How to Export Editable PDFs From InDesign

By Elizabeth Mott

Some InDesign PDF export settings help you make your layouts malleable in other software.
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Adobe Systems invented the Portable Document Format as a variation on its PostScript page definition language, making it possible for content creators to share complex graphical documents with people who lacked access to the creation software and resources used in the original file. As a format that emphasizes sharing and portability, PDF deliberately lacks support for in-depth editability because it's intended as a viewing medium. When you export PDFs from Adobe InDesign, however, you can add or preserve some forms of editability.

Using Forms

Adobe InDesign supports the creation of fill-in-the-blank forms through a workflow that takes advantage of special tools and informational panels. The Buttons and Forms panel includes controls you can use to name and apply text fields, radio buttons and other interactive elements. Used strategically, these fields can enable you to create a PDF file that another user can customize and print with variable data entries that personalize it. You can set up these data-entry points so the "Tab" key advances among them in a specific order, simplifying the process of using the form.

Embedding Fonts

When you embed font-file data into a PDF file without subsetting the information, you incorporate the full character set included in the typeface software you used in Adobe InDesign. This information increases your PDF's editability when you open it in Adobe Acrobat. Without embedded font data, you must own a copy of the typeface and have it in active use on your computer to be able to edit, substitute or add characters to the existing text. To embed the entire character set of all your applicable font files, set the subsetting percentage to 0.

Structuring PDFs

If you set up Adobe InDesign's PDF options in the Export Adobe PDF dialog box so you create a tagged file from your layout, you can take advantage of structure tags that identify specific types of content and make your file reusable on various devices. InDesign's Tags panel includes the functions you need to mark up page structure for tagged output. The Structure pane divides the InDesign document window into a hierarchical display on the left and the live graphical interface on the right. InDesign supports manual or automatic tag application on text and graphic frames or manual editing of automatic tags. After you create your tags -- marking miscellaneous items as artifacts, graphics as figures and text frames as stories -- your document can reflow within the Acrobat application.

InDesign Layers

Among the preferences you can invoke when you create PDFs from Adobe InDesign, two settings help you maximize the editability of your Acrobat file after you finish exporting it by preserving the elements of your InDesign file on the layers on which you created them. The Create Acrobat Layers setting keeps your layout file's layering structure intact, which can enable you to build one PDF file that accommodates users who read in multiple languages, with each linguistic variant established on a separate layer. The Export Layers setting can preserve and include layers that you designate invisible or non-printing as well as those that provide your main active content.

Version Information

Information in this article applies to Adobe InDesign CS6 and Adobe InDesign CC. It may differ slightly or significantly with other versions or products.