compile to rtf with InDesign

Up at this hour, I’ll make it short, and as I don’t find any mention of the problem (or it’s solution) I’ve just seen.

I have a project which is a combination of notes towards a story and just fooling around with Scrivener iPad and with Beta Scrivener Windows 3 once it appeared on the table.

It looks fine in both. Tonight, since I’m warming up to do something more serious with the notes anyway, I compiled it to RTF on Windows. Then I placed this RTF in an ordinary text frame in InDesign, which is how you import.

Which led to a big surprise. Instead of my toying-around paragraphs coming out nicely, I got runs of pink crossed boxes in Indesign, randomly scattered through the text. No order to it – the same paragraph could be partly unreadable this way, and partly fine.

Usually pink boxes mean missing fonts in InDesign, but no amount of setting fonts fixed these.

Here’s the cropper. I did fix the Scrivener-compiled rtf. Two related ways. I opened it in Word (2013) and it looked fine, what I would expect. I saved as to produce a new rtf and a docx file. Both of these placed/imported perfectly into InDesign, text as it should be in fonts, sizes, bold, etc., and no pink boxes.

So, I know how to save this, and can offer that to others, but I’m a bit flummoxed at what’s happened. I’m pretty au fait with the software side of things, could imagine all kinds of things creeping into formatting, but that Word just automatically untangles it surprises.

The InDesign is CS6, the kind you don’t have to replace which in all other uses continues to work perfectly, which is saying something for the abilities it offers, and I have a shiny new Affinity Serif Publisher Beta waiting in the wings should Adobe completely do us in.

I should try this Scrivener compiled RTF on that to see what it does, but it is just far too late…

But of course i’m wondering if you know anything which could explain the issue, and thus whether it will stop happening on projects that are begun from a certain maturity of Scrivener 3 Betas (or iPad Scriveners) ?


Ok, I have gnu gnuz. And maybe some useful conclusions.

  • Ran Beta Affinity Publisher across the faulting-in-InDesign Scrivener Beta rtf compile. It took it without a murmur, and reproduced all formatting fine. No pink-box equivalents either. It just worked.
  • I made a kind of cleaned copy of the first elements of the project, by making a new project, pasting-matching-format into fresh pages, and freshly applying like formatting to the originals. Compiling variations of this fresher, shorter version gave rtfs all with the problems placed in Indesign. Word itself had no trouble with any of them.
  • I tried compiling to docx. Things still were not right in InDesign - no pink boxes, and character styles looked like they held, but paragraph styles as far as placement were often quite disturbed, such as left-margin titles moved to right margin.
  • Trying filtering now the Scrivener docx through Word 2013, I noticed that it said it was running in ‘compatibility mode’, so the docx output from Scrivener must be in an early format. The result in Word looked ok, not in this sample discernable from the Word rtf conversion, except both of them made some minor, differing errors with tables.
  • For a piece de résistance, I had a look at the text content of the Scrivener and Word rtf outputs. Well, they are seriously different. The Word variety has a great deal more code in it, which probably accounts for inDesign being so much better at figuring out its formatting – even though it originally derives from Scrivener’s rtf.

So, conclusions?

  1. Affinity Publisher, in this early Beta, just does this job exceptionally well, and otherwise shows great promise.
  2. It looks that Scrivener’s rtf and Word converter are a little simple, possibly early versions, and so if you want to compile for InDesign, it looks like the fix is to use Word itself as a filter to make things right.It doesn’t take long. Presumably newer versions will keep their ability to deal with the older formats; it’s one thing they’ve gotten and kept right, as business needs it.
  3. Unless later subscribe-your-life versions of InDesign do better, but on Adobe’s fixups record, kind of doubt that.
  4. I breathed a considerable sigh of relief that none of this seems to have to do with Scrivener 3’s text engine, or indeed a lot of swapping back and forth with iPad Scrivener. Well done, no worries apparent on that front, and good.


Libreoffice imports the RTF files pretty well – they look about as expected. However, it does output its own additions to the files, adding a bunch of stuff its programmers think are necessary (which aren’t, really).

The Rich Text format has ten different minor versions, and some of them are not compatible (see Wikipedia for more information and additional references). However, there is only one major version - 1 - and that’s in the {\rtf1…} line starting the file. There seems to be no minor version indicator anywhere in the file. And, as mentioned, not all of them are compatible with one another.

Any version of Word since 2008 should be able to import intelligibly every version of RTF.

I’d be curious as to which version Scrivener exports in compile.

Well, at a quick glance, it says it’s using your /rtf1

But then, so does the massive and much better working result of that passed through Word 2013…

One could wish it was meaningful, but at least we know what can help, for anyone who needs it.

I’ll see if I can’t run the original through LibreOffice at some point

Thanks, RWFranz