PDF 101: Ten Common PDF Problems

We see a lot of PDFs come through the MagCloud site, and while most of them look great, there are some avoidable issues that pop up every so often. Below are ten common PDF problems that can stand in the way of a great looking print publication.

1. Content is too close to the outside edges.
We see a number of great PDFs that have text placed dangerously close to the trim line.   As we discussed in our design series blog post on trim and bleed, it’s important to keep your content within a safe distance of the trim line to avoid having it cut off in your final print publication. Remember that the trim line is 8.25″ x 10.75″ so you need to design to those dimensions NOT the PDF size of 8.5″ by 11″ that you upload to MagCloud. This 8.5″ x 11″ PDF includes a bleed area that will be trimmed off: 0.125″ on the top, 0.125″ on the bottom and 0.25″ on the outside. Since this trim can vary slightly in either direction, we recommend leaving 1/4 inch of extra space between the 8.25″ x 10.75″ trim line and your content, particularly any text content. This will ensure that even if the trim is slightly off, your content will not get cut off, nor will it appear to have been placed too close to the edge of the page.

2. Images are not extending into the bleed area.
Similarly, we see a lot of PDFs where images that the publisher wanted to extend to the edge of the page stop at the trim line. If the trim is even slightly off in the opposite direction in this case, there will appear to be a thin white edge on the image, as shown in our trim and bleed blog post and below. With that in mind, be sure that any images you want to extend to the edge of the printed page, go all the way to the edge of your 8.5″ x 11″ PDF, filling the bleed area (again, 0.125″ top and bottom, 0.25″ on the outside edge).

3. Content is too close to the spine.
Another “edge” to keep in mind is the inside edge of your PDF, where the spine will be on your printed publication. We often see PDFs with text that starts right next to the spine, and becomes lost when printed with a perfect binding. As we described in our design series blog post on designing for perfect binding, up to 1/4 inch of the inside edge of your page may be lost into the spine on a perfect bound publication. It is important to keep this in mind when designing your PDF, and ensure that none of your content is placed close enough to the inside edge that it is in danger of being lost in the final print.

4. Images are distorted across perfect bound spines (especially faces).
In addition to text disappearing into a perfect bound spine, we also see PDFs that have images going across the center spine such that the resulting print appears to be missing up to a half inch in the center of the image due to the perfect binding. As described in our perfect binding blog post, as well as on our Getting Started page, this can be avoided by making the two halves of one image into two separate images within the document, then moving them both out from the spine slightly and duplicating the opposing image within the resulting gutter space. Another trick is to avoid placing the focus of an image on the spine, which will draw attention to this disappearing act and make it more obvious to the viewer. If the focus is moved away from the center spine, any loss of content into the spine area will be less noticeable.

5. PDF uses low resolution images.
While the placement of images is one thing that can cause problems in a print copy, the image itself can be the problem. We often see are PDFs that use lower resolution images, and although they look good on screen, they end up looking pixelated in print. As we describe in our design series blog post about getting the most out of your images, screen resolution is 72 pixels- or dots-per-inch (dpi) but print resolution is 300 dpi. Therefore, when selecting images for your publication, they should be at least 300 dpi to ensure a quality print out. As a test to see if your images will look good in print, open your PDF on your computer screen and zoom in to 300%. If the images still look crisp then, they will look good in your printed copy. On the other hand, if they look pixelated (like they are made up of little blocks of color) then your image is too low res, and will end up looking fuzzy in your final printed copy.

300 dpi vs 72 dpi at 350% zoom

6. Color profiles are not embedded.
Another common image problem we see in PDFs deals with the color of the resulting print copy. As we explained in our design series blog post on working with color, HP Indigo presses print MagCloud publications in a 4-color CMYK process, but most images that get used in the PDF have an RGB colorspace. To help guide this conversion from RGB to CMYK, it is important that the color profiles for these images are embedded in the PDF. Without them, the color of the printed images may appear to be slightly off. To make sure that you are using the best color settings possible when creating your PDF, we encourage you to follow the program-specific instructions that are available for download from the bottom of our Getting Started page.

