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Quick Tip: Create Simple Vector Graphics in Adobe InDesign

Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

Adobe InDesign provides a range of drawing tools to get you started with creating vector graphics straight onto your InDesign layouts, but they are often overlooked in favor of specialized vector applications, like Illustrator or CorelDRAW.

In this Quick Tip tutorial we’ll take a look at the tools you can use to create simple graphics in InDesign. Simple graphics are great for enhancing your InDesign layouts, from infographics to magazines to book covers!

This tutorial is perfect for beginners to InDesign, or for seasoned Illustrator users looking to explore more of what the Adobe Creative Suite applications have to offer.

1. Finding InDesign’s Drawing Tools

Step 1

Open up Adobe InDesign and go to File > New > Document. We’ll set up a sample document just to do some drawing on, and start experimenting! 

Set the Intent of the New Document to Print, set the No. of Pages to 3 and and Uncheck Facing Pages. Set the Page Size to A3 and click the Landscape icon to the right of the page size text box, to adjust the orientation of the document to Landscape. 

new document

Keep the rest of the New Document options to their default values and click OK.

Step 2

Have a look at the Tools panel, which you’ll find docked to the left side of the workspace. Drag it out to take a better look at the range of tools.

tools panel

In the second section down/along the Tools panel, there are four different tool ‘groups’ that we can use to create simple vector graphics:

  • The Line Tool
  • The Pen Tool(s)
  • The Pencil Tool(s)
  • The Shape Tools

Let’s take a look at what we’ve got to draw with. Select each tool as we go through the steps, and try experimenting with using them on the pages of your InDesign document.

2. The Line Tool (\)

Step 1

First up is the Line Tool (\), which you can use to create a simple, straight, two-point line. 

line tool in tools panel

Click to select the tool, and click and drag onto Page 1 of your document to create a line.

Tip: To create a perfect right-angled line, either horizontally or vertically, hold Shift while you drag. 

Step 2

You can enhance a simple line to create a super-simple yet high-impact design feature. Adding color and adjusting the stroke can transform a line into a border, dramatic underline, or polished pointer.

Open the Stroke panel (Window > Stroke). In the example here, I held down Shift and dragged from left to right to create a perfectly straight line.

line tool

From the Stroke panel, I increased the Weight of the stroke to 2 mm, adjusted the Type to Left Slant Hash, and selected Bar from the Start drop-down menu and Circle from the End drop-down menu.

I then gave the line some color by changing the Stroke Color from the Swatches panel (Window > Color > Swatches) to a cornflower blue (C=67 M=43 Y=10 K=0).

swatches and stroke

This graphic would now make a stylish pointer for something like an infographic. Check out how to create a full infographic using InDesign’s drawing tools in this Tuts+ tutorial.

infographic with pointer

3. The Pen Tool (P)

Step 1

Next along the Tools panel you’ll find the Pen Tool (P), which you can use to create anchor points, and as a result create simple shapes connected by anchored lines. Simply click onto the page to create a new anchor point, and click again to create a second anchor point, with a line connected to the first.

pen tool

Tip: As you draw with the Pen Tool you can adjust anchor points as you go by hitting Command (Mac OS) or Control (Windows) on the keyboard.

Move down to Page 2 of your InDesign document and select the Pen Tool (P). Click onto the page and move up and down, varying between right and diagonal angles, to create a rough cityscape design, like the one shown below. 

pen tool drawing

If you click an anchor point into an unwanted position, use the arrow keys on the keyboard to adjust the position of the most recently created anchor point.

Step 2

From the Pen Tool’s drop-down menu you can also find a few related tools to help you edit a line or group of lines created by the Pen Tool: the Add Anchor Point and Delete Anchor Point Tools

You can use the Convert Direction Point Tool in the same way as you would use the Convert Anchor Point Tool in Illustrator. To delete the handle of an anchor point, select the Convert Direction Point Tool (Shift-C), click on the anchor point of the handle, and then drag the handle back in on itself, dropping it onto the anchor point to delete it.

pen tool

Select each of these tools and experiment with using them to adjust some of the points along your skyline.

pen tool drawing

Step 3

Select the Pen Tool (P) again and draw two vertical ‘finishing’ lines either side of the cityscape, which extend down past the lowest point of the drawing.

Then click away from the drawing and switch to the Selection Tool (V, Escape). Click the cityscape to select it, and then go to Object > Paths > Join, to join the ends of the cityscape and pull the illustration together.

join path

Step 4

From the Swatches panel (Window > Color > Swatches) try switching up the Fill Color of the graphic (set the Stroke Color to [None] for a modern look).

