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Design

Design a Zodiac Calendar to Celebrate Chinese New Year in Adobe InDesign

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Difficulty:BeginnerLength:MediumLanguages:
Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

On 19 February, one in six people in the world will be marking the end of the Year of the Horse and celebrating the start of a new year. The timing of the Chinese New Year festival is based on a lunar calendar, and the Chinese rotate through a cycle of 12 animals, one to represent each 12-month period. These animals are thought to have characteristics which are taken on by individuals born in the relevant year. 

2015 will be the Year of the Goat/Sheep, and people born in this year are thought to be diplomatic, family-centric and good-natured.

Zodiac (Sheng Xiao) calendars are an age-old design for mapping out the 12 animals and the years they are associated with. In this tutorial, we’ll be giving a modern update to the traditional calendar, using Adobe InDesign to put the calendar together, and using illustrated assets from Mary Winkler’s Adobe Illustrator tutorial.

You’ll need access to both InDesign and Illustrator for this tutorial.

final product top view

1. Create a New Adobe InDesign Document

Step 1

Open InDesign and select New Document from the Welcome window, or go to File > New > Document.

In the New Document window set the Intent to Print, No. of Pages to 1 and uncheck Facing Pages. From the Page Size drop-down menu select Custom... to open the Custom Page Size window. 

Set the Width to 420 mm (the width of a landscape A3 document) and the Height to 420 mm too. Type ‘Zodiac Calendar’ into the Name text box and click Add, and then OK.

custom page size

Step 2

Back in the New Document window, set the Top Margin to 37 mm, the Bottom Margin to 23 mm, and both the Left and Right Margins to 30 mm. If you’re going to want to send your calendar to print, instead of just creating a digital image, set the Bleed to 5 mm on all sides. Click OK

new document
new page

2. Set Up a Sequence of Layers

The calendar’s design is based on a sequence of layered shapes, text and images. The best way to manage these, and be able to edit them easily, is to sit elements on a different layer. You can then easily lock the layers you’re not currently working on, and nothing will shift about while you work.

Step 1

Open the Layers panel (Window > Layers) and click on the default Layer 1 name to open the Layer Options window. Rename the layer as Background and click OK.

Click the Create New Layer icon at the bottom right of the panel, or open the panel’s drop-down menu and select New Layer... to create a second layer above Background. Double-click the layer to rename it as Circles 1. Click OK.

layer options

Repeat the same process a further eight times to create a sequence of ten layers: Circles 2, Images, Circles 3, Circles 4, Strokes, Central Circles, Typography and, at the top, Layered Typography.

layers panel unlocked

Step 2

Once you’ve created the layers, click in the blank space next to each layer name, to the right of the eye icon, to Lock every layer except Background

Click Background to activate it.

layers panel

3. Think About Color and Prep Your Zodiac Images

We’re going to use only four color swatches across the design: a bright red, a metallic gold, black and white. Let’s get these set up before we start putting the calendar together.

This tutorial uses illustrated assets which you can learn how to create in this Illustrator tutorial. If you are using your own drawings, or stock images, ensure they are in vector format, and saved in a format with a transparent background.

Step 1

Open up the Illustrator document that contains your zodiac illustrations. They are all grouped together, but we need to treat them as individual drawings. 

original image set

Edit > Copy one of the illustrations and Edit > Paste them onto a separate artboard. Go to Object > Artboards > Fit to Artwork Bounds to fit the artboard closely to the drawing. Then go to File > Save As... and select Illustrator EPS (eps) from the window’s drop-down menu. Name the file, e.g. ‘Rat’, and click Save. Under the Format options, keep Transparent checked.

save as EPS

Create a New Layer from the Layers panel (Window > Layers), locking and switching off the view of the layer below it, containing the first zodiac image. Paste a second zodiac image onto the second layer, altering the dimensions of the artboard if required, and repeat the above process, saving the image as an EPS file. 

Repeat for all the other zodiac images, until you have a set of 12 EPS files, each an animal drawing.

a red swatch applied to image

Step 2

Remaining in Illustrator, drag your mouse across the page to select one of the zodiac images. 

