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InDesign: Using Grids

Check out our InDesign: Exploring The Interface course!

While Adobe’s tools do cross over in functionality a little, if you’re placing lots of images on a page, you definitely want to be in InDesign. It’s got many, many ways to place images, and in this article, I’ll show you as many as I can, including all the tiny tricks that can shave hours or even days off a big job.

Image placement basics 

This icon is the key to filling every frame

This icon is the key to filling every frame

If you’ve chosen to place an image, you can click on an existing frame to place the image in there. If you don’t have a suitable frame, you can click and drag on the canvas to create a new one and resize the image to fit inside, or simply click on the canvas to create a new frame that’s the size of the image at its currently set resolution. 

Resizing the image to fill the frame is easy — Command-Option-Shift-C to Fill Frame Proportionally, or press the first box above the Auto-Fit checkbox in the Control Panel instead. To reposition the image inside the frame, you can click the Content Grabber (the circle/donut/focusing-aid) that appears when you hover over a frame containing an image, and then move the image with your mouse or the arrow keys. Conversely, you could also re-crop an image by resizing its containing frame with the Selection Tool.

Probably the most common technique is to resize an image and its containing frame proportionally, by holding Command and Shift as you resize the frame with the Selection Tool. (You could also use the Scale tool if you like.)

Place a grid of images at once

Keep the mouse button down the whole time you’re playing with the arrow keys

Keep the mouse button down the whole time you’re playing with the arrow keys

To throw a grid full of images onto a page is fairly straightforward. Choose File > Place (or Command-D) and then choose more than one image, by Shift-clicking to select images in a  sequence, or Command-clicking non-contiguous images. Press Open, and you’ll be back in your InDesign document with multiple images loaded in your cursor. Rather than placing these images individually, you can place a grid of images by holding Command and Shift as you click — but keep the mouse button held down!

While you’re holding the mouse button, press the right or left arrows to add or remove a column, and the up or down arrows to add or remove a row. Don’t release the mouse button yet, though — as soon as you let go, you’re done. Drag to make sure the grid is covering the right amount of space, then press Command and the arrow keys to adjust the gaps between the columns or rows of images. You’ll have to press these keys repeatedly to get the right gaps. Finally, if you think you’ve got it, let the mouse button go. Press Command-Option-Shift-C to Fill all the frames with their images at once.

If it’s not right after all, you can undo and then have another go, and the images you chose will pop back up into the loaded cursor you started with.

Create a grid of frames first, then place images manually

 

This time, a grid of circles instead

This time, a grid of circles instead

If that technique works for you, but you would rather place images one at a time to control their order, there’s a similar technique available with any of the shape tools. Pick the Rectangle Tool (or the Ellipse, Polygon or any Frame Tool) and start drawing where you want the top left object to be. Drag out to where you want the last object to end, but keep the mouse button down. As before, press the arrow keys to control how many rows and columns of shapes you’ll create, and Command-arrow keys to control the gaps between them. Finally, release the mouse button to finalise the effect.

One added bonus of working this way is that you can hold Shift as you release the mouse to place objects of equal width and height (squares, circles, regular polygons). Once you’ve got the frames as you want them, you can place a bunch of images at once, then click in each frame in whatever order you want.

Redistribute gaps by holding Space

Hold Space while you resize the group to resize the gaps instead — in this case, making the circles overlap

Hold Space while you resize the group to resize the gaps instead — in this case, making the circles overlap

If you’ve made a grid that’s too small, that’s easy to fix. Select all the shapes by dragging a selection outline around them, then hold Command and Shift as you adjust a corner or side handle. Everything resizes at once. But what if the frames are the right size, and the gaps between the frames are too big or too small? That’s easy too. Start dragging on a corner, then hold Space to keep the frames at the same size, but adjust the space between the frames. Drag in to make the gaps smaller, or out to make the gaps larger, and hold Shift as well if you want to keep proportions.

Uniting with Pathfinder

Though these shapes don’t overlap, they can still unite into a single shape

Though these shapes don’t overlap, they can still unite into a single shape

Separate frames are fine if you want to put images in each one, but how about a single image inside all the frames at once? After creating your frames, choose Window > Object and Layout > Pathfinder, then click the Add button to turn the separate selected frames into a single frame. You can now place a single image inside all of the frames at once.

Ditching the Content Grabber

Ditch the Content Grabber if it’s getting in your way

Ditch the Content Grabber if it’s getting in your way

After all that image wrangling, you might just be sick of the Content Grabber. After all, it can get in your way if you’re trying to select frames and you end up with their contents selected instead.

It’s easy to disable, with View > Extras > Hide Content Grabber. So how to select an image inside a frame? If you press A to choose the Direct Selection tool, you can now click on an image inside a box to select it. However, the little-known Shift-Escape shortcut for “select content” will also move your selection from a frame to the image inside it. Handy to know. 

Conclusion

Those shapes from earlier with a single image inside

Those shapes from earlier with a single image inside

These grid techniques are a great starting point for laying out many photos at once, but they aren’t the whole story. If your project is on the larger side, you may prefer to use maths and precision adjustment in the Control Panel to position and to resize your frames. But if a more free-form approach suits you, these techniques will definitely help. Good luck, and watch out for a future article taking grids even further.

Learn more about layout and design with hundreds of hours of video tutorials at AskVideo.com. 

Check out our InDesign: Exploring The Interface course!

Iain Anderson

Iain Anderson | Articles by this author

Iain Anderson is an editor, animator, designer, developer and Apple Certified Trainer based in Brisbane, Australia. He has taught privately and in tertiary institutions, and has freelanced for Microsoft and the Queensland Government. Comfortable with anything from Quartz Composer to Second Life and Final Cut Pro to Adobe Creative Suite, he has laid out books, booklets, brochures and business cards; retouched magazine covers and product packaging, shot and edited short films and animated for HD broadcast TV, film festivals and for the web.

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