Here I’ve set the Fill Color to a 50% Tint of an oatmeal color (C=24 M=45 Y=65 K=0)

colored cityscape

Move the graphic to the bottom of the page and expand by dragging the top-right corner of the graphic, holding down Shift to maintain the proportions. This is a quick and easy way of creating a cityscape graphic that can liven up reports or other corporate documents.

financial report graphic

4. The Pencil Tool (N)

Step 1

Navigate a little further along the Tools panel and you can find the Pencil Tool (N). The Pencil Tool is more fluid than the Pen Tool, placing down anchor points sporadically as you click and drag onto the page. 

pencil tool

To edit the anchor points of a pencil-drawn line afterwards, click on points using the Direct Selection Tool (A), which you can find at the top of the Tools panel.

Move down to Page 3 of your InDesign document to give you some fresh space to work on. Select the Pencil Tool (N) and click and hold down onto the page. Try creating a rough wave-like swirl, like in the example below.

pencil tool drawing

It’s much easier to draw with the Pencil Tool (N) using a graphics tablet, but you can also use a mouse. In the next step, we’ll take a look at how you can smooth out the path once you’ve created it.

Step 2

In the Pencil Tool’s drop-down menu you’ll also find the Smooth Tool and Erase Tool. Click and drag the Smooth Tool over sections of the path you’ve just drawn to reduce anchor points, and neaten the position of those remaining, to give a smoother, more confident appearance. 

smooth tool

The Smooth Tool is a great little tool if you’re drawing with a mouse, rather than a graphics tablet.

Step 3

Once you’ve smoothed out the path drawn with the Pencil Tool, you can start to enhance the path with color and stroke effects.

From the Stroke panel (Window > Stroke) set the Weight to 3 mm and the Type to Thick-Thick. Adjust the Stroke Color to a pale sea-blue (C=67 M=19 Y=10 K=0).

wave in blue

Step 4

You can use a simple graphic like this as a building block for creating patterns and borders. 

Here, I copied and pasted (Edit > Copy/Paste) the ‘wave’ graphic over and over to create a border along the bottom of the page. I then reduced the Tint of some of the paths to 40%

I then copied and pasted the whole border along the bottom of the page and rotated it 180 degrees (hover over the corner of the selection until a Rotate icon appears), sitting it along the top of the page.

fashion invitation

5. The Shape Tools

Step 1

Navigate a little further along the Tools panel and you’ll find the Rectangle Tool (M) and a drop-down menu that leads to two other shape tools: the Ellipse Tool (L) and the Polygon Tool.

These ‘shape tools’ are ready-made building blocks for creating graphics in InDesign. Most simple vector graphics can be broken down into groups of shapes. If you have something in mind you want to create, try breaking the overall shape down into groups of shapes, and from there you can work out how best to create it in vector format in InDesign.

Let’s try creating a couple of male and female icons using the shape tools in InDesign. I used these graphics as part of another infographic design—you can check out the tutorial here.

male and female graphics

Navigate down to Page 4 of your InDesign document. 

Select the Rectangle Tool (M) and click and drag onto the page to draw a frame about 24 mm in Width and 50 mm in Height

Set the Fill Color to a new grey swatch, such as C=49 M=41 Y=41 K=5 (or another swatch of your choice). 

With the frame selected, go to Object > Corner Options to open the Corner Options window. Set the Size of all corners to 5 mm and Shape to Rounded. This frame will form the torso of the figure. Click OK.

corner options

Now Edit > Copy and Edit > Paste this frame repeatedly and manipulate the Width and Height to create narrower frames for the arms, legs and shoulders. 

Control-Click (Mac) or Right-Click (Windows) > Transform > Rotate... to adjust the orientation of the shapes. Hold Shift while using the Ellipse Tool (L) to create a perfectly round circle, which will form the head of the figure. 

male figure

For ease of use, you can group the shapes together by Control-Clicking (Mac) or Right-Clicking (Windows) > Group. 

Step 2

You can create a female figure by selecting the male figure you’ve just created and making a copy (Edit > Copy and Edit > Paste). 

Set the Fill to a pink swatch, such as C=8 M=5 Y=12 K=0. Rotate the left-side arm to -21 degrees (Control-Click [Mac] or Right-Click [PC] > Rotate...) and rotate the right-side arm to 21 degrees to match. 

Use the Rectangle Tool (M) to create an additional square frame that extends across the torso. To create a skirt shape, use the Scissors Tool (C) to snip away the outer edges (get rid of two upside-down triangles on either side, and then go to Object > Paths > Join, with the remaining paths of the frame selected, to create a trapezoid shape). 

female figure

You can incorporate these graphics into a range of different sorts of documents, such as infographics, reports, etc. 

graphs and charts
figures in infographic


In this Quick Tip tutorial I’ve given you a whirlwind tour of the drawing tools you can use in InDesign to create simple graphics. 

If you’re working in InDesign and want to keep your workflow efficient and super-speedy, creating graphics directly into InDesign using the Line, Pen, Pencil and Shape Tools can really enhance your artwork. Happy doodling!

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