Five Key Things about Working with Graphics in InDesign

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been working more with InDesign lately and thinking about how learning InDesign’s layout capabilities might be of interest to more people as the Creative Cloud model makes it more readily available (i.e. it’s free as part of your subscription, so you might as well give it a test drive). Or maybe, like me, it’s been a while since you’ve needed to use ID, and you’re looking to renew your acquaintance.

Given that dekeOpolitans are generally graphically oriented creatures, I’ve made a list of five things about using graphics (photos, line art, logos) in InDesign documents. These observations may come in handy should you wish to create garage sale flyer, an invitation to an intergalactic cocktail party, or anything else that might combine your carefully crafted graphics with pithily presented text in InDesign.

intergalactic cocktails in InDesign

So here’s my list of five things about working with graphics in InDesign.

1. Placing a file.

Although there are a lot of variations, at the most basic level, to add a graphic to your layout, use the File > Place command. In the ensuing dialog box, navigate to the file you wish. When you click Open, you’ll return to your layout with a cursor (artistically interpreted below) that has the following components:

  • There’s an arrowhead and dotted right angle that you should align with where you want the top left corner of your graphic to go.
  • There’s a mildly inexplicable paintbrush icon, which I guess is visual code for “we’re gonna put something artsy in here.”
  • There’s an itinerant thumbnail of the image that you’re going to place.
  • And there may be (if you select more than one image) a number in parentheses that tell you just how many images that cursor is loaded with.

Click where you want your image, and InDesign will drop it in place.

Tip: You can also drag a file onto your InDesign layout from the Bridge, desktop, etc. When you do, the cursor will temporarily look like it’s loaded with a bunch of page icons. When you let go, it will look like nothing happened. But click again in the InDesign interface and you’ll get the aforementioned loaded cursor, complete with thumbnail.

2. Place multiple files.

As I alluded to above, you can place multiple graphics at once. One way is to select more than one by holding down the Shift key and gathering them up in the Place dialog box. But that technically just loads the cursor so you can drop them one by one in the layout.

You can, however, drag out a frame with your loaded cursor and press the up arrow key as you’re dragging to increase the number of frames you’re creating. For example, in the image below, I loaded the cursor with all four martini images, then dragged from the top left (next to where the chain link icon is) down to the bottom, pressing the up arrow key three times along the way to increase my number of frames to four. When I let go, the frames are automatically populated with the images I had loaded.

3. Get to know the Links panel.

When you place a graphic (or for that matter any type of external file) into InDesign, it creates a link to that file on your disk and a preview into your document. This relationship is recorded in the handy and informative Links panel.

The Links panel contains a plethora of information and useful tools, but here are two key things: It warns you if your image has moved since you initially placed it (which would mean you only have a preview and not the full resolution image in your layout) and it tells you key information about the effective resolution you are currently enjoying.

Here’s a free video from our friend David Blatner’s InDesign CS6 Essential Training course at that deftly explains the Links panel:

4. Adjust display performance to really see your image.

By default, InDesign displays your image in what it calls Typical Display mode. This means when you’re working with your document, the image previews are fairly ratty. I suppose this makes the program work more efficiently, but it drives me crazy to see my carefully crafted graphics look like hell. If you think you feel the same, try choosing View > Display Performance > High Quality Display and see the immediate improvement in the look of any linked file.

5. Remember, graphics and their frames are independent.

When you place an image into InDesign, it basically lives inside a frame that, for all intents and purposes, behaves like the internal edge of a mask in Photoshop. It’s like a window onto your image behind which you can move the image around to change what’s revealed.

The easiest way to see the unseen part is to use what is known as the Content Grabber. It looks like one of those circular hole reinforcers to me (am I showing my age?). Hover over the middle of your graphic and you’ll see this ghastly icon appear.

If you click and hold on that circle, any part of your graphic that extends beyond the frame displaying it will appear in a dimmed state. Then, by using the white arrow tool (aka the Direct Selection tool), you can move around the image within the frame to change what part is visible.

Note: if you’re working with default layer colors, a selected frame will have a blue bounding box, the selected content will have a goldish one. The appearance of the gold box when you don’t expect it is a good sign that you may have unintentionally clicked the Content Grabber.

The relationship between a graphic file and its frame in InDesign is controlled by the Fitting command, which you can find under the Object menu or by right-clicking on top of your graphic in the layout. There are a multitude of fitting options, all of which I have to say out loud to myself and think about what they mean before applying. You can fit the frame to the entire content, fill the frame proportionally (which preserves your image’s proportions but may leave parts of the image outside the frame or whitespace inside it), fit the content to the frame (which, given that it would distort your content leaves me to wonder when anyone would use this option), and more.

Usually, I use Fit Frame to Content, because, usually, I’ve carefully created my content in Photoshop with no extraneous matter. So I would prefer that the image I see in the layout is exactly what I need to work into my composition. If changes are in order, I usually solve them by scaling or recomposing, not “cropping” which is essentially what happens when the frame is smaller than the image. (Of course, your original image isn’t cropped, but that’s the net effect.)

Those are my five observations to get you started. If these thoughts whet your appetite for InDesign training, I’ve got two recommendations from If you’re just getting started, try Deke’s Up & Running with InDesign, and if you want a deeper look at some key features try David Blatner’s new InDesign Insider Training: Beyond the Essentials course. Beyond those, there’s an amazing library of InDesign courses at If you’re not a member, you can get a free week’s trial at Happy InDesigning!

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