Getting To Grips With InDesign Part 1: Document Basics & Master Pages

InDesign is a powerful software application created by Adobe, the same creators of Photoshop, Illustrator, Fireworks and various other creative applications.

It is one of the industry standard applications used to create (or more likely “put together“) print documents, such as magazines and books. It can be used to produce print products from scratch, but is actually designed to import your already created graphics from other software such as Photoshop and Illustrator.

As well as multipage documents, it can also be used to create one-page documents, such as flyers and posters, however it isn’t used much for this purpose as both Photoshop and Illustrator are capable of this without having to export and import your graphics.

InDesign has one well-known competitor, QuarkXPress, which is also an industry standard application.

Document Basics & Master Pages – What will you learn?

This is the first “Getting To Grips With InDesign” article/tutorial – there are many more to come. We will update the articles accordingly with links to other articles from the same “series“.

In this first article we will be covering the following topics:

  • Setting up a new document.
  • What are Master Pages and how to work with them.
  • Using the rulers and guides.
  • Creating master placeholders.
  • Inserting automatic page numbers.
  • Creating title placeholders.
  • Applying master pages to document pages.
  • How to override master page objects.
  • Adding, arranging and deleting pages.
  • Creating text frames with columns.
  • Importing text into your document.

So, get comfy on your chair, sit back and start reading. We will include various screenshots throughout the article – you may want to open InDesign and try out some of the tasks while reading.

Setting up a new document

Setting up a new document in InDesign is similar to setting up a new document in almost any other application. Upon opening InDesign, you will be welcomed with a splash screen, asking if you want to open a recent item, create a new document or visit some of the InDesign community pages.


Under the Create New heading, we have four options: “Document“, “Book“, “Library” or “From Template…“. If you don’t have much time, you may find selecting an already set-up template (including placeholders and master pages) will save you a lot of time – but you don’t learn much!

So in this tutorial, we’re going to creating a new document. Select “Document“. We’re hit with a “New Document” window. Here you can set the number of pages you want, and whether they are facing pages. Let’s say we want a 10 page book, with facing pages. Change the number of pages to 10, and make sure the facing pages checkbox is ticked. Select the size of your page, for this example we’re going to use A5. We can leave everything else how it is, which is the default document settings.


After clicking OK to set up your document, we are presented with our main InDesign workspace. Just like most Adobe applications, we have our toolbar on the left, panels on the right, and a settings bar at the top.


If you have set-up your document but forgot to add something, it’s easy to change it. Go to File > Document Setup, and you will have the option to change your page sizes, and how many pages you have. If you click on more options, you also get the option to add document bleeds and slugs.

If you want to get your document printed (commercially) you will need to set these up. If you’re designing to export as a PDF to be distributed online or on disc, you won’t need these options. Different printers require different sizes bleeds and slugs – check with your printers to make sure you are setting your document up to their specification. In the UK, for example, most printers require a 3mm bleed, so I am going to add a 3mm bleed to my document.

For multipage documents, it is always helpful and usually a requirement to have our pages panel open. It should already be in your right sidebar, but if not you can reopen it by going to Window > Pages. This panel basically shows us all of our pages, which pages appear next to each other, and also shows us each pages number. It also allows us an easy way to view a particular page full-size just by double-clicking the specific page you want to view.

The top section of the pages panel shows us our master pages. In this particular case our master pages consist of two facing pages.


What are Master Pages?

Master Pages are used to display the same information on each page throughout your document – you can think of them like a template for specific pages. For example, if you wanted a company logo to be displayed in the footer of each of your pages, you can apply a master page to each one.

You are not restricted to just one master page, however. You can set up two (and even more than that), allowing you to apply different master pages to different pages, speeding up your work progress but allowing you to have a little bit of variation at the same time. For example, in a magazine layout, a layout designer may have a master page set up for a particular feature that they publish in every issue of their magazine, allowing for them to easily import text and graphics into the already set up placeholders.

It’s a simple and quick way to produce consistent design without having to fiddle around too much with dimensions and placements.

