Does license affect ability to embed font?

I’m assembling a catalog in Indesign. Another designer has sent a PDF ad they’ve created. When I go to place it in ID, I get “The following fonts aren’t currently available”, along with the name of one of the fonts they used. The font is used in a layered photoshop file that serves as the background of the ad, and the text in that file is <9pt.

  1. Why might a font not embed? There is a high end version for sale by a foundry, but there are also lots of free versions of it floating around the internet. Not sure which version it could be. Is it perhaps because the font isn’t licensed for commercial print? Or maybe because it’s a poorly designed knock off?
  2. Is there a technical benefit to having the small text in a layered photoshop file, rather than a flattened TIFF? Won’t the text in the PSD rasterize when the PDF of the catalog is created, impairing legibility?

Is the font in the pdf or the Photoshop file?

PDF fonts embed automatically, only if the font has embed permissions. As with some fonts especially free or demo or crap fonts don’t have embed permissions.

Photoshop file is not a PDF it has a font layer but I can’t remember if fonts get embedded in Photoshop files.

A PSD placed in InDesign and exported to PDF - This flattens on output to the native resolution of the psd file, check the original file for the resolution it is set at.

Keeping native layers for text, as in text as live text enables the font to access the hinting for output, you can look up font hinting.

Plus live text can scale large or small without affecting it’s quality as it’s vector. If you rasterise the type you lose the hinting, and scaling to larger sizes would reduce the resolution quality.

So, can you explain a bit more as to the workflow so we can advise a bit better?

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If the font was used in the photoshop file, it is so that file will be editable. There will also be a rasterized copy of it, so the link should be usable without it.
However, it will be raster and will print at the resolution of the photshop file or the PDF parameters that were used when it was created from InDesign.

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From a quick Google search
The Photoshop file format does not support embedding fonts . It preserves the fonts appearance, but it doesn’t allow editing the text layers, if you don’t have the required font installed on your computer (they’ll be replaced with another font ).

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Only if you open the photoshop file to replace the text. There will be a rasterized text in there too, but without the font you cannot edit it in the photoshop doc

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The decision to allow embedding or not is something that’s set within the meta data of the font by the font developer. Adobe wisely abides by those licensing restrictions. As Smurf2 said, you can’t embed the font in a Photoshop file, but if the Photoshop file is saved as a Photoshop PDF, the font is embedded into the PDF — at least enough to allow it to be viewed and printed as native, non-rastered vector type. However, to the best of my knowledge the text can’t be changed without installing the font itself on your computer.


As Smurf2 mentioned, well-built fonts contain something called hinting, which is the font’s ability to adjust the shape of its rastered outlines to display a more accurate version of the type on low-resolution screens or lower-resolution output devices where rounding errors can be a problem. Once again, the font designer includes these hints — either manually or automatically — during the font development process. The important thing, though, is the hinting is striped out when the type is converted to outlines or, worse, rastered into the Photoshop image as part of the bitmap.

In addition, there’s an even more important reason for keeping small type in its native vector format, but it takes a little explaining.

A typical image in a document is 300ppi, but that, in conventional printing, is converted into a halftone, which is typically (but not always) about 150 halftone dots per linear inch (lines per inch or lpi). When small type is made up of different screen tints of the process colors, the best resolution you’ll ever get out of that type is a coarse 150-lpi resolution. This is acceptable at large type sizes, but looks really bad at small type sizes. Toss ink registration issues into the mix and it’s always best to avoid small type created from or reversed out of process or spot color mixtures.


If the type prints a solid color, like 100%K or a solid spot color, there is no halftone screen compromising the integrity of the letterforms. Instead, they’re printed as solid objects. Now if you’ve rastered the type into the bitmap of the image file, the best you’ll ever get out of that type is something rendered to whatever resolution the image is. If the image is 300ppi, the rastered type will also be 300ppi, which is an output resolution far lower than an old, crappy laser printer.

The output resolutions of commercial imagesetters and plate setters are far higher and, depending on the output device, upwards of 1200 to 4000 dpi (it takes a microscope to see the dots). When vector artwork is output by the printer, it’s output at these high resolutions which keeps small, solid type absolutely sharp and legible. However, when that type is rastered into the 300ppi image, like I said, all you’ll ever get is the same quality of small type that comes out of a cheap laser or inkjet printer.

