Understanding Liquid Layouts – Part One

Once upon a time, designers working on digital publications destined for Adobe DPS—or similar publishing platforms—had to create a separate InDesign document for each article, in each orientation, and in each device screen size. So, if an article was to be distributed to be read on an iPad, a Kindle Fire, and a Galaxy, and designed to be read in landscape and portrait mode on each, the designer would have to create six separate documents. Then multiply that times the number of articles that might be included in one publication…that’s a lot of work!

The same article, served up on two different size tablets, in two orientations.

The same article, served up on two different size tablets, in two orientations.

The folks helming the Good Ship InDesign must have thought so, too, because they dreamt up Alternate Layouts. This time-saving feature lets you have multiple layouts—of different sizes and orientations—all contained in one single document. What’s that you say…you don’t create digital publications? Not to fear! Alternate Layouts are a great way to create multiple layouts—destined for print or digital or a little of each—that share the same text and images. Maybe you have a campaign that includes posters, postcards, table tents, and door hangers that all share common elements. Or maybe you have a print version and a digital version of your client’s novel and you want to avoid having to maintain two documents when the editorial changes start rolling in. This is a job for Alternate Layouts!

The same information on a small ad, tall poster, and wide poster. Note how sometimes a different photo works better in a new layout.

The same information on a small ad, tall poster, and wide poster. Note how sometimes a different photo works better in a new layout.

Most InDesign users can benefit from the powers these little superheroes possess, once they’ve witnessed their true potential. Alternate Layouts and their siblings Liquid Layout Rules are InDesign’s version of the Wonder Twins, transforming pages and documents with ease. “Wonder Twin powers, activate! Shape of a rectangle, form of a 4×6 postcard!”

Within this dynamic duo, Liquid Layout Rules are definitely the brains, while Alternate Layouts are the brawn. Liquid Layout Rules applied in your InDesign document are the ones that control how objects will behave when a page changes size and orientation, either through Alternate Layouts or page setup options. No matter which rule you choose, all changes are performed in relation to the page itself, and not to other items on the page. With pages that change drastically, you might find yourself having to do a bit more manual adjustment than you’d like, as objects might slip off the page or crash into each other. Hey, every superhero has his flaws, right? Even with having to manually adjust some items, this automated approach can shave a ton of time off your production schedule.

The original cover (top) and the same cover (bottom) on an Alternate Layout using the same orientation. Not bad!

The original cover (top) and the same cover on an Alternate Layout using the same orientation. Not bad!

 

A page after creating an Alternate Layout needing adjustments (left). The same page (right) after spending less than a minute making adjustments.

A page after creating an Alternate Layout needing adjustments (left). The same page after spending less than a minute making adjustments.

One Rule to, um, Rule Them All

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be covering each Liquid Layout Rule individually in a series of articles. I’ll discuss what happens when each specific rule is applied, and look at the layouts before and after their big makeovers. The thing to remember for now is that only one rule can be applied per page. You’ll have to weigh the pros and cons of each rule against the makeup of items on your page.

Rules can be applied to document pages—the path I take most often—or to master pages. If you choose to assign a rule to a master page, then you can quickly and easily assign that rule to many document pages at once. So you might be thinking this is the best route. When we examine each specific rule in-depth, we’ll also look at some caveats to using this approach. Remember, with great power comes great responsibility.

When you’re ready to start applying Liquid Layout Rules to your pages, you’ll need to access the panel by choosing it from the Layout menu, or by choosing Window > Interactive > Liquid Layout. Also, like any good craftsman, you’ll need to use the right tool. In this case, that’s the Page tool (Shift+P). Until the Page tool is selected, you can’t actually make any selections in the Liquid Layout panel.

Options in the Liquid Layout panel.

Options in the Liquid Layout panel.

Using the Liquid Layout Panel

For getting started with the Liquid Layout Panel, let’s focus on the options at the top and the bottom of the list of Liquid Page Rules: Off and Controlled by Master. You might not be a full-fledged superhero, but I’m guessing you can deduce what “Off” does: nothing. I know you’re thinking, “Wow! A selection that does nothing? Thanks, InDesign!” But instead, think of it more like an off button. For instance, let’s say you’ve created a page and set up a Liquid Layout Rule for the page, then duplicated the page seven times. If you decide you don’t want pages 2 and 4 to be affected by the rules, choose “Off” in the panel for those pages. The last choice in the list—Controlled by Master—basically says to use whatever rule you set up on the master page. At any time, you can override the rule on the master and choose a different rule—including turning rules off—on an individual document page.

The Page tool, the Control panel, and using the Page tool to preview page changes.

The Page tool, the Control panel, and using the Page tool to preview page changes.

Previewing the Effects of Liquid Page Rules

No matter which rule you choose, you might want to check out the results of the transformation before you actually launch into creating alternate layouts, or changing the document size. That’s where our ally the Page tool comes back into play. With the Page tool selected, the current page is surrounded by eight rectangular handles. Grabbing and dragging the handles around the pasteboard not only changes page dimensions, but shows how the governing Liquid Layout Rule will affect objects. Since this is really a just preview operation, when you let go of the handle, the page and the items on it will snap back into place. Hold down the Option/Alt key as you drag to actually re-size the page, albeit in an imprecise fashion. If you want to make accurate changes, enter new values and/or change orientation in the Control panel while the Page tool is active.

Coming Up Next

Next week I’ll be offering a 2-for-1 special on Liquid Layout Rules as we look at the two most straightforward rules: Scale and Re-center. We’ll look at how each one behaves and try it out in different situations. And of course I’ll show some “before and after” examples so you can start thinking how Liquid Layout Rules (and their better-looking sibling, Alternate Layouts) can fit into your workflow. Until next time, my super friends!

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Posted on: May 6, 2015

Erica Gamet

Erica Gamet has been involved in the graphics industry for over 25 years. She is a speaker, writer, and trainer, focusing on Adobe InDesign and Illustrator, Apple Keynote and iBooks Author, and other print- and production-related topics. She is a regular contributor to InDesign Magazine, tech edited How To Do Everything with Adobe InDesign CS4, and served as leader of the Denver InDesign User Group. After living as a nomad for almost a year, she recently put down roots in El Paso, Texas, where she hikes and bikes every chance she gets. Check out ericagamet.com to see all of Erica's upcoming events, tips and tricks, and workbooks.

4 Comments on Understanding Liquid Layouts – Part One

  1. Great to read about this feature in Indesign—makes me think, why cant Adobe Muse have a feature similar to this in terms of creating desktop and mobile versions of a website?

  2. Is Liquid Layout a complete replacement of the Layout Adjustment feature? Are there scenarios where Layout Adjustment is still needed to do a job which Liquid Layout cannot handle?

    • Layout Adjustment can still be useful for things like a simple change of margins. For example, if you have a long document where the main text flow fits to the margins, go to the master page and change the margins (Layout > Margins & Columns). If you enable Layout Adjustment in the Margins and Columns dialog box, the text flow will then fit to the new margins throughout the document.

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