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Step-by-Step Guide to Designing InDesign Templates

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Gabriel Powell walks through each step in the InDesign template design process, helping you to forge a path toward the successful completion of any template.

Step 3: Construct the Template

After you’ve clearly defined your project’s objectives and created a detailed mockup layout, you’re ready to embark on the actual construction of the template. Most of what remains now is attention to detail and intelligent application of InDesign’s various tools and technologies.

While constructing the template, continually remind yourself that no detail is too small to consider. Think of each aspect of the project as a decision point and an opportunity to improve the template. Don’t just use the first tool you think of to create a particular element. Explore the possibilities. This is the best time to work through different ideas and strategies—before you implement the final template.

There are two approaches you can take to create a template:

  • Convert the existing mockup layout into a template. Depending on how complete the mockup is, you might just finish building the template using the same document. However, if the mockup you created is more of a "rough sketch," it’s easier to use the second approach.
  • Create a new document and use the mockup layout as a model for constructing the template. The more complex the publication’s design, the more likely that this method will ensure the best results.

Decide which method is most appropriate for your circumstances. Then follow these steps to construct the template (this is just a quick overview of the entire process):

  1. Set up the template’s framework. Establish the page format first, which includes the page dimensions, orientation, and arrangement. You might also need to add a bleed area and slug area. After that, create a layout grid, which is composed of margins, columns, and ruler guides. Use the baseline grid and document grid, if necessary. Be sure to set up the margins, columns, and ruler guides on the master page. If your template requires more than one layout grid, create master pages for each one.
  2. Set up the master pages, object libraries, and layers. These tools work together to organize the template and make it more effective. Begin with the master page(s) by placing any recurring design elements and placeholder frames into the correct position on the layout grid. Next, create an object library and add frequently used design elements to it. Then set up any necessary layers so that you can organize the template into logical parts.
  3. Create all necessary color swatches. By creating swatches, you can control the color globally in a document, which facilitates design consistency and productivity. The type and number of swatches you create is dictated by the publication’s design requirements.
  4. Generate stylesheets. Use the sample content in your mockup layout as a basis for creating all the necessary character styles, paragraph styles, object styles, cell styles, and table styles. If you’re constructing the template in a different document, you can copy the sample content from the mockup layout into the template document so you won’t have to re-create the content you’ve already formatted.
  5. Set up long document elements. If the template you’re designing will be used to construct a long document such as a book, magazine, or catalog, you might need to set up a table of contents style, generate paragraph styles that format multilevel lists automatically, or define the template’s footnote options.
  6. Finalize the template. Once the template is constructed, it’s important to clean it up and prepare it for production. This step involves removing unnecessary elements, preventing potential printing problems, and specifying the template’s default settings.
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