7. Fonts are not embedded.
Of course, color profiles aren’t the only things that need to be embedded in your PDF – any fonts you use also should be included. A common error that occurs in our PDF upload validation is non-embeddded fonts. This can again be avoided by following the downloadable instructions on our Getting Started page for the software you are using to design your PDF. Each of these guides provides settings that will ensure your fonts are properly embedded in your final PDF, and help you avoid this upload error.

8. Fonts are too small or illegible.
In addition to the technical issue of non-embedded fonts, in some cases the problem with a PDF stems from the fonts themselves being too small or illegible, making the text difficult to read in the final print. For body copy we recommend 9-12 point type and for headlines 18 points or higher.  As we discussed in our design series blog post on typeface dos and don’ts, you also want to avoid hard-to-read fonts, particularly for large blocks of text. Decorative fonts are great as headers, but can detract from your message when they become difficult to read.

9. Dark text is used on a dark background, or light text is used on a light background.
Even in cases where the font is legible, we’ve seen PDFs where the color of the text doesn’t provide enough contrast with the background. Placing navy blue text on a black background or light yellow text on a white background, as shown below, becomes very difficult to read. When there is not enough contrast between the text and the background like this, the text seems to blend in and disappear from view, taking the message it was intended to convey with it.

10. A light spine is used with a dark cover, or a dark spine is used with a light cover.
Finally, while you want your text to stand out, it’s a whole other story when it comes to your spine. We occasionally see PDFs that have dark covers and light spines, or vice versa, which makes the slightest shift in the spine placement become glaringly obvious. As we discussed in our perfect binding design blog post, we encourage you to pick a spine color that is close to the color of your front and back covers. Doing so will give a more seamless appearance to your final print publication, and ensure a more polished look with every print.

To help avoid these problems in your PDF, be sure to follow the program-specific instructions available for download on our Getting Started page when designing your publication. For some more resources to help design your PDF, check out our design series blog post on layouts and templates, or browse through some of our featured publications on the MagCloud website for inspiration.

Does your publication successfully avoid these ten common problems? Share a link to it in the comments below!

43 thoughts on “PDF 101: Ten Common PDF Problems

  1. Maurice Kelly 11 Aug 2011 / 9:25 PM

    Thanks…I needed to read every one of these…just as a reminder since I just submitted my first magazine…

  2. Jason 5 Oct 2011 / 6:47 PM

    this is my issue when ever i upload i get errors, i have used all
    the setting you have said and i still get mistakes i have no master
    page settings on my pages, i have it set as 8.25 by 10.75 but when it
    upload s you site says it 8.4…. it is not, my document setting or
    8.25 i have all the bleed set like you suggest, 0.125 top, bottom
    0.125, left 0 ,right 0.125 it constantly says i have my bleeds wrong
    all of my margins are set to the way you say and a lot of my text goes
    off the page, and in my indesign program the text is inside the pink
    box area(margins) not over lapping or anything when i preview its fine
    on all my computers and others as well but when i up load it to your
    site everything is off, i have been trying to over compensate by
    moving the text drastically from the left side but it doesn’t make any
    kind of since for me. please i love some help

    • Meghan 6 Oct 2011 / 5:30 PM

      Hi Jason,

      Please use our contact form at http://www.magcloud.com/help/contact to send an email to MagCloud’s support team, who will be able to look at your particular file and recommend possible solutions to the issues you are having.


  3. Jeff Beck 14 Dec 2011 / 1:13 PM

    Hi Meghan and Jason,

    I had the same issue and it is because the numbers don’t add up… There is no inside bleed for two page spreads. 8.25 + 0.125 = 8.375. The upload software rounds up to 8.4. The solution is to set the page size to 8.375.

    In my case the adjustments made by the MagCloud pdf uploader was acceptable. But in some cases it might not be. I you need your team to change your instructions and downloadable presets at least for the standard publication size in InDesign. I haven’t checked the other size pubs or the instructions and downloads for the different layout software apps.


