Basic InDesign: Layouts, Type, and Images

Anne Ditmeyer, design + communication

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12 Lessons (2h 6m)
    • 1. Welcome + Understanding Creative Suite

    • 2. The Tools of InDesign

    • 3. Setting Up Your Document

    • 4. Inserting Images

    • 5. Working with type

    • 6. The Fun Stuff

    • 7. Layouts 101

    • 8. Working with Master Pages

    • 9. Paragraph and Character Styles

    • 10. Polishing your project

    • 11. Exercise: Practice Layouts

    • 12. Preparing files for export, print + packaging

30 students are watching this class

Project Description

Design a portfolio, photo essay or lookbook

Welcome + InDesign Overview

  1. Get InDesign ready on your computer

    If you already have InDesign on your computer, jump ahead to the next lesson! Don't worry if you don't have the latest version. I'll be working with CS6 on a Mac, but the software is fairly standard across versions.

    If you don't already have InDesign downloaded on your computer, download the 30-day free trial. Be aware that you may have to update your operating system. I'd recommend downloading it when you know you have time to work with the program. Another option is to watch all of the lessons before downloading the software. It always helps to follow along, but you can always re-watch the lessons at any time.

    The latest version of InDesign is referred to as CC or CreativeCloud. CS refers to Creative Suite (the bundle that includes InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator, and Bridge). Under the CC memebership you'll have access to even more Adobe software. 

  2. Brainstorm your project board

    I like to create assignments that have real-life application. It would be great if you could make something in this course that will help you in your own work. 

    The way this class is designed is to show you how I use InDesign to put together a presentation. It's also great for creating presentations, project/mood boards (I used to do these when I worked in the marketing department of an architecture firm), lookbook or photo essay. 

    Think about a series of images you have that you'd like to put together as if showing them to a friend or client in a more polished form. Ideally your project will also have a bit of text to go with each image.

    There are many ambitious projects in the student gallery, which is great, but if you're a first time InDesigner, realize it's going to take some added and outside research on your part. Pay close attention to the extra exercises, as well as taking the time to dig through the Additional Resources.

  3. Choose a size for your project + justify your decision

    For the example created in class we will be setting up a document with the proportions of an iPad. Consider how where/how you will be presenting the project you will create will help inform the format (size + horizontal/vertical orientation) that you choose. If you live in Europe your document [paper] size may be different than someone based in the US. 

    Note any factors that you need to consider in choosing your document size and that to your project page.

  4. Open a New Document in InDesign

    This document will serve as the base for your final project.

    1. File Edit -> New Document
    2. Choose how many pages (you can update, add and subtract pages later)
    3. Select your page size (remember you can type in any units you want)
    4. Decide if you want portrait or landscape orientation
    5. If you don't want facing pages, make sure you unclick the box
    6. You can edit your document size any time under Edit -> Document Setup
    7. Once you're in your document you may want to change the units that appear on the horiztonal and vertical ruler. You can do this by holding the control button while you click with the cursor on the ruler and scroll down to select your unit. Remember, even if the units are marked in one system, you can type any unit into the box (i.e. in, cm, mm, px) and the program is smart enough to convert it.

Images + Words + Shapes

  1. Organize and name your images

    The more time you spend organizing your project up front, the more you'll save your sanity later. Sure, you may know where things are now, but imagine you need to update the file a year from now, will you still be able to find everything?

    Start selecting the images you want to use for your project. Name them something recognizable, and save them all to an "images" folder for this project.

    Don't worry if you're not a "visual person." Even if you're a writer you could make your final project using a series of screenshots of clips you've written. Feel free to get creative and make this project work for you!

    If you're new to InDesign, take some time to explore working with images, cropping, enlarging, resizing, etc.

  2. Decide which font(s) to use for your project

    It's totally fine if you want to stick with one font for this project. In fact it could be a good challenge! Go with something classic and trust worthy.

    A general good rule of thumb is no more than 3 fonts, and only 1 of those is a display font (typically only reads well at larger sizes anyway). Also, you don't want to choose fonts that are too similar, so it'd be better to have one serif and one sans-serif.

    If you already have a brand identity, it's best to stick within these guidelines so that all your materials match.


  3. Explore embelishments and details

    Explore these new tools. Think about any shapes, glyphs, extras, etc you may want to add to your layouts [header, footer, text] to help make them more personal or match your brand identity. Even your logo small in the corner can be a design element, or even just a touch of color somewhere. How can you express your personality through a simple document while not distracting the viewer from the actual images/portfolio piece?

    You may want to start by sketching out ideas on paper. As you think about what you want your layouts to look like, then these extra touches may become more apparent.

