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How White Space Can Transform Your Adobe InDesign Layouts

Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

Less is more when it comes to designing layouts! We take a look at how incorporating more white space into your InDesign layouts can make a huge difference to your work, taking your designs from crowded and fussy to streamlined and polished in an instant. 

In this tutorial, you’ll learn how to create a simple two-sided flyer in Adobe InDesign, create a simple grid for feeding in text and images, and be sparing with placing your elements to create a contemporary, calming design.

What Is ‘White Space’ and Why Should I Use It?

White space is the term given to the empty space on a layout. It doesn’t even have to be white, and it can also include negative space, which is the space between two elements on the page. What’s significant about white space is that it is free of elements—no text or images fill the space—and, as a result, it is calming and pleasing to the eye, and can help create a balanced composition.

It can be tempting to fill your InDesign pages to the brim with text, images, shapes and color. Particularly if you or your client have neglected to edit down the content for a flyer, brochure or poster, for example, you can end up with a layout that doesn’t look all that appealing. 

If this is the case, it’s likely the main problem is the lack of white space on the layout. This can include a lack of standard white space, like margins or column gutters, which you may not have made generous enough. It can also include the lack of strategically applied white space on the main body of the layout.

Let’s look at an example. A fictional orange farm, Oli Farms, wants to produce a two-sided, single-page flyer aimed at potential local distributors. The first side should display a logo and address, and the reverse side should display more information about the farm and its products. 

Take a look at these two different layouts for the reverse side of the flyer. The first layout has very little white space: the margins and gutters are narrow, and almost every part of the page is filled with text, images or colored elements. 

crowded layout

You may not think it looks that awful, but then take a look at this revised layout. This layout makes good use of white space, broadening the margins and column gutters, and strategically placing smaller sections of text at different vertical positions on the page. 

minimal layout with white space

This layout may contain less information, but it’s more likely you will find the relevant information more quickly and easily, in contrast to the previous layout design. As this is a promotional flyer, designed to grab the attention of a prospective distributor, it’s more important for the design to present only the essential information and give the reader a good impression of the business’s brand. 

Put side by side, it’s also clear that the right-hand layout is easier for the eye to process. The increased white space allows the Oli Farms address at the top right to breathe, and makes the separate sections of text, each under their own color-coded heading, appear more equal and ordered. The images of the sliced orange and orange leaves also become more prominent and artistic.

comparison of layouts

Let’s now walk through the steps of creating the flyer in InDesign, giving emphasis to the white space on the layout.

1. Prepare a Grid for the Flyer

Creating a three-column grid gives you plenty of flexibility to play around with the placement of text and images on your layout.

Step 1

Open InDesign and go to File > New > Document. 

In the New Document window set the Intent to Print, up the Number of Pages to 2 and Uncheck Facing Pages.

Under Page Size, select Custom... from the drop-down menu to open the Custom Page Size window. 

creating a custom size

Step 2

Type Flyer 8.5x11 into the Name text box. Type 8.5 in into the Width text box and 11 in into the Height text box. If your Preferences are set to millimetres, InDesign will convert this to 215.9 mm by 279.4 mm. 

Click Add and then OK to return to the New Document window.

custom page size

Step 3

Under Columns, set the Number of Columns to 3 and increase the Gutter width to 9 mm.

Set the Margins on all sides to 15 mm, and give the flyer a 3 mm Width Bleed all the way around.

new document window

Click OK to create your new document. 

new document

Step 4

Navigate down to Page 2 of the document. This will be the reverse of the flyer.

Ensure the rulers are visible (Window > Show Rulers), then from the top ruler click and drag down a horizontal guide to Y position 26 mm. Drag a second down to 79 mm, and finally drag a third guide down to 163 mm

These will mark out the positions for the text column headers on the reverse of the flyer.

guides on page

2. Lift Color From Your Selection of Images

Now that you have prepared your grid, you can start to think about creating a color palette for the design. We want the flyer to look fun and optimistic, so let’s lift a sunny palette of colors from these images of an orange, orange half and orange leaves.

Step 1

Download the three images from the PhotoDune links listed above, and then return to InDesign.

Navigate down to Page 2 of the document, the reverse side of the flyer.

Select the Rectangle Frame Tool (F) and create a new square-ish image frame, about 90 mm in width and height. Go to File > Place and select the photo of the half orange. Select Open and arrange the image proportionally in the frame. 