    • Meghan 14 Dec 2011 / 1:38 PM

      Hi Jeff,

      MagCloud bleeds should be set as follows for our Standard, Digest, and Digest Landscape products: 0.125″ top, 0.125″ bottom, 0″ inside, 0.25″ outside

      With the trim size of 8.25″ wide by 10.75″ tall on a Standard product, adding these bleeds will result in a PDF as follows:
      Width: 8.25″ trim + 0″ inside bleed + 0.25″ outside bleed = 8.5″ final PDF width
      Height: 10.75″ trim + 0.125″ top bleed + 0.125″ bottom bleed = 11″ final PDF width

      Our PDF Guides were recently updated to include downloadable Document Presets for InDesign for all product sizes that you can install in any version of InDesign, using the instructions provided, and have the MagCloud-ready dimensions and bleeds set up automatically by selecting the preset in the Document Settings window. Assuming you then use the PDF Export Preset for InDesign (also included in these instructions) to export your PDF, the resulting PDF should be to the MagCloud recommended specs and have no problem being uploaded to MagCloud without any need for resizing.

      If you are still having issues with this preset, or with another program, using our contact form to reach our support team as I mentioned before will allow us to provide support that is more tailored to your particular situation, which is difficult to do here on the blog.


  4. Jeff Beck 14 Dec 2011 / 1:44 PM

    I had the outside bleed wrong… Thanks Meghan!

  5. Dain 3 Feb 2012 / 9:01 AM

    I used the PDF presets provided by magcloud and my PDF looks great. After I uploaded them to the site, the colours just look so dull. Is it going to print the way it looks on the site?

    • Meghan 3 Feb 2012 / 11:19 AM

      Hi Dain,

      While we try to make our preview as close of a representation as possible to the final print, there is the possibility for discrepancies, particularly with the color. The best way to see how your PDF will look in print is to order a print copy. If you have any further questions though, please use our contact form to email our support team, who will be able to look at your PDF and potentially provide more specific advice.


  6. Roben-Marie 28 Feb 2012 / 7:20 PM

    Hello! I have looked everywhere and cannot find an answer to my question nor can I find where to e-mail it. So, I will ask here. I am designing my first PDF and I want to know if I need to leave a blank page after the “cover” page in my PDF and before the “back cover” page? Or, will it automatically make the first page after my cover the 1st page in my book?

    Thanks so much for your help!

    • Meghan 29 Feb 2012 / 1:44 PM

      Hi Roben-Marie,

      The first page of your PDF will be the front cover of your publication, and the second page will be the inside front cover, regardless of which binding option you choose. Similarly, the last page of your PDF will be the back cover of your publication, and the second to last page will be the inside back cover. You can put content on the inside front and back covers (ie, the second and second to last pages in your PDF), or leave them blank – that’s your choice.

      Hopefully this helps, but if you still have questions, you can always contact us in our Help section on the website and someone will respond via email: http://www.magcloud.com/help/contact


      • Roben-Marie 29 Feb 2012 / 4:02 PM

        Thanks, Meghan! That’s what I was afraid of as I designed it without those blank pages. I also didn’t realize the PDF couldn’t be over 300mb and mine is 500mb, so back to the drawing board! I appreciate your response!!


  7. Eva Space 2 Mar 2012 / 2:02 AM

    Hello, why is the front cover and back cover have like a 2-3 inches blank on the bottom?

    • Meghan 2 Mar 2012 / 11:45 AM

      Hi Eva,

      Any blank space in a publication would likely have been added by the person who designed the publication. The only thing MagCloud adds is a small 6mm barcode in the lower right corner of the back cover. If you’d like to describe where you are seeing this blank area in more detail through the contact form on MagCloud.com, we’d be happy to look into this further for you.


  8. perspicador 8 Mar 2012 / 4:02 PM

    I struggle to understand how something as simple as rotating to fit a document that is the right size but horizontal alignment can meet with such a wall of problems! I thought I had sussed it when I rotated the horizontal pdf to fit vertically, saved it and then uploaded the saved file, only for it to Still be twizzled round to be squeezed in vertically. I do have better things to do than to spend all evening uploading and uploading to hit a wall of incompatibility. If the choice was available to me to down-size to the smaller scale that accepts horizontal formats I would take that. There is no flexibility so I am left angry and frustrated.

