Understanding Liquid Layouts – Part Three

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Editor’s Note: This article is part of a 4-part series on using Alternate Layouts and Liquid Page Rules. Read the other articles here:
Part One
Part Two
Part Four

In Parts One and Two of Understanding InDesign’s Liquid Layouts, I discussed the first couple (and simplest) Liquid Page Rules. If you haven’t yet read those, please do. Don’t worry…I’ll wait while you check them out.

[imagines hazy visual effect a lá Wayne’s World to indicate time passing]

Welcome back! This week we’re going to look at the next set of Liquid Page Rules: Object-based. Excuse me while I gush like a fangirl for a moment, but this rule is definitely my favorite! It’s the most-involved, the one that takes the most prep ahead of time, and the one that brings the most control to your layouts.

I realize that I just said this rule involves the most prep time. Aren’t the rules supposed to save us time? Yes they are. And they do. If I were going to re-size a one page ad one time, I would probably not take the time to set up rules. I certainly wouldn’t use the Object-based method. No, using this rule is for those times when you have many new layouts to create, or when you need to constantly re-size a document (like in the example of my ad templates I mentioned in Part Two).

Using the Object-Based Rule

To use the Object-based option, you need to first open the Liquid Layout panel, from either the Layout menu, or the Interactive sub-menu under the Window menu. From the panel’s pull-down menu, choose Object-based. A quick check for results using the Page tool shows us that nothing special has happened. Items are falling off the page left and right as you drag with the Page tool. It’s almost as if the Re-center rule was chosen. What’s going on here?

The Liquid Layout panel with Object-based rule selected.

The Liquid Layout panel with Object-based rule selected.

Well, when using the Object-based rule, the rules are applied to each individual object on the page, not the objects wholesale. So, while the rule has been initially applied to the page, each individual object doesn’t know how to behave, so it merely centers itself on the page. We need to select each object and tell it what to do when the page is resized.

To select an object, we can use either of the regular selection tools, or the Page tool itself. Let’s use the Selection (solid arrow) tool to start with. Select an object on the page and the first thing you’ll notice is that the Liquid Layout panel is suddenly full of options, checkboxes, and choices. Hopefully it’s starting to become clear how much control this rule is going to give us. Let’s look at the items, from the bottom up.


The choices in the section labeled “Pin” let us do just that: pin an item to the page. If you remember in Part One, I mentioned that Liquid Layout rules define how objects interact with the page, and not with each other. When we pin an object, we’re pinning it to an edge of our page. The options Top, Bottom, Left, and Right let us decide where that object sits in relation to the page when we change size or orientation. If a photo is sitting half an inch from the top and the left and we pin it to those sides, it’ll remain at a half an inch from those sides throughout any transformation.


Continuing with the example above, where we pinned our photo a half an inch from the left and top edges, we can try to constrain the item even further. However, if we try to pin the photo to the right as well, we can’t. As hard as we click the Right checkbox, it just won’t stick. That’s because we can’t pin an object to the left and to the right without manipulating the object itself. That’s where Resize with Page comes in. With that same photo selected, we can select the Width checkbox, which says to scale the frame’s width during any page transformations. Once that’s selected, we are suddenly able to pin that photo to the right side, as well. Now our photo will sit a half inch from the top, left, and right (assuming that’s the distance the photo originally was from the right). A quick check with the Page tool active and we can confirm that all is working according to plan!



Speaking of the Page tool, switching to it while an object is selected will suddenly cover that item in dots, dashes, and squiggles. Well, in true Adobe form, there is always more than one way to achieve a task. In this case, setting preferences for each item in an object-based setup can be done via the panel—as we’ve been doing—or visually using the liquid icons. Each of those little symbols that magically appeared when the Page tool was invoked gives us the same options as we saw in the panel.

Let’s start with the outermost set of dots with an object we haven’t assigned any constraints to (yet). The four dots on the outside of the item should be hollow. That is a visual indicator that the item hasn’t been pinned to any edge. To pin it to the top and left, just click inside the hollow circle along the outer top and left. The circle will turn solid and a line will be drawn to the edge of the page, indicating it has been pinned. Sometimes it’s easier to see what’s pinned where using the visual method, and I find it’s easier to click on each item with the Page tool to make sure I’ve actually assigned constraints to every page item. I find it easier to use the panel method—which I can do using either selection tool or the Page tool—when I’m trying to pin an item to a bleed mark or when an item is small and all the dots sit too close to each other for me to accurately click them. Keeping the Page tool active makes it easy to switch back and forth between the two methods.

Let’s move inwards a bit and look at the next set of dots. These are the points that control the resizing of items. In our earlier example, we wanted to pin the item to the left and the right, so we had to also choose to resize the item’s width. To do that visually, we can actually choose either the right inner dot or the left inner one. By clicking either dot—notice they are solid to begin with—it will turn hollow to indicate that it will now resize. I know that’s a bit confusing, but it actually makes sense. A hollow dot says that side is flexible, while a solid one says it’s fixed. In the case of the outer dots, a hollow one says it’ll float around the page as it pleases; for the inner dots, hollow indicates the size will flex and change along with the page. And if none of that makes sense, just go play with clicking dots and previewing with the Page tool!

