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What’s New in InDesign 2021

Adobe adds features backed by the cloud and machine learning.

For InDesign 2021, Adobe chose to place an increased emphasis on cloud-based features and features that use machine learning for automating certain tasks. Neither of these approaches is new to InDesign. In previous versions, cloud features were added to encourage users to take advantage of such services as Adobe Fonts (formerly known as Typekit) and CC libraries.

Machine learning appeared in Adobe applications at MAX 2017 as a means of automating certain processes. For example, Adobe integrated the ability to identify fonts into the mobile app Adobe Capture CC and the Adobe Fonts website (see Issue #111 for details). Last year, machine learning came to InDesign with the Find Similar Images menu option. When you select a photo in your layout and choose Edit > Find Similar Images, InDesign displays matches in the CC Libraries panel, showing images from Adobe Stock that are visually similar to the selected photo.

Share for Review and Other Cloud Features

InDesign’s Share for Review feature, introduced with the InDesign 2020 June release, is one of the first extensive uses of cloud services in an InDesign-specific workflow. (Conrad Chavez wrote a deep dive into the initial version of Share for Review in Issue #135.) InDesign 2021 adds some badly-needed text annotation tools, plus workflow enhancements and bug fixes. Before we get into what’s new in 2021, let’s quickly review how the 2020 Share for Review works:

  • Share for Review is similar to Import PDF comments, but it’s all handled from within InDesign and a web browser. You start by clicking the Share button in the Application Bar or choosing File > Share for Review.
  • The Share for Review dialog box lets you invite people to the review, share a link to the review, and manage the process.
  • Reviewers can make comments in the web interface. However, in the 2020 version, there were only two tools available for reviewing: Place a Pin or Draw a Shape.
  • The reviewers’ comments are visible in the Review panel in InDesign by choosing Window > Comments > Review. You can mark each comment as Resolve or Delete, and you can reply to comments. (Your replies almost immediately show up in the web browser for reviewers.)

Share for Review improvements

Some workflow enhancements were added to Share for Review in the August release of InDesign 2020. These mostly involved making the Review panel visible when it needs to be, as links are copied and reviewers are added to the workflow. Additionally, several Share for Review bugs were also fixed.

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Most importantly, InDesign 2021 adds three badly-needed new text annotations to the web review interface: Reviewers can now markup text with new Highlight Text, Strikethrough Text, and Replace Text tools (Figure 1). Performing any of these actions will leave a corresponding comment or add your notes in conjunction with the annotation.

Figure 1

After these annotations are added and synced to InDesign, the markup appears in your InDesign layout when Show Annotations is turned on (Figure 2). The three types of annotations also appear in the Review panel with similar options to the other annotations.

Figure 2

Sadly, what didn’t make it into this release is an Accept button which would execute these changes in the document. (The PDF Comments panel can currently do this.) We’re told that this feature is in the roadmap for later updates to the Share for Review feature. In the meantime, as a workaround, you’ll just need to review the comments, manually make the edits, and mark each comment as Resolved.

Easier library sharing

The CC Libraries panel has new features that make it easier to share content and resources with other users and to browse shared libraries. You will need to update your copy of the Adobe Creative Cloud desktop app to version 5.3.0.438 or later to see these improvements.

When InDesign displays a library in the CC Libraries panel, a new Share Library button appears at the upper right (Figure 3). Clicking it switches to the Adobe Creative Cloud desktop app window and opens a dialog box where you can initiate an invitation to share the library—a much more efficient workflow than in the past.

Figure 3

When you’re viewing all your libraries, the bottom of the CC Libraries panel now offers options to Browse Shared Libraries (libraries you’re sharing with other users) or to go to public libraries (Figure 4). You can save public libraries into your personal libraries, and you can use assets from these libraries for your creative projects from any device.

Figure 4

Coming cloud services

While Adobe has been somewhat tight-lipped about future features, it’s clear that they’re set on offering more cloud-based features. For example, you can imagine possible future directions for InDesign if you observe how Photoshop and Illustrator have developed in their 2020 and 2021 versions. These apps can now store their files in the Adobe Creative Cloud, which then gives you additional capabilities: Cloud files can be shared between multiple devices, you can track a document’s version history and revert to an earlier version if necessary, and various forms of file sharing become available. I hope to see all these options come to InDesign in the coming months or years.