Still better, though, is not to put small text into a Photoshop file, then you won’t need to worry about this. It’s best to use InDesign or Illustrator and just avoid setting small type composed of screen tints…


Workflow: The designer used the font in a layered PS file, then built an ad in ID using the PS file as the background. In ID he added additional elements and text. He exported as PDF/X-1a:2001, and also as PDF/X-4:2008 and sent those files to me so I could insert them into the catalog. Missing font error shows up when I go to place either of those PDFs in ID. When I check Fonts under Document Properties in Acrobat, the font appears in the list, but doesn’t identify it as embedded. In a few weeks I’ll send the catalog to print using PDF/X-1a:2001 or PDF/X-4:2008.

What if the ad was exported from ID as PDF/X-1a:2001? Should the fonts embed in that PDF? In this case they aren’t, so it looks like a font problem rather than a software problem.

It sounds like the font doesn’t have permission to embed. It might be a %#$@*&$!ing free font. If the PS part of the ad flattens then it shouldn’t be an issue, so maybe the font found its way into the text on the ID part of the ad… as a hidden character.

Thank you. As always you are very thorough and very helpful!

If it doesn’t show as embedded in the PDF there’s very little you can do except request a new file with the font embedded or outlined/rasterised - or purchase the font and pass that cost on to the supplier/client.

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Flatten the photoslop file and see if that fixes your issue. It will rasterize the font but anyone that puts 9pt type in a raster based program deserves what they get (not really, they’d get phone call from me asking them what the want me to do with this error. And they don’t deserve that either.)

It might maybe resolve the issue to ask them to make it a photoshop PDF. That will embed the font.

Indesign does not recognise, collect or embed fonts in links. Not Illy links. Not photoshop links. It can be a real pain in non-pdf links. So much so, on native layered files, we check by opening any suspicious links to see if we get an error message. Photoshop files usually aren’t an issue because like I said, the font will print rasterized even when you get that error.

On a related note, just the other day we had an Adobe Type Kit font not convert to outlines. You know what? That is real inconvenient when the designer used the font for cut vinyl going on a sign…

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Thanks! I’ll ask him to try that.

Not if the font has no embed permissions.

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Right. I shoulda said, most times that will embed the font.
If the font has no embed permissions, well… I’ve always been of the opinion that a font should be a known quantity, vetted before staking your project on it. But we see it all the time since we ask for the layered links in the work we do. The photoshop files do print, just rasterized. I’m not sure what would happen if the font has no outline file. So much sloppy work out there, all around. Three more years. I just gotta make it 3 more years.


Well I think originally they said the PDF didn’t have the font embeded - likely the font can’t be embedded. And opening the Photoshop File to make a PDF from that, won’t be possible unless you have the font.

My initial thoughts on this was just to replace the font and reproof it and ask if it’s ok to do that as the font had issues.

Likely as the font was small it might have been ok to do this.

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I’m not sure what the end goal Mojo has in mind — editing the type, maybe.

That’s not doable without the font, but short of that, if the font layer was saved as a smart object, that might preserve the vector outlines in the saved file. The non-embedable font itself would, of course, not be embedded, but the outlines, I’m thinking, would still be there and the smart object could still be worked with, just not retyped in any way. I’m sort of guessing on all this, though — it’s not exactly a best-practices approach to anything and I haven’t tried it.

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I’m trying to understand all the pieces of the puzzle and think ahead so I don’t pass on a problem file to the printer. The designer seems stumped, so if I can make a recommendation, that might help. But today I’m thinking maybe that’s not a good idea and I should just tell him the ad can’t be placed until he embeds the font. And leave it at that.

Out of curiosity, I just tried my smart object idea. It didn’t work.

Passing along fonts to printers is sort of a semi-OK thing that people do given that there’s sometimes no good way around it. Why not just ask for the fonts and specify that it’s only for printing purposes and that the fonts will be deleted once the job is printed.

Really though, what’s this person doing setting text-sized type in Photoshop? It’s just the wrong way to go about things. Can’t this person place the photo in InDesign, then just add the type there. The fonts might not be embedable, but they might be packagable via InDesign. If not, I’d have no hesitation in sending the fonts themselves since they’re all but unusable otherwise. Or have this person use a different typeface — one where the font can be embedded.

Still doesn’t stop non embed fonts.

I don’t think you can package them if you can’t embed them. And you can’t package Typekit fonts. Even though there does appear to be some differences between PC and Mac versions of the same activated font. Had a thing last week where word wrap changed and that was the only thing we could come up with. So too, it also happened to be the same font that wouldn’t outline for vinyl. I made it work, but it took a couple hoops.

Do you mean Adobe fonts? TypeKit is no more

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