Things You Can’t Do in InDesign

Maybe it was that lunar eclipse we had a couple of days ago, but suddenly we’re getting bombarded with emails asking whether such-and-such is possible in InDesign, and the answer is usually “Sorry, no.” I mean, InDesign can do a lot of stuff — plenty of things that you might not expect it to do — but it can’t do everything. But I feel compelled to write a short list of features that InDesign does not have. This is not to embarass anyone or cause consternation about InDesign, but rather just so that people searching for this information on the Web will find it… even though the answer isn’t what they had hoped for.

Of course, with many of these, the more full answer is: “Well, it doesn’t right now, but it might in the next version, and there may be a way to do this with a script or plug-in.” Please note that if you want InDesign to do some of these, feel free to visit Adobe’s Contact Us page, click Feedback, and send an email to the InDesign team. They really do read those emails!

Given those caveats, here is the list of things we’ve been asked about within the last week that ID currently doesn’t do:

[Updated in 2009... added "cs4" for some features added in that version.]

  • You can’t set the indent of text outside the left or right sides of a text frame. Tables can stretch outside the edge of a frame, but not regular indents, so you cannot have a negative First Line Indent that pulls the text past the edge of the box.
  • You cannot snap one object to another obect, as you can in some other programs (e.g. Illustrator); objects only snap to guides. [CS4]
  • InDesign can’t “see” the blending modes in a layered Photoshop document. That is, if you set a layer to Multiply or Screen in Photoshop and then import that PSD into InDesign, the blending mode will have no effect on objects on your InDesign page. The whole Photoshop file gets the same blending mode treatment.
  • There’s no way to show the baseline grid of an individual frame but not the baseline grid for the rest of the document. Baseline grids are either all visible, or all off.
  • No, you can’t keep the same data in InDesign and in Dreamweaver and keep them in synch automatically (so that when you make a change in one, the other changes, too). You could keep your data in XML and then import it into ID and DW, but that’s more trouble than it’s worth (in my opinion) unless you’re going to update it quite often.
  • Vertical alignment (such as vertical centering or vertical justification) gets turned off when your frame is no longer rectangular or when text wrap forces the flow to be non-rectangular. There are some workarounds, but ultimately it’s still a pain.
  • No, workspaces (Window > Workspace > Save Workspace) don’t remember the size of your document window or the application window. So you can’t select a workspace that stretches your application window across two monitors automatically, for example.
  • You cannot apply an object style to all the objects in a thread of frames across multiple pages. You can only apply an object style to something you click on. This would be a great one for a script, though.
  • No, Print Booklet (which replaced InBooklet SE) cannot create a new already-imposed InDesign document. It only imposes documents in the print stream. Here’s more on that subject.

Okay, since I have started down this road, I might as well add some more. Here’s a list of things that InDesign doesn’t do that QuarkXPress 7 does (this list is not comprehensive… just a few things that come to mind):

  • Specify and separate to Hexachrome inks
  • Let?s QX remember which folders you want to use for documents, images, etc.
  • Split a window into more than one view [CS4]
  • Compare two or more styles/colors/H&Js against each other to see how they’re different
  • Use character styles in building a “list” (table of contents)
  • Automatically add page while you’re editing or typing text
  • Let an image break out of its frame (it splits clipping and cropping into two different things)
  • Base paragraph styles on character styles
  • Custom kerning & tracking
  • Jabberwocky (more versatile than fill with placeholder text)
  • Specify screen resolution so at 100% the screen rulers match the “real world”
  • Can turn on/off XTensions/plug-ins upon launching
  • Rotate text to arbitrary angle in table cells or text frames
  • Auto Save/Auto Backup
  • Objects can snap to guides when guides are hidden
  • Rectangular and oval blends (gradients)
  • Save H&Js in a style (creating named H&J settings)
  • Rule Above/Below can be set using percentage (not just absolute value); a side effect of this is that paragraph rules can be made to disappear at the top or bottom of a column, which is often useful.
  • Changing from one master page to another respects automatic text flow boxes (text box size updates automatically when new master is applied)
  • It?s visually obvious when you?re viewing a master page
  • Can make text box opaque when editing text
  • Layout spaces (combining documents into single file)
  • Synchronized text
  • Undo popup menus (specify how far to undo/redo)
  • Option to take drop shadow into account in text wrap
  • Ability to change transparency/opacity everywhere you specify a color
  • Picture Effects: Ability to apply global adjustments to pictures on the document page (such as Levels, Curves, Gaussian Blur, Hue/Saturation, etc.)
  • Ability to apply those same picture effects to an image’s alpha channel (transparency mask) separately
  • If an imported TIFF/PSD contains more than one alpha channel, you can choose which one you want to use as the transparency mask after you import the image. (You can only do this at import time in ID, as far as I know.)
  • Append feature lets you move layouts from one document to another without opening the original file.
  • Lock Content: QX can lock the content of a frame (or lock its position, or both)