Subject-Aware Text Wrap

Subject-Aware Text Wrap is a machine-learning feature that identifies the prominent subject inside an image and creates a text wrap around that subject. This was possible previously using the Detect Edges feature in the Text Wrap panel, but only when the background was white or transparent. The Subject-Aware Text Wrap feature is better because it works for any image that has a clear foreground and background, and can be particularly useful when the image doesn’t already include a path or alpha channel. However, this is currently an automatic process without user controls, so the more clearly defined the subject is, the better it works (Figure 5).

Figure 5

Here are the steps to create subject-aware text wrapping:

  1. Open the Text Wrap panel.
  2. Place a text frame with a story in it over an image that has a prominent subject. It helps to have the subject on a high-contrast background.
  3. While the image is selected, click the Wrap Around Object Shape button in the Text Wrap panel.
  4. In the Contour Options Type menu (in the panel), choose Select Subject.
  5. Modify the offset value as desired.

Because the process is automatic, if you resize the image, the wrap will be recalculated just like using the Detect Edges option. As with similar wraps, you can use the Direct Selection tool to modify individual anchor points—which then freezes the wrap shape, as it becomes a user-modified path.

New Color Features

There are a few other features besides those that are based on the cloud or machine learning, but the list this year is definitely underwhelming.

Adobe did add two of the most requested color features at the InDesign User Voice website to InDesign 2021. You can now locate and change all the occurrences of a specific color in a document or in all open documents. Plus, you can also now create, edit, and apply HSB (Hue-Saturation-Brightness) swatches in InDesign.

Locate colors

In the past, it was not easy to find where named colors were located in a document. Now you can search for the location of colors in fills and strokes for text and objects, including table cells, and change them.

The easiest way to start is in the Swatches panel: Right-click any color swatch in the panel and choose Find This Color. InDesign will then open the Find/Change dialog box with the new Color tab displayed and the color pre-selected in the Find Color menu (Figure 6).

Figure 6

Note that you can choose a tint range of that swatch to search. For example, you can type 0%–50% in the Tint Range field if you only want to find instances where the color is set at less than 50%.

You can also choose the range of the search (Document or All Documents) and the type of objects to search (All Frames or Text, Graphic, or Unassigned). When the search begins, each instance of the object containing the swatch color will be highlighted in the layout and identified in the dialog box—for instance, it might say, “Used in Text: Fill.”

The feature can find colors, tints, and gradients. It will even display unnamed colors that you used in your document but haven’t yet created a swatch for. When replacing colors, you can select a swatch or create a new one.

However, there are two important gotchas to watch out for with this feature. First, InDesign can find only spot colors inside placed graphics (such as Pantone inks); it cannot find RGB or CMYK colors inside artwork you’ve imported. And even though it can find spot colors inside artwork (such as an EPS or PDF file), it cannot change those colors. (You can, however, use the Ink Manager to alter those colors. See this article for details.)

Second, the Find/Change dialog box cannot currently change colors inside styles, so if you use it to change colors, you may be applying manual overrides to your text or objects. For example, let’s say you have a heading paragraph style that is blue, and then you can use Find/Change to change all instances of that blue to pink. The paragraph style will still be defined with blue, and your headings will appear pink because of a style override. Perhaps in the future, Adobe will add an option to change styles when changing all (similar to that option in the Find/Replace Fonts dialog box).

Create, edit and, apply HSB colors

Technically, HSB is not really a color space, like RGB or CMYK. Rather, it’s a representation of RGB color using three axes which are more intuitive for most graphic designers to work with—hue, saturation, and brightness.

You can now create HSB swatches with the Swatches and Color panels, and in the Color Picker. In the Swatches panel, choose Color Type: Process and Color Mode: HSB (Figure 7).

Figure 7

Tip: you may need to scroll up to see it! In the Color panel, choose HSB sliders in the panel menu. To use the Color Picker, double-click the Fill or Stroke swatch in the Tools panel (or Color panel), and then select the H, S, or B field. You can choose HSB values visually with the color slider and the color field, or enter in the HSB numeric fields; when you’re done, click OK or Add HSB Swatch (Figure 8).

