Scots around the world will be celebrating the birthday of the Scottish poet Robert Burns tomorrow. But how much do you really know about Robert Burns? Create a quirky thistle infographic in this simple tutorial for beginners to Adobe InDesign, and fill it with facts about The Bard!
In this tutorial we’ll look at how easy it is to create simple graphics from scratch using the tools available in InDesign. We’ll explore how you can create a high-impact infographic with a single strong idea, and how well-chosen fonts, textures and colors can give your design a professional finish. Don’t limit the lessons here to celebrating Burns Night alone—you can apply these lessons to all sorts of infographic designs.
1. Create a Thistle Illustration in Adobe InDesign
You can easily create simple graphics in InDesign, in a similar way to the process in Illustrator, using the shape and drawing tools available in the Tools panel.
Open InDesign and go to File > New > Document. Set up a new 1-page Portrait-orientation A4 document for Print.
We will create a custom page size for the final infographic artwork, but for now, we just want a drawing board to work on.
No need for custom Margins or a Bleed, so just click OK.
Open the Swatches panel (Window > Color > Swatches) and select New Color Swatch from the panel’s drop-down menu, accessible from the top right of the panel.
Create a new CMYK swatch, with the values C=45 M=18 Y=100 K=3, a light grassy green. Click OK.
Repeat the process to create three more swatches with the following CMYK values:
- C=61 M=37 Y=88 K=26
- C=90 M=100 Y=17 K=5
- C=55 M=85 Y=0 K=0
First up, we need to create the head of the thistle.
From the Tools panel, select the Polygon Tool from the Tools panel. You can find this by clicking down on the Rectangle Tool (M) to access a short drop-down menu.
Holding down Shift, drag to create a polygon shape about 70 mm in diameter. Position centrally on the page. Set the Fill Color to C=45 M=18 Y=100 K=3, the lighter green, and the Stroke Color to C=61 M=37 Y=88 K=26, the darker green swatch.
Go to Object > Effects > Transparency to open the Effects window. Reduce the Opacity of the polygon to 50% and click OK.
Open the Stroke panel (Window > Stroke) and set the Weight of the polygon’s stroke to 7 mm. Set the Type to Straight Hash.
Select the Polygon shape and Edit > Copy, Edit > Paste, positioning the pasted shape over the top of the first.
Hover over a corner of the shape and rotate it slightly so that the points of the polygon poke across the straight edge of each side of the polygon below.
With the pasted shape selected, go to Object > Effects > Transparency and increase the Opacity to 80%.
From the left-hand menu click on Drop Shadow to apply a drop shadow to the shape. Reduce the Blending Opacity to 24%, and set the Distance to 1 mm and the Angle to 135 degrees. Reduce the Size of the shadow to 1 mm.
Create a third polygon shape, holding Shift while you drag, about 70 mm in diameter as before.
Set the Fill Color to the paler purple, C=55 M=85 Y=0 K=0, and the Stroke Color to the darker purple swatch, C=90 M=100 Y=17 K=5.
From the Stroke panel, set the Weight of the stroke to 3 mm and the Type to Right Slant Hash.
We’re going to cut the polygon to create two triangular sections.
From the Tools panel, select the Scissors Tool (C). Cut the stroke of the polygon at the points highlighted in red in the image below. Hover over the top left-hand corner of the polygon and snip once, and then snip once on the opposite side to create a separate top section. Select the top section and hit the Delete key.
Snip the bottom point of the polygon, to create two separate facing triangles.
Select the left-hand triangle and go to Edit > Copy, Edit > Paste. Swap the swatches for the Fill and Stroke, setting the Stroke to C=55 M=85 Y=0 K=0 and the Fill to C=90 M=100 Y=17 K=5.
Rotate the pasted triangle slightly clockwise and position as shown.
Select the shape and Edit > Copy, Edit > Paste. Then right-click (Windows) or Control-click (Mac OS) > Transform > Flip Horizontal. Position the triangle in a mirrored position.
Drag your mouse over the four purple triangles to select them and right-click (Windows) or Control-click (Mac OS) > Group. Position the group of shapes above the pair of green polygons, rotating a little to the left to give the thistle head an angled position.
To build up your thistle, we can create some leaves for the plant.
Select the Pen Tool (P) from the Tools panel. Click once in a blank area of the page and drag downwards, with a right-leaning angle. Release the mouse and then click to the right of the first point, dragging it down at a similar angle. This creates an S-curve. Use the Direct Selection Tool (A) to easily adjust the curve if needed.