Working with Master Pages and Guides

If you’re reading this, I already assume you know what a guide is, as you more probably have some experience in Photoshop or Illustrator. A guide is a one pixel wide line that appears on your monitor, but will not print when your document is sent to press, and will not show up once you have exported your document to PDF. Guides can also be hidden if you don’t want to view them whilst they are of no use to what you’re currently doing.

Adding guides to your Master Pages is easy. Double-click on your “A-Master” pages, found in the top section of your pages panel. The two master pages will appear in your document window.

There are various ways to add guides. You can either drag them directly out from your documents rulers, or add them to your document precisely by going to Layout > Create Guides. We’re going to do it the precise way, so go to Layout > Create Guides.

We’re going to set up a grid guide for our master pages. Make sure the preview checkbox is ticked – this will allow us to see where our guides are being placed. Also make sure the fit guides to margins checkbox is ticked – this will fit the guides evenly between the guides rather than the page, which is what we want as we will be making sure all text is placed within our margins rather than our page.

Add 8 rows with a gutter of 0mm, and 2 columns with a gutter of 3mm and click OK.


With our Master Pages now filled with guides, you will notice that all of our pages now have this guides set up. You can view all of the pages at the same time by zooming out – you can do this by going to View > Zoom Out.


Working with Master Pages and Text

Now you have seen how simple it is to use the master pages feature in InDesign, we will move on to adding some text on our master pages. Any text (or images) that you place on the master pages will also appear in the same place on all other pages that have the master page applied to them – it is very ideal for things such as a footers, logos and headers.

Double-click back onto your A-Master master page. Zoom in (View > Zoom In) so the master pages fill your screen, or go to View > Fit Spread In Window to do this automatically. Select the Type Tool and drag out a selection box in the footer of your left master page, just as you would in any other document using any other application with the same tool. Fill in your text box with some text – I’m going to use “SpyreStudios InDesign Basics“.


With that done, you should now see this piece of text on every single one of your left hand pages – you can simply copy and paste the text box onto your right hand page if you want it to appear there, too, unless you want to add page numbers. In that case, read onto the next step.

Working with Master Pages and Current Page Numbers

You’re probably wondering how to add page numbers to your pages. This is surprisingly easy. Still viewing the A-Master master page, click on your existing text box. Resize it so that it is the full width of the margins on your page. Double-click in the text box to start editing the text, and move the cursor to the start of your text box before any other text appears.

Go to Type > Insert Special Character > Markers > Current Page Number. The letter “A” will appear. This letter represents the A-Grid-Footer master – basically meaning it knows what current page it is on, and will actually present the page number on your real pages and not your master page.


To add some whitespace between our page number and our normal text, go to Type > Insert Whitespace > Em Space.


We now need to duplicate our left footer page number and text onto our right page in the A-Master master page. Doing this is really simple. You could of course just retype it out, but if you want to save a minute or two, you can simply select the Selection Tool and whilst holding the Alt Key on Windows, or the Option Key on Mac OS, click on the footer text box and drag it across to the other page, making sure it lines up with the correct guides.

Double-click your new text box and select all of the text within it and align the it to the right. Delete the Em Space, and then cut and paste the “A” on to the right hand side of your text and then reinsert your Em Space using the same technique we used earlier.


You should now be able to view any of your pages, and see that the correct page number is being displayed! This works for any size document you have – whether it’s 5 pages long, 50 pages long or 500 pages long.


Renaming & Creating New Master Pages

As mentioned earlier, InDesign can support more than one master page, making it possible to have certain sections use one master page, and the rest of the document use another master page. If you’re going to do this, renaming your master pages is incredibly helpful to avoid using the wrong one. It takes 10 seconds to rename a master page.

Double-click on your “A-Master” master page and select the drop down list in the pages panel (see screenshot below). Select “Master Options for A-Master“.


A Master Options window will pop up, allowing you to modify its prefix (A), its name (Master), the master it is based on (None) and how many pages the master page has (2). Change it’s name to “Grid Guides & Footer Numbers“.


You will see now that “A-Master” has changed to “A-Grid Guides & Footer Number“.

To create new master pages, you can select the new master option from the same drop down list that we just used. Call this master “Header Shape“. By basing the master on another master (i.e. our Grid Guides & Footer Number master page) it will, at first, appear exactly the same.

