Madyson Designs

Design solutions for web, print, and multimedia

InDesign 101

InDe­sign can seem daunt­ing to begin­ners since there is so much going on. I rarely come across tips and tricks for InDe­sign the way I do Pho­to­shop, CSS, and other web-related tech­nolo­gies. Per­haps there is just more audi­ence for web-related infor­ma­tion on the web. Hope­fully this guide will help new InDe­sign users become more effi­cient and more knowl­edge­able about such a pow­er­ful and flex­i­ble piece of soft­ware.

When start­ing a new print doc­u­ment using InDe­sign, there are a few steps you should take when set­ting up your doc­u­ment to make things eas­ier down the line. A lit­tle plan­ning will make your doc­u­ment eas­ier to design, eas­ier to have printed, eas­ier to col­lab­o­rate on, and eas­ier to revise and add on to in the future. These tips are just gen­eral InDe­sign good prac­tice, rather than a spe­cific tuto­r­ial, and is mainly geared to InDe­sign begin­ners. Know­ing these things when I started would have saved me a lot of time and energy.


Doc­u­ment Setup

Document Setup

This would nor­mally seem fairly straight­for­ward, but the deci­sions you make here will affect the doc­u­ment through­out the entire process. It’s much more effi­cient to set them up cor­rectly ini­tially than it is to change them down the road. Here are the impor­tant things you should consider:

  • Paper Size– InDe­sign gives you sev­eral pre­sets for stan­dard paper sizes. In most cases, you can sim­ply select one. How­ever, if you are mak­ing a non-standard sized doc­u­ment, such as an adver­tise­ment, you will need to set cus­tom dimen­sions. If you fre­quently work with spe­cific sizes, you can add your own pre­sets to save time.
  • Fac­ing Pages– Make sure you decide if your doc­u­ment will be bound. Whether this is selected or not will con­trol how your mas­ter pages are laid out and they will not auto­mat­i­cally update if you change this in the future. It will require cre­at­ing new mas­ters and repli­cat­ing any mas­ter objects.
  • Columns and Mar­gins– This is some­what related to your grid, but set­ting up how many columns you want on a page and the edge mar­gins will help you keep every­thing aligned nice and neatly. I find it eas­ier to work in points here, as you can relate it more eas­ily to your base­line grid.

Grid & Guides

Grids and Guides

It’s impor­tant to have some sense of align­ment when design­ing a doc­u­ment, and set­ting up a grid can make this eas­ier. Fol­low­ing a grid lay­out will make your design much more cohe­sive and rhyth­mic. First off, set up your base­line grid. Go to InDe­sign Pref­er­ences and select the Grids pane. Here, you can decide what the default spac­ing is. Again, it’s often eas­ier to work in points. You can set this to what­ever the lead­ing for your body text will be, or if you need more flex­i­bil­ity, you could set it to half of your lead­ing. This will make get­ting things aligned a lit­tle more dif­fi­cult but will give you a lit­tle more room to fudge your lay­out if you need to. Uncheck the box for ‘Grids In Back’ if you would like it to be vis­i­ble over the items on your page. After you’ve set up your base­line grid, you can set up your hor­i­zon­tal sec­tions. This will deter­mine where your copy blocks, head­ers, images, and other items will be placed– basi­cally hor­i­zon­tal columns. Drag hor­i­zon­tal guides out of the ruler at the top of your page and place them where you want things to line up. Since you’ve set up your base­line grid, the guides will snap into align­ment with your text automatically.


Color Swatches

Color Swatches

Set­ting up all your color swatches before you start your doc­u­ment will save you time down the road. If you think about what col­ors you are using and add them as swatches, you can just pick them from the palette, which can also make your design deci­sions eas­ier. In terms of choos­ing par­tic­u­lar col­ors, using a ser­vice like Adobe Kuler or Color Lovers can help you to pick sin­gle col­ors or an entire color palette. There are two ways to add col­ors swatches to your document:

  • If you know the CMYK color val­ues or you have a Pan­tone color num­ber, you can pick ‘New Color Swatch’ in the Swatches palette menu and type it in. You can also use the CMYK value slid­ers to choose a color using this method.
  • If you have picked or cre­ated a color scheme through Kuler etc., you can directly import the Adobe Swatch Exchange file by select­ing ‘Load Swatches’ in the palette menu. You will then be able to browse to the swatch file you down­loaded and the color swatches will be auto­mat­i­cally added for you.

