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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 ℗, points (pt), inch­es (in, i, “), mil­lime­ters (mm), cen­time­ters (cm), and ciceros ©.

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.