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InDesign Toolbox | Part 3: The Type Tool (shortcut: T)

type toolThe type tool is probably one you’re most familiar with, but you might find some of these tips useful.

type boxUse the type tool to click into text and edit it, or draw a new text area by tracing a box on the page.

Double-click on a letter to select the whole word; triple-click to select a line of text; quadruple-click to select the whole paragraph.

TIP: When using either of the selection (arrow) tools, double-click in a text frame to edit the text within. Hit Escape to revert back to the selection tool. This is useful if you need to keep switching between the cursor and arrow tools.

Convert a text frame to a graphic frame

Sometimes, in a newspaper layout for example, you might want to repurpose a text box as an image box. Rather than delete it and create an image box from scratch, simply delete any text inside the frame, hit Escape to switch to the selection tool, right-click inside the box and select Content > Graphic. The box will now behave as an image.

Placeholder text

Placeholder text is sample text (lorem ipsum) that you can use to visualise how copy will look on your page, demo it to other people, test out font styles, etc.

Draw your text box, right-click inside it and select ‘fill with placeholder text’.

type on a pathType on a path tool (shortcut: Shift+T)

You’ll notice that some tools in the palette have a little arrow in the corner. This means there are more options if you click and hold.

One of these options is ‘type on a path’. If you need to create text that reads vertically, diagonally, or even in a swirl shape, this is the easiest way to do it.

A path is a line or shape that has been drawn with the shape tools (e.g. circle, square) or freeform tools (e.g. pen tool). Paths can be open (a line) or closed (a circle).

typing on a pathSelect the type on a path tool and click anywhere on an existing path to start typing your text (a small plus sign will appear on the pointer). The text will follow the shape of the path. Alternatively, you can drag to create a text area in the same way as usual (the text area will be confined to the shape of the path).

To remove a type path, select it with the selection tool and go to Type > Type on a path > Delete type from path.

TIP: to create funky, floaty swirls of text, type on a solid path as a guide, and then hide the path afterwards by selecting it and changing the swatch to none (and stroke weight to 0pt).

TIP: There are some useful extra options in Type > Type on a path > Options. Here you can change the effect, alignment and spacing of your type, or flip the text.

InDesign Toolbox | Part 2: The Direct Selection Tool (shortcut: A)

direct selection toolAs mentioned in Part 1, while the selection tool is for grabbing frames and objects (the ‘shopping bag’), the direct selection tool is for manipulating the content within (the ‘shopping’), such as an imported image as in my examples below.

direct selection tool

click and hold to preview hidden content

resizing with the direct selection tool

select and drag to resize the contents of the frame

Use the direct selection tool to grab your content and position it within the frame.

Resize it by
selecting any
corner of the content
and dragging to the
desired dimensions
(this will resize it

Only content within the frame will be visible; anything that extends beyond it is hidden. Think of the frame like a window in a solid wall.

TIP: Click and hold the image to view content that is outside the frame.

Content grabber

When using the selection tool, the content grabber allows you to manipulate content by clicking on the doughnut-like symbol that appears when you hover on an image.

When this feature was introduced in CS5 I actually found it a bit irritating, as it was too easy to click it unintentionally. You can disable it in: View > Extras > Hide content grabber.

Common problems selecting content

I can remember many a frustrating time when I’ve tried to click on an image or object and simply not been able to select it. This can be for a number of reasons, but in my experience the most common are:

  • the image is a master item. You can override it by holding down Command-Shift and clicking with either selection tool. If you dont want to override it, edit the item on the relevant master page (Window > Pages).
  • the image is on a separate or locked layer. Go to your Layers panel (Window > Layers) and click the padlock to unlock it. Alternatively, lock the layer that is blocking the image you want to edit.
  • the image itself is locked. Go to Object > Unlock all on spread.

Part 3: the type tool

InDesign Toolbox: icons and what they mean

Most of you will be familiar with the InDesign Toolbox, the panel of useful icons that sits on your InDesign layout. But do you know what they all do? What about that weird one that looks like a hypodermic needle?

Over the coming weeks I’ll be giving a rundown of each one, starting today with the Selection Tool.

toolbox-1Part 1: The Selection Tool (shortcut: V)

This is probably the tool you’ll use the most in InDesign. Use it for selecting, moving and resizing text frames and objects.

selection tool

The selection tool is basically just for that – selecting – whereas the direct selection tool (which we’ll talk about next) is for manipulating the content contained within.

