Star command

Stars and polygons are easy to build in InDesign. Most people, myself included, set the angles and number of sides by double clicking on the Polygon tool. Which brings up a dialog box allowing you to set the number of sides and star inset percentage.

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But let's say you want to change the number of sides or the star inset angle while you are drawing the shapes? Easy. Start to draw the shape. Press the spacebar and then use the arrow keys to adjust the shape without opening the dialog box. Right and left arrows change the angle of the star inset. Up and down changes the number of sides.

But here's the really awesome tip. Start to draw a star or polygon. Don't push the space bar like you did above. Simply push the arrow keys right or left. InDesign creates a horizontal line of identical shapes. If you use just the up and down arrows, the shapes form a vertical line. Or use both sets of arrows and create a grid of shapes. 

Even better, the grid tip also works on rectangles and circles, too. It's magic.

A couple of rows of shapes created with the arrow keys.

A couple of rows of shapes created with the arrow keys.

A grid of circles created using the arrow keys while drawing.

A grid of circles created using the arrow keys while drawing.

FYI: The spacebar acts like a toggle. So you can easily switch between the two modes.

Every Wednesday, I post a quick tip for an Adobe app.

Change the size of the pasteboard in InDesign

The InDesign pasteboard is narrow on the top and bottom and wide on the sides. But it can be changed. Before...

Go to InDesign > Preferences > Guides & Pasteboard... and change the "Pasteboard Options" at the bottom of the preference screen.

Change the horizontal margins to 10 inches and the vertical margins to 2.5 inches and it looks a little different...

I'm not sure how often I'll change the margins. The defaults have always worked pretty well for me. But especially on large format designs, it will be nice to have the option.

Every Wednesday, I post a tip on how to use an Adobe app more efficiently.

Customizing an underline

I don't typically underline much. I usually don't like the default thickness of the line or the positioning. But in InDesign, you can completely customize your underline styles.

To change the appearance of an underline, select some text. Go to the flyout menu on the far right of the Control palette. (That's the wide palette docked by default underneath the menu bar.) Choose "Underline Options...." from the menu to pull up a dialog box:

Change the weight, stroke style, positioning and color of the underline.

Change the weight, stroke style, positioning and color of the underline.

You can easily change the appearance of the underline – the thickness, positioning, color, stroke style and more.

Two additional tips:

  1. If you have created a custom stroke, you can use it as an underline too. (See last week's tip for how to create a custom stroke pattern.)
  2. You can save "Underline Options" in a paragraph style to apply it throughout your document. And you can save style sheets and load them into other files.

Every Wednesday, I post a tip on how to use an Adobe app more efficiently.

Custom strokes in InDesign

Need to build a custom stroke in InDesign? Easy. Go to the flyout menu on the Stroke palette and choose "Stroke Styles..."

A dialog box will open with several options and a list of custom strokes. Choose "New..." to get the stroke editor. You can make dashed, dotted or lined patterns, change the length and pattern of the stroke and preview your designs at different weights.

InDesign provides lots of options for designing custom strokes.

InDesign provides lots of options for designing custom strokes.

The custom strokes are saved on a document level, but you can save your designs and load strokes into other documents. If you want a custom stroke to be added to all new documents by default, simply add the stroke with no documents open.

Every Wednesday, I post a quick tip for an Adobe app.

Vignetted colors and photos in InDesign

The most visited post on Sketchbook B is a 5-year-old tip for InDesign CS4 on how to create a simple vignette effect within InDesign. I decided to update it with some additional approaches.

Stacked option for solid color blocks

Start with two identical shapes. Make one darker than the other. Select the lighter image and apply a basic feather effect (Object > Effects > Basic Feather... or via the Effects palette). You can experiment with the corner style, size of the feather and noise. Place the lighter colored shape on top of the darker one to get the vignette effect.

Place the lighter shape on top of the darker shape to get the vignette effect.

Place the lighter shape on top of the darker shape to get the vignette effect.

One important reminder: You can't do this with spot colors. For it to reproduce consistently, you'll need to use process colors.

Stacked option for pictures

Now for a twist. Want to add that Instagram-like vignette effect to a photo without opening Photoshop?

