11 simple tricks to work smarter in InDesign (+ free InDesign training!)

11 simple tricks to work smarter in InDesign (+ free InDesign training!) by Paper + Oats

It’s no secret I love InDesign – if you’ve been around these parts for even just a week, you can probably tell that :) Since I'm all about helping others learn how to use InDesign, today I want to share a few of my favorite simple tricks, tools, tutorials, and shortcuts to help you work smarter + faster in the usually mysterious program. Stick around until the end, and you can download a sneak peek at one of my favorite components of my new InDesign course – the ready-to-use project you’ll complete by the end of it. 

But first, I’ve got 11 tricks to go through – these are great little mini InDesign tutorials for beginners – so we’ll skip the small talk and go straight to the good stuff!


1.  Flowing text boxes through all pages

This is my secret weapon for flowing text – are you ready for this? If the amount of text in a text box is more than the size of your box (called overflow), a little red plus sign will appear in the lower right corner of your text box. If you want to flow to a new text box, click this plus sign, then start drawing a new box, and your text will automatically spill over into the new box. If you’ve worked in InDesign, you know that much probably, but here’s my favorite part. If you have a bunch of pages to flow text boxes through, instead of having to draw your new text box on every single page, simply hold Shift and click once in the top left corner of your margins. A new box will appear on that page AND every page after to the exact size of your margins, until your text runs out. This is a huge time saver!


2.  Balance ragged lines

This simple tool can make your short paragraphs way easier to read. It toggles on + off and is found in the top right corner fly-out menu in the paragraphs pane (Window > Type + Tables > Paragraphs). Turning this on with your paragraph text highlighted will automatically balance the number of words on each line in a paragraph so all lines are close to the same length and look more even + balanced. This is a great tool for paragraphs with just a few lines, but a lot of words.

11 simple tricks to work smarter in InDesign (+ InDesign course project preview!) by Paper + Oats


3.  Find / change tool

This tool is the same basic principle as find / replace tools in word processors, but it’s on steroids! You can find the window under Edit > Find / Change. You’ll use the buttons on the right of the window to move through your document, and you can even make changes in your text and use any other InDesign menu while keeping the Find / Change window open. The best part of this tool is all the types of things you can make changes to besides just text – any type of break, symbol or glyph, specific objects or even formatting on objects, and even actions and occurrences called grep  – if you’re a super InDesign nerd!

11 simple tricks to work smarter in InDesign (+ InDesign course project preview!) by Paper + Oats


4.  Automatic page numbering

Another great feature of InDesign that I use on tons of projects for myself and for clients, is automatic page numbering. You can add this into a master page, so it appears in the exact same place on every page in your document. To add this in, have your text cursor ready wherever you want your page number to appear on the master page. Go to Type > Insert Special Character > Markers > Current Page Number. Since your master pages aren't part of your actual document pages, the page number shows up here as a placeholder. Click over to your live pages to see the page numbers populate throughout your document.


5.  Eyedropper color theme

The eyedropper is another tool that’s found in other Adobe programs, but InDesign has a neat additional option that lets you select an entire color palette rather than just a single color. Select the color theme tool from the eyedropper icon in the left toolbar. Then click anything on your document and the tool recognizes other nearby colors and creates a palette of 5 colors. This is helpful if you have trouble picking out colors to use, but have an image that you can draw inspiration from.


6.  Override master page items

While the whole point of master pages is to keep repeating content consistent across multiple pages, there may be instances when you need to edit a master page item on one single page. To do this, you can use the shortcut Command + Shift + click on the object, and it “unlocks” it from the master page and makes it part of your regular page. But beware, the link to the original master page is broken now, so any changes you make won’t effect that page, unless you re-apply the master page to the document page.


7.  Paragraph shading

This tool is actually newer to InDesign and one I’ve just recently fallen in love with. It puts a solid color box behind a text box, treating it all as one unit. The alternative is creating a separate shape and placing it behind your text, but this new method is much easier to replicate and edit. There are tons of custom options for sizing and spacing in the paragraph shading window, so you can get really creative with it! Plus, you can set up a paragraph style for it, so you can apply the same formatting elsewhere with literally one click.

11 simple tricks to work smarter in InDesign (+ InDesign course project preview!) by Paper + Oats


8.  Corner options

This tool is also fairly new to me, but is a great way to quickly edit the corners of a shape. You can create beveled edges, rounded corners, and several more options with just a few clicks. You can open the window under Objects > Corner Options while having your object selected. Click the Preview checkmark to see the changes live on your shape.

11 simple tricks to work smarter in InDesign (+ InDesign course project preview!) by Paper + Oats


9.  Place a linked file in one click

Linking outside files is another huge feature of InDesign – you can add in images or illustrations (including .psd, .ai, .jpg, .pdf, .png, .eps, and lots more) into your InDesign pages, while still letting the file remain independent as well. This makes editing + updating quick and easy, plus keeps your file size down. To place a file into your document with one click, use the shortcut Command + D – this opens a browser window to find the file on your computer. Find your file and click Open, then click once anywhere on your artboard and it gets dropped onto your page.


10.  Overprint preview

This is a quick tool that I use every single time I’m in InDesign. Overprint Preview is the first option under the View menu. Toggling it on will show all your images + artwork in high resolution, but it can make your load time a little choppy and start showing white lines through all your artwork as you’re scrolling. Toggling it off shows your images in low resolution, but it will help your load time stay fast and your scrolling stay smooth. You can see the slight difference in the images below. It’s a good tool to flip on every-so-often to make sure your design is looking it’s best.

11 simple tricks to work smarter in InDesign (+ InDesign course project preview!) by Paper + Oats


11.  Preflight check

Preflight is the way that InDesign combs through your document in real time and checks for errors related to links, images, fonts, overflow, etc. You can open the preflight window under Window > Output > Preflight. Make sure “on" is checked to keep it running while you're working. Preflight also shows at all times along the bottom of your window — a green dot means you’re error-free, and a red dot means there are errors somewhere in your document. You can double click the error along the bottom of your window or in the Preflight window, and it tells you what the error is and what page it occurs on so you can fix it.

11 simple tricks to work smarter in InDesign (+ InDesign course project preview!) by Paper + Oats


There are tons more great tools available in InDesign – this is just the tip of the iceberg. A few of my other favorite, more in-depth tools that make InDesign so great are...


  • Master pages — the golden ticket in InDesign, these are mini page templates you can create for repeating content so your pages stay super consistent and your workflow moves like a dream

  • Character + paragraph styles — styles are presets of formatting for your text that you can apply with in just one click, and they’re soon to be your new best friend

  • OpenType — these features are available in Photoshop + Illustrator, but by accessing it via the glyphs window in InDesign, it becomes way more user friendly

  • Transform again tools — these can seem confusing at first glance, but once you know how to use them, they’re a huge time saver for creating grids and patterns

  • Designing with tables — tables don’t have to look boring and table-y, there are tons of customizing options for making tables look sleek, modern, and easy on the eyes

Hint hint – there are entire lessons dedicated to each of these in The InDesign Field Guide!

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What are your favorite InDesign tricks + tools? Is there one you couldn't live without? Who's joining me for the course, and what's the one thing you're dying to know how to do in InDesign?


Kelsey Baldwin

Graphic designer + blogger providing design resources to help creative entrepreneurs navigate the world of design + branding for digital products so they can share what they know.

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