Adobe’s InDesign app offers a lot of up-front options for setting up a project. Use this guide to learn about the New Document window and how to change your layout after you create it.

Adobe’s InDesign program is a vast playground of layout design options. Starting a project correctly, with a plan, can save tons of time and work later when it’s time to pass it on to a coworker or printer. As we did with “How to Package an InDesign File in 5 Simple Steps,” we’ll go over the menu items and how to use them best.

Choose the Right Size for Your Project

Open InDesign, and go to File > New > Document, or hit Command + N. The latest edition of InDesign will show you some options for preset templates. These are really handy for run-of-the-mill layouts in common sizes.

Secrets and Tips for Effective File Setup in Adobe InDesign — Project Size

First, look along the top of the window. You’ll see “Recent, Saved, Print” . . . we’ll go over what those mean, but the cool thing about these presets is that you can use them for quick common sizes, then customize your margins and bleeds. When you do, InDesign will save it under “Recent” for future use.

The Recent section will show you recent templates you’ve used. If you like or use a template often, you can save it and refer to it in the Saved section. Additionally, you can save your layout as a preset any time by hitting the Save button to the right of file name (Untitled-1.)

That leaves the section with Print, Web, and Mobile. These sections will contain layout templates with dimensions relative to their respective environments. Click View All Presets to see more than the first three.

Secrets and Tips for Effective File Setup in Adobe InDesign — View all Presets

You’ll usually find the preset you need in one of these sections with their many options. But if not, here are the options to set up a custom document.

  • Width and Height — Enter your custom dimensions
  • Units — When you’re starting out, just use the system you’re comfortable with (inches/centimeters); Points, Picas, etc. are printer measurements that are more advanced.
  • Orientation — Set your dimensions to be in portrait or landscape layout.
  • Pages — Enter the number of pages for your project here.
  • Facing Pages — For a booklet with multiple pages, check this box. Otherwise, leave it unchecked for single-side and stacked pages in your Pages window that you can move around more easily later.
  • Primary Text Frame — Check this to add a text frame to each page that spans the bounds of the Margin. This is useful for setting up books, as it will add a text box to each page at specific dimensions.
  • Columns — This will divide your automated text frame into the number specified, then use . . .
  • Gutter Width — . . . to specify the space between those columns.

You can see there are a lot of options to set up a new document or project. Sometimes, you can fill it all in, up front, to control your layouts from the start. Other times, you may just have basic dimensions, so you can leave the variables blank or unchecked and update later.

Set Up Margins

Below the section for dimensions and orientation, click on Margins to expand. You can use Margins as a live area guide, or safe zone, of a layout. When you adjust the measurements up or down, you are defining the space between the content area and the trim, or edge, of the layout.

Secrets and Tips for Effective File Setup in Adobe InDesign — Set Up Margins

In books and other  publications, it is important for Margins to be consistent and positioned on the page to allow for binding and readability.

That means you would set up the pages with asymmetrical margins. On the left side, you would position the text frame to be more towards the left, and vise versa for the right side, leaving space for the binding area between, where text gets physically distorted.

In the Presets window, InDesign will change the naming of certain specs under Margins, when you set up for multiple pages and check the Facing Pages box.

Secrets and Tips for Effective File Setup in Adobe InDesign — Facing Pages

When you check Facing Pages, the Left and Right boxes in the Margins section change to Inside and Outside. This makes sure that the Margins of a spread remain consistent when used in a publication.

When setting up a multi-page spread you will want to uncheck the Link button, to the right of the boxes. This will allow you to set asymmetrical Margins.

Set Up Bleeds

The Bleed and Slug section is where you can set the space outside the trim. This will allow for printing colors or images off the edge, for borderless coverage. A printer will usually tell you how much Bleed to add, because they know how precise their cutting machines are.

Increasing numbers in these boxes increases the space beyond the edge of the dimensions of your layout. You’ll only need to adhere to a minimum requirement, as anything beyond will be cut off.

What’s a Slug?

The Slug is an area beyond the bleed, usually lower left, where you can add file info like the name, dimensions, bleed settings, contact info, and company/identifying/ownership info. The name comes from old-timey printing — it refers to info separated by a space more than a printer’s lead, or slug.

Adjust for a Slug by using the boxes underneath your Bleed settings.

Tips for Changing Your Layout After Creation

Checking the Preview box allows you to see the layout you’re setting up behind the New Document window. You can check this box to see what’s going on, but on small screens it can be hard to see. Instead, to use a WYSIWYG approach to setting up new documents, enter your basic info in the New Document window. Hit Create to open the layout in a new file.

Now go to File > Document Setup, or hit Option + Command + P. Now you get a window where you can modify your document, at any time. Most of the same settings as New Document are found here. Since this window is much smaller, it’s very useful to have the Preview box checked.

Secrets and Tips for Effective File Setup in Adobe InDesign — Changing Layout

To adjust your margins or columns guides, go to Layout > Margins and Columns. This will allow you to add or adjust your guides for those. To turn guides on/off, toggle Command + the ; key, or go to View > Grids and Guides > Hide/Show Guides.

Secrets and Tips for Effective File Setup in Adobe InDesign — Margins and Columns

For a lean, clean, totally guideless view of your layout, go to View > Screen Mode > Preview, or toggle this view with the standard view using the W key (with no text box selected, so you don’t have random w’s placed in your text.)

Cover image via Mallmo.

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