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Roundup of InDesign CS5 Features (Honest, this time)

Today Adobe announces the imminent release of InDesign CS5, a major upgrade to their flagship page-layout program. While we thought the CS4 upgrade was pretty darn good, the CS5 release is head-and-shoulders better. Not only is the set of major features compelling for both print and interactive designers, Adobe has made dozens of small improvements to workflow and interface that mean big improvements for user experience.

We have to tell you that we are very excited about InDesign CS5. Of course, Adobe didn’t add every feature we wanted, but we think that after reading about the features below, you’ll agree that the upgrade is well worth it.

In the scientific classification of the InDesign CS5 phylum, this upgrade contains two classes: Interactivus and MakeItBetterus. Both classes contain rich and diverse families of feature species. Let’s take a look.

Interactive and Rich Media stuff

The biggest set of new features falls into Interactivus — the features that make InDesign zoom, pop, and jiggle. You’ll see this from the get-go in the New Document dialog box, in the form of a new Document Intent menu. If you choose Web as your intent (the other choice is Print), InDesign sets up the document for an onscreen audience: the Page Size defaults to 800 by 600 pixels -yes, you can specify size in pixels now, Facing Pages is turned off, Transparency Blend Space is set to RGB, and all color swatches are defined as RGB (though why on earth you’d ever want to use RGB Cyan is a mystery).

Because InDesign obviously didn’t have enough panels, CS5 now provides five — count ’em, five! — new panels related to interactive documents:

Preview panel. Woo-hoo! You can preview page transitions, button rollovers and actions, movies, sound, and the other new interactive features in CS5 right inside of InDesign without having to export the file to PDF or SWF first. Preview just the selected object (such as a rollover), or the active spread, or the entire document. If you’re working on a SWF, you’ll also love the Test in Browser command in the Preview panel menu.

Animation panel. No need to worry about timelines or tweening frames or anything like that — you can animate any InDesign object in response to a page turn or a button action simply and easily with the designer-friendly Animation panel. Just select an object or group and then choose any one of  the dozens of built-in motion paths (the same as in Flash CS5 Pro) from the panel’s Preset menu. A little butterfly preview gives you an idea of what the selected motion path does, or you can jump straight to the new Preview panel (described above) to see precisely how your selection will animate on screen.

Animations can only appear in SWFs that you export from InDesign (not PDFs) but here’s our first InDesign CS5 Secret: To get an animation to appear in a PDF, export just the animated object to SWF (Export Selection is a new option in the SWF Export dialog box) and then place that SWF right back into the InDesign layout, replacing the object. When you export the layout to interactive PDF and view it in Reader or Acrobat 9, the animation plays!

Timing panel. If you have more than one animation on a spread, and all are set to begin on, say, Page Load, how can you control the order in which they play? Answer: By dragging the animation names in the Timing panel in the order you want them to appear. It’s simple and intuitive, once you know where to look. You can even link them in the panel so they play concurrently. No coding required.

Media panel. We now have a central location to manage placed movies, sound, and SWF files. Newly supported formats for placing into CS5 include SWF, FLV, F4V, MP4, and MP3 files, and if you use any of these, you can preview them in the new Media panel. (Older video formats are still supported, but you can’t play them in the panel. However, you can optionally convert them to FLV or F4V before placing them, via the Adobe Media Encoder, which is now installed with InDesign CS5.)

Plus, you can use the Navigation Points section of the Media panel to set precise locations (timestamps) in your movie, as we’ve done (in the image above) for the nav point called “Closeup.” Then you can use new Button actions to allow your audience to quickly jump to those specific points in the movie.

Object States Panel. The Object States panel lets you create, edit, and manage an entirely new type of object in InDesign called a Multi-state Object. A what?! Well, imagine an object group where only one member of the group is visible at any one time. That’s a multi-state object. The visibility of the objects is controlled either by clicking on a state’s name of the panel — similar to how the Layers panel works — or by the end user clicking buttons in a SWF. (Button actions now include Go to Next State/Previous State, or a specific State.)