Think of it like a bag of shopping – you would use the selection tool to move the bag around, stretch it, and hang it up, and you would use the direct selection tool to add, remove or replace things in the bag.

TIP: for a quick way to rotate a frame, hover over a corner anchor point (little white box) until your cursor changes to a rounded double-arrowed pointer, and click and drag in the direction of rotation. To rotate in precise 90º increments, hold down shift while dragging.

TIP: double-click an object with the selection tool to switch to the direct selection tool.

Part 2: the direct selection tool

What goes up… doesn’t always go down

mouse, booSo my Apple mouse has decided that, while it thoroughly enjoys scrolling up the page, it’s less enthused about travelling south.

This discovery was made somewhat less appealing by the fact that I was reading a news article about body image at the time, and the scroll halted on a semi-naked dude. (I work in an open plan office.)

Don’t worry, I’m here to save you from the same predicament, which isn’t usually a technical glitch but more often caused by a clogged scrollball:

1. Unplug your mouse.
2. Retrieve a plain, clean piece of paper.
3. Lay the mouse upside down and gently roll the scrollball about on the paper.
4. Using a thin, sharp tool (such as an unfolded paperclip), have a good, thorough poke around in the gap around the scrollball. This is quite satisfying when loads of gunk comes out.*

*If you enjoyed that, try poking about in a plughole with an unfolded coat hanger. You’re welcome.

That should help, though you’ll probably have to do it again in a week or so.

My advice (as with most poorly devised Apple products): buy a non-scrollball mouse!

Reborn again

That was a play on the title of an X Files episode, in celebration of the imminent TV revival, but only about 0.5% of you would’ve got that.

Anyway, I’m here to sheepishly apologise, once again. I’ve not been around much (“much”, she says!) largely due to a job change after eight years in the same role. This was a bit of a big step for me for many reasons but I won’t bore you with the detail. The upshot is that the geek is loving it in her new habitat, and wonders why she didn’t make the move much (she says and means) sooner.

Thus far in the new job I’ve been playing with websites and not using our friend InDesign a whole lot, but on the plus side I’ve been putting my writing skills to use (I started this paragraph with ‘thus far’, didn’t I?) So even if I end up blogging utter poppycock, it’ll be well written poppycock.

It’s good to be back.

Caffeine – keep your Mac stoked

So I like to be an environmentally conscious Mac user, doing my bit for the planet and all that. As such, I recently set my Mac Mini to sleep after a specified amount of tea-making/bathroom-visiting/untimely-fire-drill-responding activity, reverting automatically to a password-protected screensaver.

CaffeineHaving merrily sailed along like this for a month or so, I was suddenly alerted to a flaw in this logic when it comes to file uploads. As anyone lucky enough to work in publishing will appreciate, print deadlines are a bitch, and no matter how organised one is, uploading those final PDFs is generally a frantic, urgent, click-to-the-death scenario – so when I left my upload running overnight and returned in the morning to find it paused behind the screensaver, panic ensued.

Of course, this was due to my recent green initiative. The sleep/screensaver combination had interrupted my upload (via Filezilla, if of interest) and was waiting for me to enter a password to resume it. Unfortunately by this point in time I was obliviously devouring a vindaloo in front of the telly.

Since the incident I’ve conducted a bit of research and came across Caffeine, a free app that prevents your Mac from sleeping. The app can be toggled on/off with one click, so you can activate it when uploading files overnight, or any other circumstance when you won’t be there to control the sleep/screensaver. You can set it to run for a specified amount of time or just indefinitely, each time you turn it on.

I’ve now installed this across all our machines, reducing the risk of future failed uploads. Of course, it still requires a bit of human initiative to remember to turn it on…

Pros: Free, simple to use
Cons: Missing the option to schedule activation in advance (see note on ‘human initiative’ above)

Remember me?

Wow, that was a long sleep. Time really does fly.

And in the spirit of being old and grumpy, a little interlude…

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the rise of ecommerce and the seemingly corresponding, complete deterioration of in-store customer service. It seems the easier it is for me to buy something online, the more inept the equivalent high street retailer becomes; you would think the surge in online shopping would necessitate a drive to improve physical shops, but it seems the opposite is happening.

