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Quick Tip: Working with Rulers and Guides in Adobe InDesign

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Read Time: 5 min
This post is part of a series called Beginners Guides to InDesign.
The Layers Panel: InDesign CS5
Quick Tip: Setting Margins Using InDesign

This tutorial will teach you how to improve your In Design skills, whether you are a beginner or an intermediate user, you will learn some good tips to improve your workspace using rulers and guides.


By default when you open any document you'll see the rulers on the top and left side. They are very useful for arranging items in your sheets. If you want to hide go to "View > Hide Rulers" to show them go to "View > Show Rulers". Both actions can be toggled with the same hotkey (Command + R).

To change the units displayed by doing a Right Click /Control Click over them or you can go to "Edit > Preferences > Units & Increments", using the second method a window with options will pop up.

With the preferences window you can select the units, point size and keyboard increments. The last options refers to the quantity (distance or size) the object will vary each time you use the keyboard for each case.

By default the 0 point is at the top left corner. You can change it to any point you want, for example we'll change it to be at the center of the page. A4 paper dimensions are 210 mm x 297 mm, so the middle would be at 105 mm x 148.5 mm. Simply click over the intersection point of the rulers and drag to the desired point.

To restore the default 0 point just double click the intersection point of the two rulers.


If you are familiar with Photoshop or Illustrator you already know guides, they are very helpful for arranging things in a document. Guides are lines that can be placed at any point of the document as a reference for placing objects, text, images and are only visible while editing the document, that means they won't appear at the final print. To set a guide click over any spot of the rulers and drag it over the workspace.

There are two possibilities when placing guides, you can put them on a single page or both at the same time, if you are working with facing pages. It is easy to difference them, look at the following picture, there is a general guide for both pages but the left page has one only for it.

Setting them is very easy, for general guides click and drag them outside the document area, and for specific page guides click and drag inside the document. This is easy to do when you are working with a distant view. So you may think there is a problem here when you are working on a single page and very close to the document without been able to spot any of the outside area, all the guides you place would only fit that single page, for this cases just press Command when placing the guide and it will be set on both pages.

In Design has some differences compared to Photoshop and Illustrator. Guides are tied to layers. For example when you set some guides in "Layer 1" and you hide that layer the guides will also hide. If you have to place guides in the same position for several pages you should place them in a parent page, otherwise you'll see them only in the page you just placed.

You can also place a guide for a specific point horizontally and vertically at the same time. Simply press Command then click over the rulers intersection point and drag to the desired spot. If you did it right you should be able to see both guides and the cursor position at the same time.

Another feature in InDesign is the possibility to create rows and columns uniformly in the document according to your needs. Go to "Layout > Create Guides". Here you are asked to input the Quantity of rows and columns desired and their gutter (space between rows / columns). You are given the choice to place the guides in the entire page or just inside the margins. You can replace existing guides by checking the option "Remove Existing Ruler Guides".

See the example below, you'll be able to see the differences of space when choosing to fit guides to Page or Margins, the gutter is the same in both.

To avoid moving the guides accidentally it is highly recommended to lock them. Go to "View > Grid & Guides > Lock Guides". If a check mark is next to this option then the guides are already locked. To unlock them follow the same route and un-check the option.

The software also gives you the possibility to work with Smart Guides; these can help you to adjust the composition of your work. To Activate / Deactivate them go to "View > Grid & Guides > Smart guides" (Command + U) check the picture above, it's just some options below the Lock Guides toggle. Smart guides will appear when you are moving an object; they can be very helpful when you want to align objects. In the following pictures you'll get a better idea.

First picture, we have a square and a circle.

Second picture, when you move any object you'll see a reference copy until you drop it to the desired spot, once dropped the reference will vanish. In this picture the square is moved towards the circle, notice two Smart Guides had appeared, one violet which indicates the square is aligned to the center of the document and the green says the center of both shapes are aligned. It may seem there are two squares but the one from the left is the reference of the original square position.

Third picture, the green guide indicates both shapes are aligned along the top, and again the square from the left is just the reference copy.


I hope you found these tips helpful and useful for improving your work style. Until next time friends and keep visiting tuts+ sites. All comments are welcome.

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