By using multi-state objects for things like slide shows in your SWFs, you allow the end user to “load” different content items in a single object on the page/screen, without needing to switch to additional pages. Conceivably, you could also create multi-state objects (is it too early to start calling them MSOs?) to make versioning of your non-interactive print and PDF projects easier to manage, too — kind of like a conditional object.

By the way, don’t confuse the Object States panel with the old, pre-CS4 States panel (which was a button thing). As in CS4, you still use the Buttons panel to create rollover and click states for the buttons themselves.

Besides the new panels, here are some interactive and cross-media enhancements you should know about:

Convert URLs to Hyperlinks. A new command in the Hyperlinks panel, Convert URLs to Hyperlinks, is like a GREP Find/Change for all URLs and e-mail addresses in your document (or Story, or Selection, just as in Find/Change). InDesign converts them to working hyperlinks and optionally applies a character style of your choice to them as it goes. It’s pretty smart about it, too! (However, it’s not as clever as DTP Tools’ URL2Hyperlink plug-in.)

Export to Interactive PDF. This is a big change that is bound to trip some people up at first. If you want your PDF to include the interactive buttons you created, to play the media you imported, and/or to show the page transitions you applied, you have to choose File > Export and choose Adobe PDF (Interactive) from the Format menu in the Export dialog box. There you’ll be able to not only include all those goodies, but you can also set up the view, presentation mode, and layout (e.g., Fit page, Single Continuous, Full screen) for when the PDF is opened in Reader or Acrobat. Yay!

It’s important to note that because of how InDesign creates the PDF, your readers will need Reader or Acrobat v9 to reliably view any rich media you added — they’ll get an alert suggesting they upgrade if they open it in an earlier version.

InDesign CS5 still has the File > PDF Presets menu – with all the same presets as in CS4 – for creating print-worthy PDFs. With this method, though, you’ll find that the only interactive elements you can optionally include in your PDF are hyperlinks and bookmarks. It’s kind of weird, but Adobe left out the ability to make Interactive PDF presets.

Improved Export to Flash Professional. When you choose Flash CS5 Professional as the Export format, InDesign creates a FLA file (no more XFL files). A new text engine for Flash means that framed text can remainintact in the Flash file — edited text reflows correctly, even threaded text frames remain threaded! Also, you can choose to include all buttons, movies, sound and animations, and then continue to work with those elements in Flash.

Improved Export to ePub and XHTML. Did you use <gasp!> local formatting instead of styles anywhere? Don’t worry, local formatting can be maintained when you export to ePub or XHTML in InDesign CS5. Also, you can tell InDesign to use Page Order or XML Structure to determine the order of exported content. That means if you specify XML Structure, you get a chance to reorder, add, or remove content from the XML structure panel before exporting, giving you more control. We still think that’s a pretty clunky way to handle the export, but it’s far better than nothing.

Improvements for Everyone

While the interactive features are coolio, the majority of InDesign users will be affected more by the huge pile o’ features in the order MakeItBetterus — which can be broken down into exisiting features that have been improved, and new features that build on the underlying framework that we’re all accustomed to.

New Tools

InDesign CS5 adds two new tools to the Tools panel: The Gap tool and the Page tool.

Gap tool. While the Selection tool lets you select objects, and the Direct Selection tool lets you target parts of an object, the new Gap tool lets you adjust the gap (“white space”) between two objects. This tool is going to be a huge boon to photographers working on their portfolio sheets, production artists working on catalogs, and anyone else who has images or objects on a grid.

The only problem with the Gap tool is that you have to remember several non-intuitive keyboard shortcuts to get to the advanced features. Fortunately, InDesign CS5 has a Tool Hints panel that you can open (Window > Utilities > Tool Hints). This gives you tricks for whichever tool you’re currently working on.

Page tool (Mixed page sizes!). One of the most amazing and helpful features in CS5 is the new Page tool, which lets you change the size of each page in your document — much like the Artboard tool in Illustrator. (In the past, the only way to accomplish this was the Page Tools plug-in from DTP Tools.)

