Design Domination Podcast Episode #155: 10 Time-saving InDesign Tips

Learn how to work more efficiently in Adobe InDesign with these time-saving 10 tips about features that most graphic designers don’t use. The more you know InDesign, the easier it is to incorporate accessibility into the layout process too.

In this episode of Design Domination, I’m going to talk about how you can save time in Adobe InDesign with these 10 time-saving InDesign features that most designers don’t know about or don’t use.

The better you know InDesign, the more efficient you will be. You’ll know how to do things correctly—and quickly—right off the bat. You can thank me later.

Also, the more you know InDesign, the easier it is to incorporate accessibility into your process. That’s because when it comes to creating accessible PDFs from InDesign, using proper practices in InDesign goes a long way toward that.

1. Document Presets

The first time-saving feature in InDesign is the Document Presets feature. You get to this by going to File > Document Presets > Define.

If you select the default setting and then Edit, this will be the default every time you create a new document. This can save you so much time.

Want to set a default page size? Go for it. If you rarely use single pages and usually create documents with facing pages, then check off the option for Facing Pages.

If most of your documents use a primary text frame, then check off that option. If you want to set default number of columns and size for the margins, gutter and bleed, go for it.

Every time you create a new document, it will use these settings.

If you save 15 seconds on every document you create, think of how much time you’ll save over your career. Just sayin’!

2. Adobe PDF Presets

The next one is the Adobe PDF Presets feature. It’s found under the File menu too.

This has so many uses. First off, when you’re exporting to PDF, if you’re constantly changing up the options, then you can save tons of time by creating presets to use on export based on your needs.

Second, you can save a preset from a client, such as if they have publications that need to meet certain specs.

You can even load a preset from a printer or another designer, so that you don’t have to manually set everything yourself.

Then you simply export to Adobe PDF (Print) and you will see all of your presets there.

I have a preset for client proofs, which is set to lower resolution.

I have another one for print, where it sets the bleed amount, crop marks, automatically downsamples images to 300 ppi and converts the document to CMYK. That not only saves times on export but I don’t have to go and change my images from RGB to CMYK. It gets done automatically upon export to the PDF.

I have other print presets that contain print settings for clients’ commercial printers.

3. Parent and Child Pages

Another feature you may not be using, which saves you tons of time is the use of parent pages. But not just parent pages—nested parent pages or child pages!

When you nest parent pages, you base one or more parent pages off another parent page.

To do that, you simply would create a new parent page or use an existing one by right-clicking on that master page that you want to nest elsewhere or you can click the fly-out menu in the pages palette and then click New Parent.

Then you can give it its own name and you just want to make sure that you select Based on Parent and select the name of the one that you want to base it on.

After you do that, if you want to, you can additional content to that page.

Why would you want to do this? Well, let’s say you have a long document with different sections. You might have one layout for the pages at the start of each section that is one column, has a colored background and has large margins. You might want to use another layout for text pages—maybe two columns, smaller margins and no colored background.

Having separate parent pages for each one is great, but when you nest all of your parent pages with different layouts on a single parent page that contains one or more common elements, then you don’t have to change in multiple places (all those master pages!) the content they have in common.

For example, you may want all (or most) pages to have a running footer with a page number. Instead of having the running footer be its own element on every single master page, you could have it on one master page and then base other masters off that.

That way, if you ever have to change the running footer (and/or running header, whatever you have), you can just change it in one place.

This really comes in handy when working with complex publications. You don’t have to worry about changing something on multiple parent pages. It’s one and done.

4. Smart Text Reflow

The Smart Text Reflow is a huge help, especially when you’re working on longer documents, but it’s helpful nonetheless on shorter ones too. It’s found in the InDesign Preferences menu under Type.

You can set it to automatically add pages to the end of a story, section or document. You can also limit it to primary text frames and have it automatically delete empty pages.

What makes this feature so handy is that once you copy and paste the text into the first page, it will automatically create additional pages based on the length of the copy. I believe it only deletes empty pages at the end of a story, section or document, but don’t quote me on that.

5. Text Variables

An awesome feature you may not be using is a text variable.

Here’s a great use case for this. When you have complex publications with different sections and you want them to have a different running header or footer, you might decide to create separate parent pages for each of them.

But guess what? You don’t have to do that when you use a text variable. So you’ll save time and you won’t have to create so many parent pages!

Just go to Type > Text Variables > Define.

There are tons of options you can use for text variables such as the file name, creation date, modification date, metadata caption, etc. Modification date could be especially helpful to input the date a file was last modified.

Then, for the scenario I just described, choose Running Header and then select Running Header (Paragraph Style). Then choose the paragraph style you want to grab the content from.

