InDesign InDesign’s Work Area

This is the first of a series of tutorials on InDesign CS. We will explore the work area and the palettes.

InDesign CS is Adobe’s latest layout program. It was to be a re-write of PageMaker, Adobe’s layout program which is now discontinued, but it then became a different layout program on its own. Adobe InDesign is now one of the most powerful layout programs for professional desktop publishers and graphic designers.

While this tutorial is quite basic, other tutorials will follow and you will soon find articles for both advanced and new users.

Let’s get on with it now and let’s have a look at InDesign’s work area. You have a Menu Bar on top, the tools and the palettes. Palettes are little windows which have specialized functions, e.g., you have got one that handles colours, one that handles paragraphs, one that handles pages, etc. By default, there is a special palette just under the Menu Bar called Control Palette. This one changes depending on what tool you are using or what you are doing while you are working with the different items of your layout.

work areaThe Work Area (Enlarged Version)

The Menu Bar

You can get access to all of the functions of InDesign through the Menu Bar. However you will see that, as you become more proficient and faster at using InDesign, you will want to learn shortcuts so you don’t have to drag your mouse around in search of the option you want. I won’t go over the shortcuts as there are different sets of them. If you used to be a Quark user, such as in my case, you can choose to use QuarkXPress’ shortcuts instead of the InDesign native shortcuts. Ok, now that I got into this I will tell you how to do it: go to Edit> Keyboard Shortcuts… and under Set, choose Shortcuts for QuarkXPress.

You can even make your own custom shortcuts, but we won’t get into that. You can do that at a party to should the conversation suddenly swerve towards InDesign shortcuts… If you want to learn the shortcuts, just look next to the command you are interested in and you will see the shortcut if there is one.

If you want to open a new document go to File> New> Document, and, when the New Document window shows up, choose your document size and press OK.

The Control Palette

By default this palette is docked at the top of the screen but you can drag it and make it float if you want to, or even dock it on the bottom of your screen. The contents of this palette, as I mentioned earlier, changes depending on what tool you are using or what you are doing.You will find all of your measurements in this palette. Let’s have a closer look.

The Control Palette
(Enlarged version)

As you can see I drew a black box in the middle of the page and I have selected it. The first two measurements you see, X and Y, are the coordinates that tell you where your box is on the page. If you look just on the left you will see a square composed of 9 smaller squares. In this case the centre square is black. Try clicking on the other little squares and look at what happens at the values X and Y. That’s right, they change. That’s because you have just told InDesign to use a
different reference point. When the middle square was selected, InDesign was telling you the coordinates of the middle point of your black box. When you then clicked on any of the other little squares, let’s say the one in the top left corner, InDesign was telling you the coordinates of the top left corner of your black box. The X and Y values are important know when you are trying to position something precisely.

The next two measurements, H and W, respectively tell you the hight and the width of your black box (or any item on your page). The little chain icon next to them allows you to constrain the proportions of your object. So if you type a smaller W value for example, your H value will decrease proportionally. In other words, if you diminish the width of an item, also the height will diminish proportionally. If the icon is a broken chain, that means that if you type a different value in either W or H, the other one won’t change, because the “constrain proportions” option is not active.

You can also change the size of any item on a page by typing a different percentage in the next two measurements. Here again you can see the chain icon, which has the same function of the previous one.

To understand how the rest of the functions work on the Control Palette, just move your mouse over the icons in the palette and wait for a couple of seconds. The name of the functions will appear. Then try typing some values and see what happens to your box so you understand what they do. The control palette also allows you to change the stroke and the colour of the stroke of your black box.

As I said this palette changes depending on what you are doing. The most significant change is when you use the Type Tool, but I will go over that when we will talk about how to handle type. Some of the things that you see in the Control Palette you will see on other palettes as well. That’s just a way to give you more options to do the same thing.

On a side line, if you right click on an object or anything on your page (or Control+click for Mac users) another menu will appear. That is a contextual menu, that is, a menu that changes depending on what you are clicking on, a bit like the Control Palette. The options you will get in that menu will be different from the ones of the Control Palette.

The (Other) Palettes

If you look at the first picture you see that there was a floating palette and one that was docked on the right hand side of the screen. You will also notice a few tabs just above the palette on the right. These are other palettes, but they are collapsed.

You can collapse also a floating palette. If you click on the name of the palette it will only partially collapse. If you click on the top of the palette, it will collapse completely showing you only a tab with the name of the palette(s). Palettes can also be grouped together. You just need to drag one palette on top of the other and InDesign will group them together.

Palettes in InDesign are all under the Window Menu. You will find some that the palettes palettes related to type are also under the Type Menu.

Following is a list with several palettes and where they are located in the Menu Bar. I only listed the ones that you are most likely to use at this beginning stage. I will explain how to use most of them later on in this course. I am not going to go over all of them as this is a basic course which is supposed to give you a foundation on which you can then develop your skills.

You will find the following palettes both under the Type Menu and the Window Menu:

  • Character
  • Paragraph

These palettes are only under the Window Menu:

  • Align
  • Colour
  • Control (which is the same Control Palette I covered earlier)
  • Gradient
  • Info
  • Layers
  • Links
  • Navigator
  • Flattener (Window> Output Preview)
  • Separations (Window> Output Preview)
  • Pages
  • Stroke
  • Swatches
  • Tools (which I will take up later on in this lesson)
  • Transform
  • Transparency
  • Character Styles (Window> Type & Tables)
  • Paragraph Styles (Window> Type & Tables)
  • Table(Window> Type & Tables)
  • Text Wrap

And we obviously also have the black sheep: the Library palette, which is under File > Library.
Each palette has got its own menu. If you click on the arrow shown in the picture below, their menu will pop up and you can then choose any of the options that are available.