Position on the left-hand side of the page, as shown.

half orange image placed

Select the Rectangle Frame Tool (F) again and this time drag to create a more rectangular frame with a slightly longer width. File > Place and select the image of the three orange leaves, and click Open. Position at the bottom right of the page, allowing the bottom of the leaves to cross the edge of the page.

layout with leaves

Step 2

Select the Eyedropper Tool (I) from the Tools panel and hover over the image of the half orange. Click once on the segments of the fruit to lift an orange pigment from the image.

Open the Swatches panel (Window > Color > Swatches) and select New Color Swatch... from the Swatches panel’s drop-down menu (accessible from the top right corner of the panel). 

The RGB swatch picked up by the Eyedropper Tool has automatically appeared. Adjust the Mode to CMYK, click Add to ad it to the Swatches panel, and then click OK.

new color swatch

Take the Eyedropper Tool (I) again and hover over a yellower part of the orange photo to pick up a paler, more golden color. Repeat the process above again, selecting New Color Swatch... from the Swatches panel’s drop-down menu. 

When you’ve added this second swatch, return to your document and pick up a third color from the image of the orange leaves, a green tint. Add to the Swatches panel using the same method.

You now have three new CMYK swatches in your Swatches panel: an orange, a yellow/gold, and a green.

swatches panel

3. Choosing Typefaces & Creating Custom Elements

For this flyer layout, we’re predominantly going to be using a classic serif font, Goudy Old Style Std

But we can also use a more playful font to add some more decorative, paint-like elements to our flyer design.

painterly elements

Step 1

Download the free font, Brushstroke Plain, install it, and then return to InDesign.

Still remaining on Page 2 of your document, select the Type Tool (T) and create a new text frame. Place your type cursor into the frame, and set the Font to Brushstroke Plain. 

Open the Glyphs panel (Window > Type & Tables > Glyphs) to view the full set of characters available to you in the Brushstroke Plain font.

Select the ‘I’ glyph and double-click the icon in the panel to insert it into your text frame. Up the text size to a large size, like 200 pt.

glyphs panel

Step 2

With the text frame selected, go to Type > Create Outlines to transform the ‘I’ into an editable shape. Rotate the shape so it lies horizontal (Control-Click [Mac OS] or Right-Click [PC] > Transform > Rotate 90 Degrees CW) and reduce the width and increase the height of the shape so it appears more squat.

Adjust the Fill Color of the shape to your newly created orange shade. With the shape selected, go to Object > Effects > Transparency and reduce the Opacity to 80%. Click OK

effects panel
transparency applied to shape

Place the shape in the first, left-hand column of the page (on Page 2), resting the top of the shape against the lower guide.

paint splash single

Step 3

Select the shape and Edit > Copy, Edit > Paste, moving the second shape so it sits over the top of the first with a bit of overlap. Don’t worry about making it look too perfect; you want the shape to look a bit haphazard.

paint splash

Select both shapes together, and Edit > Copy and Edit > Paste twice. Set one of the pairs in your yellow swatch and position in the second column, resting the top edge against the second guide down the page.

Set the third pair of shapes in the green swatch and position towards the top of the third column, resting against the top guide.

layout with paint

Step 4

We’ve laid the foundations for the reverse of the flyer. Now, let’s move the focus to the front of the flyer. Let’s look at how to create this simple logo design, which will balance with the white space on the front layout to create a balanced, beautiful look.

final logo

Navigate up to Page 1 of your document. Select the Type Tool (T) and drag to create a square text frame about 100 mm in diameter. Type a capital ‘O’ and set the Font to Brushstroke Plain, Size 150 pt and the Font Color to your orange CMYK swatch.

typed letter

Position centrally on Page 1. Convert the letter to a shape (Type > Create Outlines) and stretch the shape so it’s a little wider and squatter.

outlined letter

Take the Rectangle Frame Tool (T) and drag to create a small image frame positioned just at the top of the ‘O’ shape. File > Place, and select the image of the orange you downloaded earlier. Click Open

image of orange

Enlarge the image in the frame, so just the stem of the orange appears in the image frame. Position as shown below.

image placed

4. Build Up Text Sparingly!

Now we can start to introduce text onto our flyer. But let’s keep in mind that the text needs to be sparing, so no more than 200 words can be used overall on this flyer. When you’re creating your own promotional layouts, try to restrict yourself to including mainly essential information and keeping your sentences short and sweet.

Step 1

Open the Layers panel (Window > Layers). Double-click on the default Layer 1 name and rename the layer Color and Images. Click OK and then Lock the layer.

layer options

Click the Create New Layer square icon at the bottom right of the Layers panel to create a new, second layer. Rename the layer as ‘Typography’ and click the layer’s name in the panel to activate it.

layers panel

Step 2

Remaining on Page 1 of your document, navigate up to the top left corner of the page. Select the Type Tool (T) and drag to create a small text frame one column in width. Position at the top of the first column, resting it snugly between the top and left margins.

