Possible Causes of Slow InDesign Performance—And How to Resolve Them

I recently participated in a discussion on the Linked-In InDesign Group concerning slow InDesign performance. I wrote a response there based on my own experiences, and then I learned a few things from other writers as well; one tip in particular I wish to share here. I’m rewriting my post from the group here, and including the great tip I learned at the end. So here are some things that can make InDesign go slooow, and what do do about it.

Real-time Preflight: I love this feature (in fact, I wrote an article about it!), and I always configure custom profiles for my documents to check for all kinds of problems. I also embed the profiles in the document so that if InD gets messed up or reset I don’t lose them. However, the more complex you make the profile, the more it potentially slows down InDesign.

RECOMMENDATION: If you’re suffering from slow performance, try Disabling preflight while working, or limit the check a subset of pages at a time (you can specify the page range in the preflight panel) and then enable it when you want to check for errors.

High-Quality Display: I usually set my preferences so that my default view is high-quality. I hate seeing those low-resolution preview images. However, on complex documents the high-quality display can get very laggy. In fact, in a meeting I once attended with some Adobe developers they told us this was the reason they set the default to typical.

RECOMMENDATION: Use High-Quality Display as your default, but switch to typical (in the view menu) if performance starts to drop. switch back to high from time to time when you need to see the page in its full glory.

Drop shadows and other transparent effects: These can have a huge effect on performance. For example, I have an 8-page document full of product photos with an object style applied. When I turn on a drop shadow for the object style, the document gets REALLY laggy, to the point that its difficult to do anything. (I should note that I’m using InD CS5.5 on a MacBook Pro 2.53 GHz i5 with 4GB RAM, which is a decent machine; I’m not using antiquated hardware.) So I routinely turn the shadows off to work on the file, then turn them back on to create the proofs and final PDFs.

RECOMMENDATION: Apply all transparency effects via object styles. If you suspect them of causing significant performance drops that interfere with your ability to do your work, try editing the style and unchecking the effect. All the settings of the effect will be retained; you can simply edit the style again later and turn the checkbox back on to re-enable the effect.

Document length/complexity: before I started producing ePubs for most of my books I would often keep them as single files, and they would get a little slower as they got into the hundreds of pages. However, the decrease in speed was not significant. I noticed more of a decrease in performance with complexity, meaning lots of graphic elements, etc.

Story length/complexity: I’ve found that extremely long stories (i.e. I’ve occasionally had appendices that went on for a couple hundred pages with no logical breaks) can become laggy when working in them, especially if there are not regular page breaks on headings or other such breaks. I’ve also found that the complexity of the flow through frames can make a difference on performance (i.e. flowing a listing of houses for sale or names in a directory through a thousand or more small threaded frames vs. just a few large frames). Usually these decreases in performance are not very significant.

RECOMMENDATION: Although the book panel is far from perfect, I certainly do recommend breaking long documents into separate InDesign files. This can be difficult in documents where there are no logical page or section breaks, but it certainly does help performance.

Save vs. Save As: it’s true that Save as, even writing over the same file, rebuilds the file structure while save does not. So using Save As will boost performance and reduce file size. In addition, Save As also erases your undo history, which possibly could be a reason for performance boost because it frees up some available memory.

RECOMMENDATION: I use an incremental version system for my single-file projects; each time I submit a proof or move to the next significant stage of the project I do a “Save As” and increment a version number at the end of the file name. This tracks the version of the document, provides a redundant backup, and provides “Save As” file structure clean-up on a regular basis. For my multi-document book projects I do not use this approach, but I still use “Save As” with the same file name for each document once in a while as I’m working to update the file structure.

3rd party plugins: I’ve run into cases in my consulting work where various plugins were responsible for slow performance as well. In the Linked-In Group discussion, it turned out to be a 3rd-party plugin causing the slowdown.

RECOMMENDATION: If you’ve tried the other recommendations and are still having difficulties, and you are using some 3rd-party plugins, try disabling them.

Disable “Save Preview Images” in File Handling Preferences: My thanks to Ida Engmark for teaching me this last tip. As it turns out, InDesign is continually updating its preview images of your pages as you work, and this takes resources—especially in complex documents. If you go to preferences -> file handling -> and  turn off “always save preview images” then you can not only reduce your file size but also gain a performance boost.


5 Responses to Possible Causes of Slow InDesign Performance—And How to Resolve Them

  1. Bob Garber March 19, 2012 at 12:02 pm #

    Thanks for the tips! I just turned off my “Save Preview Images”, now on the try the rest…

  2. Cynthia Lanning August 30, 2012 at 10:27 am #

    I was having trouble with InDesign being maddeningly slow despite trying all the tricks suggested here. I was creating new master pages for each chapter of a 20-chapter book since the headings were slightly different. Somewhere I read that corrupted Master pages could cause problems, so I created the next chapter’s master pages from scratch and the slowness magically vanished! Hallelujah! I am running InDesign CS5.5 on Windows 7 with a 64-bit processor and 8 gigabytes of RAM so I didn’t think it was a system problem.

    • Johanna June 8, 2015 at 9:17 am #

      This comment saved my sanity today! I had similar issues with extremely long respond times to pretty much any action in Indesign CC 2014, and after trying all the nifty tricks to speed things up, I deleted a big lump of my master pages – which instantly sped things up and brought my workflow back to normal. Phew. Thank you!

      • Cynthia Lanning September 1, 2015 at 6:48 pm #

        Thank you! I have not lived in vain.

  3. Neil July 23, 2014 at 3:01 am #

    I had similar slow down issues on a reasonably complex 8pp brochure – moving around and changing pages was becoming almost impossible – the solution for me was simple – go to the Pages panel, select ‘Panel Options’ and uncheck ‘Show Thumbnails’. Document is now super quick. Happy days 🙂

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