    Furthermore, I have a low resolution, patterned first page cover, which is judged to be unacceptable. The whole document is judged on the first page! Please advise.


    • Meghan 9 Mar 2012 / 12:32 PM

      Hi Perspicador,

      I’m sorry to hear you are having these issues. Please submit a support request through our contact form describing the issue and providing your MagCloud username, so that we can take a look at your specific PDF and be better able to determine a resolution to your issue.

      Regarding the low resolution images, we simply provide a warning that this is the case, to let you know that the resulting print may not be as high of quality as it could be. Our system should not stop you from creating a publication with a low res PDF, you’ll just need to click the button in the warning screen that says “Create with this PDF” to acknowledge that you have seen our warning about your low resolution images and are aware of the lower quality print the images may result in.


  9. Steve 21 May 2012 / 4:28 PM

    I don’t have any of the design programs. I’ll be using Adobe Photoshop to create a page-sized image — page-sized, because I want specific color backgrounds — and then either placing the page-sized images in MS Word or using Acrobat to combine, whichever seems easier.


    1. Can I retain the Adobe RGB (1998) color space, or should I save in sRGB?

    2. I see nothing in the “Creating with MS Word” instructions about how to be sure the color profile info is embedded in the PDF. Fonts are mentioned, but not color, in the various checkboxes. What am I missing here? Is the color-embedding info perhaps covered by the “ISO 19005-1 Compliant” choice?

    3. Can I create the text as I create the page-sized image in Photoshop, and then flatten that text in the saved image? Or do things look better putting text “over” the image in Word, then being sure the fonts are embedded? I’ve never had problems with flattened text in the notecards I print (on the late great HP B9180 model), on other images done on the Epson 3880, or even in a bit of work I’ve sent out to printers. But I’ve often wondered …

    Thanks much. Looking forward to trying MagCloud.


    • Meghan 23 May 2012 / 11:17 AM

      Hi Steve,

      We offer some basic instructions for creating a PDF using Photoshop in our FAQs: http://www.magcloud.com/help/faq/item/1121

      Unfortunately, MS Word will not allow you to embed color profiles, so I do not recommend using this to put together your publication if you are concerned about color. If you would like to try using MS Word in spite of this, then all RGB images should be converted to the sRGB colorspace before being placed into Word. CMYK images can be left as is.

      Since you mentioned you have Acrobat want to use Photoshop, the best process for you will likely be to create your pages in Photoshop and save each of them as 300dpi JPG files with the color profile embedded. As far as which color profile to embed, since each page can only have a single color profile using Photoshop, I would suggest using the original profile for the most prominent image(s) on the page. In other words, if your images are originally Adobe RGB, as your first question suggests, then you will get the best color reproduction by keeping the colorspace for the full page as Adobe RGB and embedding this profile in the JPG file when it is saved out of Photoshop. Once you have all your JPG images created, open them all at once with Acrobat and they will automatically be converted to a multipage PDF. You can then save the PDF as described in the Photoshop instructions I linked to above, and upload it to MagCloud.

      To answer your third question, if you are using Acrobat to create your PDF, then you should include all text in your JPG files when they are created in Photoshop. If you are using Word, then you can add the text in either Photoshop or Word. Adding the text to the Word document may make your text appear slightly more crisp, however the difference will likely be negligible to the naked eye assuming your JPG files are high resolution (300dpi).

      I hope that helps. If you have any further questions along these lines, I suggest you submit a request through the contact form on the MagCloud website (http://www.magcloud.com/help/contact) as this will generally lead to a more prompt and thorough response than we can offer here on the blog.


      • Steve 26 May 2012 / 11:59 AM

        Very, very helpful. Thanks so much, Meghan.

  10. DHM Creative 25 Jun 2012 / 8:59 AM

    Some great tips. My issue is that whenever I print from Word to the printer my grays stay gray and my reds look close to my color calibrated screen. It looks wonderful.

    If I make a PDF via Save As, Print or the Acrobat toolbar, no matter what, the gray .jpg background (that I have to make watermark to fit correctly) has a nasty colorcast and the red looks very dark and flat.

    Tried embedding the color profile in the gray background as RGB, CMYK, even greyscale. The screen PDF looks fine, but the printed PDFs all have horrible color casts.