Palette MenuPalette Menu

The Tools

You will use this palette quite a lot. You don’t need to worry about how all of the tools work right now, we will get to that, hold your horses! If you move the cursor of your mouse on top of each tool their name will appear.

If you use Photoshop or Illustrator, you will be familiar with the little arrows on the bottom corner of some of the icons in the Tools Palette. If you click on them and keep your mouse button pressed a little menu will pop up. That menu shows you some “hidden” tools which you can choose from. This little menu is called flyout (make sure you close all the windows in you room…).

flyout menu

An example of flyout menu

Now look further down in the Tools Palette. These are the swatches: you can assign colours to items on your page through these. You can see the fill colour and the stroke colour. The little arrow on the top right will allow you to swop the two colours. If you have just been working on the fill colour, you can now work on the stroke colour by clicking on the stroke colour icon or by pressing you can just press X (make sure no text is selected). This also works in reverse: if you were working on your stroke colour and now you want to work on your fill colour, click on its icon or press X. You can set your swatch to the default colours by clicking on the very small icon on the bottom left or just by pressing D (again make sure you haven’t selected any text).



Just under the two bigger icons with the swatches, you will see two smaller icons. One shows a square and the other one shows a T. If you have selected the icon with the square, then the colours will be applied to boxes and objects. If you have selected the T then the colours will be applied to the type itself. As type is within boxes, you can choose to apply colour to both type and the boxes that contain them or just to one or the other.

Under those two icons there are three more. The first icon allows you to apply single colours to objects, the second one allows you to apply gradients and the third one applies “no colour”, i.e., if you had already applied colours to an object and then you click the on this icon, you will be taking the colour away.

The very bottom icons of the Tools palette allows you to view your document in several ways. We will take those up later, right now stick to the Normal View Mode.

InDesign CS2: Improved Productivity Features

The jump from InDesign 2.0 to the CS version was a no-brainer. The move from CS to CS2, however, required a lot more thought on my part. Is it worth it? Is it a justified expense? Is there anything new that I really need, or is it all luxury?

As a design company of one, time is of the essence. The productivity features that are included in InDesign CS2 were a godsend. Not only are they designed to save time, but they have the potential to increase consistency, reduce repetitive tasks, and streamline integration with Microsoft programs such as Word and Excel. Of course, everyone will have their own favorite features but here are some of the best of the time savers.

Object Styles

Paragraph Styles Palette
(Enlarged version)

With CS2 you can now create and apply styles to objects in the same way that you do with paragraph and character styles. The Object Styles options are extensive and will save hours whether you are formatting individual objects, grouped objects, or even text frames.

Apply Next Style

Object Style Options(Enlarged version)

For those with too much to do in too little time, the option to apply multiple styles at once will save loads of time. InDesign CS2 added a nifty little feature called “Apply Next Style” which allows designers to apply multiple styles with one click. When either creating or modifying a style, all that’s necessary to make use of this feature is to designate the next style option in the edit style box. When applying the style, the feature is available when you right click (control click on a Mac) on the actual style name in the palette.

Interactive Layers

(Enlarged version)

Whether you are importing layered PSD or PDF files, the new interactive layers feature is amazing. Not only can you choose which layers you want visible upon placing, but after placing, the Object Layer Options dialog box allows you to turn the visibility of each layer on and off. This saves the time usually reserved for creating, placing, and replacing multiple versions of a graphic.

Multiple Page Place

Place PDF Window(Enlarged version)

This has got to be one of my most favorite additions to InDesign. With CS2 importing multiple page PSDs is a breeze. Not only that, but you now can access and change the layer visibility of PSDs as well. Enough said.


Snippets. A fast, cool, and totally user friendly way to save an object so it can be dropped into a document, library palette, or email message. It’s as simple as selecting any combination of objects that you would use frequently, dragging and dropping them into either the Adobe Bridge or your desktop where a INDS file will be created.

Other Awesome Time Savers

Drag and Drop: Now you can just select your text and drag it anywhere you want. This option has to be turned on to work in Edit, Preferences (InDesign, Preferences on Mac).

Autocorrect Feature: Although mostly used for correcting frequently misspelled words (acn instead of can), or missed initial caps, the autocorrect options can be customized to include your own personal typing shortcuts.

Automatic Bullets: Finally. No more fooling around with indents and tabs to line up a bulleted or numbered list. And, along with an icon on the control palette for both numbers and bullets, the ability to select and format multiple items all at once, and the option to change the appearance of both bullets and numbers through a simple dialog box, the automatic bullets are an admirable addition.

Footnotes: Not only does the InDesign footnote command work really well, but the ease with which InDesign can now work with Word footnotes is a real eye-opener. Footnotes autoflow with the page they correspond to, and, being someone who has to work with this feature on a regular basis, all I can say is “Thank you, thank you, thank you”.

Although the interface looks pretty much the same as in InDesign CS, CS2 encompasses some of the most welcome productivity enhancements I’ve seen in a long time. Someone was really thinking this time around.

© Copyright 2005 Katherine Huck.

Katherine Huck is the owner of Keystone Consulting. Established in 1998, Keyston Consulting exemplifies professionalism enhanced by creativity and whimsy. Katherine’s impressive hands-on experience as a marketing agent and designer includes: visual and performance arts, education, underground technology, transportation and heavy equipment, communications, and computer solutions. Her extensive copy writing experience is reflected in weekly contributions to The Sudbury Star’s business and arts sections. Visit her website:

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