Create a second curved line in the same way, positioning above the first line, with the edges positioned close together.
Select both lines and go to Object > Paths > Join to create an enclosed leaf shape.
Set the Fill of the Shape to the paler green shade, C=45 M=18 Y=100 K=3, and the Stroke to C=61 M=37 Y=88 K=26. From the Stroke panel (Window > Stroke), adjust the Weight of the stroke to 5 mm and the Type to Straight Hash.
You now have a thistle head and a leaf element, both of which you can incorporate into your infographic artwork. Save your work, naming it as ‘Thistle Illustration’.
2. Set Up Your Infographic Page
Keeping your illustration artwork open, go to File > New > Document to open the new document window.
Set the Intent to Print, and keep the No. of Pages to just 1. Uncheck Facing Pages. Under Page Size select Custom... from the drop-down menu. Name the Custom Size as Infographic and set the Width to 325 mm and Height to 840 mm. Click Add and OK.
Back in the New Document window set the Margins to 8 mm and the Bleed on all sides to 5 mm.
3. Set Up a Sequence of Layers and Give the Design Some Texture
To keep your infographic diagram organized and easily editable, you should set up a sequence of layers and lock them as you build up the design.
Navigate to the Layers panel (Window > Layers) and double-click on the default Layer 1 name. Rename the layer as Texture Background and click OK.
Create three further layers, from the Create New Layer button at the bottom right of the panel. Color Background, then Artwork, then Typography.
Lock the Typography, Artwork and Color Background layers and click on Texture Background to activate it.
Select the Rectangle Frame Tool (F) and drag to create a frame that stretches across the whole page, up to the edges of the bleed on all sides.
To give the infographic a subtle background texture, and make it appear more tactile, you can place a plain image of a papery background. Here I’ve chosen to use this image from PhotoDune.
Go to File > Place, select your chosen textured image, and click Open. Arrange the image in the frame by double-clicking to select it directly and using Shift to resize.
With the image frame selected, go to Object > Effects > Transparency. Set the Mode to Soft Light and reduce the Opacity to 10%. Check the Preview box at the bottom left of the window to see your edits in action. When you’re happy, click OK.
Return to the Layers panel and Lock the Texture Background layer.
Unlock the Color Background layer.
Select the Rectangle Tool (M) and create a rectangle shape that extends across the whole of the page, up to the edges of the bleed, as we did in the previous step.
Set the Fill to a new CMYK Swatch (add from the Swatches panel), C=10 M=6 Y=8 K=0, a very pale grey.
With the grey rectangle selected go to Object > Effects > Transparency. Set the Mode to Multiply to bring through the paper texture on the layer below, and reduce the Opacity to 75%.
From the left-hand menu, click on Directional Feather. Increase the Feather Widths on all sides to 20 mm. Set the Noise to 20% and Choke to 25%. Click OK.
4. Grow Your Thistle!
Lock the Color Background layer and Unlock the next layer up, Artwork.
Drag a Guide out from the left-hand ruler (View > Show Rulers, if not shown by default) to the center-point of the page, at 162.5 mm.
Select the Ellipse Tool (L) and, holding Shift, drag to create a small circle about 20 mm in diameter. Set the Fill to [None] and the Stroke to C=61 M=37 Y=88 K=26. Position this circle towards the bottom of the page, around the center guide, though it doesn’t need to be perfectly central.
Now select the Pen Tool (P) and click three times, moving up the page, to create a three-point curved line. This will form the stalk of the thistle. You can use the Direct Selection Tool (A) to adjust the curve of the anchor points if you need to.
Position the bottom point of the line so that it sits on the top edge of the green circle.
Hop back over to your ‘Thistle Illustration’ document. Drag your mouse over the head of the thistle to select all the shapes and Edit > Copy.
Return to the infographic document and Edit > Copy. Edit > Paste the graphic and position at the top of the stalk.
Copy the leaf illustration from the ‘Thistle Illustration’ document and Paste onto the infographic document.
You can resize the leaf and position it along the stalk, allowing a little gap between the stalk and the edge of the leaf.
Copy and Paste the leaf, varying the size and position (holding Shift while you resize to maintain the proportions), and flipping the leaves that sit along the left edge of the plant (simply right-click (Windows) or Control-click (Mac OS) > Transform > Flip Horizontal). You can also vary the Fill Color between the light green and dark green shades.
Eventually, you should aim to have ten leaves running along the stalk. Evenly space them, so you’ll have room to insert a text caption above each leaf.