In other words, if you have a paragraph style called H1, let’s say, then choose that. You may also want to select First on Page.

You can also add in any characters you may wish to add before or after the title, such as a pipe, if you want to visually separate that from, say, a page number.

You also have the option to delete any end punctuation or change the case.

Then you go to the parent page where you want to add the text variable and insert it by going to Type > Text Variables > Insert Variable and then choosing the one you want to insert.

So you could have a text variable for the publication title and another one for a section title. You can name them whatever you like. You want to make it easy to remember what they are.

You could also use a text variable in the content of the file too, not just on a parent page.

6. Using Styles

I know designers hate using styles, but they save you so much time, especially when you set default styles and/or when you have a long document.

They are necessary in order to use text variables and to create a proper table of contents.

You can create your default:

  • Paragraph styles;
  • Character styles;
  • Object styles, so if you always want your images to always have a certain amount of text wrap, for example, or a border, you can set that;
  • Tables styles, including cell styles and designating their paragraph styles and assigning the cell styles in the table styles.

You can also set your default color swatches.

Just set them all with no documents open, so they become the default styles for new documents that you create from that point on.

These are huge time-savers, even if you need to change the fonts and colors in each document!

7. Based On

To save even more time, you can use the Based On feature in your paragraph styles—in your default paragraph styles too—to base certain styles on others that have attributes in common.

For example, you might have a main heading, a heading 1, style that is Source Sans Pro Bold and a heading 2 (subhead) style that you want to be the same other than the size and maybe color.

If you create that style to be based on the heading 1 style and then tweak the font size and color, then what that means is that if you ever change the typeface for the heading 1 style or add a paragraph rule, for example, it will also automatically change that in the heading 2 style as long as it hasn’t been manually changed in that heading 2 style.

If you manually change something in the “child” style and you want it to go back to inheriting the attributes of the parent style again, just click Reset to Base and redo any manual overrides you want to have.

So instead of changing maybe 10 paragraph styles individually to change the typeface or the color or something else they have in common, you can simply change only one or a few paragraph styles that will then affect the paragraph styles that are based on them.

This works too with any attribute you may set, such as the leading, space after, indents, paragraph rules, etc.

8. Paragraph Shading

The Paragraph Shading feature is awesome. I see a lot of designers not using this.

You can style text and give it a background without having to take the extra steps of adding a separate frame with the color and having to move it when text reflows.

All you have to do is set this on the paragraph style.

You can set the corner type—right angles, rounded, beveled, etc. You can also set the offset. Think of the offset as the margins.

You can set how the top and bottom edges align, if the width should be to the column or text, and whether or not it should clip to the text frame, so it won’t exceed the text frame.

The advantage to this over a separate frame with the color is that when text reflows, the background—the shading—goes with it! Cool, right?

9. Keep Options

Some of the other options I set in my default paragraph styles—and in all of my paragraph styles—are the Keep options. I have body text and bullets set to keep lines together, start 2, end 2. That means that I never have to go searching my documents for a stray single line of text anywhere.

I also set all headings to keep with the next 3 lines and to keep all lines together. That means I never have a multi-line heading split across a page, column or text frame, and the heading will stay with the next 3 lines of text that appear after it.

10. Span/Split Columns

My final tip is span and split columns. A lot of times designers will create a separate, single-column text frame for a headline or a full-width pull quote, when the body text is laid out in two columns.

Alternatively, they might create a new text frame in multiple columns when the body text is in a single column.

But did you know you can use just one text frame to do all of that?

You can use the Span or Split Columns feature on a paragraph style.

That means that if you use a single, two-column text frame for the body copy but want your headline or pull quote to be full width across the columns, you can use the Span Columns feature to do that. You don’t have to create a separate text frame and then try to calculate the proper spacing above and below the text frames before and after it.

This is a huge time-saver!

On the flip side, if you have a text frame with some copy in a single column, you might want to have, for example, some short, multi-column text of some short snippets or bullet points. You could set that text to split columns and force it to be in multiple columns instead.

This is great because you don’t have to create multiple text frames. If text reflows, you don’t have to try to reposition the text frames.

Mind blown, right?


So those are 10 of my top time-saving InDesign features that will save you tons of time and that I see many designers not taking advantage of.

Some can keep you from having to check page by page for certain text reflow issues, like I mentioned. Some will prevent you from having to create additional frames on the page. Some will keep you from having to add extra returns or breaks to get text where you want it to be.

Let me know your favorite time-saving InDesign tip in a comment.

I also mentioned that using InDesign properly goes a long way toward creating an accessible document. You can find out some common InDesign accessibility mistakes that most designers make.

Download the free guide.


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