Adobe InDesign Workspace, Toolbox, and Panels

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Start Workspace

Adobe InDesign CC is a complex program that can be intimidating to new users. Familiarizing yourself with the Start workspace, the tools in the Toolbox and the capabilities of the many panels is a good way to gain confidence when using the program. 

When you first launch InDesign, the Start workspace displays several choices:

  • Clicking Recent displays any files you have recently worked on in a list or thumbnail format. To enable the Recent files workspace, go to the Preferences dialog and select > Show The Recent Files Workspace While Opening a File checkbox in Preferences > General.
  • The CC Libraries button displays owned or shared libraries.
  • Clicking Presets displays templates for use with new InDesign documents. Click a template to start a project using that template's characteristics.

Other frequently used and self-explanatory buttons on the Start workspace are:

  • New, which opens a new document. You can also go to File > New > Document, and, when the New Document window shows up, choose your document size and press OK.
  • Use Open to navigate to and open a saved document.

If you are moving to a recent version of InDesign CC from an older version, you may not be comfortable with the Start workspace. In Preferences General, in the Preferences dialog, deselect Show Start Workspace When No Documents Are Open to view the workspace you are more familiar with.

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Workspace Basics

After you open a document, the Toolbox is on the left of the document window, the Application bar (or menu bar) runs across the top, and panels open to the right side of the document window.

When you open multiple documents, they are tabbed and you can switch among them easily by clicking on the tabs. You can rearrange the document tabs by dragging them. 

All the workspace elements are grouped in the Application frame — one window you can resize or move. When you do so, the elements in the frame do not overlap. If you work on a Mac, you can disable the Application frame by selecting Window > Application Frame, where you can toggle the feature on and off. When the Application frame is turned off, InDesign displays the traditional free-form interface popular in earlier versions of the software. 

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InDesign Toolbox

The InDesign Toolbox appears by default in a single vertical column to the left of the document workspace. The Toolbox includes tools for selecting various elements of a document, for editing and creating document elements. Some of the tools produce shapes, lines, type, and gradients. You can't move individual tools in the Toolbox, but you can set the Toolbox to display as a double vertical column or as one horizontal row of tools. You change the orientation of the Toolbox by choosing Edit > Preferences > Interface in Windows or InDesign > Preferences > Interface in Mac OS

Click on any of the tools in the Toolbox to activate it. If the tool icon has a tiny arrow in the bottom right corner, other related tools are nested with the chosen tool. Click and hold a tool with the tiny arrow to see which tools are nested and then make your selection. For example, if you click and hold the Rectangle Frame tool, you'll see a menu that also contains the Ellipse Frame and Polygon Frame tools.

The tools can be loosely described as selection tools, drawing and type tools, transformation tools, and modification and navigations tools. They are (in order):

Selection Tools

  • Selection
  • Direct Selection
  • Page
  • Gap
  • Content Collector and Content Placer

Drawing and Type Tools

  • Type and Type on a Path
  • Line
  • Pen, Add Anchor Point, Delete Anchor Point, and Convert Direction Point
  • Pencil, Smooth, and Erase
  • Rectangle Frame, Ellipse Frame, and Polygon Frame
  • Rectangle, Ellipse, and Polygon

Transformation Tools

  • Scissors
  • Free Transform, Rotate, Scale and Shear
  • Gradient Swatch
  • Gradient Feather
  • Note
  • Eyedropper and Measure
  • Hand
  • Zoom
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The Control Panel

The Control panel by default is docked at the top of the document window, but you can dock it at the bottom, make it a floating panel or hide it. The Control panel contents change depending on the tool in use and what you are doing. It offers options, commands and other panels you can use with the current selected item or objects. For example, when you select text in a frame, the Control panel shows paragraph and character options. If you choose the frame itself, the Control panel gives you options for resizing, moving, rotating and skewing.

Tip: Turn on the tool tips to help you understand all the icons. You'll find the Tool Tips menu in Interface preferences. As you hover over an icon, the tool tip gives information about its use.

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InDesign Panels

Panels are used when modifying your work and when setting up elements or colors. Panels usually appear to the right of the document window, but they can be moved individually to wherever you need them. They can also be stacked, grouped, collapsed and docked. Each panel lists several controls you can use to accomplish a specific task. For example, the Layers panel displays all the layers in a chosen document. You can use it to create new layers, reorder the layers and turn off the visibility of a layer. The Swatches panel shows color options and gives controls for creating new custom colors in a document.

Panels in InDesign are listed under the Window Menu so if you don't see the one you want, go there to open it. The panels include:

  • Align
  • Color
  • Control 
  • Gradient
  • Info
  • Layers
  • Links
  • Navigator
  • Flattener 
  • Separations 
  • Pages
  • Stroke
  • Swatches
  • Tools
  • Transform
  • Transparency
  • Character Styles
  • Paragraph Styles
  • Table 
  • Text Wrap

To expand a panel, click on its name. Similar panels are grouped together.

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Contextual menus show up when you right-click (Windows) or Control-click (MacOS) on an object in the layout. The contents change depending on the object you select. They are useful as they show options that are related to the specific object. For example, the Drop Shadow option shows when you click on a shape or an image.​

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