InDesign Project — Setting Up Master Pages and Styles

By LaurenMarie

Last time I showed you how I set up my files with Grids, Guides and Baselines. Now let’s continue down the road of good file prep practices and look at the Master Pages and text styles. These are all very important steps! Don’t skip them for the sake of saving time at the beginning. You’ll regret it later when you have a messy file and you’ll probably be embarrassed to pass it on to another designer.

Master Page Elements

Setting up Master Pages may seem like busy work now, but you’ll be happy you did it later, especially for multiple-page documents or if you are creating single page documents that are in a series and all need to have the same look (like an ad or flyer campaign).

What can you put on a master page? Everything! Master pages are ideal for repeating elements such as

  • page number and other folio information (publication name, logo, volume info, author, etc)
  • header or footer graphics
  • master text boxes

When you get to the actual layout pages, in order to use the text boxes you’ll have to Ctrl/Cmd+Shift+Click on them in order to detach them from the Master. Unfortunately, after detaching an object from the master page, any modifications you make to the master object will not affect the detached object unless you reattach it; but reattaching it clears all alterations you’ve done to it, including filling it with text.

InDesign Master Page Palette

If you find yourself using an element often but forgot to include it in the Master Page at the beginning, no problem!

  1. Copy (don’t cut just yet) the object
  2. Open your Master Page
  3. Right click and select Paste in Place
  4. Go back and delete the other instances of the object on the layout pages

I don’t ever cut (Ctrl/Cmd + X) things until I’ve put a new instance of it where I actually want it, just in case something happens and I didn’t copy it over properly. Having to go back and delete the original sure beats having to rebuild the whole thing!

Remember you can layer master pages, too. For example, you can have only folio information on A-Master. Create a new B-Master for your section title pages (you don’t have to use both pages!) and base it on A-Master so that it also contains the folio information. Create a C-Master, also based on A-Master to include the folio, for article pages and even a D-Master based on C-Master (which is based on A-Master) for list of some sort! You only need to create multiple master pages if there are multiple kinds of pages that share common elements. Don’t get carried away and create your whole document in the master pages, though!

A quick note to Quark users: I recently began using Quark more and there is a distinct difference between Quark and InDesign Master Pages. With InDesign, all Master Page items are automatically locked in place and are not unlocked unless you completely override them (Ctrl/Cmd + Shift + Click on the object). With Quark, Master Page items are not locked by default and can be accidentally moved, in which case, they are actually duplicated on the layout page. To avoid this, check out the simple instructions in Mastering Master Pages on Planet Quark.

Paragraph and Character Styles

After setting up the master pages, it’s time to think about how text will be organized—the information architecture. Defining your Paragraph and Character Styles is just like setting up the master pages; it may seem like extra hassle now, but you will be very thankful when you have to make a change to every instance of the section headers when the book is nearly complete.

There is a default paragraph style called [Basic Paragraph] in InDesign whenever you create a new document. It’s best to modify this because by default, all other styles are based off of it.

To start, I copy some text into the InDesign document, most often from a Word document with the body copy. You can also import text from a source like a Word or Notepad file to the InDesign document instead of copy pasting. This is probably fastest.

Importing text does not work like linking images—unfortunately updates to the original file do not affect the text in InDesign—even though the process is similar. Hit Ctrl+D to open the Import dialog box, select your text file and click ok. The cursor will change to show the text waiting to be placed. Click in an existing text box to place the text or click anywhere in the document to create a new text box filled with the copy.

Edit: I’ve found out how to link text so that updates in the original text file propigate in InDesign. It’s an option in the preferences. Go to Edit>Preferences>Type (for Windows) or InDesign>Preferences>Type (for Mac OS) and check the box in the Links section that says Create Links When Placing Text And Spreadsheet Files. Thank you Adobe Live Docs!!

InDesign - Redefine Style

For me, it’s too difficult to imagine how particular options will look in the layout so I use the paragraph and character palettes to adjust the body copy until I get something that works. Then (at least in CS3), with the cursor in the text I’ve modified, I navigate to the Paragraph Styles palette and right click on [Basic Paragraph] and select Redefine Style. This updates all instances of [Basic Paragraph] to reflect the modifications I made.

I do the same steps as above for every style I think I’ll need: headers, subheaders, bylines and even the folio information on the Master Pages gets a style, just in case I need to change it later. Creating styles like this also makes it much easier for other designers to pick up where you left off or create documents that have the same look without having to either guess or go in and click on each kind of text to write down the attributes.

Of course it’s no problem to add more styles once I’m farther along in the project and find I need styles for things like bulleted or numbered lists or pull quotes. For more on Paragraph styles, see my previous article, Avoiding Disaster with Paragraph Styles.

InDesign - Clear OverridesWhenever you see a + next to a Paragraph Style name in the Paragraph Styles palette, that means that there are portions of the active text where the style has been overridden. You can correct this by redefining the style (but be careful! This will update ALL instances of that style, including other styles that are based on it) or you can place the cursor in the offending paragraph and right click on the style in the Paragraph Styles palette and choose Clear Overrides.

Character styles are important, too. They will help keep your Paragraph Styles clean (avoiding overrides). These work very similarly to Paragraph styles except that they only apply to the selected portion of the text. Read more about how to use Character Styles in my previous article, Avoiding Disaster with Character Styles.

I just learned a really awesome Secret Weapon about InDesign Styles from Quark vs. InDesign. There are some really nice features in InDesign that Quark simply can’t compete with!

Shortcuts for Styles

A quick word on the fastest way to style your text: shortcuts.

To apply a shortcut for a style:

  1. Double click the style to open the options dialog
  2. Click in the Shortcut field on the first tab of the style dialog box
  3. Make sure the Num Lock is on
  4. Use any of the modifier keys (shift, alt/opt or ctrl/cmd) plus a number from the 10-key pad
  5. If the shortcut is currently assigned to another style (as you can see in the image), it will warn you
  6. Now you can select the text and use this newly defined shortcut to apply the style so you don’t have to waste time pointing the cursor back to the Style palette to click it

Notice that you can’t just use any keys for the shortcuts, they have to be numbers from the 10-key pad. Unfortunately this means that it won’t work on a laptop, unless you have an extended keyboard.

Do you need more help with InDesign? Feel free to leave a comment below, contact me or head over to and sign up for their InDesign Tutorials. It’s only $25/mo for unlimited access! This is a resource I use myself and I highly recommend it. You can get a free 7 day pass to, now too! Just follow that link.

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