Vanilla InDesign… or the Works?

Straight out of the box, Adobe InDesign is great software capable of handling most print projects which artists and designers would deal with on a daily basis.

However, just like vanilla ice-cream, it can always be improved upon.

PDF joboptions

The joboptions which ship with InDesign do the job, but sometimes your printer or contractor will want PDFs made to certain specifications of their own. Rather than set their instructions each time, the instructions can be saved once and then loaded from that point onwards. Similarly, contractors can provide a .joboptions file online and it can be loaded and saved onto your machine for future use.


The default workspace is pretty ordinary. Luckily, workspaces can be loaded and also saved. Adobe ships several with the software, but I prefer to have most of the palettes docked to the right of screen, while the pages panel is always open to the left with my toolbox floating above it. It’s my personal preference, but because I have to share my machine at work, I have saved my workspace in case my colleagues ruin my settings by closing palettes or changing the toolbox, etc.

Keyboard Shortcuts

Because work can have mildly repetitve tasks which make my hands jump from keyboard to mouse to keyboard to mouse etc, it would be better if my hands did not have to leave the keyboard. Fine if the tasks have keyboard shortcuts, but if not, then I have no option but to use the mouse to select a menu option, right? Well, not always… if the task can be selected from the menus or palettes, a Keyboard Shortcut can be assigned to it. This is done from the Edit Menu/Keyboard Shortcuts… . Because much of my work involves Data Merge, i’ve made the Export to PDF function within Data Merge and the Select New Data functions as Keyboard Shortcuts (or KBSCs as known by the more geekier InDesign users).


Similarly, menus can be adjusted too, so that items rarely used by some users can be turned invisible, whereas other items which can be hard to find can be assigned colours so that they are easy to find. This is done from the Edit Menu/Menus…


Adobe InDesign ships with a standard set of scripts which can be quite poweful, such as:

  • FindChangeByList.jsx: This allows several find/change or GREP searches to be chained one after another, effectively acting like a Microsoft Word macro. This script references a text file with its instructions, and many text files can be prepared in advances for different “macros”.
  • PlaceMultiPagePDF.jsx: This, as its name suggests, allows a multi-page PDF to be placed into an InDesign file.

But, there are many scripts out there, some free, others proprietary, which are absolutely brilliant, such as:

  • MultiPageImporter2.5.jsx: Similar purpose to PlaceMultiPagePDF.jsx, but with an excellent user interface which allows scaling, page placement options, rotation options… put simply it is infinitely better than the script which ships with Adobe InDesign. Click here for more information.
  • ShowPDFOptions.jsx: Allows previously placed PDF/AI files to have the options dialog box appear again so that minor edits (such as trimbox, bounding box etc or transparency or white) can be set.
  • Pageborder.js: Adds or removes a trim border for artwork so that customers unfamiliar with crop-marks can see where the edge of a page is. Click here for more information.
  • IndysNumberGenerator.jsxbin: A fantastic script which creates numbered lists for Variable Data jobs such as raffle tickets or numbered invoices without requiring Microsoft Excel. Click here for more information.
  • controlBackgroundExport.jsx: A startup script for use with CS5 and above to make PDF export visible (or invisible again) as a progress window. Click here for more information.

There are plenty of others out there on the internet. Try a Google search with the words “InDesign Javascript Great”.


Similar to scripts but normally proprietary, there are some which are given away as loss-leaders, or just for the greater good. Examples include:

  • Multi-Do. An InDesign plug-in which increases the Undo/Redo list from dozens to hundreds. Click here for more information.
  • Multi Find-Change. A paid plug-in which improves on the FindChangeByList.jsx which ships with InDesign with a great user interface and customisation. Click here for more information.

Again, there are plenty of others on the internet, but prices can range from a few dollars to a few thousand dollars… but some (such as XMPie) are worth the money.

The whole nine yards!

Mike Witherell of has a PDF which details where all the presets reside and how they can be adjusted. For more information click here and look for “A PDF tour of presets in InDesign CS5”. With this information, literally anything in InDesign is customisable!

Put simply?

InDesign out of the box is great, but once enhanced, it can turn the “Vanilla” software into a Vanilla Sundae with Chocolate topping, sparklers and crushed peanuts!

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