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Measurement Field Secrets

Published By: InDesignSecrets.com
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A trio of (occasionally useful) tips for working with measurement fields to resize and transform type, frames, and other objects.

Resize, Move, and Transform by Percentage

Ever find yourself in need of cutting something down to half, doubling the size of type, or blowing up an image frame 319.2678%? (No, I don’t think I’ve done the last one either, but you get the point.) In an application with god-like control over positioning and sizing of objects to the ten-thousandth of an inch, sometimes you just want to use a percentage. InDesign can do that, although it isn’t obvious.

Most measurement fields in InDesign accept percentage-based values regardless of the measurement system displayed. X and Y position fields, Width and Height dimensions fields, column and gutter width fields in Text Frame Options, the Stroke Weight field, and even the Character palette’s Font Size and Leading fields all accept a percentage as a value. Double the size of your 10.25 pt type by simply typing 200% into the Font Size field. Move an object left by half it’s current position by typing 50% into the X coordinate field.

Note: Entering a percentage like 120% in the Character palette’s Leading field does not set the leading to 120% of the type size. It multiplies the current leading value by 120%; thus, 10 pt leading becomes 12 pt regardless of whether the type size is 4 or 48 points. To make leading relative to the type size again, you must set Leading to Auto and adjust the definition for Auto Leading in the Justification dialog on the Paragraph palette’s flyout menu.

On the Fly Measurement System Conversions

Not only can InDesign take percentages, but it can also take measurements in any other system it understands and convert them on the fly.

For instance, let’s say you’re working in decimal inches (set in Preferences > Units & Increments) when your collaborator in Europe asks you to size an object to X millimeters wide. While you couldgo into the preferences and change your measurement system temporarily, all your other objects’ positioning and sizing values will be converted to millimeters as well. You could also go to Google.com and ask it to “convert X mm to inches” and bring the returned value back to InDesign. Or, you could save yourself a trip and just let InDesign do the conversion.

Anywhere your current measurement system preference is revealed–for example, the Width, Height, X, and Y fields on the Transform palette–as well as most other places InDesign handles measurement–Font Size, Leading, Stroke Weight, and so on–accepts measurements in any system InDesign comprehends.

Perhaps you need to fit a one-line headline into a 1.5-inch space. You could try to do that visually, or you could simply enter 1.5″ into the Font Size field on the Character palette. To satisfy your European colleague, enter her value followed by mm into the Width field on the Control palette. On the fly InDesign will both resize the object and do the conversion back into decimal inches.

InDesign understands all of the following measurement notations appended to numeric values: Percentage (%), picas (p), points (pt), inches (in, i, “), millimeters (mm), centimeters (cm), and ciceros (c).

Spare the Calculator, Spoil the Designer

Now that you can do percentages and different measurements, it’s time for the coolest of the trio of measurement field secrets: Using InDesign as a visual calculator.

Let’s suppose you have an 8.5 x 11 page with .875-inch inner margins and .415-inch outer. What would be the width of a frame if the frame is supposed to be half the width of the live area? Beats me. I won’t even bother figuring it out because InDesign can do it for me in a couple of quick steps.

First, I’ll draw a rectangle from margin-to-margin. If I did it correctly (Snap to Guides helps), the Control palette will reveal the width of the rectangle, and thus my live area, as 7.21-inches wide. Instead of dividing that by two in my head (I get enough left-brain workout balancing my checkbook), I’ll simply ask InDesign to divide the frame’s width in half. In the Control or Transform palette Width field I’ll add /2 after the 7.21 in it already contains. I hit Enter/Return, my frame resizes, and I’m already halfway to the swatches palette to set the color.

Most of InDesign’s measurement fields can handle basic math–addition (+), subtraction (-), multiplication (*), and division (/). Even better, it can do it with mixed measurement systems. For example, 4 in + 3p2 adds 3 picas and 2 points to the four inches for an end result of 4.5278-inches.

You may not use these measurement field secrets every day, but they do come in handy from time to time. They’re in InDesign for the same reason the Pen and Pencil tools were included: To save you trips to other tools.