Type the following into the text frame (adapting the address to your preferred address, if you like):

‘Oli Farms

Route 1



Set the Font of all the text to Goudy Old Style Std Regular, All Caps, Size to 13 pt, Leading to 18 pt and Tracking to 100

Now highlight just the name of the business, ‘Oli Farms’, and make the Font a little larger, 19 pt, and pull out ‘Oli’ in Bold. Adjust the Leading of the line below to 30 pt to create some distance between the company name and the address.

text frame in grid

Now select the Line Tool (\) from the Tools panel and, holding Shift, drag from left to right to create a straight line about 60 mm in Length. Set the Stroke Color to the yellow CMYK swatch, and the Stroke Weight to 0.35 mm. Position the line to sit between the business name and the address, resting the left edge on the left-hand margin.

line tool

Step 3

Create a second, wider text frame using the Type Tool (T), and position it below the central ‘O’ logo. Type ‘Oli Farms’ and set the Font to Goudy Old Style Std Regular, All Caps, Size to 40 pt and increase the Tracking to 100

Highlight ‘Oli’, as before, and set in Bold.

text logo

Select the Line Tool (\) again and create a horizontal line 60 mm in Length. Set the Stroke Color to your orange CMYK swatch and the Stroke Weight to 0.5 mm.

That’s the front of the flyer completed—great work! Don’t be tempted to add anything more to the layout. Just let that lovely expanse of white space do the talking...

front of flyer

Step 4

Let’s move down to Page 2 of your document, to finish working on the reverse of the flyer.

Select the Type Tool (T) and create a short text frame the width of one column. Type a four-letter heading into the text frame, such as ‘ZEST’, and set the Font to Goudy Old Style Std Regular, Size 50 pt, Align Center and Font Color to [Paper].

Place the text frame over the top of the orange paint-like shapes in the first, left-hand column, as shown below.

zest in white

Select the text frame and Edit > Copy, Edit > Paste twice, editing each text frame to read a different short word. Here I’ve used ‘LOVE’ and ‘TASTE’. Position each over the top of the yellow and green paint-like shapes in the second and third columns on the page.

headers in white

Step 5

Create a new text frame using the Type Tool (T) the width of a column and about 65 mm in Height. Position in the first, left-hand column, just below the ‘ZEST’ heading.

Here you can start to enter a couple of paragraphs of text (be strict—restrict yourself to just a couple of paragraphs only!), setting the Font to Goudy Old Style Std Regular, Size to 11 pt, and Leading to 15 pt

Highlight the first paragraph only and set the text to Bold, and pull out the first letter in a Drop Cap (edit this from the Character Formatting Controls panel running along the top of the screen) and a matching orange swatch.

Increase the First Line Left Indent of the second paragraph to 2.

text column

Step 6

Select the text frame you created in the previous step, and Edit > Copy, Edit > Paste. Position in the second column, under the second heading, ‘LOVE’.

Adjust the content of the text, and adjust the color of the Drop Cap to yellow.

Edit > Copy and Edit > Paste this text frame to create a third column of text, and position in the third, right-hand column, below the final heading, ‘TASTE’. Adjust the text content and the Drop Cap’s color to green.

If you’re adding contact information on this part of the flyer, place it in the third column of text, and set the text in green and in Bold Italic.

reverse of flyer

Great work! You’ve finished the reverse layout of your flyer, and it looks fabulous. Both sides of your flyer are ready for proofing and exporting to PDF, ready for printing. 

final flyer

By sticking to a simple grid and restricting the quantity of text and other elements on the layout, you’ve created a design that looks clean, polished and professional. Read on for a summary of how to apply white space to your InDesign layouts.

Tips for Applying White Space to Your Layouts

As we’ve seen during the course of this tutorial, white space can really improve the legibility and overall aesthetic quality of your layout designs. Keep these tips in mind for creating your own minimal layouts in InDesign:

  • Plan a simple grid for your layout and split the layout into defined sections. This will allow you to more clearly assign areas for placing text and images, and define areas for promoting white space.
  • Less is always more. Edit your text down and keep your images down to a select few.
  • Create balance in your layout to keep it easy on the eye. Balance out busy areas of the layout by positioning them opposite clearer or completely empty areas.
  • Be playful with white space. Experiment with colored backgrounds, or with playful negative space to create optical illusions. White space doesn’t have to be boring—find ways of bringing it to life!
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