Top 8 Tips for InDesign Files

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Adobe InDesign is without doubt my weapon of choice. I use it daily and I know quite a few tips and tricks due to my extensive use. Use this guide to learn about how to set up the application so you can start a project on the right path every time you hit ‘Create New’ project.

It can be soul destroying when you receive files from other designers and it’s clear that they haven’t followed a few simple rules when creating their files. By following these tips you will save yourself so much pain and time in the future. Believe me, your colleagues will love you the next time you pass your files over.

Before you start making changes based on my suggestions please be aware that I’m assuming that your InDesign software is configured to Adobe’s default settings when you first downloaded the software.

01. Change default paragraph style

Before you create a new project or open a pre-existing file edit the default [Basic Paragraph] style. On the splash screen, you can do this by selecting Window > Styles > Paragraph Styles.

Setting up Indesign with default text style

If you’re working in a small team with a brand regularly here’s a time saving tip. In the paragraph style options window select Basic Character Fonts and select your brand’s typeface (family of fonts) or font (single font). This means every time you create a new file in InDesign the base paragraph style will always be your brand’s font.

Setting up InDesign hyphenation

02. Remove hyphenation

This step is actually a personal preference. I feel hyphenation can distract from the overall visual experience. Feel free to leave this box selected if you prefer to work with hyphenation.


03. Tweak justification settings for better text alignment

For a better left aligned rag (uneven right side of text) we need to adjust our justification settings for a smoother visual flow. Follow my settings below and you’ll immediately see a vast improvement of your body copy typography. Do a simple search for text rag and you will see examples online.

Justification Settings

04. Grep styles (the secret sauce)

This is where it gets really interesting. In the words of my senior designer at GES “I didn’t know half of what InDesign could do before I met you.” High praise indeed but I’ll let you into a secret, I don’t really know how to write grep expressions confidently (don’t tell Steve). It took many years of trawling the web to stumble across these expressions and now that I’ve found them I’m never without them.

Grep Expressions

Without adding the No Break grep expression InDesign will often end the last line of a paragraph with a single short word. To avoid this, follow the 2-steps below to glue the last word in a paragraph to the final syllable of the penultimate word.

  1. Set up a New Grep Style and type (?<=\w)\s(?=\w+[[:punct:]]+$) into the To Text field.
  2. In the Apply Style field select New Character Style to enter the Character Style edit options. When there check the no break box only, do not edit any other settings. Call it No Break and click OK.
No Break Character Style

By adding the Superscripts grep expression, you can format all ordinals i.e. a date – 24th April. This will automatically format the ‘th’ into a superscript. To set this style up follow these 2-steps:

  1. Set up a New Grep Style and type (?<=\d)(th|st|nd|rd)> into the To Text field.
  2. In the Apply Style field select New Character Style to enter the Character Style edit options. When there select Superscripts in the Position dropdown. Call it Superscripts and click OK.
Superscripts Character Style

06. Remove default swatches

Back to the splash screen for step 6. The aim here is to keep your files clean and remove any unused swatches. It’s a safe bet that you won’t use any of InDesign’s default colours. Select Window > Colour > Swatches.

Default Swatches

Like step 1 if you’re working with a brand every day now is the perfect opportunity to add their brand colours. Please be mindful of the fact that you will need to either add CMYK or RGB swatches depending on the intended output and file type set-up, i.e. print or web. Follow these steps:

  1. When the Swatches panel appears highlight all default colours and toggle the menu in the top right and hit Delete Swatch.
  2. To load your own swatches import your .ASE file by selecting the Load Swatches option in the same menu as the previous step.
  3. Close the Swatches panel.
Delete Swatches

07. Create new file

Finally, we’re now at the stage where you can start creating your masterpiece – well nearly.

I won’t tell you how to suck eggs. At this point you will know if your project is print or digital so pick your CMYK/RGB colour space and dimensions accordingly.

Here you can create .indt templates so you can have a CMYK and RGB file ready to go, complete with relevant swatches embedded. This is a real time saver. Obviously, change dimensions according to projects within the templates.

08. Layer hierarchy

When you created a new file your first step should be adding a layering system to keep your files organised and easy to navigate. Step 8 could actually be performed before you save your step 7 .indt templates.

Below you will see how I organise my files with layers. I find the below hierarchy works well on a multitude of projects. I have explained each layer’s purpose below the image.

InDesign Layers Set-up

Layer order (bottom up)

Grid layer: This is where I set up the document’s grid. I always work to a layout grid and baseline grid for perfect spacing and alignment of design and text. Lock this layer.

Guides layer: These are guides that fall outside of the grid system, i.e. header and footer guides. Lock this layer.

Master items layer: Place elements that appear on every page on this layer on a master page. Some flexibility is needed if this layer is hidden by other layers as you design. If this is the case I move elements to other layers. I usually have to remove running heads to another layer if I have a background colour.

Background layer: A great layer for background page colours or pictures.

Page furniture layer: I usually use this layer for icons and decorative design elements.

Pictures layer: Self-explanatory.

Captions layer: Self-explanatory.

Text layer: Self-explanatory.

Interactive files: If you’re working on an interactive file I add an interactive layer above the text layer. When working with interactive features it’s very important that this layer is on the very top.

Thank you for reading

Thanks for taking the time to read my top 8 tips for setting up your InDesign files. Hopefully you found my way of working helpful. Please share and enjoy my tips.

Improved your workflow with my tips? Comment below!