Great tools for book designers in InDesign CS3

I’m still delving into the new features of Adobe InDesign CS3, but I’m happy to say that there were some great advances for book designers in this version. Some of them are just time savers and some of them are streamlining of workflows. Here are a few of my new favorites:

After many requests since ID version 1 (at least from me), Adobe has finally added a master page synchronizer for book documents. Now, if you make a change to a master page in one document of a book, and you want the rest to be identical, you can sync them from the book pallet. Caution on this though, make sure you aren’t manually typing chapter titles and other “per document” info on the master pages that you are syncing. The master page will be exactly the same on all the documents as your source document, so if you have details on the master page that change on every document, beware that you may lose them when you sync the masters. There is a wonderful new way to automate these kinds of details, though–see my next favorite feature.

Previous versions of InDesign had the section marker. This marvelous little marker allowed you to title sections from the Numbering and Sections dialog box, and then use a section marker on your master page to display section sensitive information on your master page without having to create a master page for every section. The section feature, by itself, is great for simple books, but what if you have units, and chapters, and sections in a hierarchal order that all need to be indicated on the master page and you want to sync your master pages across a book without losing the various pieces of “per document” info? Sections just aren’t that powerful, but CS3 added a wonderful feature called “Text Variables.” It took me a while and some help from users on the Adobe User to User forum to figure this feature out, but this is a marvelous solution to just such a problem. You can create as many text variables as you need for each and every document in the book. Then as long as the names of the variables are the same from document to document, and you have text variable syncing turned off in the book, a master page sync will update the master pages without damaging the per document variables indicated on the masters. This by itself is a huge time saver for book designers.

Just a quick note to help out anyone who had the same confusions I had on this feature: Text variables have their own menu item on the Type menu, and the markers for them are set from the same place (or from the contextual mouse menu once variables are set). You can’t access them from the Numbering and Section box (though you assign chapter numbers there), nor can you insert the markers from “Insert special characters.” I would have found this a logical place to go for such markers, but maybe they will add that in future versions. If you’re looking for the chapter number marker, the information for which is set in the Numbering and Section box, it also has to be created as a Text Variable and inserted from the Text Variables menu. It’s an interesting paradox to my way of thinking, but I at least understand how to use it now. Text Variables have numerous uses that I haven’t even begun to plum. I hope to learn more about this feature as time and projects allow me to play with it.

I thought the auto numbering and bullet lists in CS2 were pretty lame and didn’t use them much, but ID CS3 has added levels to the auto numbering feature and has included both list options in paragraph styles which make them wonderfully flexible. I find them very useful now and use them constantly.

I was also very excited about being able to place InDesign documents inside InDesign documents, but this feature especially may have a few bugs yet. I’ve had problems with books that contained these links. I’m not sure whether there is something in my workflow that has caused the problem, but I get multiple crashes with ID CS3 when working with books with linked InDesign documents. There may be other variables that cause these crashes for me, but I urge you to use this feature with extreme caution.

One last feature that I really like is the built-in ability to package for InCopy editors. This feature has really helped my editorial workflow and while this kind of functionality was available through third party plugins before CS3, it’s nice to have it built into the application now. One caution on this feature as well, I have had some documents that inexplicably crash IC on the editor’s computer. I haven’t yet been able to resolve this issue (though it may be related to anchored textframes within textframes) and have had to have the editors manually return the stories rather than package them. But the feature is still a nice one.

I’m no master at InDesign, but I’m happy to help anyone wanting to learn more about using any of my favorite new features. Just post a comment or use my contact form.

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