You'll need three boxes: two identical boxes containing your image and one with a black fill. Apply a multiply transparency to the black box. And apply the basic feather to one of the picture boxes. And stack them:

Three boxes to make a vignetted image. Here, the black box has a 75% multiply transparency.

Three boxes to make a vignetted image. Here, the black box has a 75% multiply transparency.

The full image should be on the bottom. Then the black box. And the feathered image is on top. You can experiment with the transparency and blending mode to get the right effect.

Using inner glow instead

InDesign has an inner glow effect. Simply select your color block or photo and apply the inner glow effect (Object > Effects > Inner Glow... or via the Effects palette).

Set the color to black and the blending mode to multiply. You can play with the color, size and noise settings to customize the effect. The end result is something like this:

So if using the inner glow is so much faster, why not use it exclusively? Stacking gives you a slightly different effect. I prefer the stacking approach for large blocks of color and the inner glow for photos. But in the end, it's personal preference.

Every Wednesday, I post a quick tip for an Adobe app.

Keeping colors in proportion

In InDesign, you want to modify a color slightly, keeping it in the same basic hue. Maybe you've duplicated a color and need a slightly lighter or darker color to complement your design. You double click the swatch in the palette and you get this:

Moving the sliders individually will radically alter the color. You need to move all the sliders at once, keeping them in proportion. And InDesign has a way to do this. Simply hold down the shift key as you click and drag the sliders. They will all move together:

Look at the numbers in the screenshot above. I simply clicked on the Cyan slider and moved it to the left while holding down the shift key. All of the sliders moved in proportion. Cyan went from 72% to 62%. And the other colors moved, too. Here's another screenshot where I've moved the Cyan slider to 52%:

And the same trick works in Illustrator, too. Just hold the shift key to move the Color palette sliders together. It's a simple and powerful way to adjust your color palette.

Every Wednesday, I post a quick tip for an Adobe app.

InDesign is good at math

Many designers think they are bad at math. Thankfully, InDesign is good at math.

Input fields in InDesign can do simple math. For example:

Addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Have a box that is 4.25 inches wide and you want it to be 1 inch wider? Just type "+1" after the curent measurement. Need to resize a box to 1/3 the current width. Type "/3" behind the measurement in the width field.

Conversions. InDesign will also convert measurements for you. If your document is set up for picas and you need to input a measurement in something other than picas, just type the measurement AND the unit of measure (for example, "7 in" or "3 mm") and InDesign will convert it to picas. This works for lots of different units -- inches, millimeters, centimeters, points and more. You can even do addition or subtraction between numbers with different units of measure and InDesign will figure it out for you. For example, typing "7 in + 3 pts" will yield 7.0417 inches.

Enjoy. I'm sure this is a reminder for many of you, but I run across people everyday that don't know that InDesign can do simple math. I typically use unit conversion and division a lot in InDesign. As a bonus, most Adobe apps have fields that can do math – not just InDesign. I use it in Illustrator all the time.

Every Wednesday, I post a quick tip for an Adobe app.

Reshape a path quickly in Illustrator

Here is my first Wednesday Quick Tip for Adobe Illustrator. Using the pencil tool, you can quickly reshape any path. Select the object that you want to edit. Then using the pencil tool, draw a new shape for the path. You MUST start drawing on (or very close to) the original path AND finish on the path.

Below is an example. I took a normal square and using the pencil tool, reshaped it into some half-blob thing.

Using the pencil tool, reshape an existing path.

Using the pencil tool, reshape an existing path.

If you are having issues with this tip, make sure that your path was selected before you started to redraw the path and make sure that you start and finish redrawing on or very close to the path.

While the example is somewhat extreme, it's a very handy tip for polishing shapes or cleaning up rough edges.

Every Wednesday I post a quick tip for an Adobe app. You can see them all on my Quick Tips page.

Indent to Here

Let's say you are working on a poster in InDesign and you have something that looks like this:

Wouldn't it be great to line all that type up under the "S" in "Someplace..." Shown here with "Show Hidden Characters" turned on.

