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Me and My Arrow

I often go through phases where I get fixated on a particular function within InDesign. This week, it’s been the keyboard arrow keys. I can’t stop clicking left, right, up, down, and all around. I think I got started on this kick by watching my son deftly thumbing his way to high scores on the video games that Santa brought. My “vintage” reflexes can’t keep up with his, but I could show him a thing or two about using arrows in InDesign. So, without further ado, let’s get right to the, uh, point.

Ten Things to Do With Arrow Keys

1. Move or duplicate selected objects (including guides). Pressing arrow keys moves selected objects the distance specified in the Cursor Key preference.

Adding the Option/Alt key duplicates the object.

Adding shift increases the increment to 10x the cursor key value.

Adding Command/Ctrl+shift decreases the increment to 1/10th the cursor key value.

You can also combine these tricks. For example, shift+Option+arrow duplicates the object offset 10x the cursor key value.

2. Increase/decrease values in panel and dialog box fields. This works when the value is highlighted or with a blinking cursor in the field. Adding shift increases the increment in different ways depending on the unit of measure.

For example, in the Control panel:

If your default units are picas, the arrow key moves or resizes the object by 1pt. Add shift to move/resize to the nearest pica.

If your default units are points, the arrow key moves or resizes the object by 1pt. Add shift to move/resize to the nearest 10 points.

Note that InDesign rounds off decimals into integers (which may or may not be what you want).

click , then up arrow to get 

3. Navigate through (or select) text. Command/Ctrl+left/right arrow jumps to the previous/next word. Command/Ctrl+up/down arrow jumps to the previous/next paragraph. Add shift to select text. Command/Ctrl+shift+left/right arrow selects an adjacent word. Command/Ctrl+shift+up/down arrow selects to the beginning/end of a line.

4. Navigate through (or select) table cells. Arrow keys move your cursor to the next cell. When you reach the end of a row or column, pressing the arrow key again loops you back to the other end of the row or column. Add shift to select cells. Press the opposite arrow to deselect cells.

5. Play with polygons. Press the up/down arrows to change the number of sides of a polygon as you draw it. Press left/right keys to increase or decrease the star inset value. You don’t need to keep tapping the key, just hold it down and watch the polygon change (in CS3, you might need to wiggle your mouse).

6. Navigate panel lists. When you summon the swatches, links, or layers panels, you can immediately navigate the lists with arrow keys. If the panel is already open, Command+Option/Ctrl+Alt click on list, then navigate with arrows.

7. Navigate through menus. Up/down arrows move through the available menu choices. Left/right arrows enter/exit submenus. Add Command/Ctrl to jump to the top/bottom of menus.

8. Change text spacing. Press Option/Alt with left/right arrows to change kerning or tracking. Press Option/Alt with up/down arrows to change leading. Press shift+Option/shift+Alt with up/down arrows to baseline shift text.

9. Use Quick Apply. When the Quick Apply list is open, press left/right arrow keys to move through the edit field; press up/down arrow keys to scroll through the list.

10. Select a file to place. When you’re placing multiple graphics or text files, press an arrow key to cycle through them, and select which one to place.

A few more arrow points

Arrow anomaly? When you open the Numbering and Section Options dialog box, you can use the down arrow to switch from Automatic Page Numbering to Start Page Numbering at.

Actually, this is “pointless” since you can just type a number to select Start Page Numbering at. Still it intrigues me, since it’s the only place I know of where you can select a radio button with an arrow key. I wonder if there are others.

Shift into High Gear: As noted above, you can press shift in some cases to increase the increment of change when you use an arrow key.

Adding shift changes:

percentage values by 10%

angles by 5 degrees

columns by 5

tabs by 50 pts or 5p in CS3 (depending on your default units)

tabs by 10 pts or 1p in CS4 (depending on your default units)

CS4 Power Zoom: With CS4, you can click and hold with the Hand tool to invoke Power Zoom. Drag the red rectangle and release the mouse button to move to a different part of the document. If you want to change your magnification level too, use the arrow keys. Up or right arrow increases the size of the rectangle (increases the visible area). Down or left arrow decreases the the size of the rectangle (zooms in closer).

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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17 Comments on “Me and My Arrow

  1. Using the arrow while placing a contact sheet requires a third hand. On my left hand I hold down cmd+opt and drag out the contact sheet, with my free 3rd hand I am able to use the arrow keys to change the size of the gutters as well. My forth hand is still free to juggle though.

  2. @ Fritz: use the other side of the keyboard! left hand on cmd/ctrl + alt, with thumb on the arrows, right hand does the dragging :-)

  3. @Somerset – I could do that, but why would I want to press my command key on the right side of the keyboard? It is still pristine and readable, while the other command key is worn off and abused.

  4. Just in case… When using the Contact Sheet Place option, you only need to press the Cmd+Option/Ctrl+Alt keys initially. Once you start the drag to create the grid, you can let go of those keys, which then frees up your non-mouse hand to press the arrow keys to adjust the rows/columns/gutters.

  5. Michael-
    Here’s a suggestion for CS5: include 3 modifier pedals (USB, of course), so we can play InDesign like a piano. All these years our feet have sat idly by. Put ’em to use! To select and delete all objects on the targeted layer we could Command+Shift+Option+STOMP. The kids will love it ; )

    Hmm, a quick check reveals such things do exist:

    I wonder if anyone out there is using one of these things with ID…

  6. How about this: For some reason (I havn’t figured out yet why) I can’t use my arrows at all with Indesign CS4, installed on my MacPro at the office. I mean, they are completely dead and don’t respond. However I don’t have this problem with my mac at home.

    Please help!


  7. Any way to turn off power zoom? It kicks in far too quickly on my eMac (when i’m actually wanting to just navigate around the spread at current zoom level), causing endless consternation.

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