.  On 27 March 2012 at 8:11 am

      You might be on to something there!

  • Vivi  On 27 July 2012 at 9:30 am

    thank you for a great tip! I used CS5 acrobat X and it seems now we don’t need to do watermark anymore, just go straight to flattener preview and it will let you outlined fonts. Thanks again!

    • Michael O.  On 27 July 2012 at 9:34 am

      Thanks for the comment. I have been meaning to write a follow up article since Acrobat X is a dramatic departure from previous versions. Cheers!

  • Ed  On 18 September 2012 at 6:06 am

    Perfect, thanks Michael. That’s so helpful and will save me so much time in the future. Thanks Ed

  • Kelly  On 15 November 2012 at 8:30 pm

    Wow, what a great tip! Never would have figured this out on my own. Thank you for posting!

  • Greg  On 26 November 2012 at 9:53 am

    I would say “I wish I had known this yesterday,” but the truth is that I’ll probably need it again tomorrow. Thanks

  • eve  On 1 February 2013 at 9:56 pm

    Wonderful work. have been doing this for days – excel graft to eps was the first step, and then it opened correctly in acrobat but in russian or something in illustrator, and have been going mad with wondering whether the publisher would happen to open it in acrobat or illustrator…. 🙂 Finally, now it opens in illustrator too! Thank you!

  • steve green  On 5 March 2013 at 12:04 pm

    This is the first comment I have ever left online….YOU JUST SAVED MY LIFE…THANK YOU!!!

  • dawin09  On 21 March 2013 at 11:30 am

    God Bless you!!!, you saved my life (or my job i think), thank you 🙂

  • Gary Porter  On 9 May 2013 at 6:07 pm

    That is a genius tip, very handy to know this. Thank you

  • Naing Naing  On 18 July 2013 at 5:33 pm

    Thank You So Much

  • linda  On 20 August 2013 at 3:34 pm

    this is amazing. thanks so much for sharing this trick.

  • Mohamed Tahar  On 3 September 2013 at 3:58 am

    thank you very helpfull

  • Theresa  On 3 September 2013 at 6:28 am

    Thanks for this tip
    I usually use the Mike Grant technique but it just wouldn’t work for this job., but yours did

  • Kenny Berwager (@KennyBerwager)  On 6 September 2013 at 12:09 pm

    Awesome technique this saved me so much time!

  • popaddled  On 19 March 2014 at 8:38 am

    This was a huge help to me, thank you!

  • Krista  On 27 March 2014 at 9:05 am

    You Rock!!!

  • Jakehotep  On 10 September 2014 at 3:42 am

    “If the problem you want to fix is textual, you’re screwed. Call your designer who’s on vacation; she’ll need to modify the source file. (You will owe her for the rest of your life.)”

    I heartily disagree.

    Your designer will owe YOU for the rest of your life, because you just saved HER job. Too bad for her that she didn’t follow-through with proper procedures before going on vacation.

    • Michael O.  On 15 September 2014 at 12:25 pm

      Yes, there are times where the designer screws up. Often, I find last-minute changes are made due to poor planning or last-minute discoveries well outside the designer’s control. That’s why my scenario assumes the designer is innocent.

  • Andrew Bailes-Collins  On 11 September 2014 at 9:45 am

    Alternatively. A free plugin for Acrobat to embed missing fonts from Enfocus, the PitStop people and Monotype.

  • David.P  On 22 September 2015 at 5:34 am


    this is great! Just on question, it seems that the Flattener Preview, when applied, kills all bookmark actions/targets (i.e. bookmarks are still there, but not working anymore),

    Anything that can be done to prevent this?

    • Michael O.  On 22 September 2015 at 9:35 am

      Hi, David.

      that’s interesting. I work with a lot of interactive documents with lots of navigation and bookmarks, and I’ve not experienced this problem. What you could do is keep your original PDF and save a copy that you can edit. When you’re finished editing, return to your original PDF and replace the pages with those from the edited copy. Since we’re only making minor changes here, your bookmarks and hyperlinks should still line up.

      • David.P  On 22 September 2015 at 10:52 am

        Hi Michael,

        thanks, yes I know that I can recover the bookmarks from a copy of the file — however I’d rather not loose them in the first place.

        Are you saying that in your case, you can actually use the Flattener Preview, apply Flattening to those pages having transparency, and NOT loose your bookmark targets?

      • Michael O.  On 5 October 2015 at 9:30 am

        I can’t speak to Acrobat DC, but I do not lose the links and bookmarks in Acrobat XI.

      • David.P  On 8 October 2015 at 5:59 am

        OK thank you — I also use Acrobat XI (Pro).

        There, when I use the Flattener Preview:

        …like described in your above article, while I don’t lose the bookmarks *themselves*, the bookmarks still always loose their *targets*. Meaning, the bookmarks are still there, but when clicking on a bookmark, nothing happens (i.e. you’re not taken to the respective PDF page).

        Have you tried this — and still have your bookmarks in a fully working state, after the Outlining Text process is completed?

      • Michael O.  On 8 October 2015 at 8:02 am

        Hi, David. You’re correct. The bookmarks do lose their targets. I hadn’t noticed that before. Thanks for pointing that out! There’s the workaround of replacing pages as previously mentioned, but I don’t think you should use this procedure for documents that you’re distributing electronically.

        If you’re concerned about navigation (i.e., bookmarks, hyperlinks), then you should also be concerned about accessibility (i.e., screen reader access for the visually impaired). Outlining the text as described here will render the content inaccessible to screen readers.

        When I wrote this article, I intended it to be workaround for touching up print documents—bookmarks and accessible text didn’t enter my mind. There might be some useful application of this procedure for electronic documents, but I can’t, in good conscience, recommend it.

      • David.P  On 8 October 2015 at 8:09 am

        Thank you Michael.

        I use the procedure to make *any* PDF OCR’able without coming up with the “Renderable Text” error which has plagued users for many years.

        The bookmarks can always be restored using for example PDF-XChange Editor which supports copying/pasting entire bookmark sets between documents.

        Thank you again for your helpful information.


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