Wouldn't it be great to line all that type up under the "S" in "Someplace..." Shown here with "Show Hidden Characters" turned on.

You want the text on the right to align neatly. There are lots of ways to accomplish this, but the easiest is the "Indent to Here" character. You find it under Type > Insert Special Character > Other > Indent to Here. (If you prefer keyboard shortcuts like I do, it's Command - \.) This awesome invisible marker wraps everything underneath it back to that character.

The "Indent to Here" character is signified by the cross symbol when you turn on "Show Hidden Characters."

The "Indent to Here" character is signified by the cross symbol when you turn on "Show Hidden Characters."

It's handy when there is only one or two lines to do. With lots of lines or complex lists, there are, of course, better ways to handle the indent. I find that I tend to use it most often on posters, fliers or invitations.

This is the fourth tip is what will be an ongoing series of Wednesday Quick Tips on Adobe products. I've set up a page in the main navigation to summarize all of them. Hope you find them helpful.

How do we learn software?


It wasn't that long ago that design software came with an instruction manual. That your company would invest thousands of dollars sending employees to training. That bookstores had shelves of books walking you through every feature of Photoshop or InDesign.

But the internet essentially ended that. With the ability to look up anything online quickly, books and training became far less important to designers. Online training videos walk you though every step. And coupled with the fact that design software is updated incrementally, most designers simply discover new features on their own.

Yet, when working with my students or coworkers, I've discovered that often, they don't know about simple time-saving tricks.  These tricks aren't covered in the videos or online tutorials. They are too simple. Many of them aren't even new. They've been in the software for years. But we as designers are stuck in our ways. We are accustomed to the way we do things. We don't always use the software in the most efficient way.

Every Wednesday, I'll post a quick tip. It's my attempt to highlight some of the awesomely easy ways to use Adobe apps better. I've added a page to the site's main navigation to collect all the tips and already posted tips for the last three weeks.

My hope is that these Wednesday Quick Tips will teach you a new tactic (or remind you of one you've forgotten). And by investing a minute or two each week, you'll save many more minutes along the way.

The most powerful check box in InDesign

This tip couldn't be more simple: A check box in InDesign opens up a bunch of options – and most people don't know it's there.

When you go to place a file, at the bottom of the dialog box is an option to "Show Import Options."

The "Show Import Options" check box is located in the bottom section of the box and is selected in this screenshot.

The "Show Import Options" check box is located in the bottom section of the box and is selected in this screenshot.

Selecting the check box will open an additional dialog box giving you options that change based on what kind of file you place.

Place a PDF, Illustrator file or InDesign file and you have the option to choose which pages or page range you want to place. You can even turn on and off layers.

Import options for placing a PDF. Yes, you can place all the pages of a multipage PDF.

Import options for placing a PDF. Yes, you can place all the pages of a multipage PDF.

Place a Word file and you can map style sheets in Word to their equilvalent in InDesign. Although my favorite option here is to "Remove Styles and Formatting from Text and Tables" which basically converts a Word file to a text file.

Import options when placing a Word document. You can strip out all of the random formatting that often comes in with a Word document.

Import options when placing a Word document. You can strip out all of the random formatting that often comes in with a Word document.

And other options are available for other file types. It's a little hidden feature, but it can make your life much, much easier.

Every Wednesday, I post a simple, but powerful tip from an Adobe app.

Control your rulers

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This tip is really simplistic, but I'm always amazed by how many people don't know about it.

Ever need to change the unit of measure on your rulers in InDesign? Right mouse click (or control-click) on the toolbar and choose your unit of measure from the list.

Bonus tip: At the bottom of the menu, there is a command to clear all guides from the selected spread. Much easier than dragging all your guides off the pasteboard.

Little plug for Squarespace (and a friend's book)

Squarespace is everywhere these days. I hear their ads on Sirius XM. And tonight, I just saw their television ad on the Super Bowl.

I've hosted Sketchbook B on Squarespace since I started the blog in 2007. It's crazy to see how much they've grown and their product has gotten significantly better over time. I wrote a brief review of Squarespace 6 last year. They've added a bunch of features since that review.

