Basic InDesign Tutorial in Creating Your First Book Layout – Part 1


A lot of people are still clueless on how to use Adobe InDesign to do book or multi-page document layouts. If you’re coming from laying out documents using MS Word or other word processing software, using Adobe InDesign for the first time may be a little bit intimidating. Sure there are tons of Adobe InDesign tutorials, guides, and tips around but most of them are bits and pieces of everything. So I decided to create something that will teach newbie InDesign users straight up the very basics of how to create their first book layout.

1. Planning

When creating any complex document, layout and organization should be planned before you dive in and execute the layout. Below are some of the basic things you need to think about before designing any publication.

  • Document size (Page size)
  • Content organization (Order of content)
  • Margins, columns and other white spaces
  • Repeating elements (Running hearders and footers, repeating backgrounds, etc.)
  • Typefaces and fonts to be used (The simpler the better. Avoid script or fancy typefaces or other difficult to read typefaces)
  • Font sizes (For titles, headers, sub-headers, body text, tables, footnotes, charts, etc.)
  • Graphics and images (How do you want to present them and placed along with the text)
  • Colors (The less color you use, the less expensive your printing cost will be)
  • Other print production considerations like binding, paper stocks for cover and inside pages, etc.

2. Creating New Document and Setting Master Pages

To create a new document, you click File menu and select New Document. You will then be viewing the New Document window which looks like the one shown below.

Right now you’ll just worry filling up options for your page size, column size, and margins. Leave the other options in their default values.

First thing you’ll do after you create a new document in InDesign is set your Master Pages. Every new InDesign document comes with a set of blank Master Pages. A Master Page is a template page that we can apply to individual pages in our document. All objects that we put in the Master Page will appear on any pages that we apply the Master Page. Usual elements that we put in the Master Page are running header and footer, page numbers, and some non-printing items like column and margin guides. You can create as many Master Page sets as you want, but typically you create Master Pages for each section, or chapter of your book, or just one Master Page for a short and simple book layout.

You access the Master Pages in the Pages palette. It is located on the bar of palettes at the upper right of your InDesign screen. If it is not showing up, go to “Window” > “Pages” to open it. The diagram below shows the Pages palette.

The top section for Master Pages contain thumbnails for single page [None] and two facing pages [A-Master]. If you are using just one set of Master Pages, you can just edit A-Master Page by double clicking the A-Master Page to access it. You can add new Master Pages by clicking the Palette options button located at the upper right portion of the Pages palette and select “New Master”.

For now, let’s just create a simple left and right Master pages containing page numbers as shown below.

To add page numbers on your Master Page, select the Type Tool from the toobox on your left. The cursor will now turn into a text insertion icon. Move your cursor on the location you want to place your page number (either left or right page). Press and drag to create a text frame. Don’t bother about the position of your text for now. You may move it later with the Selection tool from the toolbox to the exact position you want it to be. At this point you can now type any text you want on your text frame. But for now, we only want to insert page numbers. So instead of typing text, you will press right click, and from the right click menu select “Insert Special Characters” > “Markers” > “Current Page Number”. You will then see the “A” symbol written on your text frame. The “A” mark will appear as page number on every page in your document associated with that particular Master Page. To style it with the gray boxes similar with the sample above. You may use the Rectangle tool from the drawing tool set in the toolbox and adjust it with your desired size and color or gray fill.

If you’re not familiar with InDesign toolbox, you may refer to the toolbox overview illustration below.

To copy the same page number element on the opposite page, you may select the page number and boxes you created using the Selection tool and copy it by holding the “Alt” (Windows) or “Option” (Mac) button then drag it over the opposite page. You may want to hold the “Shift” button to constrain movement and keep its alignment.

You have now created your first Master Page set.

To apply the Master Page on a particular page or spread, simply drag the Master Page icon towards the document page or spread icon of your choice in the Pages palette. To apply a Master Page to multiple pages, select the pages you want to apply the Master page in the Pages palette then press “Alt” (Windows) or “Option” (Mac) as you click the Master page icon.

3. Using Grids

Using grids in book layout or any design helps us create and impose order, precision and consistency in our layout. Learning and adopting grid based design early on for beginning designers may prove beneficial in the long run. And as you gain more design experience, you’ll also learn instinctively when to use effectively and when to break the rules of grid-based design system.

For now, let’s learn some basic things about grid in InDesign for book layout. We will simply use baseline grid to align our text line per line.

While we are on the Master Pages, we can set our grids on them and use it all throughout our document. In this sample layout, I created my margins with the following settings shown below. To open the margins and columns dialog box, click “Layout” > “Margins and Columns”.

To properly setup your horizontal baseline grids, we need to think ahead what will be the font size and leading of our body text. Let’s say we use Times New Roman, 11 points with 14 points leading. With a 14 point leading, we can say that our baseline grids will also have increment every 14 points.

To setup our baseline grid, we go to the top bar menu once more and choose “Edit” > “Preferences” > “Grid”. The following menu box will appear.

Since our top margin is 15mm, we will make our first baseline grid start at 15mm. Then next, indicate your grid increment value at 14 points. The rest should have similar default values as above. Click ok to apply all grid settings.

To make our baseline grids visible (if it is not showing up), on the menu bar, click “View” > “Grids and Guides” > “Show Baseline Grid”. Make sure Screen Mode is set to “Normal” (“View” > “Screen Mode” > “Normal”). You should have a similar looking Master spread with grids like the one shown below.