Go to Window > Swatches to open the Swatches panel. Click the New Swatch icon at the bottom right of the panel to open the selected color in the New Swatch window. Adjust the Color Mode to CMYK if you need to, and rename it as something like ‘Zodiac Red’. The values for the red swatch used here are C=0.45 M=99.14 Y=97.32 K=0.09. Then click OK to add the color to the Swatches panel. 

new swatch

Add a second swatch to the swatches panel, setting the CMYK values to C=15 M=46 Y=96 K=4. This is a gold color.

new CMYK swatch

Duplicate the layer containing the sheep illustration. 2015 is the year of the sheep, so we’re going to do something special for him and set him in gold! Highlight the vector and adjust the Fill to the gold swatch. 

applying a gold swatch

Save the gold sheep as a separate EPS file, naming him something like ‘Sheep_Gold.eps’.

Still in Illustrator, select both the red and gold swatches in the Swatches panel (hold Shift to select both), and from the panel’s drop-down menu select Save Swatch Library as ASE (Adobe Swatch Exchange). Name it something like ‘Zodiac Swatches.ase’, and then Save it in your project folder.

Save as ASE file

Step 3

Leave Illustrator and return to your InDesign document.

Open the Swatches panel and, from the panel’s drop-down menu, select Load Swatches. Select your Adobe Swatch Exchange file, ‘Zodiac Swatches’, and click Open. The red and gold swatches will load into the Swatches panel.

load swatches from swatches panel

Now you’re ready to start putting your calendar design together!

4. Build Up the Background of the Calendar

Step 1

With the Background layer still unlocked and active, drag a guide down from the top ruler (View > Show Rulers) to 210 mm. From the left-hand ruler drag a vertical guide out to 210 mm, meeting the two guidelines at the center point of the page.

guides on page

Step 2

Select the Rectangle Tool (M) from the Tools panel and drag to create a square shape that extends across the whole of the page, up to the edges of the bleed.

Select New Color Swatch from the Swatches panel and create a new CMYK Swatch, an off-black color, values C=74 M=65 Y=60 K=79. Click OK.

new off-black swatch

Set the Fill of the square shape to this new swatch, and the Stroke to [None], from the Character Formatting Controls panel running along the top of the screen.

black background

Step 3

Return to the Layers panel and Lock the Background layer. Unlock the next layer up, Circles 1.

Select the Ellipse Tool (L) and, holding Shift, drag to create a perfect circle that fits snugly within the margins (360 mm in diameter), and sits centrally on the page.

Set the Fill to the gold swatch, C=15 M=46 Y=96 K=4, and the Stroke to [None]. 

With the circle selected, go to Object > Effects > Outer Glow to open the Effects window. Set the Mode to Darken and reduce the Opacity to 80%. Set the Technique to Softer and the Size to 12 mm. This gives the circle a slightly lifted, 3D effect, and a slight drop shadow effect around the outside edge.

outer glow effect

From the left-hand menu check the box next to Inner Glow and set the Blending Mode to Normal and the Opacity to 75%. Set the Technique to Softer, Source to Edge and Size to 13 mm. Click Preview in the bottom left-hand corner of the panel to view the effect as you edit. Click OK. The circle now has a slightly metallic sheen.

inner glow effect
gold circle

Step 4

Select the Ellipse Tool (L), as before, and, holding Shift, create a second, smaller circle, 329 mm in diameter. Position centrally on the page, using the guides to sit the center of the circle on the center point of the page.

Set the Fill to the red swatch, C=0.45 M=99.14 Y=97.32 K=0.09, and the Stroke to [None]. 

With the circle selected, go to Object > Effects > Outer Glow. Set the Mode to Color Burn, to create a darker shadow around the outside of the circle, and click the swatch to the right of the Mode menu, adjusting the color to the gold swatch.

Keep the Opacity at 100%. Set the Technique to Softer, Size to 5 mm and Spread to 18%. Click OK.

outer glow effect
red circle

Step 5

Lock the Circles 1 layer and Unlock the next layer up, Circles 2.

Select the Ellipse Tool (L), as before, and, holding Shift, create a third, even smaller circle, 300 mm in diameter. Position centrally on the page. Set the Fill to [Paper] and the Stroke to the red swatch.

white circle

Step 6

Lock the Circles 2 layer and Unlock the layer two layers up, Circles 3.

Again, select the Ellipse Tool (L) and drag to create a perfect circle 200 mm in diameter. Position centrally on the page, and set the Fill to the red swatch and the Stroke to [None].

