InDesign Workflow Tips: Improving your Workspace and Working with Master Pages

Covered in this InDesign article/tutorial are some superb tips on how to set-up your Workspace for the fastest possible workflow, and how to work with Master Pages.

Setting up InDesign

So this is your first time using InDesign? Not to worry, I am going to include some bonus tips and tricks in this tutorial. These tips will all be based around Preferences and Workspaces and will allow you to streamline your workflow in InDesign as well as teach you new skills.

When I first used InDesign around twelve months ago I didn’t really know where the tools were located, this was because of the standard workspace called essentials. The title of the workspace “essentials” is also included in all the other Adobe Apps – of course they all have different tools.

Looking at the “Essentials” workspace it has all the tools that you could call the essentials; but for me personally there was a large selection of tools missing. For months I struggled to get the tools I wanted to use and got ever more frustrated with InDesign and even got to the point of using MS Publisher (bad mistake but won’t go into that). Then one day, I noticed Workspaces!

Finally I could find tools I needed in the other workspaces however I often found myself switching in-between workspaces. I accidentally created my first workspace one day even though it was a rename of the workspace Typography. You know how they say “Google is your best friend when you want to know things”? Well it is true for times like those.

Above you will see my InDesign workspace which is very much like one of the workspaces that I have already mentioned called “Typography.” I found that the workspace had most of the tools that I needed so I decided to mod it and added the Preflight Panel and took away the Gradient Panel and the Paragraph Panel (both tools I rarely use).

Step 1 – Setting up a workspace.

To add a panel to the workspace all you need to do is select the Tools/Panels you require. For example I need the Preflight Panel, so I go to Window > Output > Preflight (Option, Shift, Cmd + F) or (Alt, Shift, Ctrl + F). The panel will now appear in your InDesign window. Click the top of the panel and drag to the right of the screen until it appears in the sidebar.

To delete a panel drag it from the right to the centre and click the left hand corner of the panel and poof, it’s gone in a flash! You can now repeat the first step to add or delete tools/panels from the sidebar in InDesign. Once you are happy you can now save the workspace. To do this click the Workspace Title > New Workspace and you will have a box to enter the name of the workspace, then press OK. You have created your very first workspace. This concept works the same in most Adobe applications so try it out in any other applications that you may use.

Step 2 – Setting up a default document.

Setting up a default document will save you plenty of time. All you need to do is open InDesign and go to the Document Setup which is located under File > Document Setup (Option, Cmd + P or Alt, Ctrl + P).

Change the paper to the size that you use the most, for me this would be A4. You can also define the orientation of the page, add a custom size, add bleed and slug to the page (I wouldn’t worry about these at the moment).

Bonus Tip

As long as you don’t have a document open, any changes you make to any of the tools, for example you don’t like the default font, you can change it by switching to the Type Tool and changing the size and font if you wish too.

Step 3 – The Preference Panel

I am not going to go into much detail about this panel because it is very much self explanatory and the only things that I am going to change, which is a personal preference, would be the units that InDesign uses. InDesign uses pica’s as a default which I am not really familiar with whereas millimetres is my chosen increment in InDesign (pixels in Photoshop). To open the preference menu simply press Cmd + K or Ctrl + K on a Windows based PC.

Have a look through the preference panel and change the units and increments. To do this click it in the side bar as so and change the preference.

Now you have a set of custom preferences that should increase your workflow in InDesign. Remember these tips can be used to the same sort of effect in all the other Adobe Applications such as Photoshop and Illustrator.

The Nitty Gritty of Master Pages

What is a Master Page?

A Master Page holds and displays elements that you want to appear on every single page of the document, it’s kind of like a template within a document. Master Pages are extremely helpful when creating a multipage document such as brochures, magazines or newspapers. You can have as many master pages within a document so effectively you could have a master page for a contents page and a standard page which may contain different elements. This allows you to keep things organised in InDesign.

Why Would You Use a Master Page?

I have already mentioned the purpose of Master Pages but I haven’t really explained why they are used. Think of it like this; you have a 100 page brochure for a client to finish up and they want 86 of these pages to have pure content, one for the cover, one for the back of the brochure and eleven advertisement pages. The advertisement pages will contain no specific styling and will display just the advert, so straight away these pages don’t require a master page (unless you want to number the advertisement pages).

The front cover and back cover also don’t have to have a Master Page but the remaining 86 do. The brief may state that these 86 pages need to have the company logo, section name and page number. The other 1 is to be the content page which also needs to include the company logo and section name, but doesn’t need to have page number. If you have a recurring client, keeping master pages stored can save a lot of time for future projects, ultimately earning the designer the same amount of money in a shorter period of time (in other words, a higher hourly wage) – no one can complain at this!

The point that I am trying to get across is that no matter how many times a logo or any other element needs to appear on several pages you don’t have to create extra work by placing the element in the same place as it is in other pages. This could take a lot of time which could be better spent refining the design or even getting the job done on time rather than later than expected.

