InDesign Troubleshooting: Failed to Export the PDF File

failed to export

Ive ran across the “Failed to Export the PDF File” error on dozens of documents over the years. In every instance of this particular error message, placed media have been the issue. On the other hand, colleagues of mine have found corrupt graphic frames as the culprit. All is not lost! This article describes a process of quickly identifying the culprit.

Culprit Candidates

PDFs, Tiffs, and other formats, which were generated by a scanner or multi-function are the leading culprits.

  • In PDF culprit files, Ive narrowed down the specific problems to object stream compression and color space, which is getting into the weeds. If you are interested in PDF structure, check out Leon Atherton’s article Understanding the PDF File Format is a great resource. One fix is to save the culprit PDF out as a JPEG. As mentioned in PDF Markups Missing When Placed into InDesign, which discusses missing annotation in placed PDFs, saving out as a JPEG can cause other issues. It is best to correct the problem in the PDF in lieu of rasterizing.
  • In Tiffs, multiple pages (subfiles) and bit depth can cause issues. If you have a multiple page TIFF, consider using photoshop to save each page out as a separate file. If you have a single page TIFF, running it through Photoshop using the Save As command can shake out some issues.

Locating the Culprit

Finding the culprit is usually the most difficult part. Ive put together a flow chart that provides, in my opinion, the quickest way to tackle the “Failed to Export the PDF File” error message.

failed to export flow chart

Let me know your questions and suggestions in the comments below. Im also interested in culprit file examples.