10 InDesign Preferences You Must Change Today

By Kelly Kordes Anton

InDesign CC makes a lot of assumptions about you. For example, it’s pretty sure that your world view is pretty Dark. It thinks you understand picas. And it’s pretty sure that you don’t want to take advantage of that gorgeous display your monitor offers. I can’t tell you why it makes these assumptions—but I can tell you where to change them if they’re not working for you. So if you’ve never customized your InDesign preferences, just press Command+K (Mac) or Ctrl+K (Windows) to open the dialog box and follow along.

1. Lighten Up

Does anyone really like that awful Dark interface? You do? Fine, skip to No. 2. The rest of you, select Interface > Color Theme in the Preferences dialog box. Choose a different option from the Color Theme menu in the Appearance area. I like the retro soft gray, so I go with Light. Whew. So much easier on my aging eyes.

2. Keep Those Curly Quotes Comin’

Now, this one is a little tricky because Use Typographer’s Quotes is actually checked by default in the Type panel of the Preferences dialog box. But how many times do you suddenly find that your quotes are no longer converting to curly? You take a peek at Preferences and, lo and behold, Use Typographer’s Quotes is mysteriously unchecked!

Guess what happened? It’s likely you accidentally hit a keyboard shortcut that toggles off this preference. Check Use Typographer’s Quotes again, then lock it down by changing the keyboard shortcut. (Do you really need to toggle this off? If you need foot and inch marks, just use those keyboard shortcuts: Command+’/Command+Shift+” or Ctrl+’/Ctrl+Shift+”.)

To change the keyboard shortcut, choose Edit > Keyboard Shortcuts. Then select Text and Tables from the Product Area menu and scroll down to Toggle Typographer’s Quotes Preference. Click on the current shortcut and click Remove. (If you’re not using a custom set of keyboard shortcuts yet, you’ll need to create one in order to make this change.)

3. Keep Line Spacing Consistent

When do you not want the leading to be the same within a paragraph? There might be a case here and there, but chances are, you want the same spacing between lines no matter the text sizes. Check Apply Leading to Entire Paragraphs in the Type panel. (If you need more details on this topic, read Rein in Rogue Leading.)

4. Rulers that Rock

Guess what system of measurement I learned in grade school in the 1970s? The metric system. But I never really used that system because “metrication” faded in the US. As a writer and page layout person with no design training, I never learned picas.

But I felt guilty about this. I should know picas. I should figure out how to use them. Apparently, Adobe thinks I am a sophisticated designer who not only understands picas, but is most comfortable using them. So I never changed the default rulers.

Last year, though, a brilliant production artist mentioned to me that nobody really knows picas except for people with newspaper training. Whether this is true or not, it freed me up to work in inches. Let go of your guilt and work in the measurement system you prefer. Choose different options from the Horizontal and Vertical menus in the Units & Increments panel of the Preferences dialog.

5. More Careful Kerning

Keyboard shortcuts for kerning and tracking are awesome for quickly experimenting with type and for copyfitting. But InDesign’s default increment of 20/1000 ths of an em is HUGE. I knocked it down to 5 in the Kerning/Tracking field (Preferences > Units & Increments > Keyboard Increments). Maybe you love it—leave it alone. Maybe you think it’s too small—bump it up. The point is, you can make this setting work for you.

6. Spot Those Spelling Errors

I work in Microsoft Word a lot, and it just loves to try to help you out. While a lot of its help can be a hindrance, the underlining of possibly misspelled words, repeated words, and the like can be pretty handy. If you’d like to see this in InDesign, check Enable Dynamic Spelling in the Spelling panel of the Preferences dialog. (You can quickly toggle this from the Edit > Spelling menu as well.)

7. Quick Corrections

Another preference that mimics Microsoft Word is Autocorrect. If you type in InDesign a lot, turning it on is worth a try. Check Enable Autocorrect in the Autocorrect panel of the Preferences dialog box. Tip: You can use Autocorrect as a poor man’s macro as well. For example, a recent project used the phrase “financial capabilities program” over and over. To speed up the typing of this tedious 30-character phrase, I added a new Autocorrect entry that automatically changed “fcp” to “financial capabilities program.”

8. Ditch the Typical Display

Why would I want my stunning 27-inch iMac monitor to display jagged graphics? Because the default Display Performance is Typical. Who wants Typical when you can have High Quality? If there’s a significant speed difference in displaying High Quality graphics, I’ve never noticed it.

To change the default, choose High Quality from the Default View menu in the Display Performance panel of Preferences. For good measure, I also unchecked Preserve Object Level Settings so that even graphics that are set to Fast or Typical (via Object > Display Performance) always display at High Quality. (But what about that big background graphic that is slowing you down? Put it on a layer and hide it. Don’t display it as a shadow of its former self.)