It’s interesting to note that this feature also lets you alter how (or where) a master page is applied to each differently-sized page. This will certainly deserve its own blog article to explain how it works and why you want it, but suffice it to say, it’s nifty!

Gridify. The “gridify” option isn’t a new tool, but rather improves all the object-creation tools. For example, if, while you’re drawing a frame, you press the up arrow key on your keyboard, you get two frames (one above the other). Now press the right arrow key and you get four frames (two rows and two columns). It sounds trifling, but it’s awesome when you’re placing multiple files (it works with the Place cursor) or trying to create a grid of any sort.

Gridify also works when duplicating objects with the Option/Alt key, to build sort of a “super step and repeat” effect. Again, we’ll cover that in a future blog article for more details.

Spring-loaded tool shortcuts. Want a tool temporarily? Just press and hold down its shortcut. Now click or drag with the tool. When you let go of the shortcut, the Tool panel reverts back to the tool you were originally using.

Selecting, Moving, and Managing Objects

Adobe has taken a number of simple processes, looked at ’em hard, and made them easier for users.

Selecting Objects. It has always been possible, but a bit of a pain, to select an object inside a group or an image inside a graphic frame. Now whenever you hover over a graphic frame with the Selection tool you see a “content grabber” (looks like a camera focus, or a bagel). Click it and the image is selected, or just drag it and the image moves inside the frame. It’s extremely intuitive and it’s a great example of how Adobe has fine-tuned and finessed features in CS5, to every InDesign user’s advantage.

Similarly, you can double-click on an object in a group to select it. Double-click again to select the group. You can select two or more objects with the Selection tool and they immediately act like a group: You can scale and rotate them all by dragging on or just outside side or corner handles. (The ability to rotate by dragging the Selection tool just outside a corner handle works for single objects, too, and is also new in CS5 — it’s like they merged the Selection tool and the Free Transform tool!)

Layers panel. At first the Layers panel looks just like it did in CS4, but on closer inspection, you’ll see that each layer has a “twirl-down/expand” triangle next to it. Click that and you can see each object on the layer, much like you can in Illustrator. This is definitely one of our favorite new features in CS5, as it makes it so much easier to select and rearrange objects in a complex layout. You can even create custom names for groups, and hide/show or lock/unlock individual objects on a layer here!

Live Corner Effects. Everyone likes corner effects — especially rounded corners. Now InDesign makes it easier than ever to apply corner effects to objects, because you can just drag the corners themselves, right on the frame, and even apply different corner effects to different corners in a rectangle.

Stroke/Fill Widgets. The less we have to open and close panels in InDesign, the happier we are, so we’re grinning ear-to-ear because Adobe added Swatches widgets (one for Fill, one for Stroke, both with Tint fields and the panel menu button) in the Control panel. This means we can leave the Swatches or Color panels closed most of the time!

Text and Type

As you might expect from Adobe, some of InDesign CS5’s most impressive new features fall into the area of text and typography.

Balanced Columns. You have a three-column text frame, but the text doesn’t fill to the end. You can now “bottom out” all three columns, aligning their lower baselines automatically, by turning on the Balance Columns checkbox in the Text Frame Options dialog box.

Column Spanning and Splitting. You want a heading to span (“straddle”) across two or more columns in a multi-column text frame? No problem, with the new Span Columns feature. It’s so great. On the flip side, you can also tell two or more paragraphs to “split” into sub-columns, perfect for when you have a list in a wide column of text.

Spanned headline and split list inside one multi-column frame

Non-rectangular Vertical Justification. One of the persistent complaints about InDesign over the years has been that its vertical justification (forcing text to fit from the top to bottom of a text frame) stops working in a non-rectangular text frame, or when the text frame has any sort of text wrap applied to it. We’re happy to say this is now fixed. Justify away!