Visual cues for pinning and image resizing.

Visual cues for pinning and image resizing.

The last set of symbols works in conjunction with the inner dots. Each inner dot is connected across the item to another dot by a dashed line. Near the center of that line is either a padlock or a little squiggle. A padlock means that item is locked in that direction (either height or width), while a squiggle means it’s flexible. I know you’re thinking that’s one more thing to try to wrap your head around, but here’s a little tip: Don’t worry about the padlock/squiggle. The truth is, they duplicate the functionality of the inner dots. When you click on one of the inner dots, the inner symbol will change from padlock to squiggle and vice versa. So, to constrain width or height of an item, click either inner dot OR the padlock/squiggle icon: They all do the same thing! See? Lots of ways to achieve the same thing.


There is one last option we can set in the Liquid Layout panel: Auto-Fit. It’s the only option in the “Content” section and it’s either on or off. This option simply retains whatever fitting option, if any, was applied to the frame. So, if you had indicated that a photo should fill the frame proportionally in the fitting menu, it will continue to honor that fitting setting. This selection serves the same purpose as selecting Auto-Fit from the Control panel. If you already indicated auto-fit settings on a frame and image, the checkbox will already be selected in the Liquid Layout panel. When selected in conjunction with pinning an object on all sides and having the frame resize both width and height is a huge timesaver. Try it on an image that bleeds on all sides and see if you don’t start singing the praises of the Object-based Liquid Layout rule!

Using the Liquid Layout panel (top) vs. using the liquid icons.

Using the Liquid Layout panel (top) vs. using the liquid icons.

Tips to Keep in Mind

I’ve mentioned it before, but I’ll repeat it here: Liquid Layout rules are not a magic bullet. Some layouts will take bit of massaging to fit after a transformation is applied. There will also be plenty of times you’ll squee with delight that you have little to no adjustments to make. It all comes down to figuring out how best to equip each item to take advantage of each rule.

Because Liquid Layout rules indicate how items interact with the page, and not other items, it’s often frustrating when I want to keep a relationship between items intact during a transformation. One trick I use a lot it to group those items together first, then apply the constraints to the object. So, if I have several photos and a logo that I’d like to remain as together as possible, I’ll group those items. When I then apply constraints—either through the panel or via the visual icons—I’m using the group’s bounding box as my object.

Working with objects whose constraints you’ve set up on a master page adds a little bit of extra work. For instance, I can have an image on my master page with object-based constraints applied. However, on any document page using that master page, that image will ignore those settings. Overriding the master page item (Shift + Command/Ctrl + select) will bring that item and its constraint settings onto the document page intact. The good news is, if you have an empty image frame or a text frame on your master page, and you place an image or text in those frames on the document page, the item is automatically overridden and the constraint choices you made on the master page carry through on the document page.

Despite your best efforts, sometimes you’ll realize you’ve made a bit of a mess of the items in your document and you just want to start over from scratch. That’s where a big, red button that says UNDO comes in handy. Sadly, there isn’t one. What you can do to wipe out all the options you’ve set for each item is to use the Selection tool and either individually select items, or do a Select All (Command/Ctrl + A) to select every item on the spread. In the Liquid Layouts panel, you’ll see that your options are either checked on, off, or have a horizontal line through the checkbox. You’ll need to click once on any boxes with a check mark and twice on any with the horizontal line to clear all checkboxes of any marks. Now every item has absolutely no constraints set and you can start over from scratch. Or give up for the day and hit the coffee shop. Your choice.

Into the Homestretch

I hope that you can see the power of Liquid Layout rules and how much control they give you when resizing your documents. It’s true, you have to invest quite a bit of thought ahead of time, but the payoff is huge. In Part Two I mentioned using Liquid Layout rules when setting up templates for monthly ads of varying sizes. The Object-based rule is probably the rule I depend on the most for this. Because I know the ads will be tall or wide, each with its own template and usually within a certain aspect ratio range, I basically need my objects to move around on the page in a logical manner. This rule gives me the best results. When working with documents with a lot more text—books, annual reports, catalogs, and the like—I’m probably going to favor our final Liquid Layout rule: Guide-based. Be sure to check back next week to see this rule in action!

Erica Gamet has been involved in the graphics industry for over 30 years. She is a speaker, writer, trainer, and content creator focusing on the Adobe InDesign ecosystem, Apple Keynote, and varied production topics. She is a regular presence at CreativePro Week’s InDesign Conference, and speaks frequently at Canada’s ebookcraft and Making Design in Oslo, Norway. When she isn’t at her computer…oh, let’s be honest, she’s always at her computer.
  • Allen Cobb says:

    FYI – The video on this page also doesn’t play.

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