Go to Object > Effects > Outer Glow to open the Effects panel. Give the red circle a lifted, 3D look by setting the Mode to Normal, the Color to your gold swatch, and the Opacity to 75%.

Set the Technique to Softer and Size to 5 mm. Click OK.

outer glow effect
red circle

Step 7

Lock the Circles 3 layer and Unlock the Circles 4 layer above it.

Select the Ellipse Tool (L) again and drag to create a perfect circle 177 mm in diameter. Position centrally on the page. Set the Fill to [Black] and Stroke to [None].

black circle

Switch to the Preview Screen Mode by hitting W on your keyboard. This is how your page should look. 

finished circles

Now we can start to introduce the zodiac graphics to the calendar.

5. Place Your Zodiac Graphics

Step 1

Lock the Circles 4 layer and Unlock the Images layer a little further down in the sequence of layers.

layers panel

Select the Rectangle Frame Tool (F) from the Tools panel and drag to create a small square frame about 50 mm in Height and Width. Position at the top right of the white circle, close to the central vertical guide.

Go to File > Place and select one of your red zodiac animals, which you saved earlier as separate EPS files. Click Open

Arrange in the frame using the Fill Frame Proportionally option from the top control panel, or double-click inside the frame and hold Shift while you resize.

image frame

With the image frame selected, Right-Click (Windows) or Control-Click (Mac OS) > Transform > Rotate. If you divide a 360 degree circle into 12 equal parts (for the 12 zodiac animals) you get 30 degrees. So type in -30 into the Angle text box to rotate the image frame a little to the right.

rotate function
rabbit image rotated

Step 2

Select the frame and Edit > Copy, Edit > Paste, positioning this second image frame below and to the right of the first frame. Again, select the frame and Right-Click (Windows) or Control-Click (Mac OS) > Transform > Rotate. Keep the value as -30 degrees again, and click OK.

Repeat, editing and copying each new frame, and rotating -30 degrees until you’ve created a sequence of six equally-spaced images running along the right-hand edge of the white circle.

rabbit tiger and ox images
rotated zodiac images

Step 3

Return to the first image you placed—in this case, the rabbit—and Edit > Copy, Edit > Paste, moving the pasted image frame to the top left of the white circle. File > Place, selecting another red zodiac image, and Open.

Right-Click (Windows) or Control-Click (Mac OS) > Transform > Rotate, but this time set the Angle value to 30 degrees, to rotate the image frame to the left. 

rotated dragon image

Continue to copy and paste new frames, rotating each a further 30 degrees, until you have a sequence of six images running around the left-hand side of the white circle.

images of zodiac animals
rotated images

6. Divide the Calendar Into Sections

Step 1

Lock the Images layer and Unlock the Strokes layer a couple of layers above.

Take the Line Tool (\) and, holding Shift, drag downwards to create a straight vertical line 300 mm in Length. Position centrally on the page, the top of the line meeting the top edge of the white circle, and the bottom of the line sitting on the bottom edge of the white circle.

Set the Stroke Color to the gold swatch, the Stroke Weight to 2 mm and the Type to Thick-Thick (edit from the top controls panel, or from the Stroke panel (Window > Stroke)).

vertical line

Step 2

Select the line and Edit > Copy, Edit > Paste in Place. 

Right-Click (Windows) or Control-Click (Mac OS) > Transform > Rotate the line 30 degrees. Position so that it crosses the first line along the central point of the page.

rotated line

Select the second line and Copy, Paste in Place and Rotate 30 degrees again. Repeat the process until you have a sequence of six lines criss-crossing the calendar.

rotated lines

Step 3

Take the Scissors Tool (C) and snip each line at the point where it meets the edge of the inner black circle. You should end up with 12 outer lines that you can select separately from the inner gold lines.

snipped strokes

Set the Stroke Color of these outer lines to your red swatch.

red and gold strokes

7. Create a Central Gold Medallion

Step 1

Lock the Strokes layer and Unlock the Central Circles layer.

Take the Ellipse Tool (L) and, holding Shift, drag to create a small circle 77 mm in diameter. Set the Fill to your gold swatch, and the Stroke to [None]. Position centrally on the page.