    Don't feel like you have to over-do it. Remember, less is more!


  4. Start your cover page

    Start thinking about the cover page for your portfolio or photo essay. (This page will be a bit different from the page layout inside).  Consider the following:

    • Is it one big photo?
    • Is it so zoomed in you only see part of the photo?
    • Does it fill the entire page?
    • Does it bleed of the page? All sides?
    • Does it have white space?
    • Do you even need an image?
    • What about just one color?
    • Do you want a title? A logo?
    • Do you want your name on the cover? Date?

    It's a good idea to start with sketches on paper. Don't worry about being perfect at this stage. We'll finesse later.

    You can always design a few variations and ask friends or family which one they like best.

  5. Share screenshots

    Upload some screenshots of your project as you go so your classmates and I can give feedback. Design is a process and feedback is a great way to get better.


    Bria P.'s project.

Putting it Together: Layouts

  1. Sketch a few layout ideas on paper

    If you haven't already, start sketching out some layout ideas on paper. Do you just want one image per page? Multiple? How much space between? How many pages? (Typically I'd recommend no more than 15-20 to keep people's attention).

    Also, remember every page doesn't have to be the exact same. You can always include a few page types (i.e. one may only have text, one may have only an image or grid/series of images), and one may have a bit of images and a bit of text).


  2. Trace existing layouts (optional practice)

    If you're new to design, it may be a good idea to take your favorite book or magazine and either trace them with tracing paper, or bring in a photo/scan into InDesign to start to see how the type and images work together. How big does the type need to be to be legible? How much content can you fit on a magazine spread in print versus on the web? (Hint: magazines made for web will have way less content)

    DISCLAIMER: I am not trying to encourage copying or plagarism, but rather, looking to existing examples for inspiration and understanding how the framework is put together. You should never take credit for designs you have copied. 

  3. Set master pages

    Once you have an idea of your basic page types, set up you Master Pages. This will help get a sense of the rhythm of your document.

    Note: In the lectures I forgot to mention that once you do the shift-command to over-ride the Master Page (i.e. change the name in this example), any changes you make to the Master Page will not stick to this page. You may just want to use Master Pages for things like headers, footers (you can do page numbers -- it will appear as an A when you choose that option under the Type menu), and just use styles to help manage your type treatments. Practice makes perfect with both these functions, and how you use them depends a bit on your project.


  4. Set your paragraph + character styles

    With paragraph and character styles you're really starting to finesse your document and giving it a style of it's own. Think back to the fonts lecture and don't go overboard as you work on the treatment for your document. Also, remember to keep your final output in mind (i.e. don't use too big of body text for print, or too small for web). Think about how you can integrate and lines or glyphs into your text units.


  5. Share any inspiration!

    I'm hoping to use the Q&A area as a place where we can all share inspiration. Look for the "Inspiration" chain (or click the link).


    Ticket's are Justin Poston's inspiration. 

Finesse + Final Files

  1. Extra Practice: Layouts!

    Download the practice PDF I created for the class. Drop each PDF page into a blank 10-page InDesign file (768px by 1024px). Change the transparency, lock the layers, and then it is your job to recreate the layouts mimicing the text. Feel free to work with actual images rather than with black boxes.

    Don't forget to check out and add more ideas to this INSPIRATION thread in Q&A. There are lots of professional examples here to help you out and remind you to simplify your layouts. Sketch or trace the layouts to understand how they were created and how much content fits on the page.

  2. Spell check + save your project

    You never know when your computer may crash so get into the habit of saving all the time as you go. Also ALWAYS run spell check and check for typos!

  3. Export your file as a PDF

    You'll find this under File -> Export.

    If you just want a quick proof, smallest file size should be fine. If you're making an interactive document, make sure the hyperlinks box is clicked. 

    Always use highest quality for print. If you're having it professionally printed, your printer will likely need to have the bleed and slug set up. Test it out a few times to make sure it looks right. 

    Note: There is also an alternative dialogue box when exporting a PDF. File -> Export -> Format [bottom] select: Interactive PDF


  4. Package your file

    This groups all the information needed to work on your document in the future. (I use it as an extra backup). There is a link in the resources if you want more info.

    These days most professional printers will just ask you for a high quality PDF to print from. If it's a 4-color press job, then they may ask you for the packaged InDesign files. 

    For the mostpart, I use packaging as a way of organizing and backing up my work to be extra sure it's all in the same place.

  5. Share your project with a link to your PDF

    Once you've exported your PDF, upload it to Dropbox (or something similar). Add a "teaser" image to your project board (or some thumbnails) and share the link to your PDF so we can view it!