Track Changes. Here is another one of our favorite features in CS5. It’s been in InCopy for years, and now it’s finally in InDesign: The ability to track changes to text, review the changes, accept or ignore the changes, and so on. The trick is the new Track Changes panel. This is going to save us so much time! (And if your company is already using InCopy, yes, this means you now have full round-tripped track changes.)

Default Font. Okay, this is a really little one, but we’re very happy to announce that the default font (the font you get when you first install InDesign and make a text frame) is now Minion Pro instead of the problematic Times Roman. Yay!

Document Fonts. You package up your InDesign document and send it to someone else. You’ve included the fonts, but they forget (or don’t know how) to install those fonts on their system, so the document doesn’t appear properly to them, right? That’s the old CS3 and CS4 way? now, in CS5, it works better, because InDesign automatically sees and uses any fonts inside the Document Fonts folder (which has to be in the same folder as the document itself, of course). However, note that these fonts work only in that one document.

Buzzword integration. Are you a fan of Buzzword, the collaborative word processor program that’s part of We are. In InDesign CS5, Buzzword gets its own File > Place from Buzzword command. You can even choose to link to the Buzzword document, so that as colleagues update the shared file “in the cloud,” you can update your local file in InDesign. (Alas, any formatting you applied to the text in InDesign is lost, just like linking to Word files.) You can also export to Buzzword to create new Buzzword documents in your account from the contents of InDesign text frames. Neat. Unfortunately, until Buzzword supports paragraph and character styles, this feature will have only limited appeal.


InDesign CS5 also has several significant features involving graphics that you should know about.

Mini Bridge. Bridge is a great program, but it suffers from one major problem: it’s a separate program! Wouldn’t it be cool if you could get many of Bridge’s features right inside InDesign? Now you can, with the Mini Bridge panel. You still need Bridge running in the background, but you don’t have to switch apps to get the features you want: searching for graphics, drag and drop to place files, and so on.

There’s one other Bridge/Mini Bridge feature which is astonishing enough that we need to mention it here: You can choose to show an InDesign document in Mini Bridge, then click a button to see all the images linked inside that INDD file! This is great when you know you’ve used an image inside a layout, but you don’t remember the image’s name or where you saved it. You don’t even have to open that InDesign document to get to that same graphic!

Live Captions. Each version of the Creative Suite has slowly increased the value of XMP metadata in your files. Now, metadata is more important than ever, because InDesign can automatically extract it and place it into a caption text frame on any side of an image. For example, you can make a caption automatically show the image’s file path or text description or copyright information. There were ways to do this before with scripts, but the Live Caption feature makes it so easy, quick, and available to everyone.

Document User Experience Improvements

Finally, here’s a list of a few “little” new features in CS5. This isn’t comprehensive, but these are cool enough to deserve a mention.

Start Page Number. Newbie InDesign users have struggled for years to figure out how to start a document on a page number other than 1. Now you can do it right in the New Document dialog box.

Presentation Display Mode. Want to show your document to your boss or client? Check out the new Presentation display mode (press Shift-W), which is like the Preview mode, but takes up the whole screen, even hiding panels and menus.

Color Labels. You can now color-code your pages inside the Pages panel, which is helpful to quickly identify page types or sections of a long document.

Background Export. Tired of waiting for a big PDF file to export? Wait no longer, because InDesign CS5 now exports PDF and IDML files in the background. We hope to see even more multi-threading like this in the future.

Zoom in Dialog Boxes. You can now zoom in and out while a dialog box is open, by pressing Command/Ctrl and plus or minus. This is still not as flexible as Photoshop (which lets you zoom and pan all you want), but it’s a step in the right direction.

