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  1. Design & Illustration
  2. Adobe InDesign
Design

Quick Tip: Working With Adobe Illustrator Vectors in InDesign

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

Adobe InDesign is a fantastic layout design program, but it isn’t usually the software of choice for editing images. Instead, Illustrator and Photoshop have traditionally been the best programs for editing vector and raster images, before saving and then placing them in InDesign.

In this quick tip tutorial we’ll take a look at an alternative method of working with images in InDesign, by pasting vector graphics directly into your documents. This gives you more flexibility and control over editing simple graphics while you work in InDesign, allowing you to switch up colors and stroke effects with ease.

We’ll weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of the technique, so you can start to play around with images in your InDesign layouts with confidence.

Pasting in Vector Graphics: The Advantages

So when is it a good idea to paste graphics directly into your InDesign artwork?

1. Simple Vectors Are a Breeze to Copy and Paste

In this example, I want to prepare a book cover layout which is covered in cute, collage-like clouds (learn how to create the book cover from scratch using this tutorial). 

book cover final

I’ve created a simple cloud outline in Illustrator using the Arc Tool (found under the Line Segment Tool drop-down menu, in the Tools panel).

I then went to Object > Path > Join to create an enclosed shape. 

cloud vector shape

The shape has a black stroke and no fill. It’s important when you copy and paste vector graphics that they have either a Fill or Stroke Color, as InDesign will otherwise not be able to paste the vector. You’ll get this message instead:

import failed message

As a final step I selected the cloud shape, complete with its black stroke, and went to Edit > Copy.

I then returned to InDesign and went to Edit > Paste. The cloud vector was dropped onto the page without a problem. 

pasted vector

2. Pasted Graphics Are Directly Editable

I can now apply formatting to the vector, adjusting the Stroke Color to [None] and setting the Fill Color to [Paper]. I’m also able to apply effects to the graphic, in the same way I would apply effects to shapes or frames created in InDesign. Here I navigated to Object > Effects > Drop Shadow to add a slight shadow behind the cloud. 

vector with effects applied

I could also add gradients, satin effects, bevel or emboss, etc., if I wanted to—all the different options which are accessible from the Effects window (Object > Effects).

I can also copy and paste the vector several times, and resize, rotate or flip it, easily and quickly.

several clouds with effects applied

It’s also really useful to have pasted vectors as you’re preparing different drafts or playing around with different color schemes for your InDesign layouts. If a client says they would prefer a pink background with a black cloud, I can switch up the colors in no time to let them see the result instantly, without needing to hop back and forth between Illustrator and InDesign, resaving different versions of the image file as I go.

switching up color

Pasting in Vector Graphics: The Disadvantages

It can be really useful to know that you can paste vectors into InDesign—after all, it’s quick, easy, and gives you direct control over image editing in InDesign.

But it isn’t always appropriate or even possible to paste graphics into your InDesign documents. Some notes of caution...

1. Complex Vectors Can Cause Problems

Graphics which have effects applied to them (e.g. gradients or transparencies), or have any excessive detail or texture, may cause problems when you try to paste them into InDesign.

Take this example. This is a group of characters typed up in REIS and then outlined in Illustrator

original text
outlined characters

When I copy the graphic, and head over to InDesign to Edit > Paste, the vector is pasted in without a problem, but the speed at which InDesign operates immediately begins to slow down dramatically. 

pasted into InDesign

Sure, I can edit the Fill and Stroke Color of the graphics from the controls panel at the top of the screen (or from the Swatches panel [Window > Color > Swatches]), but it’s going to take a while to do, and building up the rest of the layout is going to be hair-tearingly slow!

In another example, I tried to paste an even more complex vector graphic into the InDesign layout, but I got this message, saying that the program would simply embed the image instead, meaning that the editing power you were hoping for becomes redundant. 

warning message

There are ways of getting round this issue, if you still want to be able to edit more complex vectors directly in InDesign. Firstly, you can set the Display Performance to Fast Display, which can help to speed up the program and reduce any time delays as you navigate or apply formatting. Of course, this means you are less able to view the accurate result of any formatting changes you might make to the graphic, other than sizing or rotation, such as color or effects. 

display performance mode

You can also paste your vector graphics onto a separate layer and switch off the visibility of the layer as and when needed, which can improve the speed at which InDesign operates.

layers panel

You can also check that your Preferences are optimised to ensure that the graphic you are pasting preserves any original detail (such as a gradient effect). 

In Illustrator, go to Illustrator > Preferences > File Handling & Clipboard to edit your preferences for copying and pasting images. Ensure that the option for AICB (no transparency support) is checked and check the box next to Preserve Appearance and Overprints. Click OK when you’re done.

illustrator preferences

Back in InDesign, navigate up to InDesign > Preferences > Clipboard Handling and ensure that the option at the top of the Preferences window, Prefer PDF When Pasting, is not checked. Click OK.

InDesign preferences

2. InDesign Links to Images for a Good Reason

Linked images, not embedded or pasted, take up much less space, and are more efficient for your workflow as a result. 

Placing (File > Place) and linking images in InDesign creates a connection between the placeholder image on the page and its file location on your computer. This is good practice, particularly if your document is going to be image-heavy. You can view the InDesign document on High Quality Display (View > Display Performance) and see your document in high-resolution without sacrificing speed or performance, if your images are linked, not embedded.

This also means you can create multiple copies of the linked image in InDesign without a problem, and you can also easily relink or relocate multiple instances of the same image by simply hopping over to the Links panel (Window > Links) and clicking the Relink... chain icon.

links panel with missing links
corrected links

When you’re ready to export your InDesign work for print or digital, InDesign brings back the original graphics that are linked to in the document, setting the final exported file with the resolution quality of the original images.

Conclusion

Pasting vector graphics straight into your InDesign layouts can be a huge timesaver, and is particularly useful when you’re still in the experimental, draft stages of a design, where you want to be switching up colors and effects constantly without the hassle of having to resave and relink freshly edited Illustrator images all the time.

You can see how editing the formatting of a graphic will change the look of your designs in real time, which promotes a speedy, dynamic workflow.

However, there are some pitfalls to be wary of. Complex Illustrator vectors can lose detail (such as gradients or transparencies) when pasted, slow down InDesign to a painful extent, or even refuse to be pasted at all. 

The basic rule is: If you have a simple vector shape, with no effects applied to it, you’ll be good to go ahead with copying and pasting across; but exercise caution if you have a more complex vector design.

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