If you've spent any time with a content management system like Wordpress, you should be able to figure out Squarespace quickly. It's pretty intuitive. But if you know some CSS, you'll be able to get even more out of it.

If you are the type of person that learns better from a book, Columbia designer Kris Black actually wrote the book on Squarespace. He's a illustrator, former Squarespace-tech-support employee and all-around good guy. His book, Squarespace 6 for Dummies, is available through Amazon, on Kindle and Apple's iBooks store. I have a copy of it and Kris really does a good job of summarizing the basics. So if you have decided to start a Squarespace site and want a good introductory book, pick it up.

Color-coded master pages in InDesign

If you use master pages in InDesign, it can be difficult to see what master is applied to each page. But you can easily color code your master pages.

Buried in the Pages palette flyout menu (Page Attributes > Color Label) is a command to color code a page. When it's applied to a Master page, it's automatically applied to all of the pages that use that Master page. (Color coding can be applied to individual pages as well.)


Selecting colors for each of your masters makes it much easier to see which master is applied to each page.

Before and after: It's now much easier to tell which pages have master pages applied.

Before and after: It's now much easier to tell which pages have master pages applied.

This is the first of a series of Wednesday posts highlighting the little details in Adobe apps that often get overlooked. 

A few of my favorite things


I often get questions about what software and services I use for my Sketchbook B projects. (Especially for type design.) Below is a list that covers pretty much everything I'm currently using.

I've also added a My Gear page to the About section. My plan is to keep updating the page as I discover new tools.


Creative Cloud / Adobe – I should probably put this under services, but I have a subscription primarily for InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop and Acrobat. Plus a whole lot of apps and type to play around with.

Glyphs / Mac – My primary type design app. Powerful and delightful to use. If the full version is too much for you, there is a Glyphs Mini that is significantly cheaper.

Byword / Mac / iOS – I've tried a few Markdown writing apps. Byword is my favorite. Works great on the Mac, iPhone and iPad.

Scrivener / Mac – I've been working on some long format writing. Scrivener is an amazingly powerful app and well worth the investment. And maybe someday, I'll finish the book...

Flare / Mac– Kind of like Instagram for the Mac. Let's you massively customize effects, filters, textures and more. I like to use it to add texture to my illustrations.

Reeder / iOS – My mobile preference for digging through all the RSS feeds that I subscribe to. Supports Feedly, which is what I use now that Google Reader is gone. I can't wait for the new Mac version.


Dropbox – How did we get anything done without Dropbox? Online storage made really, really easy.

Evernote - I'm addicted to Evernote for stashing all of my ideas, notes, stories, articles and other random stuff that I want to be able to find later.

Wunderlist - I've tried lots of to-do list programs and services, but Wunderlist is my favorite. And did I mention it's free? And Wunderlist has web, Mac and iOS versions. Love it.

Feedly - I was a little panicked when Google Reader was discontinued. But Feedly is a really great service with a lot of potential.

Squarespace - Sketchbook B is hosted on Squarespace and has been for a long time. It keeps getting better. The latest version is really, really impressive.

Tumblr - I use Tumblr for Wanted in Columbia. A nice option if you want to host a simple blog for free.

Shattered drive


My not-quite-two-year-old son dropped my laptop the other day after I left it unattended for a few minutes. The end result was an ominous clicking sound that I instantly knew meant the hard drive was gone.

I'm pretty serious about backing up. I have too many pictures of my children that I couldn't stand to lose. In the end, I didn't lose a thing. But I figured I'd reflect on the process and Apple's pretty outstanding set up for recovery.

When my wife bought her MacBook Air this summer, I decided to purchase an Apple Time Capsule, too. It was hard enough for me to remember to plug my portable hard drive into my laptop for Time Machine to back up. I couldn't imagine both my wife and I remembering. Time Capsule seemed like a good option for us.

I've never had to restore from a Time Capsule. And I've never had to restore after replacing a hard drive. My MacBook Pro is new enough, that it didn't ship with system disks and instead supports Internet Recovery. Never done that before either. 

