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Change Measurement Systems on the Fly

You probabaly already know that you can type into just about any of InDesign’s measurement fields a value based on any measurement system InDesign understands. For instance, if the document uses pica for measurement, you can still specify height, width, and numerous other values in inches by typing X in (for inches [also and i]) or YpZ (for pica). The same trick works for centimeters (cm), millimeters (mm), points (pt), and ciceros (c). All that you probably knew because people like me have been excitedly writing about it since InDesign 1.0.

What you may not know is that you can also change the global measurement system on the fly without ever going into the Units & Increments pane of Preferences.

It’s a keyboard shortcut–four-fingered, true, but still typically faster than the Preferences route. On Mac, press CMD+OPT+SHIFT+U, and on Windows, CTRL+ALT+SHIFT+U, to cycle through the available measurement systems, in the order of the Units & Increments Ruler Units menus–Points, Picas, Inches, Inches Decimal, Millimeters, Centimeters, Ciceros, and Custom (measured in points). Each press of the keyboard shortcut will change both the horizontal and vertical rulers, as well as reflect in the applicable fields on the Transform, Control, and other palettes.

Pariah S. Burke

Pariah S. Burke

Pariah S. Burke ( is a design and publishing workflow expert bringing creative efficiency into studios, agencies, and publications around the world as principal of Workflow: Creative ( He is the author of the first InDesign book written for experienced InDesign users, Mastering InDesign CS3 for Print Design and Production (Sybex, 2007), and other books on Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Creative Suite, and QuarkXPress; author of more than 250 published articles; the former trainer and technical lead for InDesign, InCopy, Illustrator, Photoshop, and Acrobat to Adobe?s own technical support team; a freelance graphic designer with 20 years experience; a WordPress evangelist; and the publisher of the Websites Quark VS (, Designorati (, Gurus Unleashed (, Workflow: Freelance (, and the Creatives Are Community and Toolbar ( When not traveling, Pariah lives in Portland, Oregon where he writes (a lot) and creates (many) projects and publications to empower, inform, and connect creative professionals.
Pariah S. Burke

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30 Comments on “Change Measurement Systems on the Fly

  1. Well, you finally did. You blew me away. I hope you’re happy. I’ve been resorting to the ol’ preferences editing at least twice a week, and this should save my colleague and me a bit of irritation. Thanks a ton, Pariah.

  2. When cycling through, it seems to not change the units sometimes. Are there redundant units in there that aren’t being shown? Also, what is a cicero?

  3. There’s inches and inches decimal. Also, millimeters and centimeters are sometimes hard to distinguish at certain zoom levels.

    There’s also a drop-down menu in the Info palette that allows you to change both rulers at once (I recall David and Anne-Marie chuckling about that in a recent podcast because the symbol looks more like an accident than a design). It’s the + sign next the X: and Y: fields.


  4. Tim, Dave, Josh, and Branislav are all correct, of course.

    There are several ways to change the document measurement system, and there are several methods of doing many small but common tasks in InDesign. In fact, one of the things I dig most about InDesign is all the choices afforded the user by redundant, interchangeable methods.

  5. I prefer clicking on the rulers. I can use separate units of measure for each dimension Which often makes a lot of sense with the stuff that I work on.

  6. As others have pointed out, you can right-click on the rulers, but that only changes one measurement. I like Pariah’s tip because it changes both. (It’s nice to have the option to have 2 different measurement systems, but it’s rare that I actually use that.)

    I wish we had more easter egg choices, though, such as Hands, the Q measurement (quarter of a millimeter, if I recall), and cubits. Maybe in CS3.14.

  7. Well, if nobody will respond to Chris’ question “What’s a cicero?”, I will.
    1 cicero ~ 1.07 pica
    1 cicero = 12 didot
    1 pica = 12 points

  8. I definitely prefer using the info palette to change units.

    What’s annoying though is that you can’t change units from within a modal dialog, like Object Shadow or Document Setup ? that’s usually when I notice I want it changed! ;-)

  9. Didot is a name given to a group of typefaces named for the famous French printing and type producing family of the same name. The classification is known as modern, or Didone. The typeface we know today was based on a collection of related types developed in the period 1784-1811. …

  10. I’d love to be able to get ruler increments set to pixels but so far i haven’t found anything in my research that suggests this is possible. Anyone out there know of a way to work in pixel increments in indesign?

  11. Has anyone else come across the glitch where they can’t amend the measurements by typing in the Control palette? It happens intermittently to me where I click into a field and it highlights the content only for a millisecond before it deselects itself. If I’m fleet-fingered enough to get my new figure typed in while it is highlighted, it simply deselects and reverts to the original figure anyway!

  12. I’m having the exact same problem and as yet cannot find a solution. Would love to hear from anyone who could help.

  13. I had a similar problem that completely baffled me. It turns out it was a plugin that I had got. If you uninstall any 3rd party plugins that you have and see if that works.

    You might want to try resetting the preferences first though, by holding down CTRL (CMD) ALT SHIFT when launching InDesign.

    Of course when you do all this make sure you have the latest update.

  14. I have no third party plug-ins as far as I am aware and this still happens. Resetting the preferences works most, but not all, of the time, but is rather a pain, especially on those days when it happens every ten minutes! I have discovered that sometimes, but again not all of the time, selecting a different origin point on the proxy (top left of the control panel) will overcome this glitch.

  15. Hello everyone:
    I have always done print design, but now I need to also design web ads. If the web designer tells me ‘I need it to be 600×100 pixels’, what is the best way to produce that in Indesign?
    Thanks so much,

  16. Pingback: Changing InDesign’s Default Ruler Measurements | InDesignSecrets

  17. Good one!

    Been a graphic designer/photographer/illustrator for a zillion years. After years of traditional paste-up, got my first Mac in 1987. It’s now 2012 and I still love finding new shortcuts I never knew previously.

  18. Using the ruler does not dynamically change units. I mean, you select an object, with units set to, f.ex., millimetres, but you want to know its size in points: using rulers will not do that, you have to deselect the object and reselect it again to know its size with the new units, but shortcut will do that dynamically, no need to unselect and reselect object.

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