InDesign Frame and Shape Tools

Draw Rectangles, Ellipses, and Polygons Using Various Tools In Adobe InDesign

By default, Adobe InDesign CC displays the Rectangle Frame Tool and the Rectangle Shape Tool in its Toolbox, which is typically located to the left of the workspace. These tools both have a flyout menu indicated by a tiny arrow at the bottom right corner of the tool. The flyout menu of the Rectangle Frame Tool contains the Ellipse Frame Tool and the Polygon Frame Tool. The flyout menu of the Rectangle Tool includes the Ellipse Tool and the Polygon Tool. To access these additional tools, click your mouse button until the flyout menu appears, then select your desired tool.

Instructions in this article applies to Adobe InDesign 2020.

Indesign Frame Tools vs Shape Tools

The tools all work the same way, but they draw different shapes. Don't confuse the frame tools with the Rectangle, Ellipse and Polygon shape tools. The Frame tools create boxes (or frames) for graphics, while the Rectangle, Ellipse, and Polygon tools are for drawing shapes to fill or outline with color.

To access these tools via keyboard command, use F for frames and M for shapes.

Using the Frame Tool

To use any of the frame tools, select the frame tool in the Toolbox, and select in the workspace, then drag the pointer to draw the shape.

The Frame tool

Holding Shift down while you drag constrains the frame tool in the following ways:

  • Hold down Shift while drawing with the Rectangle Frame Tool to create a perfectly square frame.
  • Hold down Shift while drawing with the Ellipse Frame Tool to create a circle frame.
  • Hold down Shift key while drawing with the Polygon Frame Tool to create a shape with all sides of the same length.

The frames created with the Rectangle Frame, Ellipse Frame or Polygon Frame can hold text or graphics. Use the Type Tool to make the frame a text frame. 

How to Place an Image in a Frame

Place an Image in a frame using one of these methods:

Draw the frame and then place the image:

  1. Draw a frame by selecting a frame tool and dragging the mouse in the workspace.

    Drawing an ellipse frame in InDesign.
  2. Select the frame you just drew.

    Selecting the ellipse frame in InDesign.
  3. Go to File > Place.

    The Place command
  4. Choose an image, and select Open.

    The Open button

Select the image, and select automatic placement:

  1. Go to File > Place without drawing any frames.

    The Place command
  2. Choose an image, and select Open.

    The Open button
  3. Select anywhere on the workspace, and the picture is automatically placed into a rectangular frame that is sized to fit the picture.

    An image has been imported into a frame.

Resizing a Frame or Resizing a Graphic in a Frame

When you select an image in a frame with the Selection Tool, you see a bounding box that is the bounding box of the image's Rectangular frame. If you select the same image with the Direct Selection Tool, instead of selecting the frame that contains the picture, you select the picture inside the frame, and you see a reddish-colored bounding box, which is the bounding box of the image itself.

Bounding box of an image in InDesign.
  • Resize only the frame but not the placed image by choosing the Selection Tool and dragging a corner or handle of the frame. 
  • Resize only the image by dragging the handles of the picture with the Direct Selection tool.
  • Resize both the image and the frame by selecting the frame and choosing Auto-Fit in the Control panel, or ​​select a corner of the frame and hold the Shift key down while you drag to resize the image and frame proportionately.

Resizing a Frame With Text

Frames can also hold text. To resize a text frame:

Text frame in InDesign.
  • Select the frame holding the text and double-click on any handle to reduce or expand the frame automatically so the text fits inside it.
  • If the frame is too large for the text that it holds, double-click a handle to snap the frame to the end of the text.
  • If the frame is too small to display all the text, double-click a handle to expand the frame until it displays all the text.

Using the Shape Tools

The shape tools are often confused with the frame tools. Press and hold on the Rectangle Tool to view a flyout menu to access the Ellipse and Polygon tools. These tools are for drawing shapes to fill or outline with color. You draw them the same way you draw frames. Select the tool, click on the workspace, and drag to form the shape. As with the frame tools, the shape tools can be constrained:

The Shape tool
  • Hold down the Shift key while drawing with the Rectangle Tool to create a square.
  • Hold down the Shift key while drawing with the Ellipse Tool to create a circle.
  • Hold down the Shift key while drawing with the Polygon Tool to create a shape with all sides the same length.

Fill the shape with a color or apply a stroke to outline it.