(I'll be honest. I was freaking out. Even though I knew I had backed up everything, I was still anxious to see all my files.)

iFixIt had great step-by-step instructions. I swapped the hard drive out after an adventure with Best Buy. (I'll leave that rant for another blog post.) And started the Internet Recovery process. On restart, the computer lets you select your wireless network and then you download a slimmed down OS X that lets you boot up, use Disk Utility or restore from your Time Capsule. I formatted the new hard drive, found my Time Machine back up, clicked restore and waited. 

It obviously took a very long while to download the contents of my old hard drive. I should have plugged the laptop directly into the ethernet port on the back of the Time Capsule to speed things up, but didn't think of it until after the restore had started.

In the end, the upgrade process was as smooth as replacing a hard drive can be. Internet Recovery is slick and really helpful. Not having to hunt for old system CDs when you're in a panic is great. And once you boot up in to Internet Recovery mode, you have all the options that you need.

As easy as the process is, I would imagine that a novice would still be completely intimidated by this. But if you back up regularly with Time Capsule, you can rest assured that your data is safe and someone will be able to help you recover it.

Nintendo doesn't want to be Sega.

John Gruber has a great post on Daring Fireball about Nintendo. In it, he draws comparisons between Nintendo and Apple, Microsoft, Blackberry and Disney. He makes an excellent case that Nintendo should begin to license their popular games for iOS and other systems. 

But Gruber misses the one comparison that Nintendo executives see in their worst nightmares: Nintendo doesn't want to be Sega.

Sega was once a big player in the console market. The Sega Genesis was a hit. (I loved mine.) They had a very popular game franchise in Sonic the Hedgehog. And the Genesis was followed by the Saturn and Dreamcast. I actually owned a Dreamcast and it was a solid system, but slow adoption and increased competition led Sega to exit the console market in 2001 and license their games for other systems. 

Sega is still alive today and is doing well. In fact, you can buy all sorts of Sega games for the iPad, iPhone, Android and pretty much every console. (I played Sonic the Hedgehog on my iPad Mini earlier tonight.)

But people don't talk about Sega the same way they talk about Nintendo. Sega isn't a leader in the gaming industry anymore. There is a loss of prestige that comes with being "just another game manufacturer."

Nintendo obviously could survive selling their games as apps for iOS and Android. Gruber correctly points out that millions of fans would buy Nintendo games for iOS. But is Nintendo willing to accept losing the leadership role that they feel they have now.

Finally in the wild...

Four years ago, my friend Marius Valdes and I built a typeface based on some lettering he had done. I intended to release it to a wider audience, but for various reasons, it never happened. The lettering set wasn't complete and there were parts I wanted to tweak. I think that only four or five people ended up with copies.

But people that saw Valdes Clarendon wanted to know where they could get a copy.


A few months ago, I spent some time and finished Valdes Clarendon. I cleaned up the characters and refined the spacing. I added missing characters and OpenType alternates.

Valdes Clarendon is finally in the wild and available at MyFonts. The normal price will be $10. But until the end of September, I'm offering an introductory price of $7 - 30% off.

And if you like Valdes Clarendon, but you might also like Valdes Poster Sans, a free font available here at Sketchbook B.

Fuzzy PowerPoint Math

A little math problem for you…

One 15-minute PowerPoint* presentation has 5 slides. Another 15-minute PowerPoint presentation has 15 slides. Which presentation is shorter?


Obviously, both are 15-minute presentations. They are the same length.

But time and again, I talk to people who reduce the number of slides in their PowerPoint because they want to make the presentation “shorter.” They think that if they have fewer slides, they will talk for a shorter amount of time. Often, they don’t take material out, as much as they condense it on the remaining slides.**

That’s completely the wrong way to think about it.

Next time you have a presentation, think about how long you have to present and build your story to fill the allotted time. Then create an appropriate number of slides to support your presentation. You may have more slides and move through them quickly. Or only a handful of slides.

But remember that the length of your presentation has almost nothing to do with how many slides you have.

This applies to you even if you are using Keynote, Prezi or a PDF.

** I’ve seen people cut slides and have their presentations grow longer, rambling as they try to squeeze in all that they’ve “cut.”