Wishing for More

We applaud Adobe for a great upgrade to our favorite page-layout application. But while we’re clapping with one hand, we’re kvetching with the other. (No, that doesn’t really make any literal sense, but you get the idea.) There are dozens of big- and little-ticket items that InDesign is still lacking. For example:

  • No way to create PDF form objects (text fields, checkboxes, etc.)
  • No way to apply image sharpening or Curves or other Photoshop effects to an image, like QuarkXPress can do
  • Still no way to export a grayscale PDF
  • Cannot apply multiple strokes and fills to objects, as in Illustrator’s Appearance panel
  • Still no Universal language solution, allowing right-to-left (Hebrew, Arabic, etc.) or vertical text (Japanese, Chinese) in one program.
  • No way to set page geometry (size, position) in an object style

But remember that it is partly our job to complain about what the program doesn’t do, ever in hopes of seeing these things in CS6… or CS7…

The fact that we want more should not detract from the greater truth that CS5 is a truly great upgrade. Adobe has clearly made it easier and more powerful for all users, and way-way-more powerful for those who need to make interactive documents. We think it is extremely likely that the majority of people who are still using CS2 or CS3 will want to jump quickly to CS5, and CS4 users will also find significant benefits in the upgrade.

More Resources

Of course, this article just skims the surface of what’s new in InDesign CS5. We encourage you to read over Claudia McCue’s more InDepth article about CS5 — including demo movies! — in this month’s issue of InDesign Magazine. (David also has an article there detailing the Split and Span Columns features.)

If you’re a visual learner, definitely check out Anne-Marie’s InDesign CS5 New Features title at – some of these videos are already released as free previews, as explained in this post. (Or, if you’re a new user, start with David’s InDesign CS5 Essential Training, which should be available there soon).

Also, we want to announce the upcoming eBook The InDesignSecrets Guide to What’s New in InDesign CS5, by Pariah S. Burke, due sometime soon after Adobe ships InDesign CS5. It’s going to be a great resource for anyone upgrading from CS3 or CS4 to this new version. More information on that as soon as we have it!

David Blatner

David Blatner

David Blatner is the co-founder of the Creative Publishing Network, InDesign Magazine, and the author or co-author of 15 books, including Real World InDesign. His InDesign videos at are among the most watched InDesign training in the world. You can find more about David at
David Blatner

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157 Comments on “Roundup of InDesign CS5 Features (Honest, this time)

  1. Question about this:
    “Balanced Columns. You have a three-column text frame, but the text doesn?t fill to the end. You can now ?bottom out? all three columns, aligning their lower baselines automatically, by turning on the Balance Columns checkbox in the Text Frame Options dialog box.”

    What does “bottom out” mean exactly?

    I’ve tried this and it doesn’t balance across the columns (even text, no feathering, as with “justify”)

    Am I missing something??

  2. David, not really.
    I’ve read through this already.
    Perhaps the new “balance columns” doesn’t truly balance the way we would expect it to… it seems to by going by old typographer’s term for “balanced” — all columns EXCEPT the last column are even across the bottom.
    I work on a magazine, we want the columns to balance all the way across, with no feathering at the end (as what happens when columns are justified).
    Currently, we edit the text or kern it out a little to get the columns to balance.
    Maybe I’m missing something??

  3. @journalchick: No, I don’t think you’re missing anything. Let’s say you have three columns, and each column can contain 30 lines. If the first two columns of the frame are full and the last column has only 28 lines, then what can InDesign do? If you leave Vertical Justification at Top, then the last column is not “bottomed out.” If you set it to Justified, then the last last line is “feathered” — leading or spacing is added to get the last line to bottom out.

    If you edit it, removing some text so that there are only 27 lines in the last column, then InDesign can “balance” the columns so that you’ll have 29 lines in each column (including the third). But other than editing, I don’t think there’s any solution to get what you’d want.

  4. Can you no longer print an interactive .pdf?

    I’ve created one for a client and no one seems to be able to print it after page 2 (the first two pages will print) except me. I am able to print the entire document. I sent the doc out to few others who also can’t print anything other than pages 1 and 2.

    It’s a catalog that will generally be used online as an interactive document but some folks may want to print it out.

    any ideas?


  5. Hi there, I just got CS5 after much tumble and toil. It still doesn’t import SVG or save out an SVG without having to get a 3rd-party plugin. Have any of you any experience in using an SVG workflow for print? Theortically it shouldn’t work, I’m just wondering. BTW, I’ll be at the conference hopefully next month.