Something is wrong with the rendering of this PDF in Preview (or Quick Look). This is how it looks:

Messed up PDF

I can see it in Adobe Reader on Windows. I'm not sure what font it is using, and I have Office 2011 installed, so I have all of those fonts. Why is it displaying question marks on everything (except the text in the bottom left)?

I'm using Lion 10.7.1 on a 2010 17" MacBook Pro.

  • Can you see it with Adobe Reader for Mac? You can check the fonts by using that and going to one of the menus, I forget exactly which. Commented Sep 5, 2011 at 17:00
  • I didn't even know there was an Adobe Reader for Mac, I'll go look for that now!
    – Ricket
    Commented Sep 5, 2011 at 17:04
  • My guess is you have that font on Windows, but not on Mac. The guy who made the PDF used that font because he thought it looks cool! I believe there is a way to include fonts within a PDF, but you generally have to do something special for that, and this guy didn't.
    – GEdgar
    Commented Sep 5, 2011 at 17:17
  • Tom, it does display in Adobe Reader. Please write your comment as an answer and I'll accept it! I looked at the fonts and they are indeed dumb (looks like the mind map program stripped spaces from the font names) so that's probably why Preview can't find them.
    – Ricket
    Commented Sep 5, 2011 at 17:17

5 Answers 5


Try Adobe Reader for Mac. Sometimes Preview is not a perfect substitute for that.

  • much better answer below...
    – enorl76
    Commented Jun 27, 2013 at 17:48

It looks like all the previous answers to this question are completely uninformed. I suggest that you completely disregard all of them. It is unlikely, for instance, that telling the document creator that what they did was faulty will really get you anywhere.

First, it's likely that they did not embed fonts, yes, but there are many fonts that carry flags telling apps NOT to embed them. This is an especially favorite trick of Microsoft products. Presumably they do not want people to be successful using non-Microsoft products (at least, that's what the documents in their antitrust case indicated), so they make it as painful as possible to transfer documents from Windows to Mac. Other companies know about this, and they may try to compensate. For instance, Adobe may license fonts to make the process more transparent to the end user but Apple may not have the same license for Preview. There is a lot going on behind the scenes. "Correctly" embedding the font won't get to the root of the problem either.

Second, you say that this document was created by someone "already not very good with computers." It would be ridiculous to tell such a person to correctly embed fonts. It's not even fair to consider the lack of font embedding as an error since you could quite possibly install the fonts, depending on the license, in a place where Preview can see them.

Third, it is naive to claim that Preview is at fault because it can't find a font when you have not told it where to find the font.

You can compensate for this. I can think of at least three ways.

First, if the creator wants to embed fonts, they may be able to and they may be able to choose similar fonts with different licenses if that is the source of the problem. In the displayed example, there is a correctly rendered font in the lower left hand corner. The creator could possibly use that font throughout.

Second, if you don't want to go to the document creator, you can apply one of several software solutions. I prefer open source software so, when I receive a file like this, I use the free, open source ps / pdf tools you can get with Xpdf. The problem with this solution is that many people don't want to use open source or feel uncomfortable with it. There are projects to make it easier on Mac. I use a package installer called macports to make it easier for me. Having done that, I would solve this problem by typing the following two lines in the terminal:

pdftops badfile.pdf intermediatefile.ps
pstopdf -o goodfile.pdf intermediatefile.ps

This will effectively replace the non-embedded fonts in badfile.pdf with their nearest Postscript core font equivalents. For me this is usually adequate. If the image in the above picture is going to be part of a book, you may need the fonts to match. In this case, you must either learn more about fonts or purchase non-free software. Depending on the circumstances, the options to the commands mentioned above may be modified to match fonts precisely.

Third, if this is a book project and you are uncomfortable with free software, you should try using a combination of Adobe Acrobat (not the free Adobe Reader) and Adobe Distiller to convert the document from pdf to ps, put the desired fonts in place, and convert the document back to pdf. I just googled and saw that there are a number of hits for tutorials for doing this process.

By the way, as a former professor, I feel that students who don't "try and get them to change their ways" are not doing me or the other students a favor.

Sometimes there are legitimate reasons why professors resist change. I don't know about your cases. If the professor is "already not very good with computers" you might want to use psychology. Since you are in a college or university, there are probably some experts around who could help you. Maybe the prof feels threatened or confused in an area outside his expertise. Maybe he's afraid students will think he's generally stupid. Who knows? ... But you might be able to figure it out and help everyone in the class. Good luck!

  • 2
    The problem was solved year ago by simply using Adobe Reader to open the file. It's really not worth anyone's time trying to figure out why Preview didn't work or trying to get the creator to do something special so that Preview will work. I don't understand why you wrote all this stuff. Commented Dec 20, 2012 at 16:52
  • 2
    +1 for a workable conversation tool chain for someone that needs the document to work within preview. -1 for disparaging the efforts of others that are here trying to help.
    – bmike
    Commented Dec 20, 2012 at 17:27
  • This is great, thank you. For those using homebrew, these commands are available via the "poppler" package, e.g. brew install poppler. I come across this issue with PDFs from certain banks/suppliers. They open fine, but once I encrypt, or re-save, they turn to this garbled text. Asking the bank to embed fonts isn't an option. Paying for Acrobat Pro (needed for encryption) isn't an option either. This was all done with 10.11.5.
    – jaydisc
    Commented Jul 14, 2016 at 3:54

Opening the PDF in Chrome makes it readable.


The problem is most probably not with displaying the PDF on the Mac.

The problem is most probably that this is a faulty PDF created by someone who made an error, or does not understand how to make them correctly.

The person who generated the PDF on Windows used a method which did not embed the fonts from the source document into the PDF. Therefore anybody who views this PDF, on Windows, Mac or any other platform, will not see the fonts unless they happen to have that particular custom font already installed on their system.

Your best hope is to contact the person who generated the PDF and ask them to make a new PDF from the source document and to make sure that fonts are properly embedded.

If you open this PDF in Adobe Reader you can use File: Properties and then the Fonts tab to get a list of the names of all the fonts that are referenced in the document. It should also list the names of the fonts which are NOT properly embedded. You can use this information if you can get the person who created the PDF in the first place to make a new one.

  • You don't seem to have read the comments to the question, which indicate that the pdf does display on Mac when Adobe Reader is used, just not with Preview. Commented Sep 5, 2011 at 18:55
  • I still maintain there's a problem with font embedding or PDF encoding if Preview can't display it correctly. If using Adobe Reader solves the problem with this PDF, fine, but I don't think you've gotten to the root of the problem.
    – user9290
    Commented Sep 6, 2011 at 1:37
  • I already tried contacting my professor with no response. I wasn't going to pursue the matter; he's already not very good with computers. I've found it's a lot easier for me to figure out a way to open professors' files than to try and get them to change their ways. I chuckle at the Linux purists trying to explain to professors why they should use open standards and complaining when things don't open properly with GNU software.
    – Ricket
    Commented Sep 7, 2011 at 4:24

In my case, I embed the font in the pdf file. Acrobat Reader for Mac display the font properly (the intended font, not a subtitute). Preview show black squared, some sort of a bar code.

It's a Preview problem.

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