The main reasons to use master pages are to ensure consistency throughout the publication and save time when producing the document.
Maintaining consistency throughout a publication provides cohesiveness and builds reader confidence. Fonts, sizes, styles, colors, and positioning are the primary components that contribute to continuity. When considering what to use on InDesign master pages, designers look for patterns that can be replicated. Typical candidates for master page items are:
- page size
- number of columns
- column widths for body text
- position of body text
- linked text frames
- position of page numbers (folios)
- position of headlines
- sidebar columns, widths, and position
InDesign master pages make the production process much simpler and faster, especially when used with style sheets. You can create multiple masters. I recommend constructing a default master that has most or all of the elements you need on the majority of your regular document pages. Adobe calls this the “Parent Master”.
InDesign Master Page items will appear on all pages to which it is applied. This is particularly useful when you make changes. Rather than editing each individual document page, you merely edit the Master and all of the associated document pages will automatically have that change.
New InDesign documents already have a default master page, which you can modify as needed. Or you can make an entirely new default master. You can duplicate that default master. Or you can base other master pages on the default one: these are called “Child Masters”. Whenever a Parent Master is modified, the same modifications appear on the Child Master.
Master page items on a document page are locked and cannot be edited on a document page unless overridden. For example, let’s say you want to change the chapter title for a series of pages. The master would contain a default title that you could override on the document pages. Alternatively, you could create Child Masters for each chapter, and each of those would have the appropriate chapter title.
Another key advantage is that automatic page numbering can be configured on masters. What a time-saving feature! Can you imagine having to number each page manually? InDesign rescues you from this tedious task.
Type > Insert Special Character > Marker > Current Page Number
Creating Master Pages
The Pages panel displays all of the master and document pages. This panel should open by default the moment you open or create a document. If not, you can find it by selecting Windows > Pages. It is paired with two other panels: Layers and Links. The master pages are above the double line, while the document pages are below the line.
Adjusting the Default Master
The default “Master A” page can be used as is or adjusted. Double-click on “Master A”. Make whatever adjustments you want. Save the file.
Creating a New Master
- Select New Master in the Pages panel menu.
- Prefix – A new prefix will automatically be assigned (“B “, “C “, etc.). You can change this to anything you want, using up to 4 characters.
- Name – Use something that will help identify the kind of page it is. For example: Chapter Opener, Feature Story 1, or Front Matter.
- Based on Master – You can base the New Master on an existing Master (to create a “Child Master”) or choose None.
- Number of Pages – I usually input 2, but you can insert as many as 10 for the master spread. That seems like an inordinately high number, but you may want to use the option someday!
Duplicating a Master
There are 2 ways to copy a Master:
- Select the master name in the pages panel, then
select Duplicate Master Spread in the menu.
- Select the master name and then drag it to the New Page button.
Creating a Master from an Existing Page (or Spread)
Sometimes you get very involved in designing on a document page and don’t realize that you should be designing on a master. I’ve seen this happen often with my students. There’s an easy solution, thankfully. Again, there are 2 ways to create a master from an existing document page or spread:
- Select both of the spread page icons (or a single page icon) in the pages panel, then select Save As Master in the menu. This method doesn’t work with just one page in a spread.
- Select both of the spread page icons (or a single page icon) and then drag to the masters section at the top of the pages panel (above the double line). This method doesn’t work with just one page in a spread.
Child Masters are master pages that are based on another master (Parent Master). Parent items that get modified will automatically be updated on the Child Master. You decide whether or not to base one master on another when creating a New Master. With existing masters, you can always change what they are based on. Use one of the following methods:
- Select the master name in the pages panel, then
select Master Page Options in the menu. Edit the “Based On” field to be another
master, then click OK.
- Drag the master name you prefer as the parent onto the other master you want to change.
Child Masters can be edited and thus differ from the master upon which they are based. Elements can be added or subtracted, resized, enhanced, styled differently, etc. Unlock Parent items by pressing Ctrl+Shift (Windows) or Command+Shift (Mac OS) and clicking them. If you have difficulty overriding Parent items, check to make sure Master Overrides is enabled (Pages panel > Master Pages > Allow Master Overrides on Selection).
Applying Master Pages
When you create a new document, the A-Master will automatically be applied to all of the pages. To apply a different master to a single page, drag the master page icon in the pages panel to a page icon. Be sure there is a black border surrounding the individual page before releasing the mouse.
If you want to apply a master to several pages, go to Layout > Pages > Apply Master to Pages… Select All Pages or type in the page range you want (Ex.: 2-5).
The method you use to create new pages determines which master will be applied.
- New Page button in the pages panel OR Layout > Pages > Add Page – the new page will be based on the same master as the active page, added directly after the active page.
- Insert Pages from the pages panel menu OR Layout > Pages > Insert Pages – choose the master to apply as well as where the new pages will be added.
I made a video tutorial that explains the benefits of master pages, how to create them, and how to use them.
- My 10+ years of teaching InDesign at the college level
- Adobe InDesign Classroom in a Book
- Real World Adobe InDesign CC
- InDesign CC: Visual Quickstart Guide