Now, before you go ballistic on me and call me a traitor to InDesign or something, remember this: Just because QX has features that ID lacks doesn’t mean that I’m saying QX is a better product. Obviously (to anyone who really compares them carefully), ID is still the far better package. But I do want some of those features in InDesign, and Adobe can learn from Quark’s innovation (just as Quark has learned from Adobe over the years).

Of course, now I’m deep into writing this, and I’m suddenly taken with an urge to include even more features that InDesign doesn’t yet do, but which I’m hoping to see in CS4.

  • Form fields (checkboxes, text entry fields, menus, and so on) for PDF forms
  • Cross-references (“see page XX”). This is covered by plug-ins and scripts, but it’d be nice to see it in a future version. [CS4]
  • I wish I could import annotations from PDF or FDF files so I could see them in InDesign! (Someone wrote a great little AppleScript a couple years ago at The InDesign Conference to do this, but it was necessarily clunky. Recosoft’s PDF2ID also lets you convert annotations from a PDF file into InDesign objects — very cool — but not yet bring them into the original document.)
  • Tool Presets (as in Photoshop; e.g. set up different eyedropper presets, each of which pick up a different thing; or perhaps creating frame tools that automatically let you apply a predefined object style)
  • Kuler color selections (as in Illustrator CS3) [CS4]
  • a knowhow panel (as in Illustrator)
  • Export AI/PSD files, with layers intact (or ensure that AI and Pshop CS4 opens PDF honoring layers)
  • Outline mode in Story Editor and InCopy (similar to Word’s outline mode)
  • “Span columns” attribute for text (so a heading can span across two or more columns in a frame)
  • Make Control panel customizable (palette well, buttons, menu items, etc). That is, really let me put anything in the Control panel, move stuff around, and so on.
  • Export PDF as grayscale (just add grayscale profile into destination profile list)
  • The ability to map font styles to specific fonts. For example, what should happen when I apply “Bold” to Franklin Condensed? Should I get Medium or Demi? This also relates to the story editor: I want the semi-bold to show as bold in story editor.
  • Import of JPEG2000 images. This is demonstrably a better file format that JPEG. Adobe should embrace it more fully by letting us import it into ID.
  • A Loupe tool, just like the one in Acrobat
  • Repeat last text formatting KBSC. (Apply last style, font, size, etc… apply last sequence of formatting…)
  • I’d like the Book palette to display total number of pages in the book. (Intro chapters are in roman numerals, then chapter 1 starts on page 1, so trying to figure out the total number of pages requires keeping a calculator open.)
  • Use em units for type settings (like indents)

Oh my… I just found an old document on my hard drive with about 65 other wish-list items for InDesign that still haven’t made their way into the product. I think I’d better just stop here…

Well, this post started as a “by the way, you can’t do these things,” and ended as a “I hope to see it in CS4.” But I hope someone searching the Web will find solace in an answer found here; even a “negativo, good buddy,” is better than the limbo of “I don’t know.”
Feel free to reply (below) with other features you wish ID had. Of course, as I said earlier, the best way to make sure Adobe sees your idea is to send them feedback directly. Happy InDesigning!

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130 Comments on “Things You Can’t Do in InDesign

  1. @Andrew:
    In Find/Change dialog box you need to choose the option Include Master Pages (it is an icon looking like two facing pages situated under the Search optins)

  2. I am importing a 245 page word table with text flowing across pages in the same cell. Can the text flow across pages Indesign as it does in Word?

  3. @Teri: Word can break a single cell across two pages, but InDesign cannot; it only breaks at cell boundaries.

  4. “Word can break a single cell across two pages, but InDesign cannot”

    And a good thing too, I’d say. Broken cells in Word look like extra cells to me.

    They look that way to others too. Recently I gave a client a copy of Hamlet in Word table form — one numbered line per row — so that they could add comments which would stay locked to the right line.

    Alas — this Hamlet was a bit of a tragedy!

  5. I’d like indesign to break cells across pages and to put a “continued” in the header line for tables that span more than 1 page.

