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A Visual Guide to InDesign Preferences

It’s no “secret” that InDesign has a boat load of preferences. Press command/ctrl+k and you’re met with a dialog box offering eighteen sets of preferences. I was going to count how many individual settings there were, but even I’m not that much of a geek. Suffice to say, there’s a lot. One key thing to remember as you traipse through all those settings: some are application-wide and will affect your interactions with all documents, others will only affect the current document. You need to close all open documents to make changes in document-specific preferences apply to new documents (otherwise you’d just be changing the preference for the current document).

So how can you tell which ones are document-specific?

One way you can tell that a preference is document-specific is that when you change it, you can see that event in your Undos in the Edit Menu.

Another clue is that when you change a document-specific preference on a new or freshly-saved document, an asterisk appears in the title bar (or tab) indicating a new unsaved change was made.

If you’re looking for a list of application vs. document preferences, Bob Bringhurst and Mike Witherell have posted those for InDesign CS4, and they’re still useful.

Of course, some of us prefer pictures #punintended. And after revealing the Secrets of the Control Panel, I thought it would be fun to create another visual guide. So I put together a PDF with screenshots of all 18 sets of preferences in InDesign CS5.5 and highlighted the document-specific ones, like so:

If you’re logged in as a free or premium member, the download link appears below.To download the guide, please log in at the top of the page, or become a member of InDesignSecrets. 

Mike Rankin

Mike Rankin

Editor in Chief of, InDesign Magazine, and Author of courses on InDesign and Illustrator. Husband. Dad. Dog walker.
Mike Rankin

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10 Comments on “A Visual Guide to InDesign Preferences

  1. Bob Bringhurst mentions it in his article, but I think it is a good idea to add it here, too:
    If you want your preference settings to apply to all newly created documents, close all documents before changing settings. This includes ?document-specific? preferences.

  2. I always found this to be one of InDesign’s strangest idiosyncrasies. I can see the value of setting defaults by changing settings with no documents open. But mixing document settings with application preferences? Most of these would be much more logically placed in the Document Setup dialog box.

    When I began learning InDesign back when version 1.5 came out, I went nearly insane because I though the measurement units got reset to inches for some reason even though I had clearly changed them to millimeters in the *application preferences*. And I keept wondering why you could only set baseline grids globally for all documents instead of per page, per story, per document or per frame. I was so happy when I figured out what was really going on.

    I wish Adobe would change that system for the sake of the poor people who have to learn the application and just put document specific settings in the Document Setup dialog box. And even for those of us with lots of experience with the application, the fact that such a PDF is still useful (thanks a lot for the hard work by the way!) goes to show that there is something suboptimal going on.

  3. I second Peter’s motion. It makes no sense to mix up two different sorts of preference in such an unintuitive manner.

  4. @Rhiannon and @Peter-

    I totally agree. The Document Setup dialog box would seem to be the perfect home for document settings, wouldn’t it? I don’t know if there’s an engineering reason why these things are mixed together, but from a UI perspective, it ain’t good.

  5. Thanks Mike, very useful. I would not have guessed so many document are specific.

    @Peter I completely agree with you regarding the mash-up of application and document preferences which has persisted over versions. You would have thought that separating them would be a simple low cost job to give a programmer on Friday to let him/her go home feeling it has been a very productive week.

  6. Having the Document Preferences in the Document Setup might be a bit much information. Having All preferences together is handy. The only problem is knowing if the specific preference is for the Application or the Document.

    What would be better is to distinguish the two types by having the Option Name in a color if it were a Document Preference or by using an Asterisk at the beginning of the Option Name.

    A second though would be to have a check box for both Document and Application. If you checked both, those options for Document would be highlighted in one color (like Mike’s PDF) and Application would be highlighted in a second color.

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