Figure 8

HSB support in preflight

Even though all HSB colors are technically just RGB colors (and are treated as such when printing or exporting), HSB is now a supported option in a Preflight profile. That means you can choose HSB in Color > Color Space Not Allowed. When that’s enabled, HSB colors will be detected, and the error reported.

Focus on Stability and Reliability

Over the past year, the InDesign team has focused a lot of attention on improving stability and reliability in the program. To this end, the team fixed more than 100 bugs throughout the year. The engineers report that they have dramatically reduced document corruption and crash rates.

Recovery service for damaged files

For several years, the InDesign team has been working on enhancing their ability to recover damaged files, as well as preventing internal corruption. The effort has been a long one because there are multiple factors, both internal and external to the InDesign application, that can lead to document corruption.

Adobe has created a recovery service for damaged InDesign files. This new service will work with InDesign 2021 and later. The engineers have incorporated some mechanisms to detect if a document is damaged and to try to repair it. When a damaged file is detected, InDesign will ask you if you would like to proceed with the recovery of the file. If you agree, your file will be temporarily uploaded to an Adobe server for processing. On successful repair, the recovered version of your document will be downloaded again, InDesign will open it, and you’ll be prompted to save it before proceeding (Figures 9 and 10).

Figure 9

Figure 10

Copy Editor Beta

In the August release of InDesign 2020 (version 15.1.2), Adobe added a somewhat mysterious feature called Copy Editor (Beta). This is an experimental feature designed to help when you experience a significant lag while typing. Such a lag may become evident when you deal with a lot of text in the document or when certain additional features (for example, footnotes and spanning heads) are enabled in the application.

The beta test of this feature is continuing in InDesign 2021. If it is available to you, you can launch it by choosing Edit > Edit in Copy Editor (Beta). A Copy Editor (Beta) window appears (Figure 11) where you can continue to enter text to avoid any lag. When you’re finished adding text, click Done.

Figure 11

Copy Editor may sound similar to the Story Editor feature, which has been a part of InDesign for 20 years, but it’s actually far more rudimentary. For example, you have to close the “modal” Copy Editor window to go back to your document. Plus the Copy Editor is text only and does not support formatting and styles. Many people (including the staff of this magazine) have wondered aloud why Adobe is even experimenting with this.

Note that you may not have the option to use Copy Editor (Beta) even after you update to InDesign 2021 because it is an experimental feature that is available in limited locations and for a limited number of users.

I Can’t Get (Much) Satisfaction

Frankly, I count myself as one of the users who is disappointed that there are so few new features in InDesign 2021. I’m glad that the bugs got fixed and the program is more stable. I fully appreciate the value of a cloud infrastructure (I use it every day), and I also appreciate the automation that machine learning can add. Still, I would like to see more of a balance. There are many important InDesign feature requests from users that have been waiting for a long time. I hope some of the best of those requests will be built into InDesign 2022.

Steve Werner is a trainer, consultant, and co-author (with David Blatner and Christopher Smith) of InDesign for QuarkXPress Users and Moving to InDesign. He has worked in the graphic arts industry for more than 20 years and was the training manager for ten years at Rapid Lasergraphics. He has taught computer graphics classes since 1988.
  • David Blatner David Blatner says:

    Thanks for the insight, Steve!

  • James Wamser James Wamser says:

    Great article Steve. Thank you!

  • Matt Mayerchak says:

    Thanks, Steve. I have to agree that this is a disappointing upgrade. I can’t even see any reason to recommend that my clients upgrade other than all being on the same platform. It’s a lot more like a 15.x bug fix than a true 16.0. What new features are designers or production artists going to take advantage of? Share for Review is absolutely not ready for prime time. We’ve had libraries for ages. I know you aren’t responsible for it . . . just wishing Adobe was willing to focus tiny sliver of their stock value on those of us in the world of print documents.

  • Inkling says:

    I agree with Matt, while I can see that some will find these new features useful, there’s not a one that I’ll use and only one, damaged document repair, that I might ever use. That’s not much for the hundreds of dollars I’ve paid Adobe since the last major upgrade.

