InDesign Project — Grids, Guides and Baselines

By LaurenMarie

Way back in October 2007 I published a series of beginning articles on InDesign that discussed Setup Basics, Master Pages, Paragraph and Character Styles, Layers and Shortcuts. Several people wanted to see a walkthrough on a real InDesign project, which is a great idea. Well, I’m finally getting to publishing that now!

We’ll pick this up at the digital stage. I’ve already done my thumbnail sketches and digital comps.

The Project Folder and Images

Before I begin assembling any project, I set up a project folder and a folder within that for Images. By default, InDesign only links images, so the path to the image must remain the same if you want the image to show up in the final output as more than just a screen grab. You can always relink images, but that’s an extra step you won’t have to take if you set your project files up correctly from the start.

I usually like to color correct photos in RGB and keep a copy of that layered file in an RGB or Builder Files folder within the Images folder for the project. This does add to the amount of space the project takes up on the hard drive, but I’ve had to go back and correct photos more than once!

When I convert my files to CMYK, I flatten them (adjustment layers won’t translate anyway) and save the CMYK version as a TIFF. This is also a good time to double check to be sure my resolution is 300 ppi and that the dimensions are approximately what I will be using. Too large an image only hogs resources on your computer; if you have an 8×10 but you’ll only need a 4×5, you can reduce the dimensions and cut the file size in half.

InDesign Setup - New Document

After I’ve assembled all the images I plan to use (of course images are changed or new ones are added sometimes), I open InDesign and create a new file by going to File>New>Document. The default measurements for US versions are 8.5″ x 11″ or 51 x 66 picas, which is the standard letter size. If this isn’t what I need, I change it.

I can also set up margins before clicking ok to create the new document. I usually use 1p6 or 1/4″. If you don’t see the fields to enter the Bleed at the bottom, you can click the More Options button to the left of the dialog box. For bleed, I tend to be generous and use 1p6 or 1/4″, though for most printers 0p8 or 1/8″ is also acceptable (check with your printer if you’re unsure). As in other Adobe programs, when the link icon is active, it will make all the field values the same.

If you don’t set these options up now, you can always go back to them later by navigating to File>Document Setup.

Master Page Grid and Guides

The next step is to go into the Master Page by going to the Pages panel and double clicking on the A-Master. This is where I set up my grid guides.

InDesign - Grids

Make sure you have double clicked on the A-Master, so that both pages of the facing page spread are selected at the same time (verify by glancing to see that both pages look highlighted (grey) in the Pages panel). This ensures that you’re creating identical guides on both pages at the same time. Go to Layout>Create Guides and enter the number of rows and columns and the amount of space in between each (should be labeled Alley, but misnamed here as Gutter. A gutter is actually the additional margin on the spine edge of the page).

I usually have at least 1p6 (1/4″) of space in between each column, in this example it’s 3p0 or 1/2″. Most of the time I’m only using rows to mark off my page into three sections, so I leave the “gutter” as zero.

Grid Colors

InDesign - Grid Colors

All guides are by default cyan, but you can change this before creating them if you go Layout>Ruler Guides. I usually make my grid guides (not baseline grid, but my layout grid) a different color so that if I drag out a guide later to line something up, I don’t get it confused with the grid guides. I also change the guides back to cyan when I’m done setting up my layout grid.

InDesign - Baseline Grid Options

Also, if this is going to be a multi-page document, I determine my baseline and go to Edit>Preferences>Grids and adjust the Increment Every field. I will use this later to make it so that every line is aligned across the whole document. You can change the baseline guide colors in this panel, too.

Stick around because next I’ll discuss setting up Master Pages in detail and how I create styles that I’ll use throughout the rest of the project. You can get free updates via RSS (what is RSS?) or email every time I post a new article to Creative Curio.

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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