4. Importing Text to Add Content

Before we place the actual text content of our book, let’s take a look first on how our simple book page structure will look like. I made this very simple page structure for our basic book layout tutorial. A typical book may contain more than what is shown below. It may include other pages like Foreword, Preface, Acknowledgement, References, Index, etc. But just to illustrate and cover the basics, we can just use the sample page structure shown below.

These are just the inside pages of our book. It is best to create the book cover separately as it has different page size because it is in spread format and may be wider than your actual book spread because it might contain a spine which will vary in size depending on the number of pages you’ll have and thickness of the entire book.

For the title page, you can create this manually and easily. Since this is just one page, you can use the Type tool straight up and type and set your own title. It is also advisable that you just copy the same title or type style from your cover to your title page for consistency.

The table of contents will be discussed on part 2 of our InDesign Book Layout Tutorial.

I won’t be showing you how to layout every page but I will just show you how to format one page and the rest will just be the same.

Assuming we have a separate text document in MS Word format for our content. We will then import and place it in our InDesign document.

To import your document file, follow the steps below:

  1. Go to “File” menu, then select “Place”. Or press “Ctrl+D” (Windows) or “Command+D” (Mac).
  2. Locate and select your file when the Place document dialog box appears.
  3. If you want to specify other file importing options, check the “Show Import Options” check box.
  4. Click Open to import the selected file.

If you created a text frame and selected it prior to importing a text file, the content of your file will automatically be placed inside that text frame. If none, you can just click or drag inside your page to place the content. Alternately, you can “Autoflow” your content by pressing the Shift key with the Place cursor. Holding down the shift key changes the placement of your content from a single text frame to automatically flowing your text adding pages to your document as needed.

Navigate through your files, then find and select your Word document. Click Open and you will see your cursor change into a place document icon. Point it on your document page and click. The first text frame of your content will be placed over your selected page.

Shown below is how the Autoflow place cursor looks like and the page containing the imported and placed text.

5. Formatting Text with Paragraph styles

There are several ways that you can format your text in InDesign but the most efficient way is to use Paragraph Styles. Using paragraph styles allows you to dramatically cut the amount of time formatting text particularly with long documents containing long stretches of text. With paragraph styles, appying text formatting to selected paragraphs is just a click away.

There are three ways to create paragraph styles. First method is to create an entirely new paragraph style from the paragraph style palette. Second method is to format the paragraph first then base the new paragraph style from that paragraph. Third method is to import styles from other InDesign documents. In this tutorial, let’s use the first and most common method.

Let us now define paragraph style for our heading.

Open the “Paragraph Styles” palette by clicking “Window” > “Type & Tables” > “Paragraph Styles”. From the Paragraph Styles palette click the options button and select “New Paragraph Style” as shown below.

Change the Style Name to “Heading 1” or any name you want that will describe the paragraph you want to attach it to.

Next, click Basic Character Formats. Now change Font Family, Font Style, Size and Leading. I choose Times New Roman Bold, 26 pt with 28 pt leading which is a multiple of 14 to match our 14 pt increment baseline grid. The rest you can leave in their default values.

Lastly, go to Indents and Spacing. Set Align to Grid to “All Lines”. This tells InDesign to align all lines of text from that paragraph with the baseline grid. You can also choose “First Line Only” and succeeding lines will still follow and align with the grid because our leading matches our baseline grid increment.

Click OK and we have our first Paragraph Style for Heading 1. Place your Text tool cursor on the heading line and click “Heading 1” from the Paragraph Styles palette to apply the Heading 1 style.

Next thing you want to do is format the rest of the text by creating new paragraph styles for them. For our body text, follow the same procedure we did with our Heading 1 paragraph style. You may name it “body”, format characters with Times New Roman regular, 11 pt with 12 pt leading. Then set again Align to Grid to “All Lines”. You may also want to set Alignment to “Left Justify” (also from “Indents and Spacing” tab), but that’s a matter of preference.

Applying our body text paragraph style gives us something like the one shown below.

With baseline grid shown (View > Screen Mode > Normal):

Baseline grid and margins hidden (View > Screen Mode > Normal):

Enhance it a bit if you feel that your page looks bare or too boring with too much text. I added some background boxes behind the heading to match the page number.

Continue adding new paragraph styles and apply them as needed with the rest of your document.

That’s it for now. Part 2 of this tutorial will cover how to add Table of Contents and format footnotes. So if you enjoyed this one and looking forward to the next part, you may want to subscribe to our RSS feed and mailing list to keep you notified and updated. You may also like our Facebook fan page and follow our Twitter account just in case you missed our RSS and mail updates.


  1. Don 3 March, 2012 at 07:44

    Part 2 of this tutorial will cover how to add Table of Contents, format footnotes and create cover for our book.: Where is part 2? I can’t find it!

  2. shakthi vel 30 August, 2012 at 13:32

    this website is very useful and accurate to me which i learnt more basic things in it.

  3. Robert 16 November, 2012 at 03:06

    HELP! Part 2 of this tutorial will cover how to add Table of Contents, format footnotes and create cover for our book.: Where is part 2? I can’t find it!

  4. Graphire 15 March, 2013 at 16:31

    Sorry about the so much awaited part 2 of this tutorial. I haven’t done tutorials for some time now due to a lot of things. But I will prepare it soon and post it as soon as I’m done. Thank you for your continued support.

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