    I’ve tried checking the PDF compliance box, no result.

    PS the PDF Guides link you refer to (http://magcloud.com/help/pdfguides) is a dead link. I was able to find some info from a WayBackMachine version.


    • Meghan 26 Jun 2012 / 10:11 AM

      Hi DHM Creative,

      First off, I’ve updated the PDF Guides link to point to our new Getting Started page, where you can download program-specific instruction packets to help you design your MagCloud-ready PDF. My apologies for the previously dead link.

      As far as your other questions regarding designing a PDF in Word, Word cannot embed color profiles in PDFs, which is likely why you saw no difference when you embedded the various color profiles in your background. Beyond that, this appears to be a more complex problem than I can provide an answer for here on the blog. As such, the best thing to do is to use our Contact Us form to email support@magcloud.com detailing what version of Word you are using, the platform you are on (Mac or PC), and the MagCloud order numbers for any print copies you received through the site that experienced these shifts in color. With this added information, our support team will be happy to help you troubleshoot these issues with your MagCloud publication via email.


  11. Ruca Cao 2 Jul 2012 / 12:43 PM

    I’m preparing a square book which will be 80 pages. Each page is a scan, saved at 300 dpi. Each page is about 8 mb. Can you tell me if, when I put all the pages into a pdf form, will each page still be 8mg? If so, how can I stay within your 300 mg limit?

    • Meghan 2 Jul 2012 / 1:33 PM

      Hi Ruca,

      The final size of your PDF will largely depend on the format the scans are in now, and what process you will be using to combine them into a PDF. For example, placing the images as JPG files into a program like Adobe InDesign and then exporting as a PDF will likely result in a smaller final PDF size than if the scans are currently individual PDF files that you will just be stitching together with a program like Adobe Acrobat Pro. In the latter case, it is likely that the final PDF will be 80 times 8mg, or 640mg, in size, since there will be no compression of the individual scans as there would be with InDesign.

      For more information about putting together your PDF in a variety of programs, please see the instructions at the bottom of our Getting Started page. If you would like feedback specific to the process you will be using, please submit a request through our Contact Us page with more information about your intended process and our support team will be happy to help you.


  12. suburubu 13 Aug 2013 / 12:44 PM

    i am using your rich black formula (40/30/30/100) for some of my backgrounds. can you advise the best way to display white text on top? i don’t want registration problems, which can happen when there are all 4 colors used in the black.

  13. Edward 12 Sep 2013 / 1:58 PM

    I am using a Mac computer and created the document using the magcloud template and followed all the bleed, trim and safe zone but when I save it as a PDF the file has a white border and will not contain a bleed. The bleed, trim and safe zone in Word is fine. Please help!!!

    • Meghan 23 Sep 2013 / 10:09 AM

      Hi Edward,

      Generally this happens when the Non-Printable Area is not set to 0″ on all sides in your Page Setup. If you haven’t already, please download our Software-Specific Instruction Package for Word on a Mac, and make sure you are following the instructions regarding Page Setup as described in the included PDF. If you have any additional questions on this, please use http://www.magcloud.com/help/contact and our support team will be happy to help you further.


  14. Roel Arevalo 6 Oct 2013 / 1:44 PM

    do you have a template for Adobe Acrobat? I need to create 8.5 x 11 magazine.

    • Meghan 21 Nov 2013 / 3:06 PM

      Hi Roel,

      We don’t have a template for Adobe Acrobat, but you can find instructions for a variety of other programs in our downloadable Software Specific Instruction Packages, available on our PDF Design Resources page.


  15. Grace 24 Feb 2014 / 4:42 PM


    I’m working with Publisher 2007 and am trying to convert a file from it into a PDF for commercial printing. Although once I’ve published the file into PDF format it opens up and doesn’t look right at all.

    The text boxes turn into big white squares with no words. I know there is probably an easy solution for this but I’ve searched online and just can’t find an accurate answer.

    If anyone could give me some quick advice that would be great. Thanks!


