Have you ever had a moment when you discover something new about a subject you thought you were pretty great at already? It’s both amazing and deflating at the same time.
I first learned InDesign when I was a sophomore in high school, and I’ve been using it pretty consistently ever since. And yet, despite having more than a decade of experience with the program, I’m learning new features regularly. Sometimes it makes me feel dumb, in a “why didn’t I know about this from the beginning?” way. But other times, I get so excited, because this new and exciting thing is going to save me a bunch of time.
Some of these discoveries aren’t applicable in a whole bunch of situations, but there are 7 tools that I discovered after the fact that would have been really helpful to know when I first learned InDesign.
Align is definitely one of the tools I was angry to discover. Not because it’s a bad tool, but because I didn’t know it existed, and I had spent years meticulously trying to line up objects and distribute spacing evenly.
To access it, go to Window > Object & Layout > Align, and its own window will come up. From there, you can align all of your selected objects in different ways. You can also choose the Distribute Spacing options within the Align window to evenly space the objects between the farthest edges.
Seriously, the fact that I didn’t know about Align for years is a bit embarrassing. Now that I know it exists, I’m making sure everyone is aware of it.
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For the longest time, I saw people creating PDFs with hyperlinks in them and I was baffled at how they did it. Turns out, you can do that with a lot of programs, InDesign included!
To get to the Hyperlinks window, go to Window > Interactive > Hyperlinks. Then, select your bit of text or the object you’d like to link, and create a new hyperlink! I’ve got a full tutorial over here.
When I first learned InDesign, I had a vague understanding of what Page Masters were. They’re the background of the page, where you add and format things like page numbers. But I didn’t get why you’d want to use them.
Turns out it’s not just page numbers you can include on page masters! (Duh.) I started using them for the headers of my worksheets, so if a worksheet expanded to two or more pages, I didn’t have to copy and paste the entire header graphic onto the subsequent pages.
You can also add new layers within your page masters, meaning you can have consistent elements that float on top of your regular page content, not just behind it! Mind blown.
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Text Frame Auto-Size
Text frame auto-size is something I just recently discovered, and it’s amazing.
Typically when I create something in InDesign, I’m writing within InDesign, rather than typing the copy up in a word processor and then pasting it into InDesign. That means I often run out of room in my text box, so I’m constantly resizing or adjusting the font size.
Enter: Text frame auto-size. When you create a text box, you can choose if you want it to automatically get bigger once it runs out of room. Amazing, right?!
Plus, you can choose if it resizes itself vertically, horizontally, or both. So if you’re creating a headline and you know how tall it needs to be, but you’re not sure how wide it needs to be, just set it to auto-size the width, and it will adjust the width accordingly if it runs out of room as you’re typing!
To turn on auto-size, go to Object > Text Frame Options >Auto-Size, and change the drop-down from Off to whatever setting you want.
Character / Paragraph / Object Styles
The final three tools are lumped together because they’re very similar: character, paragraph, and object styles. You use these to set styles for different pieces of text, paragraphs, or objects. You can predetermine the font, font size, font weight, color, stroke, stroke weight, and more!
To access them, go to Window > Styles and select whichever styles you’d like to use.
At first, I didn’t really understand the purpose, but now I do. Styles are big time savers, yes—you can create an object or piece of text and then format it how you want it with one click. But there’s a bigger use here.
When I’m designing a worksheet or a book, I typically have to play around with it before I finalize the design. That means a lot of color changes, font changes, etc. Style settings make this easy, because you can give certain words, paragraphs, or objects a given style, and then change them all at once by updating the style!
For example, on a flyer that I created for work, I made all of the hyperlinks bold, italic, and pink. So I created a character style called Hyperlink and applied those settings to it. But let’s say I wanted to see it with all of the hyperlinks green instead of pink. I could highlight each individual word and change the font color, or I could open up the Hyperlink character style and change the color setting. Bam! It changes all of the words with the character style Hyperlink instantly.
You can do this for objects, too. If you’re creating a worksheet and want to have boxes for people to type in their answers, you can set a specific object style for the shade of grey you want those boxes to be. And if you decide it’s too dark once the rest of the worksheet is put together, you just change the object style to a lighter grey and you’re done!
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It can be really frustrating to use a program for several years and then find out there are easier ways to do things. But instead of having a negative attitude, get excited about the fact that you’re learning something new!
And if you’re new to InDesign, try to learn as many things as you can. Even when you start feeling like an expert, keep learning—you’ll be surprised about how much you don’t know.