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A Great Script Lets You Add Measurements in InDesign or Illustrator

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My editor-in-chief and I both had the same reaction when we saw the Dimensions script for InDesign or Illustrator.

“I think of all the hours [it] would’ve saved me back in the day making spec guides for textbook designers to follow,” Mike wrote excitedly.

His excitement was deserved. As I started looking at the link to the script, I flashed back to my own projects. I thought about the various templates, cheat sheets, magazine rate cards, and documents that I’ve made over the years, projects that would have screamed for this script.

Sample document "Ad sizes for the program guide for the 2022 season of Weasels on Parade, Weaselville's annual festival of fun" with quarter page and half page showing the size of each marked up on width and height of the two ads

Wouldn’t it be great if you could automatically measure and create the dimensions, arrows, and extension lines around objects for projects like this one? You can—in InDesign or Illustrator—with the Dimensions script.

Put another way, Dimensions will scratch a big itch if you find yourself measuring dimensions of objects and communicating these measurements to others. Sending dimensions of book covers to a designer? Guidelines for designing ads for a newspaper? Instructions for submitting artwork for postcard formats to a commercial printer?

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Magazine page grid with dimensions for columns marked up

You can mark up dimensions for a magazine project in just a few minutes—and you don’t actually have to measure anything!

Whether you’re using InDesign or Illustrator, this script, by William Campbell of Mars Premedia, a seasoned prepress tech and programmer in Portland, Oregon, is exactly what you will need if you’re doing any sort of combination of measuring something on your page and putting those measurements on a label in your document.

Honestly, Dimensions is one of those scripts that’s just plain cool enough that you’re going to want to draw random boxes and then run the script to measure them. (It’s safe to admit that here. You’re among kindred spirits.)

And best of all? It’s all free at marspremedia.com/software, though Campbell gratefully accepts the donations.

Easy to use, wide range of options

The script is easy to use: Select an object on your page. When you run the script, it will bring up a dialog that will let you configure the details. Though the settings are thorough and a little intimidating, you can run the script and get an immediate understanding of how it works.

Dialog of Dimensions InDesign

Every single aspect of marking a dimension—from the thickness of the extension rules to the font and color of the dimension text to whether the measurement includes the stroke of the selected object—can be configured in Dimensions InDesign.

Click OK, and bam! Dimension lines, arrows, and text with the actual measurement—calculated automatically—will magically appear around the selected object. Here is where you can see the attention to design details: The objects come in grouped and on their own layer, and the script will add its own paragraph style so you can globally change the look of the numbers and units.

Sample Illustrator document with "The Daily Bugle" in blackletter type, showing paragraph styles panel with "Dimensions' style highlighted

The Dimensions script adds a paragraph style so you can customize the look of the measurement text.

You can customize everything: thickness of the rules, style of the arrowheads, distance of the dimensions from the object you’re measuring, whether your object’s stroke is part of the distance calculations, what to do when the object is rotated. (Do you measure it and then rotate the measurements, or do you measure how it’s rotated?)

"Configure arrowheads" dialog showing settings for Multiplier, Minimum, and Angle for Circle, Simple, Slash, and Triangle arrowheads

Dimensions will get you thinking about everything that goes into the design of an arrowhead.

If you’re working at scale, Dimensions can take that into account, too.

If you screw something up, undo works beautifully. That seems like an obvious thing to expect, but sometimes with scripts, you find yourself having to manually undo every single change your script automated for you. And once you find the settings you like, you can save the configuration for later use. It’s clear that Campbell has invested significant time and attention into making Dimensions usable as well as functional.

Precision and time

“Like most of my scripts, it was a user’s specific request,” Campbell says of Dimensions. A back-and-forth with his client over a few months led to more customization and features and ultimately the release of versions for both InDesign and Illustrator.

Mars Premedia offers a comprehensive range of prepress, production, color correction, proofing, file cleanup, and web development services, and the scripts that Campbell writes also come from this context.

“Most scripts are to solve recurring problems with files I have to make right,” he says, echoing a lament I’ve heard over the years from many a prepress technician.

If you work in this environment, you can check out all his scripts—for InDesign, Illustrator, and Photoshop—at marspremedia.com/software/. He also has some nicely crafted YouTube videos demonstrating their use.

I was curious about what moves him to write upwards of 50 scripts and release them to the world.

“It’s that I hate wasted time, mine or others,” he says. “And I cringe at errors. We all make them, but I sure like to avoid them if possible. Scripts not only save time, they make me more consistent, and help avoid errors. That’s a big part of why I make them. For me and others.”

Jeff Potter, a creative professional with close to 40 years of experience in all aspects of publishing, works as one of your editors at CreativePro Network. Separately, he also is the proud editor and designer of The Commons, a nonprofit community newspaper in Brattleboro, Vermont.
  • Theresa Stone says:

    “Weasels on Parade” lol

  • Karen Kleinerman says:

    Oh, those product catalogs with all the widths and lengths and heights and depths and diameters and and and arrows and . . . wish I’d had this script then!

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