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Changing InDesign’s Default Ruler Measurements


PPV wrote:

I am having trouble changing my document settings from picas to inches. I change them by Ctrl+clicking the ruler — but is there another way to do this so the change stays every time I open InDesign?

It’s great that you know how to change the measurement systems in the rulers by Control-clicking on them (or right-clicking if you have a two-button mouse… I encourage you to get a two-button mouse, or — if you have an Apple magic mouse, just program it to do a “right-click” when you lean it to the right). You can also change them with a keyboard shortcut.

But you’re correct that this changes the rulers for just this one document. Measurements are document-wide settings, so they apply to just one document at a time.

However, if you close all your documents (what we in the biz call the “no pub state”) and then change the ruler measurements, it will affect all new documents you create from now on.

But, wait! How can you change the rulers when no documents are open? (You can’t see any rulers.) The answer is the Preferences dialog box, which you can get to from the InDesign menu on the Mac, or the Help menu in Windows. The Units & Increments pane of this big ol’ dialog box is the ticket:


That’s how you change all the “default settings” in InDesign: change them while all docs are closed. For example, you can add color swatches to the Swatches panel, or new styles to the Paragraph Styles panel, or change various settings in the preferences dialog box, and so on. Not all the controls in the Preferences dialog box are document-wide; some are application wide (they change the app, whether documents are open or not). Read more about that here and get a visual guide to which is which here.

David Blatner is the co-founder of the Creative Publishing Network, InDesign Magazine, and the author or co-author of 15 books, including Real World InDesign. His InDesign videos at LinkedIn Learning ( are among the most watched InDesign training in the world. You can find more about David at
  • kym says:

    I have changed my ruler settings tons of times in the preferences panel (in the no pub state) and it reverts back to picas, regardless if I have using my own created workspace. Is there any other solutions when the above doesn’t work? It is so annoying…

  • peterkemp47 says:

    One thing to remember is you have to quit Indesign to have any changes you made be permanent. If you have a crash without quitting, the changes will be lost. I’ve also known many people who insist on using force quit to speed up the Indesign closing process. If you are one of those, you lose the changes you made.

  • Ray Sanford says:

    You have to remember that NO documents can be open when you’re trying to set defaults. Otherwise the prefs just apply to the document that’s open.

  • Jongware says:

    It also doesn’t work retroactively. Ruler units get saved with your document and so what you get on opening a document is what you last saved it with.

  • Frederick Yocum says:

    If you are working on a document, it is also handy to remember you can cycle through the measurements using CMD(Cntrl)+OPT+SHIFT+U
    as explained here.

  • Francisco says:

    …The answer is the Preferences dialog box, which you can get to from the InDesign menu on the Mac, or the Help menu in Windows…
    En Windows: Edicion<Preferencias<Unidades e incrementos. No es necesario Help.

    Felicidades y Gracias, me gusta mucho In design Secrets

  • Scott Citron says:

    I always encourage my students to resist the temptation to change Picas to Inches. The problem with inches is that you lose the ability to finely nudge effects like drop shadows, bevels, or glows because the smallest inch increment is .0625.

    Beyond perhaps creating your document when first starting, I rarely, if ever, need to think in inches ever again. And even in that case, you can always input a value in inches even if you’re using Picas by simply adding ‘i’ after the amount. InDesign with then translate the value back to Picas.

    With Ruler Units set to Picas (or almost anything other than Inches) nudging effects can be very small, like 1 point at a time (or 1 mm, for example). BTW, to nudge effects I simply highlight the field value by clicking on its label or icon and then tap the up or down arrow keys.

    • Chas B says:

      I’m 30 plus years in the field and been through hand setting, PageMaker, Quark, Scribus and this abomination called InDesign. When working across several disciplines, believe me, I NEVER think in or use picas. They’re an anachronystic artifact of the past. Any commercial printer that may still use picas as default can convert, but virtually all want print-ready native PDF output. You can nudge in any unit of measurement. Use metric if you;re more comfortable with that. So why make it hard on yourself? Use what you’re used to. The printer doesn’t care.

  • Great tips, Scott! If we were really disciplined we’d use mm …. tiny increments *and* a base 10. But in the meantime, I’m also a major pica gal.

  • Katie says:

    This is exactly the solution I was looking for…Thanks!

  • Aamir Raza says:

    Thanks, just what I was looking for!

  • christopher says:

    You have solved a 5-year aggravation, thank you!

  • Pam says:

    How do you get to preference on a PC? It’s not listed under “Help”.

  • Pam, on a PC, look for the Preferences menu item under the Edit menu … I think it’s the last/bottom-most one.

  • DianeS says:

    I am having the same problem kym is. I am a long time user but ever since CS6, when I quit (normally, not crash or force), certain prefs go away. like units and autocorrect. My work spaces and keyboard shortcuts are still saved but they are not selected. Any ideas?

  • Anon says:

    “..resist the temptation to change Picas to Inches… because the smallest inch increment is .0625″

    The default keyboard increment is .0139”. And you can make them smaller if you want.

  • Max says:

    David Blatner…you are a legend bro!!! This thing has been my lifelong hate.

    Thank you so much guy!!!!

  • Steve says:


  • J says:

    BRILLIANT! default settings while all documents are closed from Picas to Inches was a LIFE CHANGER! ;)

  • LaTanja says:


  • Nancy West says:

    I have a document I switched from picas (where I typically work) to inches. Smaller increments worked for the baseline grid (0.03125), and the cursor key (.0078125). When I resized objects they snapped to my 1/32″ grid just fine. But where I noticed the smallest inch increment being .0625 was in using the increase/decrease values arrow keys to the left of the dialog box fields. In every dialog box, the smallest amount I get with Inches or Inches Decimal as the measurement setting is .0625, which is too small. Is there any way to define the increments used in the dialog box fields when the measurement is inches?

  • Val Mansfield says:

    Thanks. It got really annoying when someone at Adobe thought a good nudge default would .000000000000001 inches when then went to the clouds.

    I know how to change it back to 1 point in my new documents, but is there a way to make everyone else change it in theirs?

  • Irfan says:

    one problem in indesign measurement.
    When I am give 10 mm in ID property bar, but indesign give me 9.997 mm
    (InDesign CS3)

  • P.A. says:

    Thank you!

  • Nilay K. says:

    I’ve just changed the Preferences & restart the InDesign.
    It’s perfectly works.
    Thanks a lot!

  • Amy says:

    thankyou thankyou thankyou!!!! This problem was the bane of my existence and is now fixed!!!

  • Jennifer Clark says:

    I have changed my measurements from Picas to Inches on my main screen before opening any documents and each day after shutting down my computer I have to change the settings again. I have saved my workspace, but I am having this problem daily and did not have it till the last update on CC.

  • Mike says:

    indesign for windows

    go to edit

    preferences at the bottom


    change to inches and you are done

  • Jody says:

    I have had to manually change every document for like 2 years. Thank you so much! I feel a little stupid that this didn’t occur to me!

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  • Daniel says:

    Is there a way to default to having rulers OPEN/ON automatically when I open a document, or am I at the mercy of whichever co-worker saves the document last?

    Same question applies to window positioning – I have to minimize the window each time I open a document in order for it to all fit on my screen. I realize using an application frame can aid with this, but it takes up so much room when I’m multi-tasking.

    Thanks in advance for any ideas you might have!

  • Luke Sutton says:

    I was having the same issue with it keep reverting back to picas.

    All I did was change PostScript to Traditional under Point/Pica Size after setting it all to mm.

    Seems to work for me, haven’t had a problem since!

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