    What Adobe should do is devote the money that ID-only subscribers pay toward improving that product and allow those who’re paying for the entire CC package to designate the percentage of their subscription fee that goes to each. Instead, I get the impression that the rent I’m paying goes to develop or improve products that I will never use.

    That’s a bit like going to a supermarket and finding that a carton of milk costs $20 because the store management insists that those who buy milk must subsidize someone else’s filet mignon steaks.

  • Dov Isaacs says:

    Steve,

    It would be very interesting and insightful if YOU would provide us with a list of features and especially improvements (including reliability and performance) that YOU believe should be incorporated into the next release.

    For example, would you like to see PDF/X-6 (based on PDF 2.0) or especially PDF/VT support for print publishing workflows? Maybe improved support for PDF forms (including the ability to provide PDF forms capabilities that currently require InDesign users to have to hack around in Acrobat before the form is useful? Or maybe a better ability to control the UI based on screen size and resolution? Bring ’em on!

    – Dov

    • Steve Werner says:

      Dov,

      My primary work role these days is as a teacher and tech writer so I’m not the best person to provide such a list. I’d like to have readers of this article who are currently using InDesign in print production weigh in on what new features they think is needed the most for print production workflows.

    • David Blatner David Blatner says:

      Dov, such a list would be 50 pages long.
      One place to find a list like this is the Uservoice site at: https://indesign.uservoice.com/forums/601021-adobe-indesign-feature-requests
      Of course, several of us have made direct suggestions in Prerelease, as well.

    • Walter Bravenboer says:

      As a long-time user I would like to see; PDF editing in Indesign (Quark and Affinity deliver this pretty well). A better Data Merge function, with rules-option (IF x THEN y for instance). Smaller panels, especially remove the unused space in panels. Those are some things.

      • Dov Isaacs says:

        Ironically, in the early “beta builds” of InDesign 1.0, one was able to “open” in addition to being able to “place” PDF files in InDesign. The feature was removed because there were just too many situations in which the PDF imaging model exceeded what was accessible in InDesign. This disparity only got worse when live transparency was added to the PDF specification. What we saw was that there was just too much work that users had to do to “fixup” the contents of an “opened” PDF file to be usable and not just a bunch of disconnected graphics and text frames.

        That having been said, the demand for a built-in feature for opening an converting PDF to InDesign from our customers is quite high! I would most strongly recommend that you follow David Blattner’s advice to voice your interest / vote on such a feature for a future release.

        (Note that this is not a product/feature announcement!)

        BTW, you can see the problem of opening a PDF file for editing in an application that doesn’t support the full PDF imaging model by opening an arbitrary PDF file in Adobe Illustrator. Text is often outlined or rasterized. Color spaces may change. Content may be lost. That’s exactly why we continually warn users and especially print service providers to never open any arbitrary PDF file in Illustrator to “fix things.”

      • wbravenboer says:

        I have to say Affinity and Quark do it pretty well… A bit ironic seeing Adobe created the PDF format.

  • Tobias Wantzen says:

    In the meantime I’m very disenchanted. On uservoice there are tons of very clever ideas to bring cool new features to InDesign, or to improve diverse existing features significantly, but the updates in the last years brought nothing really exciting new to the front-end of the application.
    Please, Adobe: Yes, work on cloud features and shared working and Sensei, but also work on some long missed (community) features as well!

  • Olaf Nelson says:

    Is it able to at least tell you that a color is used in a style, even if it can’t change it? Or is that still impossible?

  • Did you guys se the Word Doc import dialogbox? Awesome!

  • Lindsey Martin says:

    Search within a selection seems to have disappeared in ID 2021. Can anyone confirm? Thanks.

    • Steve Werner says:

      It’s working for me. I just tried it in macOS 10.15.7 on ID 2021. I’d show you a sample but comments don’t allow you to use attachments.

      • Lindsey Martin says:

        Thanks, Steve. Odd: I restarted ID and it now works. A relief, since I use search on a selection a lot while working with tables.

  • David Bergsland says:

    Good review. I agree with your final paragraphs. As a one-person shop, I’ve not gotten anything really useful for a long time. I think the last update I actually use is the one which added paragraph stroke and shading. I guess that’s to be expected in a mature app. I wish there were simply a preferences control to turn off everything which requires the cloud.

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