    The more comments/feedback you give others, the more you'll be likely to receive! You may meet some interesting professional contacts without even trying :)

  6. Review + share this class!

    You all rock! Thanks for listening and participating. If you have any feedback on tweaks I can make to the class, or what you'd like to see in future classes, I've created an internal strand under Q&A. I'm always doing my best to make the class stronger, and your feedback is most helpful in this process.

    Separately, I'd love it if you could take 30 seconds and write a quick review. This is what's shows up on the site and gets people to sign up :)

    Please share this link with anyone you think would be interested:


Additional Resources

  • Adobe InDesign 30-day free trial (I'd only recommend downloading it when you know you'll have time to work with it, aka not when you're about to go on vacation for 2 weeks).

    Understanding the Creative Cloud: Adobe Creative Cloud FAQs5 Myths about Adobe's Creative Cloud, Creative Cloud features (video explanations)

  • When you're working in InDesign or any Adobe project, you'll also need to become a trouble shooter. There are many ways to do everything, but also know, it's ok to "cheat" and look up more info. AdobeHelp for InDesign has a neatly organized list of know-hows which explain topics through text and visuals, AdobeTV is great for video lessons (just search "InDesign" and what you're looking for), , and InDesign Secrets and VectorTuts+ have a lot of tutorials as well. Your projects will become stronger as you combine this knowledge and know-how.

  • Photoshop in Real Life (same ideas apply to InDesign)

  • Map Making class! (My other Skillshare class I referenced in the video and will be using to inspire the example I'll be creating in the class. You can click around the project boards to see where I'm pulling my inspiration).

  • Cheat sheet! Here's the PDF of the relevant slides from my presentation to help familiarize you with many of the tools of InDesign.

    I also found this one online which has all the keyboard shortcuts for both Mac and PC!

  • Practical Typography by Matthew Butterick is a fantastic breakdown of design. I particularly love at the bad examples he's redesigned. 

  • Thinking with Type  by Ellen Lupton (website + book) – many schools use this book in their curriculum. I'm a huge fan.

  • Ellen Lupton's FREE Skillshare class: Typography That Works: Redesign Your Business Card (It's a helpful, succinct class that will make you think differently about the type in your layouts.)

  • Most font foundries let you test out the font, so don't be afraid to invest if it's waht you're looking for. When it comes to "pay what you want" fonts, don't forget a trained professional worked on it, and it's always good karma to throw a little something their way. Also, free fonts can be great, but sometimes you get what you pay for and they're not as well refined.

    TRY: MyFonts (LOVE their newsletters! + shows fonts in context), Fonts in Use (good examples of typography in use), The League of Moveable Type, Lost Type.

    You'll have to install the fonts to your computer. . . FYI, a lot of fonts have an EULA (end user licensing agreement) - most of the time this just means that you can't buy the font and then share it with all your friends or post it online, but some fonts come with certain stipulations, so read the fine print if you feel inclined. 

  • For more help with Images check out the Adobe Help page (or this AdobeTV episode).

    For more help with text, there is also an Adobe Help page for that, as well as others if you keep digging for that topic. Here's a video tutorial if you want to learn more about linking/flowing text

  • Graphic Design: The New Basics by Ellen Lupton + Jennifer Cole Phillips (website + book)

  • There's a great explanation of grids along with visual examples in Ellen Lupton's Thinking with Type. There's also more about grids (two exercises at the bottom) in "Graphic Design: The New Basics" book/website. Both will help you a lot in thinking about your layouts.

  • You can download the practice layouts PDF below. Watch the video for more tips and tricks.

  • Keep revisiting the resources!

    How to make a PDF from Practical Typography.

    Adobe's explanation of how to package files

  • If you're new to Dropbox you can sign up here. Here's a tutorial for how to upload files if you still need help.  

    Located below is the PDF I created in class. I think I'd still like to work with the text a bit more (particularly the part in the voice of the mapper). I don't like having really long line lengths, and the text can probably get a bit smaller.

  • For any topic you still have questions on, there are loads of tutorials online (not always pretty, but hey it's there!). Check out Adobe TV, and Creative Live (free when you watch it live).

  • There are tons of awesome Skillshare classes out there, and you can use what you learn in those classes and apply it to InDesign or your portfolio you're creating. I highly recommend Brad Woodard's Illustrator classes, and you'll notice that a lot of the same techniques apply to InDesign. 

Student Projects

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Juan Felipe Luna
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Justin Poston
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Molly McIntyre
1 comment
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Elodie Love Blin
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Vanessa Quijano
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Bria P.
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Laura Olsen
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Jessica Pope
1 comment
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Chloe Berk
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Datrianna M.
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Ethan Bodnar
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Dsh Cole