Adobe InDesign is not always considered as versatile for formatting images and shapes as some of its sister applications, like Photoshop and Illustrator. This is a huge preconception. It's true that advanced effects should only be tackled in a specialist image-editing program, but there are still loads of fantastic things you can do to enhance graphic elements directly in InDesign.
In this Quick Tip tutorial we’ll take a look at the Effects panel in InDesign, and explore how you can apply a range of diverse effects to elements in your layouts—including adjusting transparencies, applying different types of gradient, and introducing shadows, glows, satin effects, bevels and embossing. I’ll be sharing some key tips that will help you to apply effects to a professional standard, easily mimicking some of the more sophisticated looks you can achieve in Photoshop.
1. Introduction to Effects in Adobe InDesign
You can apply effects to any 'object’ in your InDesign document. This includes shapes (e.g. lines, ovals, rectangles and polygons created using the shape tools), frames (e.g. text and image frames), and images (which sit within an image frame).
When dealing with images, this means you have the freedom to layer a number of different effects on both the frame and the contained image directly. This is perfect when you want to have the maximum flexibility over applying effects to elements on your layout.
There are two main ways of applying effects to an object in InDesign. The first point of access is the Effects panel, which you can open by going to Window > Effects.
This is a small panel, which allows you to apply a limited number of basic effects to an object, such as altering the Blending Mode (which affects how the colors of overlapping objects appear) and Opacity.
It also allows you to knock-out (block-out) objects that lie underneath the object you have selected with the Knockout Group check-box at the bottom right of the panel.
You can also choose to remove all effects (except Blending Mode or Opacity) applied to an object by clicking the trash can icon at the bottom corner of the panel.
By clicking the FX button, to the left of the trash can icon, you can access a drop-down menu of more advanced effects.
Clicking on one of these options opens up a more detailed Effects window.
The second method of reaching this Effects window is to go to Object > Effects, when you have an object selected.
This is direct, quick, and easy for applying effects to one particular object.
But having the Effects panel open while you work, especially if you are applying effects to a number of different objects in one document, allows you to quickly view the effects applied to several objects, and to edit or remove them.
Let’s take a look at some of the principal effects you can apply to objects in InDesign, and how you can adjust the settings to create some high-impact results.
Object > Effects > Transparency
Reducing the opacity (solid appearance) of an object can lessen the visual drama of a shape or image. You can also adjust the Transparency Mode to alter the way the transparency effect is rendered.
This ornate EPS image, contained within an image frame, is part of a book cover design from my recent book cover tutorial.
Applying a transparency effect can give the image a softer, more pared back look, which fits in with the magical, spooky mood of the cover design.
Adjusting the Mode of the Transparency Effect is the best way to dramatically alter the appearance of the transparency. Here, the Mode is set to Soft Light. Even though the Opacity is set to 100%, the effect interacts with the dark color of the cover’s background, creating a ghostly, misty effect.
Other useful Modes to note include Normal, which applies a standard transparency to the object which is rendered in isolation from any underlying color, and Multiply, which is a great choice for bringing out the texture and detail of images lying underneath the object you are applying the Transparency Effect to.
Tip: Try applying a Multiply Mode to your Transparency Effect if you have a colored shape sitting above a plain, textured background image (like wood or paper). The color of the shape will ‘multiply’ with the image below it, to give an on-trend textured look to your design.
3. Gradients (Feathers)
Object > Effects > Basic / Directional / Gradient Feather
Gradients create a gradual diffusion across your element from a light color to a dark color (or from less opacity to more opacity). InDesign offers three main methods of applying a gradient effect to elements on your layout.
A Basic Feather is just that—it’s very simple. Applying a Basic Feather to your object gives a uniform feather around the whole edge of the object. Adjusting the Choke increases or softens the sharpness of the gradient edge, and you can also set how the Corners of the gradient appear: Diffused, Sharp or Rounded.
A Directional Feather gives you a little more flexibility with the effect. You can choose to apply the Directional Feather to all, or only some, of the object’s edges. You can also adjust the Angle of the gradient, and increase the Noise for a more grainy effect.
The most flexible, and professional-looking, gradient effect you can apply to an InDesign object is a Gradient Feather. This creates a subtle, sweeping gradient across the object. By moving the positions of the Gradient Stops, you can exercise complete control over the depth and position of the gradient. You can also switch the Type of gradient between Linear and Radial (which extends the gradient outwards or inwards in a circular or oval shape).
The background of this book cover has made good use of the Gradient Feather effect to create a layered, blended look. I've applied a simple Linear Gradient Feather to the black rectangle at the back of the layout.
On top of this I've layered two images, of an island (no longer available) and a starry sky (no longer available), each with a Gradient Feather and Multiply Transparency effect applied to their frames.
And finally, at the very top, I've layered a blue rectangle over the images, with a Multiply Transparency effect applied to it, to give the cover a color wash.
Object > Effects > Drop Shadow / Inner Shadow
A well-judged shadow can help to lift elements on your document and give them a 3D appearance. There are two methods of applying a shadow to an object in InDesign: Drop Shadow and Inner Shadow.
A Drop Shadow is the most versatile shadow effect, creating a uniform shadow that sits outside of the object’s edge. You can adjust the Mode, to adjust how the shadow appears, as well as its Opacity, Position (e.g. Distance and Angle), Size, Spread, and Noise level.
An Inner Shadow applies a shadow effect inside your object. This darkens the appearance of text, images and shapes.
Object > Effects > Outer / Inner Glow
Applying an Inner or Outer Glow to an object works in a similar way to applying a Shadow effect, except that a Glow uses a pale color to create an aura of light either outside or inside the edges of the object.
I applied an Outer Glow Effect to the main title on this book cover design, which enhances the word ‘Star’, giving it a bright, glowing appearance. The Mode is set to Screen, which amplifies the brightness of the Glow, and the Technique is set to Softer, to make the effect subtle and soft.
6. Bevel and Emboss
Object > Effects > Bevel and Emboss
These effects do what they say on the tin: Bevel gives the object a lifted, 3D appearance in relief, while Emboss appears to depress the object into the page.
But use these effects with caution! These effects can make your designs look a little outdated if not used sparingly.
This text frame has an Inner Bevel Effect applied to it, with a Smooth Technique.
This text frame has a Pillow Emboss Effect applied, also with a Smooth Technique.
Object > Effects > Satin
The Satin Effect gives a lovely sheen to objects, and probably looks most effective when used on text elements.
Tip: Try adjusting the Color of the Satin Effect from the Effects window to a contrasting color for more impact. In this example, the Color has been set to [Paper], to give an almost sea-like appearance to the text.
This Quick Tip tutorial has given you a brief overview of the principal effects available to you in Adobe InDesign.
Well-chosen and cleverly layered effects can help you create designs that have a similar image-editing capacity to more specialist image-editing programs like Photoshop.
Have fun, and enjoy experimenting with Effects in InDesign!