A few examples (employing some slightly dubious pseudonyms for well-known retailers):

Clearfone Weirhausen
Wandered into this popular phone shop following my decision to switch from iOS to Android. After a 15-minute wait:
“Hello, I’d like to look at the Sony XPeria Super Duper Bish Bash Bosh latest model please.”
“Sure. We don’t have any in the store, but you can look at this.” [gestures to a poster]
“Okay. Do you have the actual phone I can look at?”
“Oh. Well, no. Well, we do have a dummy version…?”
“Er. Okay?”
[assistant disappears and returns just in time for my 40th birthday]
“Here you go.”
“Right, thanks.” [Assistant hands me phone. I press buttons. Nothing happens. Frowning ensues]
“Oh the buttons don’t work, this is just a plastic model. The screen’s just a glued on picture, you get me?”

Debonair Hams
Went in here with my mum, looking for cravats and poised with various questions about them. My mum spotted a young sales assistant and confidently marched over.
“Hello. Can you tell me if you sell cravats, please?”
“…Sorry… cra…?”
“Cravats.” [nods encouragingly]
[assistant looks dumbfounded] “I don’t think we do…”
On the way out we walked past a big row of cravats.

For me, until recently, the benefits of going to a shop meant seeing the product in the flesh, asking employees for help and advice, and getting a bit of exercise. These days, given the added online benefits of low prices, next-day delivery options and hassle-free returns, I’m inclined to stay in my PJs and get fat.

Checking your HTML

Do you occasionally write reams of code from scratch? If you’re anything like me, you’ll also occassionally hit an error in your HTML and inexplicably fail to find the missing unclosed tag, rogue space or inadvertently inserted recipe for dahl.

One way to solve this is by using a live text editor such as TextWrangler or Sublime. Simply type (or copy and paste) your code directly into the text editor – you’ll see that the different elements are colour-coded, so that text is easily distinguishable from tags, etc:

TextWrangler image

TextWrangler text editor

This makes it easier to spot errors made by your buttery fingers.

Sublime editor

Sublime text editor

I tend to prefer Sublime as it’s a little easier on the eyes, plus you can select snazzy profiles such as ‘Groovy’.

Perhaps an even better solution is the W3C Markup Validation Service. This actually analyses your code and provides a report on the errors, so it’s a bit more comprehensive.

W3C Validation image

W3C Validation Markup Service

What’s more, it works by you pasting your text directly into a field on the website, or by uploading it, thus avoiding having to bribe your IT department to let you install anything. As it’s a bit more ‘serious’ than other applications you may find there are a lot of things in the report to step around – such as missing doctypes, XML declarations, yada yada – but it will flag any textual errors as well.

Bonus: these facilities all make you look very intelligent if a non-geek glances over your shoulder.

PS Another handy website I found in during this process – HTML Ipsum – great for copying random chunks of placefiller HTML!


GREP styles are a handy, quick way to apply a style to specific words or phrases in a paragraph. Some of you may use nested styles to achieve this, but in cases where you only want to change one word, this is easier, trust me!

Having written this ad hoc article about the colour red, I want to highlight every instance of the word ‘red’ in red font, with the guarantee that I won’t miss any out:

GREP style before

First, we need to set up a character style for the word ‘red’. Go to your Character Style palette and create a new style – we’ll label it ‘red’. Set the colour to red (duh) and apply any other formatting required.

GREP char style

Next, open up the paragraph style for the relevant section of text – if you don’t have a paragraph style set up (why not?!) you will need to create one.

1. Click on ‘GREP Style’ in the left-hand list of options.
2. Give your style a name – we’ll call it ‘red text labelling’.
3. Select the character style from the Apply Style dropdown (‘red’).
4. In the ‘To Text’ box, enter the expression you want the style to apply to – so in our case, type the word ‘red’.

GREP style new GREP

5. Click OK.

Every instance of the word ‘red’ is now highlighted in red:

GREP style after

The cool thing about this is the formatting is live, so as you type out future instances of the word ‘red’ you’ll see it change from black to red font before your very eyes – magic!

It is possible to incorporate more than one GREP style per paragraph style so, for example, if I wanted to make all instances of the word ‘green’ change to green font in the same document as above, I would just need to add a new character style and corresponding GREP style to that effect. This would then exist alongside the red style.

You can also incorporate wildcards into GREP styles. If I wanted to format all serial numbers into bold, for example, I would set up a bold character style and then a GREP style with the ‘To Text’ set as /d/d/d/d/d/d/d (where /d is wildcard-speak for any digit). For the full list of wildcards, click on the @ next to the ‘To Text’ field and select as appropriate.

The best thing about GREP styles is that you don’t have to rely on an editor manually styling up each instance of the word correctly – and that should you want to make any tweaks to the formatting, you need only edit the character style and it’s done.

Tsk tsk


If only this well-known travel company had read my post on cross-references

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