Acrobat: Strange Word document header behaviour

August 18, 2011

Here’s a strange one that my client had today. Kate (not her real name) was trying to PDF a Word 2007 document, something she’s done hundreds, if not thousands, of times before. The Word document was based on our project’s template — again, something we’ve used thousands of times. So there was no reason why something would go wrong between saving the Word document and generating the PDF. But it did.

Here’s what Kate got on every odd page — the header was spread vertically much wider than it should have been ([1] in the screenshot below):

A further — unrelated — complication was that all the ‘Arial Bold’ fonts were rendered as some sort of serif font in the resulting PDF ([2] in the screen shot). I’ve dealt with that issue in this blog post: https://cybertext.wordpress.com/2010/08/09/default-vista-fonts-not-available-office-2007/ so I won’t discuss that further here.

I had no idea what was causing the headers to be messed up on all odd pages in all sections (and there were quite a few landscape/portrait sections in this 120p document) of the generated PDF. I had a quick glance at the Word document but as Kate had mentioned in her email, the document and its Print Preview view looked fine. It was only when she created the PDF that it got all messed up.

Without doing anything, I tried creating a PDF from the document too — I had full Acrobat installed on my computer, whereas Kate was using the Save As PDF option in Word. That made no difference.

Next, I selected the entire borderless table in one of the odd page headers. I noticed that the font size in a single cell was set to 7 pt Arial (as expected), but when I selected the entire table, the font size was blank, which told me that various font sizes (and perhaps styles) were applied to the different cells and end of row markers.

Once I selected the entire table, I manually changed the font to 7 pt for all elements of the table, then generated the PDF to see if that made any difference. I had no expectation that it would — but it did! Suddenly, the header displayed as it should in the PDF. That was a surprise.

So I went to the next section’s odd page header and reapplied 7 pt font size to its table and created the PDF again. Voila! It displayed correctly too, so then it was a case of going into every odd page header, selecting the header’s table and reapplying the 7 pt font size to the entire table. Finally, I created the PDF again, and it was all correct.

I sent back the revised Word document to Kate — along with the nice clean PDF — and she was very happy. She was on a deadline to get this PDF to the State and Commonwealth government regulators by tomorrow, so I saved her skin.

However, I really don’t know what caused the problem in the first place, and why reapplying a font size (NOT a style) fixed it. It was also one of those things where I really had no clue what had caused it or how to fix it — it was just a serendipitous fluke that I tried the font size. And that it worked.

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