Go to Object > Effects > Inner Glow and keep the Mode as Normal. Reduce the Opacity to 75%. Set the Technique to Softer, Source to Edge and Size to 6 mm.

inner glow effect

Check the box next to Satin from the left-hand menu in the Effects window. Keep the Mode as Normal, and adjust the color to your red swatch. Reduce the Opacity to 70%, set the Angle to 120 degrees, Distance to 2.469 mm and Size to 4 mm.

Click OK.

satin effect
central gold medallion

Step 2

Select the Ellipse Frame Tool (find it under the Rectangle Frame Tool’s drop-down menu in the Tools panel) and drag to create a circular frame about the same size as the gold central circle.

Go to File > Place and select the EPS image of the gold sheep. Click Open and arrange the image in the frame so that it sits centrally on the page. Allow a little space around the edge of the gold circle. We’ll place some text there a little later.

gold sheep image

8. Apply Typography to the Artwork

Step 1

Lock the Central Circles layer and Unlock the Typography layer above it.

We’re going to use one font across the calendar design, the free-to-download Zalamander Caps. Download and install the font, and then return to InDesign.

Select the Type Tool (T) and drag to create a tall, narrow text frame 25 mm in Width and 42 mm in Height. Position it inside the black circle, within one of the sections, under the top right zodiac image.

Using either the final calendar image at the beginning of the tutorial or a useful list of dates, type in the relevant corresponding years for the animal, beginning with the most recent year and ending with the least recent. 

Set the Font of all the text to Zalamander Caps Semibold, Align Center and Font Color to [Paper]. Vary the Font Size from the top of the text to the bottom from 22 pt to 12 pt.

Select the text frame and Right-Click (Windows) or Control-Click (Mac OS) > Transform > Rotate; rotate the line -30 degrees and click OK.

zodiac years

Create a second smaller text frame, and type in the title of the animal. Rotate -30 degrees as well, and position within the red circle, just above the years text frame.

zodiac animal name

Step 2

Select both text frames and Edit > Copy, Edit > Paste. Right-Click (Windows) or Control-Click (Mac OS) > Transform > Rotate; rotate the line -30 degrees and click OK

Edit the text to read the correct years, and edit the animal’s name. Position the frames under the next animal along to the right.

pasted text frames

Build up the text, continuing to copy, paste and rotate, positioning each pair of text frames under the next animal image. Eventually you will have a set of 12 pairs of text frames, each corresponding to its own animal image.

rotating text frames

Step 3

Remaining on the Typography layer, zoom in to the centre of the calendar.

Select the Ellipse Tool (L) and, holding Shift, drag to create a small circle that fits inside the central gold circle. Select the Type on a Path Tool (Shift-T) and click once on the right-hand side of the circle. Type ‘The Sheep (x26 spaces) Year Of’ and set the Font to Zalamander Caps Semibold, Size 25 pt and Font Color to [Black]. 

Rotate the circle if needed, to get the text to align on either side of the gold sheep.

type on a path

Step 4

Lock the Typography layer and Unlock the top layer, Layered Typography. 

As we did in the previous step, select the Ellipse Tool (L) and, holding Shift, drag to create a small circle that fits inside the central gold circle. Using the Type on a Path Tool (Shift-T), click once on the bottom edge of the circle to transform it into a text path. 

You’ll notice a small line projecting out from the circle. Pull it into the inside of the circle to move the text path to run inside the edge of the circle.

Type ‘2015’ and set the Font to Zalamander Caps Semibold, Size 28 pt and Font Color to [Paper]. 

Rotate the circle if needed, to get the text to align centrally under the gold sheep.

type on a path

Great work! Your zodiac calendar is finished, and it’s looking fantastic!

final calendar

You can export your design for printing (File > Export, selecting Adobe PDF (Print) from the drop-down menu in the Export window).

Or you can save it as an Interactive PDF, JPEG, PNG or TIFF file for use across online documents (File > Export, selecting your chosen option from the drop-down menu in the Export window).

Let’s recap what we’ve covered in this tutorial...

What Have We Learned?

You’ve created a Zodiac Calendar in InDesign, to celebrate Chinese New Year. However, you can easily take some of the tips and tricks covered here and apply them to your other InDesign projects. We’ve explored:

  • How to prepare colors and images using Illustrator, before beginning work in InDesign.
  • How to build up a layered image, using the Effects available in InDesign to give a 3D look to shapes and frames.
  • How to create geometric, symmetrical designs, and use the Rotate window to divide the graphic into even sections.
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