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A quick way to abut the edges of 2 (or more) objects

I usually use smart guides to butt the edge of one object exactly up against the other. But sometimes there are so many other objects on the page that smart guides fail or are difficult to use.
Of course, you could pull down a ruler guide, snap it to the edge of one object, and then snap the second object to that guide. But here’s an easier, more goof-proof method.

1. Display the Align panel on your screen (shift-F7)

2. If your Align panel doesn’t look like the screenshot below, you may need to choose Show Options from the Align panel menu.

Display the align panel (shift-F7)

Display the align panel (shift-F7)

3. Select both objects

4. Click again on the object that you wish to remain stationary (this becomes the “key object”)

The heavy blue outline indicates which object is the "key object". This object will remain stationary.

The heavy blue outline indicates which object is the "key object". This object will remain stationary.

5. Enter “0” in the field next to “Use Spacing” if it isn’t already zero

6. Click the left-most button underneath “Distribute Spacing” to abut the top/bottom edges. Click the right-most button to abut the right/left edges.


7. The result—the items are precisely butted up against each other.


You can do the same thing with multiple objects:



This might seem like a lot of steps, but it is actually just a couple of clicks once you get the hang of it.

Keith Gilbert
Keith Gilbert has worked as an independent consultant and educator in the design industry for 25 years for clients such as Apple, Adobe, Best Buy, Cargill, General Mills, Lands? End, Medtronic, Target and the United Nations. His work has taken him throughout the US and Canada, as well as to Barbados, Kenya and Monaco. He is an Adobe Certified Instructor in InDesign, InCopy, Illustrator, Photoshop and Acrobat, and the Chapter Representative for the Minneapolis InDesign User Group. You can read his Tips & Techniques Blog at
Keith Gilbert

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9 Comments on “A quick way to abut the edges of 2 (or more) objects

  1. Aligning objects is key to good design. Speaking of “keys”, Keith has used a “key object”. For people not to speed with the latest InDesign, this is a new feature (think it was in InDesign CS6, if not it’s new to InDesign CC).

    For those on earlier versions, you can lock an object in place and that should act like a “key object” as above, that is, remain stationary and the other objects around it hone in on it.

    • To build on Eugene’s and Bob’s comments, align to key object is available in Illustrator 5.5 (perhaps earlier) too.

  2. Great stuff, I use the align panel all the time and rely on it, it is also great for consistent spacings throughout a document: eg: captions sitting under a photo.

    What I didn’t know about was the ‘Key object’. I have seen the blue outline and wondered what I was looking at. Thanks for the heads up!

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