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PDF Conversion: Is Adobe really so clueless?

Community Beginner ,
Jun 14, 2024 Jun 14, 2024

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I needed to open an Acrobat PDF in InDesign- THEY ARE BOTH ADOBE PRODUCTS.  The fact that it's 2024 and InDesign cannot open an Acrobat file is bad enough.  But what's worse is that they're bragging about a "new Beta feature" that "converts PDFs to InDesign".  But get this: only if the PDF was created in InDesign.

It would be comical if it were so mind-numbingly indicative of the total lack of effort that Adobe puts forth these days.  There's "resting on your laurels" and then there's this.  

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Bug , EPUB , Feature request , How to , Publish online

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Community Expert ,
Jun 14, 2024 Jun 14, 2024

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Few apps directly "open" any other file formats. Many, however, can convert, import or 'place' quite a few in the regular course of things.

 

That you cannot open a PDF in InDesign as an editable document should surprise absolutely no one who understands complex doc formats. You can, however, open them more or less directly in Illustrator, and place them as complex graphic elements in ID. A more direct conversion/import process has been on the books for a while but ain't here yet and is likely to remain limited for quite some time.

 

Sorry you've been inconvenienced.

 

(And ETA: PDF is a standard loosely implemented by many companies. There is no special reason an Adobe product should be able to open PDFs created by substandard apps and streamlined implementation of features. Like so many things, they are far from "all the same.")


┋┊ InDesign to Kindle (& EPUB): A Professional Guide, v3.0 ┊ (Amazon) ┊┋

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Community Expert ,
Jun 14, 2024 Jun 14, 2024

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I don't know if this will decrease your anger but I thought that you might like to know that there is a third party plug-in available from Markzware that will convert a PDF into an editable InDesign file. Check out https://markzware.com/products/pdfmarkz/ for more information.

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Community Expert ,
Jun 14, 2024 Jun 14, 2024

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that will convert a PDF into an editable InDesign file

 

Just emphasizing the verb and underlying process here. You can convert nearly any format into any other, including printed pages back into a live InDesign file with styles... but "open [for direct editing]" is a very limited process with every creative app I know of.


┋┊ InDesign to Kindle (& EPUB): A Professional Guide, v3.0 ┊ (Amazon) ┊┋

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Community Expert ,
Jun 14, 2024 Jun 14, 2024

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THEY ARE BOTH ADOBE PRODUCTS

 

Should InDesign be able to open and edit a Photoshop file?

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Community Expert ,
Jun 14, 2024 Jun 14, 2024

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I know, right? Would you believe iTunes — to this day — cannot edit a Hypercard stack?

 

ScottFalkner_0-1718407208140.jpeg

 

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New Here ,
Jun 15, 2024 Jun 15, 2024

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If you download the beta version of InDesign 19.4, you can open some types of PDFs in InDesign. Or you can use a third-party tool: Leguptools, Markzware, Recosoft all offer conversion from PDF to InDesign. However, whichever method you use you'll find the conversion isn't perfect, but should save you time compared to rebuilding from scratch.

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Community Expert ,
Jun 15, 2024 Jun 15, 2024

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Hi @BoxHouse 

Unfortunately, my answer won't help either. But InDesign is a layout programme and NOT a PDF editor.

 

Counter question: can you turn an omelette back into eggs?

 

Or to stick with software:
For example, can you convert a JPEG back into a native, editable format with all layers (unless the PDF was saved in Photoshop with this option)?

 

No. That is not possible.

Yes, there are workarounds that can help. But that's all.

 

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Community Expert ,
Jun 15, 2024 Jun 15, 2024

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To the OP - I completely understand the frustration, but to play Devil's Advocate for a moment, there may be more than meets the eye.

I've a feeling when the PDF is made from Adobe InDesign, there may be a certain structure that's kept in the PDF that future versions of InDesign will understand and be able to translate the PDF back to InDesign... but PDFs made elsewhere may not have that syntax and as a result wouldn't import properly and would result in a poor conversion.  My guess is that they're trying to make the PDF->ID conversion as seamless as possible so items made in the original ID file such as styles, layers, parent pages, threaded text etc are maintained.

Ideally, what I think would be better is a prompt that at least said that the PDF wasn't made in InDesign, but at least attempt a conversion, and what you get, you get... warts and all (like OmniMarkz from Markzware currently). However that is better done as a suggestion to the InDesign developers over at indesign.uservoice.com

That said, competitor software that opens PDFs natively isn't without its own issues. Mike Rankin has a 40 minute Youtube video where he highlights the issues with such a conversion. Similarly, Markzware's OmniMarkz product isn't a turnkey solution but does allow for other conversion avenues, particularly ID to Illustrator - something I'm doing a lot of as the ESKO plugins work in Illustrator only.