Mas­ter Items

Master Page Items

Now that your page is pre­pared, you can begin to lay it out. But in most doc­u­ments, there will be items in com­mon with all pages. This can be as sim­ple as a back­ground image and page num­ber, or can be as rigid as hav­ing every text and image block laid out ready to fill in. To access your mas­ter page, open the Pages palette and double-click the default mas­ter page that InDe­sign auto­mat­i­cally adds for you. Any­thing you place on this page will appear on any page or spread of your doc­u­ment.  If you are using spreads (Fac­ing Pages), it will know what you’ve placed on a left hand page and what you’ve placed on a right hand page. One great thing about mas­ter pages is that you can set up vari­ables that will be pop­u­lated for each page or for each sec­tion, no mat­ter how you shuf­fle pages or spreads around. For exam­ple, to set up a page num­ber that will appear on every page sequen­tially, add a text box where you want the page num­ber to appear. Under the Text menu, select Insert Spe­cial Char­ac­ter > Mark­ers > Cur­rent Page Num­ber. It will show up as ‘#’ and you can then select this text and for­mat it how you want. When you start to lay out your doc­u­ment, new pages will auto­mat­i­cally have the cor­rect page num­ber added, and if you need to reorder pages, InDe­sign will update the num­ber­ing for you rather than hav­ing to edit each page manually.


Now that you have your doc­u­ment foun­da­tion laid out, you can jump into the cre­ative design por­tion. This should come a lot faster since you have planned your frame­work; and you can also spend less time on the picky issues such as align­ment and col­ors, and spend your time mak­ing some­thing beau­ti­ful. What else do you con­sider manda­tory for new doc­u­ments? Leave a com­ment and let every­one know!

14 Responses to “InDesign 101”

  1. Nice post, and you’re right; qual­ity InDe­sign tuto­ri­als, tips or arti­cles are few and far between. One of many things I was hop­ing to take a closer look at down the road. Nice!

  2. Tony says:

    Great arti­cle! Found it really use­ful espe­cially the mas­ter items para­graph. I learned once how to insert the page num­bers, but for­got. Set­ting up color swatches at the start, before work­ing on the doc­u­ment, now that’s a use­ful pro­duc­tive tip, I think. Only thing that is still a bit con­fus­ing for me is the grids and guide­lines, but I think that with some prac­tice, It’ll make more sense.

    Do you think that for a future arti­cle, you could talk about page bleeds? It’s the one sub­ject that con­tin­ues to elude my understanding.

  3. Sarah says:

    Thanks for the com­ment, Tony. I can def­i­nitely fol­low this up with infor­ma­tion about bleeds. You are right, it’s one of the things that can be a lit­tle con­fus­ing at first.

  4. loswl says:

    Great begin­ners Tut, great to see some­one place a In Design Tuto­r­ial online, there is so lit­tle sup­port for such a great pro­gram, :o)

    loswl’s last blog post..Cre­ation: The Dawn of Mankind — Part1

  5. […] to InDe­sign, I’ve writ­ten a 101-style tuto­r­ial on how to set up your doc­u­ment that you can check out on my blog here. As you can see in the screen­shot, I’ve gath­ered all my items into a folder and saved my […]

  6. […] to more projects like this in the future. This tuto­r­ial is great for those of you who enjoyed InDe­sign 101 and are look­ing to put your new skills to good use! Head on over to Out­law Design Blog to check it […]

  7. […] new to InDe­sign, I’ve writ­ten a 101-style tuto­r­ial on how to set up your doc­u­ment that you can check out on my blog here. As you can see in the screen­shot, I’ve gath­ered all my items into a folder and saved my document […]

  8. […] new to InDe­sign, I’ve writ­ten a 101-style tuto­r­ial on how to set up your doc­u­ment that you can check out on my blog here. As you can see in the screen­shot, I’ve gath­ered all my items into a folder and saved my document […]

  9. flashplayer says:

    Nice!

  10. LnddMiles says:

    Great post! I’ll sub­scribe right now wth my fee­dreader software!

  11. MichaellaS says:

    tks for the effort you put in here I appre­ci­ate it!

  12. shiexia says:

    hi. great article!

  13. PatShelby says:

    what a great site and infor­ma­tive posts, I will add a back­link and book­mark your site. Keep up the good work! :)