October 07, 2014   |   7min read

Flexible document template: an inDesign tutorial

We don’t usually use inDesign in our daily work, but this time we needed to create a flexible Brand Book template that would allow us to add chapters, sections or subsections anytime and anywhere within the document structure, automatically renumbering and updating the table of contents.


Basic inDesign knowledge is required for this tutorial.

Create InDesign template—document setup

First of all we have to create and set up our document. We will save it as an inDesign template (.indt). This will allow us to reuse the same setup for all chapters.

To create a new document go to File > New > Document. The New Document dialog box should appear. Apply the following settings: Intent: Web, Number of pages: 2; uncheck Facing pages. The other parameters are up to you. Then choose Save as Type > inDesign template.


Setting up master pages

Next step is to create two master pages: one for the title slide of each chapter and another for the contents.

The A–Master page should be created automatically, but we need to add another one; right click anywhere in the masters box and choose New Master... or click the New icon (second to the right at the bottom, see illustration); a new master named B-Master should appear. Set the background of A–Master to blue.


Apply A–Master to the first page of the document and B–Master to the second one. To do this, right click on a chosen page in Pages panel, then select Apply Master to Pages….


Page numbering

Now, let’s create page numbers that will be automatically added to each new page.

Go to A–Master and place a text frame in the bottom left corner. With the text cursor inside this text frame, go to Type > Insert Special Character > Markers > Current Page Number.


The A letter should appear in the text frame.

Let’s style the page numbers. Go to Type > Paragraph Styles > New Paragraph Style. Double click on Paragraph style 1. The settings box will appear. Change the name to Page number. Select Basic Character Formats on the left side of this settings box and choose a font of your preference. Go back to A–Master, select the text box with the page number and add the Page number style by clicking on it. Copy the text frame, right click anywhere on the B–Master and choose Paste in place (alternatively, press Ctrl/Cmd+Alt+Shift+V). The letter A will change to B. The subsequent page numbers should appear on all pages.

Chapter titles and running headers

We want the chapter name to appear on the first page of each chapter, and in the header of all the subsequent pages. To do this, we will create a running header, so that when you decide to rename the chapter, you will only have to change it in on the first page, and the headers on other pages will update automatically.

Create a Paragraph Style named Chapter title. Adjust the style to your liking. On the first document page, the blue one, create a text frame and type in Chapter 1. Apply the Chapter title Paragraph Style to it.

Now we will set the chapter title as the running header. Running header is a text variable. Go to Type > Text Variables > Define and choose New. Apply the following settings: Name: Running header, Type: Running Header (Paragraph Style), Style: Chapter title (it is important to choose the paragraph style that you used for the chapter title, because this is how inDesign identifies the master title) and click OK. The variable is ready.


Go to B–Master and create a text frame in the top right corner. With the text cursor inside the text frame, go to Type > Text Variables > Running Header. Create a Running header style Paragraph Style and apply it to the text frame. The header with the chapter title should automatically appear on page 2.

Try adding another page to the document; the page number and the running header will be added automatically.

Numbered sections

It is time to set up the document sections and subsections. We want the section and subsection numbers to change at the second and third level, respectively (the first level of numbering changes with the chapter).

1.0.0 Chapter 1.1.0 Section 1.1.1 Subsection

This is the tricky part. We will use two different Paragraph Styles to do it.

Create a new Paragraph Style and name it Section. (As usual, apply your preferred style to it). Then select Bullets and Numbering and set List Type: Numbers, List: New List > List, Level: 2, Number: ^H.^2.0 – this means the numbers will increase at the second level and 0 will always be added at the end. Finally, choose Mode: Continue from Previous Number and check the Restart Numbers at This Level After box.


The process for third level numbering will be almost the same:

Create a new Paragraph Style and name it Subsection. Then select Bullets and Numbering and set List Type: Numbers, List: List, Level: 3, Number: ^H.^2.^3 – this means the numbers will increase at the third level. Finally, choose Mode: Continue from Previous Number and check Restart Numbers....


Great! Let’s add the section and subsection to all the pages. What we want to achieve is the same position for the section and subsection titles on each page, but we can’t place them directly on the master page, because the numbers won’t change when we add more pages to the document. However, there is a trick we can use.

Add a text field in the upper left corner of B–Master and type in Section title. It should appear on all pages with this master, but it will not be editable. To activate it, click+cmd/ctrl+shft on that text field and type in the name of the section, e.g. Logotype. With the text box selected, apply the Section Paragraph Style to it. The number 1.1.0 should appear to the left of the section title. Try adding more pages and applying the section or subsection style to the text field. See how the numbers are changing at the second and third level depending on style. Save the updated template.

The Book

The next step is to create a document with multiple chapters. To do this, we have to create a book that will store chapters as separate inDesign documents.

Create three different inDesign documents from the template we prepared earlier: we used Cover, Symbol and logotype and Basic template. Fill them in with fitting content.

What we want to do is to restart section numbering for each chapter so that the second chapter will start with 2.1.0, not e.g. 2.6.0. To achieve this, open Basic templates.indd, go to the Section Paragraph Style > Bullets and numbering and change List to List 1. Do the same for the Subsection Paragraph Style. Done. Now inDesign will start section numbering for this chapter. If your book will have more chapters, you will need to change the list name for each chapter, e.g. List 2, List 3, and so on.

Now is the time to compile the documents into one book. Select File > New > Book… Name the book and save it. A dialog box will appear. Click the small Add icon (+) at the bottom to add chapters.


As you may have noticed, each chapter starts with a page number 1, but we want them to be numbered consecutively.

To change the numbering, click Page range next to the chapter title. Set Start Page Numbering at: 1 and Start Chapter Numbering at: 1 for the first chapter. For the subsequent chapters select Automatic Page Numbering and Automatic Chapter Numbering.


Now all the numbers in the book need to be updated.

To do this, click the small menu icon in the upper right corner of the book settings box. Select Update Numbering > Update All Numbers. The chapter numbers in each document should be updated.


We are nearly there!

Table of Contents

Adding a table of contents is the finishing touch to our Brand Book.

In the Cover document create a Table of contents Paragraph Style. Go to Layout > Table of Contents. To determine what is included in the Table of contents, use the Paragraph Styles that are added to the titles, sections and subsections: select them in Table of Contents > Styles in Table of Contents > Other Styles. In our case this is Chapter Title, Section and Subsection (see illustration below). Don’t forget to select Include Book Documents in Options. This will cover all chapters.


Confirm by clicking OK. Notice that the cursor has changed. Click anywhere to create a new text box with the table of contents. Apply the Table of contents style to it, export the book to PDF and you’re done!

Do you know a simpler way to achieve this in inDesign? Share it with us.


Karolina Chmiel

Head of Design

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