With all of that out of the way, don't think I'm cheerleading here... if you've read my blog back in October 2023 you'll see two pieces that were critical of the 2024 release – the first post was a parody piece highlighting fake features that weren't actually implemented (but arguably should be), and the second post was why I made the parody piece (TL:DR - to highlight what could have been).

To their credit, the InDesign team did implement one of these fake features, and not as a major release but as a minor patch (i.e. add Firefly content to InDesign) and actively promoting the upcoming feature of the PDF conversion in the beta.

At the same time though, this is very early days of the PDF->ID conversion, so with further input from the community via the indesign.uservoice.com page, perhaps the team will heed the user feedback.

 

If the answer wasn't in my post, perhaps it might be on my blog at colecandoo!

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Mentor ,
Jun 15, 2024 Jun 15, 2024

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I am just guessing here, but the reason for that limitation is probably because future InDesign will add tags and other hidden meta information in an exported PDF that will allow it to be opened mostly intact in future InDesign (similar to what Illustrator does - include an Illustrator file stream alongside the PDF one). Lacking that additional meta information InDesign wouldn't know how to interpret all PDF parts and maintain styles, etc..

 

That said, I have been using PhotoLine's and Affinity Publisher's PDF import for a long time, and I have to say it really is a perk when working with layouts and import of files from others. It isn't always a perfect conversion and of course depends on whether the fonts (that are used in the PDF) are available on your system to ensure the best result. It also doesn't know how to create paragraph/char styles, of course. Important stuff such as images running into bleed may not be present.

 

Yet it is a really nice convenience feature, and I've used it with clients who provided me with a PDFs exported from non-printer friendly software as well as text processing software such as Word to make quick conversions that are editable afterwards. I regard it as an efficient extra tool in the toolbox to assist in the workflow of working with layouts and (more importantly) working with external assets. I import PDF files all the time for editing and grabbing resources in these apps. A time-saver indeed because PDF files are ubiqutious and often easily accessible. 🙂

 

So I do agree an option to import any PDF for conversion to editable pages and text would be very useful to have in InDesign even if conversion can be problematic in cases and depends on the user case and context.

 

Affinity Publisher and PhotoLine prove to me that it is a handy feature that tremendously speeds up these kind of conversion tasks or where one merely wants to import the resources of a PDF directly in one step (maintaining scale and positioning of separate elements) rather than having to go through a secondary or even tertiary design app.

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Community Expert ,
Jun 15, 2024 Jun 15, 2024

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I import PDF files all the time for editing and grabbing resources in these apps.

 

Some kind of direct import or conversion is a convenience, but you can easily extract content and resources from most PDFs without that wholesale step. No, it' s not convenient or one-step, but a reasonably skilled designer can pull all the parts out in a few minutes and have a library of images, logos, text etc.

 

Everything else aside, I'm not really sure a lot of developer resources spent on seamless PDF import and/or edit is a worthwhile investment. They might as well integrate my version, OCR of printed material with conversion to formatted styles. (Which would work at a certain level for PDFs as well, right?)

 


┋┊ InDesign to Kindle (& EPUB): A Professional Guide, v3.0 ┊ (Amazon) ┊┋

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Mentor ,
Jun 15, 2024 Jun 15, 2024

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Well, I can only speak for myself 🙂

 

Yes, a reasonably skilled designer can rebuild those parts in a few minutes, or that same designer can import the pdf directly and all parts are already in place and can be edited. Which takes 15 seconds.

 

Time saved, little chance for inaccuracies in regard to positioning, etc, and that time can be used for more important things. I've saved tons of time by importing editable PDFs directly into PhotoLine and Affinity Publisher.

 

It all adds up! 😉

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Community Expert ,
Jun 15, 2024 Jun 15, 2024

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I could have been clearer — if a lot of your workflow is X, anything that enables or speeds it is good.

 

For those of us who don't often repurpose or rebuild from PDF, having specialized tools or features isn't of as much value, since the end results can be achieved without (essentially) any tools at all. Put another way, some tasks simply can't be done without the right tools, but this is one that can be done at multiple levels. I wouldn't rank it all that high as a feature for ID.


