Creating and Using Templates with InDesign, Part 1: Guidelines

Templates come in handy when working on design projects that use the same basic composition. Some examples are newsletters, magazines, or advertisements that have to maintain a certain size and layout.  InDesign allows you to create page layouts and then save those layouts as templates quite easily. Today we will talk about adding guidelines and paragraph styles to a page layout in order to really take advantage of what InDesign has to offer in this realm. We’ll create a template for a basic magazine page layout.



Here we have an example of what can be accomplished. 

Designing layouts for a magazine can be tedious and time consuming without templates. Having to set up the parameters of the page for each article can take a lot of time. It only makes sense to create a basic page template that can be used as a base to every page design. In Part 1 of the three part series of designing templates in InDesign, we’ll cover creating and using guidelines.

For this tutorial I am using InDesign CS6 and a Mac, but you can use InDesign as old as CS4 and a PC for the same purposes.

There are a few things that need to be considered before starting on a template. In the example of a magazine, the first thing to be aware of is page size. We’ll consider that most magazines seem to be the standard letter size of 8.5” x 11.” This is a good place to start.

To begin. launch InDesign. Choose the standard letter size, Letter. InDesign automatically sets the page margins to 3p0, but we’ll be making our own margins, so set the page margins to zero.  Leave everything else on default and press Okay.

new document


The first thing we’ll want to do is turn on the rulers, if they aren’t already on. Rulers can be found on the Menu Bar under View.

show rulers

Next, just to make things easier in this case, we’ll change the rulers from Picas (default) to Inches. Right-click on the top ruler and choose Inches. Do the same with the side ruler.

add inches


Next, we’ll make our own margins. But, before we start drawing guidelines on our page, we’ll want to be sure that we draw them on our master page so we’ll be sure that every page in our document page has the same guidelines. To switch to the master page, open the Pages Panel from the dock, or find it on the Menu Bar under Window.

pages panel

In the Pages Panel, the master page exists in the top section and the document page exists in the bottom section. Notice we are currently on the document page because in the Pages Panel, the document page is blue. We’ll want to navigate to the Master page by simply double-clicking on the Master Page icon.

master page


Now we can start drawing our guidelines. To draw a guideline, you simply press and drag from the ruler and let go when you have reached the point at which you want the guide to exist. Press and drag guidelines .375 inch from each edge of the page.


Notice how the guideline is existing inside the parameters of the page. This will keep the guideline inside the page, which seems cleaner to me. If you have difficulty with lining up the guideline to exactly .375, you can always type the number in the x coordinate box (left hand corner) on the Control Panel, below the Menu Bar. For the right side of the page, you can type in 8.125 (this is 8.5 minus .375). The top guideline would be .375, but in the y coordinate box instead of the x. The bottom guideline would be 10.625. Look at that! We are using those math skills!


We’ve now got some perfect margins for our page! Let’s change the color of these guidelines so that when we start adding other guidelines we won’t be confused by cyan lines all over the place. Changing the color of a guideline is simple. You just need to select the guideline with the selection tool. If you can’t select the guideline, make sure to uncheck Lock Guides under View on the Menu Bar, Grids & Guides. Once the guidelines are select, find the option to change the color of the guidelines in Ruler Guides, under Layout on the Menu Bar.

ruler guides




guide color

Here we see the Ruler Guides dialogue box and the numerous colors InDesign allows us to assign to each guideline. Choose a color and select Okay. Deselect the guidelines on the page and see how the color has changed! We can now copy all the guidelines and paste the to the second page. Copying and pasting guides is just like copying and pasting an object. You just have to make sure you line them up just right.

red guides


Red guidelines!

copy and paste

Copy and Paste can be a little difficult with guidelines.

Screen shot 2013-04-25 at 12.19.44 AM

For our magazine spread, we know that occasionally part of the page will be allotted to advertisements. Sometimes the ads will take up a vertical part of the page and sometimes it will be horizontal. We better draw guides for both types so that when we use this later to layout text before our ads come in, we’ll know where to put it.

Our first guide needs to be 3.5 inches from the left edge of the page. This is half of the interior of the page.  We can use the Zero Point on the ruler to adjust the rulers so that they start measuring from inside the margins of our page.


zero point zero point


Press and drag the Zero Point so that it lines up with the corner of the left margin, then press and drag a guideline to 3.5 inches on the page. Press and drag another guideline to 1/8th of an inch to the right of the first guideline. This will be the margin between the ad space and the text space.



We can do the same with the second page. And, we can also change the color of these guidelines as well.


Next we’ll add the horizontal ad guidelines.

ad guides

Now we have our template guidelines set up and ready to go! Go ahead and lock them under View, Grids & Guides, Lock Guides. In the next article, we’ll learn how to place footers like page numbers and dates, as well as creating a set of paragraph styles to be used with our template.

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