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How to Import Text and Manipulate Text Frames in InDesign

Of course, no layout—be it a brochure, flyer, handout, etc.—is complete without...text! The great news is, importing and working with text in Adobe InDesign is easy stuff. And, working with and manipulating text frames, while at first may seem unintuitive, will quickly become part of your InDesign skill set.

In fact, when I'm working on a project in InDesign, I rarely (if ever) type text directly into InDesign (aside from things like titles and headers, of course). Instead, I'll often type up the text in another application like OpenOffice's Writer or Word, and then import the text into my layout. Why? Because these apps are dedicated word processors, and even though InDesign has some word processor functionality to it, I prefer using these apps strictly for text.

Or, if I'm working on a freelance job, the client will often send me their content in some kind of a text file format which would then need to be imported into the InDesign layout anyway.

In either case, I'll double-check the text file to ensure that it either contains no text formatting at all, or that all the text formatting has been applied properly. What's cool is, if paragraph and character formatting has been applied properly in the text file, that formatting will come across into the InDesign file and, all the character and paragraph formats will be brought over, too. Then, I'll use InDesign's Character Styles and Paragraph Styles panels to further tweak the formatting.

Okay, let's get started by importing some text into a blank InDesign file, then we'll talk about manipulating text frames.

InDesign is going to let you work the way you want to. So, you can either start by drawing out a text frame first using the Rectangle Frame Tool and then importing your text, or you can choose to import your text and create a text frame simultaneously. It's the latter that I usually go with.

Step 1 - Importing the Text

From the File menu, choose Place... 

Step 2 - Selecting the File to Import

In the Place dialog box that appears, navigate to and select the text file that you'd like to import; then choose 'Open'.

Notice that your cursor changes, offering a preview of the text you're about to import. This is called a loaded cursor. Now we'll create our text frame and drop the text in all in one shot.

Step 3 - Dropping in the Text

Click and drag out a rectangle, which is your text frame, and your text will automatically import into it.

Easy stuff, huh? Okay now let's see how we can go about adding in and manipulating text frames.

You've seen how to get text into InDesign, and how to create an initial text frame. Next, we'll add in some additional text frames, connect them together, and make some other adjustments. As mentioned earlier, this may seem a little unintuitive at first, but have no fear: you'll get really good at this in a short period of time.

Step 4 - Creating a Second Text Frame

From the Toolbox, choose the Rectangle Frame Tool. Then, click and drag out a frame beside your first text frame.

Step 5 - Adjusting the Text Frame

Notice the handles on the outside of the text frame? You can use these to resize your text frame. Or, if you'd like to be more precise, use the options found on the Control bar at the top, like X and Y (for position) and W and H (for sizing).

You'll even find options on the Control bar for scaling, rotating, and shearing your text frame.

Now let's connect our text frames together, so that the text spills from the first frame into the second frame. This is called "threading" text frames.

Step 6 - Threading Text Frames, Part 1

From the Toolbox, choose the Selection Tool; then click on the first text frame.

Notice the red plus icon in the text frame's bottom-right corner? That tells us that the text frame has more content than it can currently hold. In fact, in my example, I imported over five pages worth of text! It's all in there, but the text frame's too small to display it all. So what we'll do is thread our two frames together so the text will flow from one frame to another, just like in a magazine or newspaper.

Step 7 - Threading Text Frames, Part 2

With the Selection Tool active, click on the red icon in the bottom corner of the text frame.

Notice what happens to your cursor; it turns into a loaded cursor! Go ahead and single-click on the second text frame. The second frame fills with text, which is spilling over from the first frame.

I think of the text frames as buckets that hold our content. If we want, we can pour content from one bucket over into another. Now let's add another frame to our text flow.

Step 8 - Adding Additional Frames

While you could grab your Rectangle Frame Tool and drag out another frame on your page and then thread them together as we did above, I want to show you an alternative technique.

With the Selection Tool still active, click on the icon in the second frame's bottom-right corner.

If the text that you imported was as long as mine, then the icon in the bottom corner will be red. If your text isn't long enough to fill the second frame, the box in the bottom corner will be white. Either way, this'll still work.

Notice your cursor changes to another loaded cursor. Go ahead and click and drag out a third text frame. And just like that, your frames are connected. So now, text from the second frame is spilling over into the third frame.

All this text threading is great but sometimes it's hard to tell which frames are connected together, and the order in which they're connected -- especially in complex layouts.

Step 9 - Viewing the Text Threads

From the View menu, choose Extras > Show Text Threads.

Now light blue lines appear in InDesign, showing us how our text frames are connected. Great!

This article is meant to be an introductory to working with imported text and text frames, and I hope you enjoyed it. There are some additional tricks that are possible with text threading, which you can learn about in my InDesign CS5 101 video series. I'll see you there!

Geoff Blake

Geoff Blake | Articles by this author

Geoff Blake is a book author, video presenter, designer, and visual artist. As an in demand live-on-stage software educator since 1997, Geoff has taught desktop publishing, web design and graphics courses all over North America and is regarded as an expert in Adobe's Creative Suite applications, as well as in HTML, CSS, WordPress, and related technologies. With his humorous, non-jargonny approach, Geoff produces highly regarded articles, video training and DVDs, and regularly contributes to top industry magazines and websites.


Jan 10, 2014
Thank you so much. It really help me with my work. Thank you for sharing and make it easy!! eleonora
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