InDesign for Beginners: The 5 Features You Need to Know

Design September 23, 2014

InDesign offers plenty of features for page layout, but as a beginner you might feel overwhelmed by all the tools and panels in the default workspace. If you don’t have enough time to watch online tutorials or to read courses or books on InDesign for beginners, you can start by getting familiar with the basic features that are usually used when creating a book.

To shorten your learning curve, I’ve put together a list of 5 features that can simplify the book layout process. Please feel free to add your suggestions in the Comments section below!

Adobe InDesign
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1. Master pages

Master pages are useful if you plan to use the same template on all pages, as they allow you to add a background image or text on a large number of pages with a single click. Master pages are not printed so you don’t have to worry about them appearing in your document, they’re there just to help you automatically insert layout elements on the doc’s pages.

To create a Master, go to the Pages pane and click the “A-Master” page. Add the elements you want to have on all the pages, such as headers, footers, guides, page numbers, text frames, logos and so on. To apply the Master to a regular page, you can either drag it from the Pages pane or go to the page in the Pages pane and right click on it, selecting the “Apply Master to Pages” option.

2. Threading text

Text frames are independent from one another, but you can connect them and make the text flow between two or more frames by using the threading text option. What this option does is to link the text frames, so in case you have a frame of a certain size and the text is too large to fit in that frame, it will continue in the second frame.

If you’re not threading the text, you will see that a red plus sign (+) appears in the lower right corner of the text frame, when there’s too much content in that frame. This is called overset text and prevents you from seeing all the content placed inside the frame.


To connect two frames, you will use the in port and out port buttons, which are empty by default. These two ports indicate the beginning and end of a piece of text. If there’s an arrow in the port, it means that the port is linked to another frame, but if the port is empty, all you need to do to connect it with another frame is click on it and then click on the out port or in port of the second frame.

Out ports can only be connected with in ports, and in ports can only be linked with out ports. To see the threads, go to View -> Extras -> Show Text Threads. If there’s overset text in a frame and you want to transfer it to another frame, click on the out port of that frame. You’ll see that the cursor is now loaded (a loaded text icon will appear), so once this happens you can simply click in the second text frame where you want to place the extra text.

If you want to unthread two text frames, you can disrupt the connection by double clicking on the out port or in port.


3. Paragraph styles

Paragraphs styles are useful for creating the Table of Contents faster and easier, as well as for formatting the text automatically. To add a new style, select the Text tool and go to the Paragraph tab in the Control Panel.

The default option is “Basic Paragraph”, but you can create a new one by clicking the “Paragraph Style” icon in the left. Once you’re done customizing the style, save it and apply it on the desired text by simply selecting the new style in the Paragraph tab (drop-down menu). If you’re creating a book, it’s useful to create separate styles for Chapter titles, paragraphs, quotes, subheadings and so on, as it will be easier to create the TOC.

4. Pictures

To add an image inside a text frame, you have several options: first, you can drag and drop the picture from a folder, and then move it in the desired position. Once you select an image from a folder and move to InDesign, you’ll see that a small transparent preview image appears attached to the cursor.

If you click once, the image will be placed on the page and you’ll be able to resize it from the Control Panel found at the top of the workspace. If you click the Selection tool before placing the image, and you drag one of the corners to form a frame of the desired size, when you release the mouse the picture will have the frame’s size.

The second option is to use the Frame Tool located in the Tools panel, in the left side of the workspace. You can choose to create a rectangular, ellipse of polygon frame, so pick the desired shape and then double-click on the page. The program will ask you to set either the size of the frame, or the number of sides for your polygon if you choose the third shape. Once you do this, you have to click on the page and the frame will be placed inside your document.


To resize it, simply click on the black arrowhead in the Tools panel, then select the frame and drag one of the corners that appear around it. Once you have the desired shape and size, select the white arrowhead from the Tools panel and click the image frame. In the Application bar, go to File -> Place… and select the image you want to insert.

The picture will now be placed in the frame, however if it’s too big you won’t be able to see it properly so in order to fit it inside the frame you’ll go to Object -> Fitting in the Application bar, then choose Fill Frame Proportionally if you want the image to fill the frame (some parts of the image might remain outside the frame if the shape of the image is different from the frame’s shape), or choose Fit Content Proportionally if you want the image to fit inside the frame (some of the frame might remain unfilled if the shapes are different).


Resize the image using the Scale buttons in the Control panel, then go to File -> Package… and save your document in a preferred folder. By choosing “Package” instead of “Save as”, you will include the images into the folder as well, so you won’t have to search for them later, if moving the file in another folder. You will see that if you save the document with “Save” and open it on another PC, the images (links) will not be visible and you’ll only see some flagged frames. To avoid this, save all the links with the Package option.

5. Page numbers

Adding page numbers is another important feature you need to be familiar with when creating books in InDesign. To add these to all pages, you’ll be using the Page number markers feature on the Master pages, as this way the numbers will be updated automatically when you add or remove pages.

The Page number markers are found in the Control panel in Type -> Insert Special Character -> Markers -> Current Page Number. Add a text box on the Master page where you want to place the page number and then follow the aforementioned steps to add the numbers. If you don’t want the number to show on the first page, you can either apply a different or no master on that page.

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