  16. anne 21 Mar 2014 / 11:00 PM

    Whenever I convert my word doc to PDF, it puts too much space between the header and footer and the top and bottom of the page. Do you have any ideas on how to fix this? Thanks!

  17. mandy 18 Feb 2015 / 12:18 PM

    Fantastic and very helpful information. Thank you!

  18. diana 10 Mar 2015 / 1:20 AM

    Everything is correct when I create my document–right size, right settings, etc. It looks great in ms word, but then when I save it to pdf, it has a bunch of empty space around the right side and bottom, as though it saves it to a larger page. But it says that it is 5.5×8.5″, as it should be.

    • Brady 23 Sep 2015 / 10:38 AM

      Word sometimes inserts extra margins. In the menu go to File -> Paper Size -> Manage Custom Sizes and make sure that the Paper Size is correct and Non-Printable Area is set to 0 for the borders.

  19. Gina Weston 24 Mar 2015 / 2:42 PM

    I have one question about Black and White photograph profiles, which is better, to leave in original RGB or to convert to CMYK? In my last magazine I forgot to convert some of my files to RGB and they were in Grayscale and they don’t look good at all. Thanks!

    • Brady 23 Sep 2015 / 11:55 AM

      Hi Gina,
      we recommend leaving the images in sRGB and verify that the colors are balanced in an application like Photoshop.
      In other words R, G and B values are all the same number which yields a neutral grayscale appearance. Example: Red 200, Green 200, Blue 200.

  20. Nancy 12 Feb 2016 / 2:02 PM

    Hi, I’m wondering how the front cover of a perfect bound book works. When you open the book, will page 2 be printed directly on the other side of the front cover, or will there be 2 blank pages before the 1st page prints? Thanks!

    • Brady 12 Feb 2016 / 3:46 PM

      Hi Nancy, the first page in your PDF will be your front cover. The second page will be the inside front cover. The last page will be the back cover and the second to last page will be the inside back cover. You have the option to upload a spine file separately.

  21. Katerina 5 Oct 2016 / 7:31 AM

    Hi, I have my pdf set up with MagCloud presets: 8.25×8.75, the bleed 0.125 on sides except for inside. I export to pdf with MagCloud presents, using document bleed, no printer marks. When I upload it to MagCloud, I get the ‘There were some problems with your pdf’ message’ that gives a wrong document size and says that ‘the bleed will be adjusted to 0.125 left, 0.125 right, 0.125 top and 0.125 bottom’ – which is not the MagCloud standard, is it? I contacted the support but received a pdf with information on how to set up my document (so far), despite explaining in my email that all is set up per MagCloud instructions (the document and the pdf export settings). I sent by email all kinds of screenshots showing the document set up, the pdf export settings, etc (no answer yet from MagCloud/Blurb support). I tried to upload different test pages – changing doc size, including and excluding crop marks, manually setting up bleed – I managed to get the doc size accepted when set at 8.375 x 8.75 but the message with ‘the bleed will be adjusted to 0.125 left, 0.125 right, 0.125 top and 0.125 bottom’ remained. And hey, I don’t want a weird document size, my magazine needs to match the previous issues. Please advise. I have to look for a different printer if I don’t resolve it asap, the publication needs to be published. I printed with MagCloud before and didn’t have this problem. Thanks!

    • Brady 5 Oct 2016 / 9:46 AM

      Hi Katerina,
      thank you for contacting us. I’m forwarding your question to a specialist who will get back to you soon.

  22. Ella Heath 26 Apr 2017 / 2:45 PM

    Hello, I am having issues with sizing, when converting my jpg to a pdf presentation for MagCloud. Although I am using MagCloud template for Photoshop – a square 8.25×8.25 – and working well within the trim lines, when I upload the pdf in MagCloud I keep having the page numbers cut off. I have spent 8+ hours between yesterday and today trying to figure it out but I cannot. I moved the page number even more and they still get trimmed….

    • kmscull 28 Apr 2017 / 4:20 PM

      Hi Ella, I’m so sorry to hear about any difficulties. We’ll send you a follow-up email to help you troubleshoot!

  23. AMAN 12 Dec 2019 / 12:09 AM

    This is one of the best articles I have come across. Keep up writing good stuff.

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