We can add new elements to this master page, whilst it still keeps the elements from our original master. This is especially useful for this particular case as we still want our page numbers to appear on all of the pages that our new master page is applied too as well.


Double-click on your new master to view it in our main document window. It should look identical to our original master page. Any changes we make to our original master page will also appear on our new master page.

Creating simple one-color graphics & title placeholders

We’re going to create a simple one-color graphic and a text placeholder for our new master page, which will act as a header for particular sections of our document.

First of all, make sure you are viewing our new master page. Select the Rectangle Tool and drag out a selection over our double page spread, as seen below. Fill it with a color of your choice. Remember, we’re just learning how to use InDesigns features here – so don’t spend hours just making things look good! Make sure your shape spreads right to the edge of the bleed. You’ll notice that this blue shape only appears on our new master page, and not our original. It also doesn’t appear on any of our pages yet, as we have not yet applied this master page to any of them!


Next, we’re going to be adding a title (heading) placeholder. With your new master page still selected, select the Type Tool and drag out a text box over your new blue shape – only stretch the text box as far as the right margin on the left page. Type “Heading One…“, increase the text size and change the color (if you want too!). Repeat the same process for the right hand site of our master page, but this time with smaller text – maybe this area could be for an enlarged quote.


Applying Master Pages to Document Pages

We’ve now set up two master pages – one of which has already been (automatically) applied to all of our pages. Now, however, we need to tidy this up. For a starters, we don’t want our page numbers to be displayed on our front and back covers, as there are (obviously) covers and not pages. We also want to apply our header master page to a few of our double-spread pages.

Removing and applying master pages to document pages is very simple. All you have to do is drag and drop. In the top section of the pages panel, you will have three master pages: “None“, “A” and “B“.

Click and drag “None” on to your front and back cover. You’ll now see that your front page doesn’t contain anything, but your first page is still numbered “2“. To change this, right-click on your first page (the left side page of your first double spread) and select Numbering & Section Options. A “New Section” window will appear. Make sure “Start Page Numbering at:” is selected, and change “1” to “2“. Click OK.


Drag your “B” master page onto any of the pages that you want to have a headline on. I’m going to place it on every other double spread page, as seen below.


Overriding Master Page Objects

In its current state, we can’t actually zoom in to one of our document pages and edit the placeholder text that we applied in our “B” master page.

This is because all the content in our master pages is currently locked to avoid us accidentally clicking on, resizing and moving the content. We won’t want to be able to do this as default because it would defeat the whole object of having master pages, which is to keep our design consistent throughout the document.

Overriding our master page items on our document pages is a pretty easy task though, so don’t worry! As with most things in InDesign, once you get your head around the hundreds of tools, it’s easy to get the hang of.

Zoom right in to your first heading that you want to edit. If you try to select your placeholder text box containing “Heading One…” it simply won’t recognize that it is there. There is a simple way to “unlock” it, though. Hold down Shift+Ctrl (Windows) or Shift+Command (Mac OS), and then try clicking on the placeholder text box.

You should now be able to edit it – put in a heading that suits this particular page. Doing this will unlock the text box forever, not just temporary – so be sure you don’t move it.


You can use the exact same technique to select the quote and blue shape. Select the blue shape, and change its color – again, this will unlock the shape forever, not just on a temporary basis.


Adding, Arranging and Deleting Pages

By now you should be getting the hang of the basic tools, pages and master page options in InDesign, and you’ve probably seen how to add, arrange and delete pages in InDesign already, if not by purpose, by mistake!

Adding new pages is a very handy feature to have. You never know when you may need an extra page or two – maybe a client found another advertiser at the last minute or another article came in that only just managed to hit the deadline? Without these feature, it’d be a pretty big pain to re-do everything!

In the pages panel, there is a new page symbol at the bottom – similar to the one used for new layer in both Photoshop and Illustrator. When you click on this, it inserts a page below the one you are currently on, and also applies the same master pages to it. We want to insert a new double spread beneath your last heading page. With the last heading page selected, click on the new page icon. A new page that looks exactly the same as the one above it will appear.

We don’t want it to have the heading master page applied, so simply drag “None” onto the new double page spread, and then drag the “A” master page on to it. This will give the new page our footer text and page numbers.


