An intro to using master pages in Adobe InDesign (+ video tutorial)

An intro to using master pages in Adobe InDesign (+ video tutorial) — by Paper + Oats


One of the most powerful parts of using Adobe InDesign is the master pages tool. It’s one of many ways in InDesign to speed up your workflow and keep your design uber consistent. Many of my InDesign students are blown away when they learn how to use this feature, and see how such a simple tool can revolutionize their design process. In this post, I’m answering some common master pages questions, plus I’ve edited down an InDesign tutorial from my full course (The InDesign Field Guide) showing you exactly how master pages work and an introduction to using them yourself. Watch, read, and be enjoy your new favorite InDesign tool!


First off, what is a master page?

Master pages are like mini templates you can create and use throughout your document for pages that have repeated content on them, like a page number or footer. They’re not part of your page count. Each one can be a single page or a spread of two pages. When you create a new document, one blank master page is automatically created for you by default. Double click the thumbnail to show the master page by itself on screen for editing and designing.

What types of things would be good to have on a master page?

  • page numbering

  • running heads

  • design elements you want to appear on every page (dividers, decorative elements, icons, etc.)

  • other lines of text you want to appear on every page (copyright info, website, contact info, etc.)

What types of master pages should I create?

  • I always suggest creating the first master page to be for margins only. So no content will appear on it, you’re just using it for the margins / guides.

  • Title pages that are recurring throughout your document (like the start of a chapter or section)

  • Content pages for each chapter / section

  • Other recurring pages that have specific & consistent layouts, like worksheets


The best way to start really learning InDesign? Over someone's shoulder! Here's a quick edited version of a video from my full InDesign course. In this InDesign tutorial for beginners, I'll walk you through applying master pages to your document and how to override elements, so you can see how they work in context.

There is A LOT you can do with master pages, and this video obviously just scratches the surface. Here's a few more answers to common master pages questions, and you can learn even more about this magical tool in my full InDesign course, The InDesign Field Guide.


How do I create more master pages?

Using either the drop down menu or right clicking the thumbnail, click New Master, OR you can right click on the master page thumbnail and click New Master. To duplicate an existing master page, use either of these two menus again, but select Duplicate Master.

How do I change the name of a master page?

Using either the drop down menu or right clicking the thumbnail, select Master Options. Here you can change the name and prefix of your master page. The prefix is what shows up as a label on your thumbnails in the Pages pane.

How do I apply a master page to a page in my document?

Using either the drop down menu or right clicking the thumbnail, click Apply Master to Pages. Here you can select which master page to apply (doesn’t have to be the one you have highlighted), and input the page range in your document you want it applied to. You can also drag-and-drop a single master page thumbnail down to a thumbnail in your document pages to apply it to a single page quickly.

How do I change something on a master page after it’s applied to a page in my document?

You can make changes to the design of your master page at any time and it will automatically update on any page you have it applied to in your document. You can also override individual items on a master page from your document page itself, and it will only be changed on that one single document page. To do this click CMD + Shift + click on the item on the document page. BUT, be careful doing this because overriding unlinks that item and changes it from being a master page item to being a regular item on your document page. So if you make changes on your master page to that specific item, it will not longer update on your document page where it’s been overrided. You can also override all master page items on a single page by using either the drop down menu or right clicking the thumbnail, and selecting Override All Master Page Items. But this kind of defeats the purpose of using a master page, so it would make more sense to just unapply the master page. To unapply the master page, use the same methods you did to apply the master page, but select “None” as the master page.


Voila. Your new favorite InDesign tool is demystified. Master pages can be a powerful tool to have in your arsenal, and I hope this InDesign tutorial has proven that to you! (Keep scrolling to see how you can get in on my free InDesign resource where I spill more of my favorite InDesign secrets.)

Your Turn

Are you a fellow master pages lover before or after watching the tutorial video? If you’ve found an out-of-the-box, creative way to use them, I’d love to hear!

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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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