┋┊ InDesign to Kindle (& EPUB): A Professional Guide, v3.0 ┊ (Amazon) ┊┋

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Community Expert ,
Jun 15, 2024 Jun 15, 2024

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"I needed to open an Acrobat PDF in InDesign"

A PDF is purely an export format container of the instructions for printing or viewing a page... from ANY program that creates them. There is no longer ANY structure within that file that has anything useful that InDesign (or any program) can read or open back into their native format*.

It's analogous to having a complicated multi-layered Photoshop file that you then flatten down to a simple JPG and then wanting to get all that layered data back from the JPG. Ain't gonna happen.

 

Yes, Acrobat and other PDF editors can attempt to reconstruct the intended look of a file, but it's literally a guessing game, things like "are all these words here part of a paragraph?"... and what the new Beta option to convert PDFs in ID is no different, if only going to be a bit smarter with AI tech to "guess" better.

 

*There are exceptions to this, like in Illustrator/Photoshop, where you CAN attach the native file along with the PDF portion, but that comes at the cost of considerable file size, which is usually not what you want in a PDF.

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Mentor ,
Jun 15, 2024 Jun 15, 2024

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quote

"I needed to open an Acrobat PDF in InDesign"

A PDF is purely an export format container of the instructions for printing or viewing a page... from ANY program that creates them. There is no longer ANY structure within that file that has anything useful that InDesign (or any program) can read or open back into their native format*.

It's analogous to having a complicated multi-layered Photoshop file that you then flatten down to a simple JPG and then wanting to get all that layered data back from the JPG. Ain't gonna happen.

 

I don't quit agree with your analogy that a PDF is comparable to a JPG. A PDF (unless only containing flattened image files) contains multiple objects such as bitmaps, text objects, and vector objects. The bitmaps generally maintain colour profiles, resolution, colour space, and so on. Text remains text (unless converted to outlines, of course), with text properties intact. And all objects remain separated. Page structure also is part of that PDF.

 

So meaningful structure *is* maintained in a PDF, and importing these into a PDF editor or directly into PhotoLine or Affinity Publisher maintains that structure. In PhotoLine (for example) each image's bit depth, resolution, image mode, and colour profile are maintained in the layer stack. Vector objects are arranged in vector layers. Vector clipping masks are maintained as well (which is useful for selections, etc). Position and scale of multiple related layout parts are kept. And so on. It requires no guessing work: everything is imported as-is, with its original visual intent intact yet still easily editable.

 

You are correct that (for example) Affinity Publisher identifies which text parts are paragraphs and which paragraphs belong in a text frame. But isn't that actually very useful? I think it is. And yes, important parts of the original structure (styles, non-destructive layer effects, and so on -- native app functionality) are stripped from the PDF output. But that doesn't turn it into a meaningless junk pile of embedded assets.

 

Anyway, a PDF is so much more than a flat JPG. I find it super useful and efficient to import PDF files in PhotoLine and Affinity Publisher for further editing and asset grabbing. Importing PDF files as editable files into InDesign would be quite advantageous for many users (as indicated by Affinity Publisher users, for example).

 

At least, that is my opinion.

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Community Expert ,
Jun 15, 2024 Jun 15, 2024

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Valid points. For all practical purposes, a PDF is closer to a "printed sheet" from a live layout file than that original file itself. It's a print impression, a Hollywood western storefront, an image of the document. That it can be disassembled to some degree doesn't make it a live document... but the steady trend has been to allow not just editing but everything up to new creation using PDF as the file format.

 

Addressing all the comments in this thread, yes, it would be wow-amazing to have one and only one graphics/layout file format that anyone from Canva on up can edit, but no such approach would preserve the endless details and options. I wish Adobe and the rest of the field would quit trying to push things, even beginner/amateur/convenience things, onto any single format, especially the "digital print" model of PDF.


┋┊ InDesign to Kindle (& EPUB): A Professional Guide, v3.0 ┊ (Amazon) ┊┋

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Community Expert ,
Jun 16, 2024 Jun 16, 2024

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Originally, PDFs were to be final output files. 

They were never intended to be edited.

 

A lot of people got into a practice of opening PDFs in Illustrator to edit them. 

Which is wrong, Illustrator is NOT a PDF editor.

 

You can make massive amounts of edits to a PDF using Acrobats editing feature.

You can edit text, you can use Edit With - and select an application and open a selection in that program - make the edit, save it and it updates in the PDF.

That is - text you can edit in Illustrator - vector images also. Raster images you can edit in Photoshop and completely replace them with another image, or make any edit you like.