This little hockey player’s shot is super crisp, but you can’t see it onscreen with Typical display. Bump it up to High Quality for a clean look.

9. Greek Be Gone

As with the Default View, I can’t recall a time that displaying characters onscreen slowed my computer to a crawl. But I can recall many times when I’ve been irritated by the little gray bars that appear instead of text. How does this happen? It’s the Greek Type Below setting in the Display Performance panel of the Preferences dialog box.

Essentially, the combination of the Greek Type Below value and the document view scale conspire to replace smaller text (default: 7 point) with gray bars. If you want to see all your characters, no matter how long it might take to draw the itty-bitty ones, change this value to 0. (Thank you to John Cruise for this tip.)

10. Spend Less Time on Links

By default, every time you open an InDesign document, the links to graphics and text files are checked. If anything is amiss, you get an alert rather than an open document. This seems slow to me, especially because I often open documents only to edit them. In many cases, I don’t even have the graphic files, so of course they are missing. InDesign is spending time checking something I already know about—and forcing me to respond with Don’t Update Links.

For my workflow, I decided to turn off Check Links Before Opening Document in the File Handling pane of the Preference dialog. Yes, sometimes I do have the imported files, but in those cases I don’t move the files. And I have to check the links before output anyway. Anything you can do to make opening documents more seamless is nice, so check out this preference and others in this area.

Now, are you thinking to yourself, “I did change that once, but it didn’t stick…?” Even experienced users can get confused by which preferences are document-specific and which ones are application-specific. For help, read A Visual Guide to InDesign Preferences. In the meantime, anytime you find yourself irritated by the state of things in InDesign, take a trip to the Preferences dialog and see if you can change a setting to better suit you, your computer and your work.


Kelly Kordes Anton works for Creative Quadrant. She writes regularly for filethis.com andgrowthegame.com

Posted on: May 23, 2014

Mike Rankin

Mike is the Editor in Chief of InDesignSecrets.com, InDesign Magazine, and CreativePro.com. He is also the author of several lynda.com video training series, including Font Management Essential Training, InDesign FX, and InDesign CC: Interactive Document Fundamentals.

23 Comments on 10 InDesign Preferences You Must Change Today

  1. David Creamer

    May 23, 2014 at 8:18 pm

    A couple of other settings I like to change (some I consider critical, some are just settingsI like)…

    Turn off the Match Pasteboard to Theme Color (especially if keeping a Dark-ish panel theme)
    Turn Live Screen Drawing to Immediate

    Font Preview Size to Large
    Delete Empty Pages for Primary Text Frames
    I don’t change leading settings since I always use paragraph styles with absolute leading (or, for the rare time I don’t use styles, select the entire paragraph before changing leading)

    Merge User Dictionary into Document (if sending to another person to work on)

    Display Performance:
    I keep it on Typical, but increase Vector to High Resolution
    Of course, I always sett Greek Type to 0

    Appearance of Black:
    Change both settings to Display All Black Accurately for print work
    (I do the same in Illustrator)

    File Handling:
    Save 5 pages of preview

  2. David Creamer

    May 23, 2014 at 8:18 pm

    Sorry–all my returns and line breaks were wiped out when I posed. 

  3. Love these. Re: #8, if you’ve ever worked off a slow server (thanks corporate beaurocracy!), you know the value of typical display. Every time you scroll or zoom, ID goes back to those files to re-preview. It can be pure agony.  I also change the default settings for superscript and subscript text.

  4. Matt Mayerchak

    May 28, 2014 at 7:02 pm

    Re: Number 4, you state “ a brilliant production artist mentioned to me that nobody really knows picas except for people with newspaper training.” This is FALSE. None of the professionall designers I know worked in newspapers, and we all use picas because the units of measure make a lot more sense when used in conjunction with type sizes. 14 points of space after a paragraph is 0.1944 inches, and 15 points is 0.2083 inches. Picas and points are the measurement system of typography. Sure, you can measure in hectares if you’re the only one working on your files, but if you want to be taken seriously as a professional designer, you should learn the craft of your chosen profession. 

  5. It would be super nice if there were a feature that enabled different units of measurement for typographic controls (like paragraph spacing) and object controls where inches definitely do seem more useful than picas. 

  6. Thanks. I found this to be extremely helpful for some of those nagging annoyances in iD.  Unfortunately I have to use iD v3 at work.  All but #10 (& the part about changing the bg color in #1) were available as described.  Apparently #10 wasn’t an option until a later version – that would have been nice… but hey – I got a bunch of other awesome workable tips! 😀

  7. I’m just recently working in InDesign again (have been all web the last several years)…
    can anyone tell me how to change the paragraph increment setting from inches to points?
    I found the hold-shift key down work-around, but simply prefer to tab though the fields when I’m setting up space before/after, etc. Thanks.