Bonus Tip

Never send a project off early to a client. It sounds awesome and feels awesome to get a project done earlier than expected but hold fire, soldier! Check through the files again to make sure everything is top-notch and when the deadline looms send it and be on time with the deadline, rather than early. The reason for this is if you get it done early the first time they may expect the next project to be early, too. This happened to me within the first month of my freelancing.

It’s time to create the Master Page

The Brief

I have made up a brief for this project just to make things a little easier for you to follow.

  • 4 pages
  • All pages must include logo
  • Pages must be numbered (except cover)
  • Have a well presented footer with email/web addresses.

This is a very limited brief. The brief doesn’t have to be complex because its a very small brochure to complete.

Step 1 – Create the document

I have created a document ready for an A5 brochure (see the settings in screenshot below).

Click OK and you should now have the document set up and ready to go ahead and start dropping some elements in to place.

Step 2 – Placing Elements into the Document

To place an element into the document either go to File > Place or CMD + D (or Ctrl + D on a Windows based PC). This then brings out a window allowing you to insert a logo. For this tutorial I have created a company name called “InTut Design” and have produced a simple text-based logo purely for this article.

Now we have a logo in place, we need to make it a master element.

Go to the pages panel which is located on the right hand side of InDesign. If you can’t locate it you’ll need to go to Window > Pages. Now you will see this:

As you can see on the pages panel, I have four pages set up and they have the letter “A” in the right hand top corner, this letter corresponds to the master page that it is set up on. At the moment there isn’t a master page but it always defaults to “A”. Now double click on “A-Master”, this brings up two pages, and all you have to do is set up the elements you want to appear.

Now let’s import the company logo into the document on a master page. With “A-Master” double clicked go to File > Place or Cmd + D (Ctrl + D on a Windows based PC) and select the image.

Step 3 – Adding more elements to the document

So you now have your logo in the master page. If you click out of the master page by clicking one of the spreads/pages in the panel you should notice that the logo is on all 4 pages! Now go back into the master page by double clicking “A-Master”. Grab the Type Tool (T) and insert some text for the footer. Don’t worry about numbering the page we will cover that in the following step.

Bonus Tip

You will notice that the logo’s appear differently on different pages. This is because I have facing pages on therefore the right hand side page controls the right hand pages such as the cover and the centre right and the left hand of the screenshot covers the left hand pages and the back cover.

Step 4 – Page Numbering

Our master pages are almost complete, meaning it is almost time to get on with your project and start adding non-master content such as text and images. Before getting on with that however, we need to number our pages and to do so we need to make a new master page called “B-Master”. To create a new master page simply right click on the pages panel and select New Master. Give it a prefix of B – this should be the default anyway, and then click OK. Now you will see an A-Master and a B-Master. So far we have set up the A-Master which is currently set up to all 4 pages. Drag the B-Master from the master page panel to the first page. The reason for this is our brief states that the cover is not to be numbered and the easiest way to do it is make another master page. You should now have something like this. (I have re-placed the logo into the B-Master using Cmd + D (Ctrl + D on Windows based PC).

Next we need to open up the A-Master and insert all the text that is required by the brief. If you look back at the brief it tells us that the Web and Email addresses need to be put on there along with the number of the page. Simply grab the Type Tool and type ‘ /’. Now make another text box, this time with the word ‘page’. To number the pages stay in the text box and go to Type > Insert Special Character > Markers > Current Page Number.


It should insert the letter A. Copy and paste the text and take it to the other page. If you now come out of the master pages you will see that the pages are numbered and start from page two and finish at page four.

Now we have the document set up, what next?

So you should have everything set up and have a blank template to work with. All I have done is added some text to the Front cover and a stock image from Computer Arts Issue 170. On the centre pages I have added some lorem ipsum dummy text to add a back bone to the brochure, and then added a large stock image once again from Computer Arts Issue 170. On the back of the brochure I have just put some basic contact details to add some content to the back.

Now you should have a completed document – if you have a question to ask about this tutorial or about me please feel free to leave a comment, email me at or drop me a line on Twitter.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post and hopefully there will be more from me to come!

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22 thoughts on “InDesign Workflow Tips: Improving your Workspace and Working with Master Pages

  1. Digital Naga


    I think it’s a good idea to also based master pages on other master pages.
    For example make 1 master for your grid and 1 master for your folio’s then apply the grid master to your folio master.

    This way makes everything more flexible. Also always name your master pages as you do in Photoshop dont leave then with just A and B, C gets confusing.

  2. Digital Naga

    Liam no problem, like your blog simply and easy to understand. Just thought I might add to it slightly, hope you don’t mind.

    Callum if you need a more advanced or another beginner Indesign tut. Let me know.

  3. Mark

    Thanks for this great tutorial. I just started working with InDesign and this certainly helps me discover the software environment.


  4. Dee

    I noticed that you had text wrapping around your image. I’ve tried to do this in InDesign 4 and it does not work (it shows the icon grayed out). I have no problem doing this in InDesign 3.

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