Learn how to place and link images in InDesign and other apps, an essential skill if you’re designing flyers and other layouts.

What Is a Linked Image?

A linked image appears in the design you’re working on, but the image’s file information lives within its native app. It’s important to know how to place and link images for two reasons:

  1. It keeps layout files small.
  2. It preserves the ability to make changes to images in their native app.

This guide will teach you how to place and link images in InDesign, Photoshop, and Illustrator. Learn how each app in the Adobe design suite treats links and how to use them to your advantage.

How to Place and Link Images in InDesign

Adobe InDesign is a layout program, so it is built to configure and make changes to multiple pages in a single document file. Linking images produces a light and agile document for large projects, instead of a file that hosts all those images and text within itself.

Linking prevents bloat by providing a representative of the image file on screen, instead of multiplying image files on your hard drive. This can save you megabytes upon gigabytes of disk space. You can position and plan images on a layout with linked files, ensuring that the design you intended comes out of the printer.

To start linking files in InDesign, use the Place function. Find this in File > Place in the main menu, or hit Command + D. That will bring up a window for you to locate the file on your computer.

Place image function in InDesign

Before you whiz through this process, pay attention to the three check boxes in the lower left of this window. Click Options to view or hide them.

  • Show Import Options is most used when importing a multi-page PDF. If this is selected, when you hit Open you’ll be able to select the page of the PDF to display in the layout. It’s a really handy feature that prevents you having to dismantle a PDF in order to link a certain page within.
  • Replace Selected Item replaces the image in the image box that’s selected, should it already contain a graphic. Uncheck this box when importing to a document often, so you don’t accidentally replace something instead of adding to the layout.
  • Create Static Captions adds a caption to your image in the layout with file name and other information. This can be handy in making contact sheets, but otherwise you’ll use it rarely.

Now, back to importing. Once you select your file, hit Enter or click Open. You’ll be presented with a preview of the image in a small box attached to your cursor. This just shows what image you’ll be placing. Here, you can drag out the size of the image box you want in your layout, or click once to place the image in your layout at full 100% scale.

Tip: I’ve adopted the habit of dragging the box out no matter what. When a high-res image comes in at 100% its bounding box can be bigger than the spread, making it a pain to resize.

Placing linked image in InDesign

Now, open the Links window by going up to Window > Links in the main menu, or hit Shift + Command + D. From here you can do a number of things. For instance, to find a link within the document, click the page number listed next to its name.

Link option menu in InDesign

More options are available when you right-click the file name in the Link window.

  • Edit Original opens the image in its native app for you to manipulate.
  • Reveal in Finder shows where the original file is on your computer.
  • Relink lets you link the image box to a different image, replacing the current one.

How to Place and Link Images in Illustrator

To Place a file into an Illustrator document, simply go to File > Place, or Shift + Command + P. This opens a Finder window where you can select your file. Illustrator provides a lot of the same options and functionality as InDesign.

Place images in Illustrator window

Click once on your file to select it, and hit Options.

  • Link links to the file instead of embedding it. For raster images (.jpg, .gif, .psd, .tiff, etc.) you should always have Link checked to keep your layout file small. You can embed later if you choose.
  • Template imports your image at 100%, on its own template layer, which means it’s behind other layers, locked, and dimmed.
  • Replace is the same as InDesign, in that if you have an image selected when you import you can replace it with a new one.
  • Show Import Options mean you’ll be presented with options like page number in the case of placing multi-page files.
Drag out placed images in Illustrator

Now consult the Links window for options after importing. It looks a bit different than InDesign, but the functionality is similar, providing all the necessary relinking and editing tools you need to change and update your links.

Illustrator linking images option menu

Tip: Illustrator can be used for layouts like posters or flyers, but using too many images can lead to large, unwieldy files. Take your multi-page and image-heavy layouts to InDesign. Rendering a bunch of high-res images in Illustrator will use a ton of processing power. 

How to Place and Link Images in Photoshop

Photoshop handles linking a bit differently. To place a linked file, go to File > Place Linked, and choose your file. As you’ll see there is only one option for Image Sequence. This will open a series of images in a video layer, with each image constituting a frame of the video.

Photoshop place images browser window

To access the options for a linked file, right-click on the image layer in the Layers window. The highlighted section shown below is where you’ll find more options.

Photoshop options for linking images

The ability to link files is more of a favor to Photoshop users, as it’s historically a photography editing tool first, and a design/layout environment second. For layouts where linking files is more inherent, use InDesign.

Smart Objects are not technically linking, but they give you the control to edit and update an image file in its native app. A smart object will update in place with any transformations you made to it in its native app. You can also save it and leave it open to see how your changes look, going back and forth to tweak.

How to Fix Broken Links

If you link to a file, then move that file to a different place, your link will break. In InDesign there will be a red warning icon in the Links window of the app, next to the file(s) that have been moved. Either right-click the item, or click the hamburger menu in the window and choose Relink. That will open a window where you can locate the file on your computer or server.

In Illustrator a message will pop up asking you if you want to update the link. Click Yes to proceed.

In Photoshop, a red question mark will appear on the icon of your linked file in the Layers window. Simply double-click it and locate the file in the pop-up window.

Want to maximize your workflow in InDesign, Illustrator, and Photoshop? Check out these articles:

Cover image background via best pixels, mountain image via Valerii_M