Deleting pages is as easy as selecting the page you want to delete and clicking on the delete key icon directly next to the new page icon, and to reorganize certain pages you can simply click and drag a page in your pages panel to it’s new position. As we have used the special page numbering feature, all page numbers will update themselves automatically.

Creating Text Frames with Columns

Creating text frames with columns is yet another feature InDesign has that we would miss a lot if it wasn’t available. We’re going to add this text frame to our “B” master page frame so that it gets applied to all of our pages with that particular master page applied – this will save us from doing the same thing several times.

Double-click on your “B” master page, and select the Type Tool. Drag out a new text box, making sure it snaps to each margin.


Copy the text box we just created, and paste it on the right side, making sure it lines up against the same guides and margins. As this is a magazine/book layout, we want these two text boxes to link, so that the first one flows into the second. We also want them to have two columns each. So, in total, there will be 4 columns across two pages, all of which flow into the next column.

Select the Selection Tool and click on your first text box, and then whilst holding the Shift-Key, click on your second text box. With them both selected, select the Type Tool. In the control panel above your document window, click the up arrow next to the columns box to increase it to two (see screenshot below).


We now need to link our two columned text boxes together so that they flow into one another. This is super easy to do, but is quite difficult to explain. Select the Selection Tool and click on your first text box. You’ll notice that there is a little square towards the bottom corner on the right side – see the screenshot below.


Click on the little square. An icon should appear – it should look like several lines of text. Once that has appeared, click directly onto your second text box. The icon you just saw (of the text) should have changed into a little chain. If it has, your text boxes are now officially linked! If not, try again – you’ll figure it out eventually!

Importing Text in to your Document

InDesign is not a text editing application, and is not designed for writing your text directly into it – although it is perfectly capable of doing so, editors tend to write their copy into an application that is dedicated to word processing, such as Microsoft Word or OpenOffice Writer.

If you haven’t already got any text you want to place into your document, quickly create a dummy document. I’m actually going to use the original file of what you’re currently reading.

Go to File > Place, and select a .doc document. When you have opened your text document, you will see the first few lines of it. Simply click on your text box, and the .doc documents contents will automatically be placed into your text box, and should flow across all four columns as we set this up in the previous step.


Placing text will automatically copy the styles that were used in the document. To change it back to “normal” you can highlight all of the text in the text box and simply change the font and size of the text. You can also play with the leading and tracking to get it to look how you want it. Remember, this is just a practice run, so you haven’t got to make it perfect. We will be coming to typography settings in a future “Getting To Grips With InDesign” tutorial.



So there we have it, our first ever “Getting To Grips With InDesign” tutorial/article. We have covered various subjects throughout article (well done for getting to the end – and thank you!), and hopefully now you can open up InDesign and not find it so daunting. It is a very powerful application with a ton of great features – with a bit of reading and lots of practice you can become an expert at it.

We have had several requests for InDesign articles and tutorials, so hopefully this idea will answer many of your questions. We have plenty more ideas lined up for this series, as well as some shorter tutorials to create one-off designs such as CV/Resume’s. If you have an idea that you would like to see put into practice here at SpyreStudios, please let us know. Any comments will be greatly appreciated – we want to know how much this helped you!


  1. says

    Great article, thanks a lot. I am currently working on a PDF Tutorial which keeps growing, looking forward for tips about grids and layouts. InDesign is indeed a powerful application, especially when you got a lot of content.

    Can’t wait for the next part, nice work :)

  2. Piotr Wolujewicz says

    Good tut for beginners. One thing that i would not agree is a statement that InDesign is a Quark competitor, those times passed long ago. In my opinion – Quark died when IDCS2 emerged on publishing arena. Why do i think so? Let’s take such tools like: Tables, Data merge, Styles nesting, Find&Change/Grep, Book feature and automatic reflowing document after adding additional pages i don’t mention the compatibility with Illustrator or Photoshop – it does not matter here. Those are common features which helps me doing my everyday work as typographer and DTP operator, i’m saving precious HOURS (yes thats true – number of hours) which i would spend working in Quark. One more thing – i was Quark oriented few years ago – but left this church when started to use ID. Thats most powerful app i ever used in my work and i do strongly recommend it to everyone who wants to work in prepress and design industry.

