This is one of my favorite InDesign activities. I chose it because it integrates several (dozen) very good-to-know InDesign and Illustrator principles, and it turns out very beautiful! So take a deep breath, put on your favorite music, and follow along!


Note: this is technically an InDesign tutorial, but I love Illustrator and the shape-making tools are very strong in Illustrator, so I use it to create and combine the initial shapes, and certain steps are complicated to do in InDesign.

Step 1:

Create your InDesign document. It should be a normal letter/magazine size. It actually doesn’t matter what size it is, as long as it matches the size of your upcoming Illustrator document.

Step 2:

Once your InDesign document is set up, set it aside and open up Illustrator. In the “open” box, just put in the same size you put in your InDesign file. Keep in mind that if you have the dimensions in inches, but not pixels or points, you can put in your measurements and follow it with “in” or “cm” or “mm” and it will convert it to points. In Illustrator, you can also change the units to inches or pixels or whatever in the “open” dialogue box.


Step 3:

Okay, now your Illustrator document is open. Illustrator has a lot of similar tools to InDesign, so if you know one and look around, you’ll recognize a lot of the tools and shortcut keys. Even if you know Photoshop, your knowledge WILL transfer.

Back to the project. Draw a straight line using the line tool, holding down the “shift” key to make it go straight up and down on the left side of the artboard. Increase the stroke thickness to “10.”


Now, duplicate the stroke 4 times by: hitting the “black arrow” tool and moving your first line over while holding down “alt.” This duplicates the stroke. Now, to repeat that action, just hit “Ctrl+D”. It’s amazing! If it’s not working, make sure your last action was duplicating the line (not moving it over a little or something), and make sure you keep that last stroke selected. In the end, your document should look something like this:


Now you’re going to align it so it’s spaced out evenly. Select all of your strokes and head up to your “align” tool. It should be on your top bar of tools. If it’s not there, head to “Window > Align” and the dialogue box should come up. The first thing you have to do is change your preferences to align to the artboard instead of aligning to the selection. That should be a dropdown menu somewhere, depending on if you’re in the full box or up on your menu bar. Mine is up on my menu bar. Notice the symbol.


Once you have those preferences selected, hit the “horizontal distribute center” button. The icon looks like this: 6

That button will space all your lines out exactly even across the artboard.

Step 4:

Now we’re going to add your horizontal lines. You can draw all new lines, but an easier way is to copy (Ctrl+C) your existing lines (all of them), paste (Ctrl+V) them on top of the other ones, and rotate them. (To rotate, put your black arrow (V) over the corners and the double-sided, bent arrow should appear). Be sure to hold down shift as you rotate to get them exactly horizontal. Your Illustrator document should look something like this:


Now you’re going to space out your horizontal lines just like you did with your vertical lines. So make sure they’re still selected and head up to your “align” panel again (wherever it is). Hit the “vertical distribute center” button. It looks like this:


Last step with the lines: now you’re going to delete your edge lines and bring in your horizontal lines to fit on the edge of the artboard. The edge lines were there simply to help you align the center lines correctly. You’ll notice on the final product that there are no edge lines. So go ahead and select all of the edge lines and delete them. Also, bring in your horizontal line edges to line up with the edges of your page (artboard). Your file should now look like this:



Step 5:

Now we’re going to drop in our text! Remember, we have only 4 spaces in each line, and only 4 lines, so keep your words under 4 letters and your phrase under 4 words. Here are some suggestions:

  • LOVE IS IN (with a heart shape at the end, middle, or start)

So drop in your text box using your text tool:


Increase the font size until you have it at relatively the right size (keep in mind that you need to keep space all around the letters so they’re not mashed up against the sides of the boxes like a weight-lifter in a ballerina’s leotard). Then change the font to whatever font you want. Pick a theme and go with that! A great site to find stylized fonts is

It should look something like this:


Step 6:

Now we’re going to expand our text AND our lines. So select everything you have and head up to “Object > Expand…”


This will convert your text and your lines into shapes. This makes it easier to manipulate the paths and merge all your shapes into one final shape for our final copy into InDesign.

Your project should look something like this:


Step 7:

Now, move your letters into each square. Try to center them like I do. There’s no real rule for centering right now, just make it look right. At first, your letters will move as a group. You can either ungroup them by right-clicking and hitting “Ungroup,” or you can work inside the group by double-clicking on any of the letters. I’m also going to add some bird silhouettes since I only have three words. You can either draw these in Illustrator or import some shapes and live trace them.

At the end, it should look something like this:


Step 8:

Now we’re going to fill in the empty spaces and merge them all together. So just fill in the empty boxes by creating rectangles over the spaces you want to fill.


Once you’ve finished that, select EVERYTHING, and, using the “Pathfinder” tool, unite them all with what should be the first button, the circled one in this section. If your “Pathfinder” tool isn’t on your right side, head to “Window > Pathfinder.”


Now you’re ready to bring it into InDesign! Just hit “Ctrl+C” to copy, then open your waiting InDesign file!

Step 9:

In your InDesign file, scroll down to the first “spread” of pages, then paste in your artwork (Ctrl+V). Adjust it to leave a little bit of white space around all the edges. (By hitting the black arrow tool and bringing in any of the corners, being sure to hold down “shift” to keep the proportions right.)


Almost done!

Step 10:

Now “ungroup” the object by right-clicking and hitting “ungroup.”


Step 11:

Making sure to keep everything selected, then head up to “Object > Pathfinder > Add.” This merges all the separate shapes into one shape in InDesign, so that when we drop the picture in, it fills ALL the black parts.


Step 12:

Now it’s time to add your picture and you’re almost done! Be sure you still have your outlines selected, then head over to “File > Place…” or hit the shortcut keys “Ctrl+D”. This will bring up the dialogue box where you can navigate to your photo. Keep in mind the photo should be pretty big if you want it to cover the page without blurring (and bigger if you’re planning on making it into a poster, etc).


Also keep in mind that the best pictures are ones that don’t have a dominant object, and are more pattern/background-like images.


Now mine, by default, pasted a little smaller than the “frame” (our shape). So make it bigger (or likewise, some of your images may be so huge that you only see a tiny portion of the image, in which case you need to make the image inside the frame smaller). InDesign, by default, places every image inside a frame so you can crop or resize easily. All we did here was manipulate the frame into being a very complex object.

Final Step:

Now, if you’re familiar with InDesign, you can add text and titles over on the right-hand side of your spread (if your goal is to make it into a magazine), or, depending on what you want to make, just put the finishing touches on it!

Please let me know if you have any problems or questions! I comment back very quickly, so you’ll get help. Hope this opens up your eyes a bit to the high-powered ability of Illustrator to help you make complex shapes.