  8. I agree with most of these – especially dynamic spelling, and typographers quotes, line spacing etc.! Why they aren’t turned on is beyond me.

    I’d say that the “Typical Display” is a user choice, 9/10 times I have it set to typical. Preflight informs of images not high quality.

  9. Two more I always change are Appearance of Black and File Handling. I set my global default to Display and Print Blacks Accurately (I still don’t know who would not want this changed), and I constantly change my File Handling Default Relink Folder from Original Link Folder to Most Recent Relink Folder depending on what I’m doing in the file. I also ditch all of the colors from the swatches palette and set my default paragraph style to reflect my most-used font, hyphenation, h&j, etc.

  10. NONE of the professional designers I know use picas because they don’t make sense in their market.

    If you want to be taken seriously as a professional designer then you should work in whatever measurement system is understood by all the people you work with – that’s clients and suppliers, as well as other people in your organisation. For us in New Zealand the measurement system that’s used is millimetres.

    If wherever you are working everyone uses picas and understands them, then great, but don’t use a system that only the designer understands… you won’t be taken seriously just because you use an arcane measurement system.

    Personally, in 35 years as a designer I’ve never met ANYONE that uses picas, and I’ve met a lot of very talented designers who are at the top of their field and very well versed in their craft. There are a whole lot of brilliant production artists who also use millimetres exclusively for the reasons stated.

  11. David Blatner

    June 9, 2014 at 12:52 pm

    I love picas and points, and have used them almost exclusively since the early 90s (with QX, then InDesign). Of course, I use inches or cm for page sizes and such, but picas/points is just more convenient for fine-tuned positioning on the page. After all, there are almost 3 points in a single mm! I’d rather move something 1 pt than have to type .2 mm.

    But of course, there’s no “correct” measurement system. The right one is the one you’re most efficient with.

  12. Dark interface propbems – (sorry last post went wrong!!) Is there anyway of changing the interface colour in CS6? I would also prefer a lighter interface as can’t always see the type on the darker grey, can’t seem to find it on 6. Also does anyone know if you can make the handles on drawing objects any larger? All the designers must hace very young eyes, as a more mature designer(!!) they are REALLY difficult to see even with glasses and they stay the same size when you zoom in.


  13. Terre Dunivant

    June 18, 2014 at 8:26 pm

    Preferences > General > Interface: Appearance

  14. i so agree with you..have never used picas in my life…or worked with people who do…

  15. Carlos Estrello

    July 8, 2014 at 5:40 pm

    Just a bunch of countries do not use metric system, what is probed is better (not perfect, sure) system. This system is used in commercial, scientific and industrial applications. Maybe metrification is faded cause are you so lazy to learn? In my work I use metric, english and typogrpahic measures system. Want to be good in job? Learn so!

  16. Isaiah Sheppard

    July 16, 2014 at 4:25 am

    Hi Kelly,

    Much of my work as a designer is done using picas and the occasional centimeter/millimeter. Now it’s a mix of picas and inches (traditional and decimal). Thank you for sharing the InDesign tip!

  17. All serious designers I work with (myself included) don’t care what sytem of measurement is used. Units are units, and if my client needs to publish something using metrics, great.  If they want to use picas…whatever.  It all depends on what media you’re designing for…and who’s making out the paychecks.

  18. Another useful tip: If you make these changes with no document open they become global (the new default for every document you use in InDesign). If you make the changes with a particular document open, the settings only pertains to that document.

  19. 22+years never used picas never met anyone who did. If I did anyone I spoke with would say “what’s a pica”?

  20. Hi Mike,
    Thanks for the excellent post. Most of these I already knew about, but there were a few tips I found very useful. (And as for the pica people – It’s all measurements … I’ve worked in all of them based on what was needed.)
    My question for you – Is there a way to make the interface tool icons larger? I know you can go into each tool palette and make certain adjustment in the options, but is there a way to make all your tool icons larger than the tiny setting that is the default? Old eyes want to know.

    • Hi Yvette- There’s nothing in InDesign that will help you increase the size of those icons, but if you’re on a Mac, you can use the Accessibility System Preferences to turn on a temporary magnifier under your cursor. It’s free and easy to use. I think there’s similar functionality in Windows too.

  21. I am currently working in Indesign CC 2014 and I need to save my file as an idml. When I look in Indesign CC I can change the format when I go to export or save as, but for some reason I can’t change the format in Indesign CC 2014. How do I do this?

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.