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Conquering Compound Paths in InDesign

Clipping Paths, Layer Masks, Clipping Masks....you may be aware of them all, and have used them frequently in Photoshop, Illustrator and perhaps InDesign in the past, but have you ever spent time getting to know Compound Paths? 

Compound paths are the method by which 2 or more paths can be combined to create one whole. It's a tremendously useful little feature that I’m sure once you have seen it here you will start to recognize examples of all over the place in your everyday life. 

Let's start by looking at a basic shape combination.


Step 1 - Start the shape

Select the Rectangular Frame tool and while holding down the Shift key to constrain its proportions draw a square 70mmx70mm in size.

The shape


Step 2 - Step and Repeat

With the Square still selected, open the Edit menu and choose Edit > Step and Repeat or press Option-Command-U.

Step & Repeat


Set the options to Rows 3 Columns 3 and the Offset to 80mm for both Horizontal and Vertical. Doing this creates a perfectly aligned grid of 9 duplicated 70mm x 70mm squares. 

TIP: I’m using an A3 landscape document to fit these all in. 


Step 3 - Round Corners

Select the upper left square so that the little yellow square is revealed on its Path. Click on the square to reveal the shape's 4 yellow corner editors. 

The corner edit points


Grab the top left corner and hold down Shift, then drag the corner as far to the right as you can. Holding Shift limits the edit to that corner only, the others wont change. 

Now repeat this with the opposite corner on the opposite Square of the grid so that your design looks like this:

The rounded shape corners


Step 4 - Create a Compound Path

Select all 9 squares in your grid. Then using the Object menu choose Object > Paths > Make Compound Path or press Command-8.

A compound path created.


The 9 squares in the grid remain in place, however you’ll notice that instead of each square having its own cross there is now only one large cross spread over them all. This is because this shape is now a single graphic frame, in spite of the 10mm gaps between each section. 


Step 5 - Add an Image

With your compound Path selected, choose File > Place or press Command-D and choose an image to place into the compound path. Use whatever Fitting method is appropriate to make the image fit your Compound Path and see how it looks. 

Add an image


Step 6 - Try some other Combinations

Try this again using circles instead of squares. Make them smaller and more dense, so perhaps 40mm x 40mm and in a grid of 16. 

The same technique using circles instead.


This time, when you create your Compound Path, leave some of the circles unselected, so that you can fill them independently of the rest.


David Smith

David Smith | Articles by this author

David Smith is Scotland's most qualified Apple and Adobe certified trainer. Having completed his education at Edinburgh College of Art's BAFTA winning Film School, David moved straight into TV production, first as a Vision Mixer then quickly becoming, at the age of just 24, a director of live TV studio productions. In 2001 he moved into Higher Education where he became a lecturer in TV Production, specializing in post-production and live studio production. During this time, and working with the support of the BBC, Channel 4 and independent production companies, David was instrumental in the design, development and implementation of industry-approved vocational courses across Scotland's Colleges. In 2006, after working closely with Apple Computers to create a unique multimedia studio for education at the Music and Media Centre in Perth, David became Scotland's first Apple-Certified Trainer for Pro Apps. This led on to David forming the first Apple Authorized Training Centre for Education, north of Manchester. In 2008 David made the move to full time training and joined the ranks at Academy Class, Ltd. where he continues to train industry professionals as a certified trainer across the Adobe Creative Suite and Apple Pro Apps range.

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