Getting To Grips With InDesign Part 7: Working With Book Files

In the seventh part of the Getting To Grips series we will be covering the following topics:

  • How to create a book file
  • Adding documents to a book file
  • Specifying and customizing a page numbering
  • Creating a running header/footer


In this tutorial we’re going to be learning how to work with long documents, specifically focusing on book files, page numbering and running headers/footers. All of which are “must knows” if you want to put together anything larger/longer than your standard leaflet or brochure – book files are usually most helpful when working on documents over 10+ pages up to anything you like, keeping in mind there are printing restrictions that vary on your binding technique when it comes to actually producing your book!

Creating a book file

A book file is basically a type of InDesign document that allows you to insert normal InDesign documents to produce a book. So rather then creating the whole book in one document, you’d create each spread in one document, then import it into the book file, ready for you to layout in the correct order and add page numbers, footers and a table of contents.

So for this tutorial, you will need at least a few InDesign documents that you can insert. I’m just going to use a few of the InDesign files that I created in the previous articles in this series, which you can also download (you can find links to the other articles at the bottom of this post) – you can also download all of the InDesign documents if you download the source file for this post.

Before even creating our book file, make a copy of all the InDesign files you want to insert and place them all in a folder – I’ve called my folder “Getting To Grips” book.

It’s now time to create our book file. Open up InDesign and go to File > New > Book… to open up the new book setup window. When creating a new book file, you need to save it before moving on to the next step. Name it something suitable, and save it in a sub-folder called “Book” in the folder we just created to place our ID documents in.

Once you’ve created your book file, you be presented with a palette/window called “Book“.

Believe it or not, you’ve just created your book file…

Adding documents to a book file

We’re now swiftly moving on to adding some InDesign documents to our book file to actually make the book, well, more book-like! The book palette/window doesn’t actually display/contain the documents that you insert into it – it only produces a link to your book, which is why it is important to always name your documents in a sensible, suitable manner, such as 01-02, 03-04, 05-10 etc, obviously each number referring to the page numbers in your magazine or book.

You can add all of your pages at the same time, add them one-by-one, or add/remove them separately at any point – you can also reorder them and change the pages styling etc.

We’re going to add all of our documents at once, and then reorder them. In your “Books” palette/window, click on the plus (‘+’) icon to bring up the following window.

Locate the folder that you placed you InDesign documents in, select them all and then hit the open button. After a short wait (this could be longer depending on how many of and the size of your documents) you’ll see your documents appear in your “Books” palette/window, like seen below.

As you can see, the window displays the documents name, followed by which page numbers the document fills. Some of my documents are 1 page, others 2 pages, and some much bigger than that. All in all though, the documents combined will fill 36 pages.

To save your book file, you need to click on the little floppy disk icon in your “Books” window/palette.

By double-clicking on one of your document names in the list, you will open the original file. This is handy for quick editing – edit, save the document, and the book file will automatically update, as it just links to the documents rather than literally containing it.

Specifying page numbering

By specifying our page numbering it will allow InDesign to automatically track page numbering across multiple documents in a book. For example, you can specify page numbering options which will make sure your book contains up-to-date and continuous page numbers as documents are added, removed, or just rearranged.

Open up the options drop-down menu on your “Books” window (seen below) and select Book Page Numbering Options

You’ll be presented with a small window with several options/checkboxes. We’re going to make it so our book always continues on from an odd page (middle selection), and have it so it automatically adds a blank page if it doesn’t continue from an odd page. This is especially useful for books with chapters, as it is easy to make sure every chapter starts on either a left or right facing page.

Customizing page numbering

Customizing your page numbers is a very simple but usually fairly important task. It allows you to change the way you “number” your pages, for example:

  • 1, 2, 3, 4…
  • A, B, C, D…
  • i, ii, iii, iv…

The reason most books need this option is because page numbering usually starts at the first page with actual content on it, i.e. the first chapter of a book, yet you still want to number your other pages – this can be done using roman numerals or letters.

To number different sections of your book differently, select your first document (which could be your contents/about pages) and from the book panel menu, select Document Numbering Options.

This will open up your selected InDesign document. Select roman numerals or letters from the drop-down menu, and then press the OK button.

Save your book file by pressing the save icon in your book panel. You’ll notice that the first document in your book panel now has a small book icon next to it, meaning the document is currently open. The digits are also shown, in this case they read “i-xii”.

You’ll also notice that from the screenshot above you can see that the following documents still follow on from the previous page numbers. To fix this, select your second document, open up the Document Numbering Options again, and change the “Start page numbering at…” figure from 13 to 1.

They now read correctly…

Save your book file so you don’t lose any settings.

Creating a running header/footer

A running footer (or header) isn’t all that different to a normal footer or header, apart from it only runs across specified pages – for example, a common use for a running footer/header is to display the chapter number and chapter title (if there is one) at the top and bottom of each page. So, chapter one might have a header reading “Chapter One” and a footer reading “In the beginning…“, which will then automatically change to a header reading “Chapter Two” and footer reading “The next step” throughout the second chapter, and so on.

With your book file open, double-click on your second document to open the original file up in InDesign – this is where we want our running header to start. Go to Type > Paragraph Styles to open up the paragraph styles panel. Select the Type Tool, and type “Chapter One” in the header of your page, and then create a new paragraph style (you learnt this in an earlier lesson – see the end of this post for links) and after calling it “Running Header” apply it to your new text. It is important that you do this, as any text using the style “Running Header” will be turned into a running header.

With your new text still selected, go to Type > Text Variables > Define to open up the following panel.

Click on “New…” and rename your New Text Variable to “Chapter Number Header“. Select your “Running Header” style from the style, making sure your type of variable is set to running header. Leave the rest set to default, and click the OK, and then the Done button to close the text variables panel.

We’ve now created our text variable (our running header), but haven’t applied it. Click to view one of your master pages, and create a new text field in your header (or footer) where you want your running header/footer to appear. With your new text box still selected, go to Type > Text Variables > Insert Variable > Chapter Title Header to apply the running header.


Throughout this tutorial you should have picked up several tips on how to create and work with book files, and how they actually work. Many people think books are all placed into one document, but in most cases this isn’t the case; instead they are split into sections (usually chapters) and pieced together using a simple book file.

In the next and final tutorial in the Getting To Grips With InDesign series we will be looking at how to export your InDesign files to print-ready PDFs ready to send to press, both digital and lithographically.

Of course you might want to go through our previous InDesign tutorials:


  1. rafael says

    are the front/back cover and front cover inside/back cover inside separate files?

    would i need to submit 3 files to the a printer
    1) front/back cover
    2) front cover inside/back cover inside
    3) inside book pages


  1. Getting To Grips With InDesign Part 7: Working With Book Files…

    In this tutorial we’re going to learn how to work with long documents, specifically focusing on book files, page numbering and running headers/footers….

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