  3. Clervius says

    @Piotr Wolujewicz like the way I learned everything else… I basically taught myself InDesign on-the-job. I’ve had the chance only once to compare it to Quark and I definitely agree that inDesign is a much more powerful application. I like it so much, I used it to make my Resume

  4. says

    Hi Callum,

    Hopefully many new users will get touch over such a good tool that Indesign is. I work with prepress software for ages, should be arround 15 years of experience, since my highschool newspapers. I do agree with Piotr that maybe Quark should be notified as InDesign predecessor or competitor (but not vice versa) or similar program, but ID went so far away that Quark cannot catch any more. However many big sistems still use it since their workflow is to expensive to change over to ID. I think there is no bright future for QxD anyway.

    Let’s get back to ID. I have vast experience about using InDesign for absolutely every use, bit limited on web side, but that will change soon too. I made magazines, newspapers, brochures, single and multipage advertisements. I have experience, and would be ready to write guest post tutorial(s) if you accept that. Problem is that everything that comes to my mind is so simple that I ask myself “who’s gonna read that?”.
    Just give me issue and I will cover it, if you agree of course.

  5. says

    I saw a switch with the first indesign simply based on price, they both did the same thing just as good as one another, but the difference in price here in Australia was one copy of quark or five copies of indesign for the office. With that in mind, it no longer becomes a difficult choice.

    I can’t say that quark even competes with indesign these days. It wins hands down with al its built in functionality and the ability to use native psd and ai format files in the layouts.

  6. says

    Great tut! I have been an Indesign user for a few years now and until now not really explored the masterpages feature. This has really helped my discover what I have been missing.

  7. Martin says

    I’ve used InDesign for a number of years now and I would have killed for such a well written and documented introduction to it when I started.

    Good work on this article, I’ll deffinatly be keeping an eye on this feature, it’s always good to brush up on the basics once and a while!

  8. says

    You guys are right; Quark WAS InDesigns competitor. The reason I said it is because it still is its closest competitor – there isn’t much out on the market that compares to it. Also, Quark is still used on a large scale for some huge print firms, as a lot of magazine and books are still sent in using Quark files. I know this because my dad works at a print firm (who print for Aston Martin and various other huge companies).

    Obviously they use InDesign too, but unfortunately there are still people using Quark!

    Anyway, glad you are all enjoying the article/tutorial – I’ll be writing more very soon! :)

  9. says

    It’s awesome article , lots of details and very clear explanation was fantastic.
    Can’t wait for more tuts.

  10. says

    Hi Callum,

    Very good tutorial indeed. Really appreciate work like this, very helpful in learning an application properly, rather than using the “hit and miss” approach.

    Thanks again,

  11. Erica Preo says

    I have a question for you, I didn’t see the answer in your tutorial which looks great. I have overridden my master page on every page in my document but I want to add page numbers. Adding them to the original (there’s just one master page) doesn’t seem to make them appear on individual pages. Please tell me I don’t have to manually add them to each page! Thanks!

  12. Tom says

    I have a question also to do with page numbers.

    I want it to say 1 on the inside page but it always says 2 how do I get it to do that?

    It seems a bit odd most of the brochures i’ve looked at the inside cover (page 2) is 1 or sometimes page 3 is 1.

    I’ve even tried next and previous in special character marker but that still says 2, if I change the start numbering to 1 on the numbering and section it comes up with a warning and adds another page so I have two page 1s!

  13. Tom says

    I think I’ve found the solution, I’m not sure if its a mistake in your tutorial or CS5 but with my version when I change the start page numbering to 2 it just stays at page 2 (which to me makes sense as if it starts at page 2 then its going to say page 2) but when I put 1 instead I get an single facing extra page 1.

    However if I turn off ‘allow selected spread to shuffle’ then I can start page numbering at 1 and it doesn’t add another page 1

  14. Tom says

    Sorry for the barrage but I thought I should say thanks for the tutorial it really did help even though I got a bit stuck, loving the others too!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

* Copy This Password *

* Type Or Paste Password Here *