Indesign / DTP for beginners

Introduction to Adobe InDesign videos from Western Washington University – is a good place to start for the complete beginner. You can teach yourself as you go from online tutorials. The golden rules for those starting out in Indesign are use paragraph styles, use a baseline grid, and show the baseline grid while you’re working. There are various schools of thought on the optimum spacing for the baseline grid, but for the beginner use the same value as your leading (so 14pt for 12pt basic paragraph text for example).

CreativePro is a great site for very practical information about DTP. It’s worth subscribing to their blog, and this post (a checklist of typographic issues to go through before you send the document to the printer) is a good example of their stuff.

Things to know:

  • Keep different elements on different layers, at the simplest level this means images on one layer and text on another. For complex documents, I put titles, body text, guides, images all on their own layers. This makes it easier to move things about and to make changes later on. Also, I usually like to proofread a real, printed out copy, for which I just hide the image layer so I’m just printing out the text.
  • In Indesign, create new Paragraph Styles by first trying them out on a paragraph of text. Once you’re happy with how it looks, select the text then in the Paragraph Styles panel Alt+Left Click on the New Style icon (looks like a little blank page). This will automatically create a new Paragraph Style according to the paragraph you’ve selected.
  • When defining Paragraph Styles, there’s a drop down menu labelled Based On. This is useful when creating, say bullet points and indented paragraphs in body text. If you base these other styles on the basic body text then any changes you make in the original style (like a different typeface or font size) will be automatically changed in all the associated (“based on”) paragraph styles.
  • Usually when you’re making an Indesign document you’ll just choose “document”. However, if you’re making a long book with chapters, it’s best to make each chapter a separate document – that way files are more manageable, and you can put headers on the master page (“Chapter 1: The Beginning” at the top of each left hand page, etc). After you’ve finished all the chapters and have a series of Indesign documents, you create a new file which is an Indesign “book”, this lets you piece all the documents together.

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