    Cells should be able to span pages, and they can look different to other cells using the table options for colouring the cells.

    I understand though that breaking cells can look confusing, so it should be a table option rather than a rework of how the cells work.

    It’s particularly troublesome when you have a cell that is over half a page in text and it automatically goes to the following page leaving a half page blank – it would be preferable that the table actually split the cell and inserted a “continued” or similar wording at the top of the split cell.

  6. David, I’m not sure if anyone else has said this already, but your point “If an imported TIFF/PSD contains more than one alpha channel, you can choose which one you want to use as the transparency mask after you import the image. (You can only do this at import time in ID, as far as I know.)” is incorrect.
    Simply place a TIFF or PSD file with multiple alpha channels and/or clipping masks in InDesign and hit Ctrl + Alt+ Shift + K and you can set which alpha channel to use, among other settings to fine-tune the results. As far as I can recall this was already possible in IDCS3 and perhaps even CS2, but my memory doesn’t go back that far :)

  7. @Roland: Unfortunately, that lets you set which clipping path to use. I was referring to a soft-edged transparency mask. I rarely use clipping paths anymore; too much hassle, too sharp edges.

  8. I had to edit as I misunderstood your point (the second time apparently). Setting which alpha channel to use isn’t the same as using a layer mask… interesting. There must be a way.

  9. Hoping desperately to find CS5 has the option to import PDF annotations into ID. That could free out time up by 4 hours a day per person!

  10. Heh heh. A cover with a spine, nope. You can’t do that with InDesign — or any other application for that matter.

    Not for an e-book.

  11. There’s one thing that Quark did that I start to automatically try in InDesign and only just stop myself from doing a nano-second before I push the keys. It used to be that if you selected modifier keys (I think they were command, option, and shift) and the down-arrow key, you could select all of the remaining text in a story from where your cursor was placed. I loved this because it meant that if you had overflow because you accidentally pasted something in twice, or because the original text had too many paragraph returns at the end, you could instantly delete all of the text without have to drag or scroll around to find it.

    Am I correct in thinking that a way of doing this is still not available in InDesign?

  12. There are things I know to do in WORD but don’t see how to do in InDesign (!). I know I have large gaps in my knoweldge, and would be grateful if someone could tell me if and how these are possible. I’m using CS2 on a PC.

    (1) Select all copy based on its formatting (for example, everything with a particular character style and a particular paragraph style). In WORD I use Search and Replace. Tried that here–didn’t work. I think InDesign wanted to search for actual words. Once I select, I want to apply a new paragraph style to everything at once. Doable? How? I do not want to redefine existing styles.

    (2) Select multiple instances of text, both within the same text box and/or in separate text boxes. (CTRL + mouse does that in WORD).

    (3) Repeat the last formatting change I made in one place to something else. (CTRL + Y in Word)

    (4) Pick up a formatting info and apply elsewhere (like Format Painter in Word).

    I really can’t believe these things would not be possible in InDesign. Are they really?

  13. 1) is possible, just don’t enter anything into the Find What and Change To fields. Click the More Info button there to reveal the Find Formatting and Change Formatting controls … far more robust and easier to use than Word’s.

    (2) and (3) are not possible in ID. I’d love to see those features.

    (4) is possible with the Eyedropper tool, that’s exactly what it’s for.

  14. It would be really nice too if InDesign could let us “Enable All ICC Profiles” for the images on a previously saved document, without having to check “Ask when opening” on the “Color Settings”.
    Today, either you do that or you have to go right-clicking image by image. Really annoying.

    That is particularly useful when you have to make a PDF/X-4 file with all the ICC profiles into each image, in a controlled color management workflow.

    Hope Adobe will do something about that in CS6…

  15. When I have to move back to Quark for something I always groan, but there are little things in it that still make me smile. For instance Quark highlights to you if there are missing links in your doc at export stage, then lets you go and relink them – whereas ID just dumps you back out to the layout and you have to go and relink them the long way before exporting again. Not a ‘feature’ per se, but a welcome little tickle.

  16. 1) Is there any way in InDesign to run the script from interactive button on its OnClick() event.

    2) Interactive text-boxes and buttons can be created in InDesign but is there any way to get the text in Textbox and send it to next page on button click.

  17. I am asking above questions in InDesign to PDF export context.

    the script .jsx added in InDesign does not run in PDF

  18. @Asad: In general, you will get more answers if you post technical questions like this on the Forum (indesignsecrets.com/forum). But I think the answer is: No, you cannot do that in InDesign.

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