5. Caption Your Infographic
We can now start to think about inserting text captions on our infographic. Each leaf will have a fact about Burns Night placed near it.
Remaining on the Artwork layer, zoom in to the top right corner of the thistle illustration.
Select the Line Tool (\) and, holding down Shift, drag downwards to create a short line about 25 mm in Length. From the Stroke panel (Window > Stroke) set the Weight to 1 mm and the End of the line to Circle. Change the Cap to a Round Cap to soften the end point of the line.
Set the Stroke Color, from the top control panel, to C=55 M=85 Y=0 K=0.
Select the line and Edit > Copy, Edit > Paste. Position over to the opposite side of the thistle illustration, above the top leaf on the left-hand side.
Select the Line Tool (\) again and, this time, while holding Shift, drag from left to right to create a new horizontal line. Connect the end of your new line to the top of the pasted line. Drag your mouse over the two lines to select them, and go to Object > Paths > Join. Adjust the Join, from the Stroke panel, to a softer Round Join.
Change the Stroke Color to [Black].
You now have two sorts of annotation lines, which you can Copy and Paste repeatedly, positioning one line above each leaf, as shown. Vary the Stroke Color of the lines to the different purple, green and black shades as you move down the thistle.
If needed, you can also flip, rotate or add further lines to the annotation lines; though you can always do this once you’ve inserted the text captions.
Lock the Artwork layer and Unlock the Typography layer.
We need to select two fonts to use across the infographic. One font should be used for All Caps titles and subheadings, and the other font should be a legible, classic italic.
Navigate to the top of the infographic, and create a wide text frame using the Type Tool (T). Type ‘Burns Night 2015 (paragraph break) Awesome Burns Night Facts!’. Set all the text to Align Center.
Highlight the first line alone and set the Font to Josefin Sans Bold, All Caps, Size 35 pt and increase the Tracking to 300.
Highlight the second line of the title and set the Font to Alegraya Italic, Size 26 pt, Leading 41 pt and set the Tracking to 50.
Select the Line Tool (\) and drag from left to right to create a short horizontal line, and position as shown below. Set the Weight of the stroke to 0.5 mm, and the End to CircleSolid. Adjust the Stroke Color to C=55 M=85 Y=0 K=0.
You can also add a slight gradient to the line by going to Object > Effects > Gradient Feather.
Edit > Copy and Edit > Paste the line, and then right-click (Windows) or Control-click (Mac OS) > Transform > Flip Horizontal, positioning the pasted line in a mirrored position to the right of the subheading.
Now it’s time to set up your text captions.
Navigate to the top right of the thistle illustration. Select the Type Tool (T) and drag to create a text frame about 95 mm in Width. Paste in your first Burns Night fact!
Highlight all the text and set the Font to Alegraya Italic, Size 20 pt, Leading 25 pt, and Align Center.
For each fact you should select the most important word or phrase in the text and highlight it. Set the Font to Josefin Sans Bold, All Caps and Size 30 pt. Match the color of the text to the color of the annotation line.
Simply Edit > Copy and Edit > Paste the text frame, positioning each at the end of an annotation line on the infographic. Adjust the text content, All Caps phrase and text color as you go.
Your infographic artwork is finished! Great work!
Now all you need to do is decide how you’re going to export your infographic (for print or online).
If you want to export the design, ready to send to a printer, go to File > Export, selecting Adobe PDF (Print) from the drop-down menu in the Export window.
From the General export options select Press Quality from the Adobe PDF Preset drop-down menu.
Under the Marks and Bleeds options (accessible from the left-hand menu list) check All Printer’s Marks under Marks, and then check Use Document Bleed Settings in the Bleed and Slug section. Click Export.
To prepare the infographic as a digital file, you can either prepare it as an Adobe PDF (Interactive) file, by selecting this option from the Export window (File > Export), or select instead JPEG or PNG, selecting the appropriate quality and sizing options to suit your purposes.
What Have We Learned?
Congratulations! Your Burns Night infographic is complete. There are lessons we covered here which you can easily apply to other infographic and print design projects. Make a note of these tips and tricks to make your own infographic designs appear more polished and professional:
- Consider applying a slightly textured background to give your design an on-trend look.
- Keep your font choices simple and modern—always prioritise legibility of the text over anything else.
- Create simple graphics using the tools, shapes and stroke textures available to you in InDesign. No need to hop over to Illustrator or Photoshop!
- Stick to one clear, strong idea for your infographic, rather than using lots of complicated concepts and ideas, to get your point across instantly and effectively