 

There are other tools that can edit PDFs.

But InDesign is not one of those tools - why - cos InDesign is the layout application - not the editor. 

 

There seems to be a need of many to do this - so Adobe is making strides to address these issues. 

 

Others mentioned other plugins etc. 

Affinity can open PDFs and make edits - that's something they did. 

 

Illustrator can (but you shouldn't) open PDFs.

 

PDF structures vary.

If the PDF was created from Illustrator with editing capabilities when saving the PDF - it's fine to open - in Illustrator as it's structure is saved that way.

If the PDF was created in InDesign - then opening it in Illustrator will cause Illustrator to interpret InDesigns PDF structure in it's own.

Think of it like interpreting a different language. Some things will be lost in translation. 

 

I live in Ireland, and we speak English, but I called a mechanic literally the other day, and he had a thick 'country' accent - and if you've ever seen 'Snatch' with Brad Pitt, you'll know what I'm talking about. I couldn't understand a word of English coming out of him. It was very difficult to have a basic conversation in English - even though we apparently speak the same language. 

 

I guess the comparison I'm making is that even though both programmes are made in the same language, they have their own dialects, built up over time, by different teams, people come and go, engineers make binary decisions, it's either 1 or 0, a feature is on or off, etc. 

 

I wouldn't imagine the Illustrator/Photoshop/InDesign/Acrobat team sit in the same room and collaborate on way features are going to work.

 

Anyway - you can edit a PDF - just not the way you want to - yet.

But it's getting there.

 

It's 2024. 
AI is here. 
Adobe are embracing it.
We can't change the past.
We can only look to the future.

 

 

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Community Expert ,
Jun 16, 2024 Jun 16, 2024

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If that future is taking a lean, mature, universal graphics publication and distribution format and bloating it up with "structure" to allow the iPad crowd to mod it on the fly, well...


┋┊ InDesign to Kindle (& EPUB): A Professional Guide, v3.0 ┊ (Amazon) ┊┋

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Community Expert ,
Jun 16, 2024 Jun 16, 2024

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Well some other apps can do it flawlessly (to best of my knowing) so seems like Adobe is in catchup mode on it's own formats. 

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Community Expert ,
Jun 16, 2024 Jun 16, 2024

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Not sure that's a meaningful argument. 🙂 Myself, I'm holding out for everything to be printed on digitally-enabled paper with a USB-Z port on each sheet, so that you can use your smart watch to repurpose any club flyer into a multimedia TED talk. 😄


┋┊ InDesign to Kindle (& EPUB): A Professional Guide, v3.0 ┊ (Amazon) ┊┋

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Community Expert ,
Jun 16, 2024 Jun 16, 2024

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Just waiting for someone who demands support for 4D printing, or even bioprinting, and instead of printing a picture of sand, why can't InDesign produce the texture of sand in the print process? 

I mean it is 2024.

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Community Expert ,
Jun 16, 2024 Jun 16, 2024

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...using a Neuralink while you do something else, you know, useful.

 

Seriously, Adobe et al can build all the PDF-conversion and -extraction and -edit tools they like; it's not an un-useful capability and approach. But to start back-engineering InDesign to dump more elements and structure into PDFs so they can be opened and directly edited... such a wrong direction that the above jokes sound realistic.

 

PDF hasn't been Adobe's standard for a while, either. The problem with open standards is that open minds in open situations open the trap doors and let all the usefulness out for... smartwatch editing.


┋┊ InDesign to Kindle (& EPUB): A Professional Guide, v3.0 ┊ (Amazon) ┊┋

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Community Expert ,
Jun 16, 2024 Jun 16, 2024

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I guess Illustrator and Photoshop can both have variants of the PDF standard that are openable in their native apps. 

 

Sounds like it will be a feature dropped in for a stakeholder and once deployed won't be updated again - lots of features need updating and improving but nothing has improved in them for years.

 

This sounds like it will be same thing.

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Community Expert ,
Jun 16, 2024 Jun 16, 2024

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"I guess Illustrator and Photoshop can both have variants of the PDF standard"

There's no variant; the PDF portion is the same;  they just allow you to attach the native file along side if you export as such. A PDF reader only sees and reads the PDF portion, Illustrator/Photoshop wlll only see the native file side and that's the part it opens; it doesn't touch the PDF side at all.

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Community Expert ,
Jun 16, 2024 Jun 16, 2024

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Yeh I know. 

 

Sorry for oversimplyimg it 

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