Thanks for coming to, the world's #1 resource for all things InDesign!

Scaling vs. Resizing in InDesign CS3

We’ve been getting a lot of questions from folks who’ve upgraded to CS3, asking what happened to the Transform Content command and how they’re supposed to transform a frame separately from its content (or vice versa), in InDesign CS3. Our friend Michael Ninness (the new InDesign Senior Product Manager at Adobe) recently wrote to us with a good explanation of this, so instead of writing it up ourselves, I’m just going to reprint what he wrote (with his permission):

Hi David,

Unfortunately, the Help documentation on this matter is a bit confusing. I thought your readers might appreciate an accurate description of the CS3 behavior.

The Transform Content menu command is gone in CS3, mainly because you don’t need it anymore. Here’s the skinny…

There is a difference between resizing something vs. scaling something in InDesign. Resizing is simply changing the Width and/or Height values of an object (i.e. picas, points, inches, etc.), whereas scaling involves using a percentage value and makes reference to the frame’s original “scale” (100%).

Resize a Frame

By default, when the frame is selected (and not the frame contents) changing the values of the Width and Height fields will only change the frame, not its contents, regardless of what selection tool you have active.

Scale a Frame and its Content

When the frame is selected (and not the frame’s contents) with the Selection tool, changing the values of the Scale X Percentage and Scale Y Percentage fields always changes the frame and its content.

Resize or Scale a Frame’s content

If you want to change only the content (resize or scale) of a frame, then you need to select the frame content first. You can do that by clicking on the Frame content with the Direct Selection tool, or you can double-click with the Selection tool to automatically switch to the Direct Selection tool. Once selected, you can use the W/H (resize) or the Scale fields depending on your preference.

The above behaviors apply to both the Transform panel and the Transform widgets in the Control panel.

Extra Credit

If you want to scale the width/height of a frame or its contents by a percentage, and have the results returned in the current measurement system, you can enter in a number with the percent sign to override the default measurement system. For example, if the current width is 12p, and you want the new width to be 75% of the current value, you can enter “75%” into the Width field. After you press Enter, the new value for the Width would display as 9p.

The opposite is true for the Scale fields, in that you can use other measurement system values if you want to scale to a specific increment, but have the results display in percent of the original. For example, you can replace 100% with 9p and InDesign will figure out what percentage was required to make it that width/height.

The Rotate widget rotates both the frame and its content when the frame is selected with the Selection tool.

If you only want to rotate the frame content, select the content first with the Direct Selection tool.

If you only want to rotate the frame, select the frame with the Direct Selection tool, then click on the hollow dot in the middle of the Frame bounding box to select all the anchor points of the Frame. Then change the Rotate value.

Michael Ninness
InDesign Senior Product Manager

There’s plenty more to scaling in InDesign, of course. But this is a great primer to get started. And it explains a few things that have really confused readers. For example, many CS3 users can’t figure out how to scale a group of objects to a specific height or width: In CS2 you could simply change the value in the W or H fields. In CS3, you have to do this in the X or Y Scale fields!

Let us know what you think is helpful or frustrating for you with these new scaling shenanigans below!

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

Latest posts by David Blatner (see all)

  • - November 30, -0001
Related Articles

74 Comments on “Scaling vs. Resizing in InDesign CS3

  1. By the way, note that the keyboard shortcut behavior has changed again (a little) in CS4. Now you have two different options: Scale and Resize.

  2. Hello to All,

    I’m new to this site and I don’t know if this question has been posted before:

    I’m an architectural drafter and the program I mostly use is AutoCAD LT2005. In this program we have the option of working in Model Space (when we print we can assign an architectural/engineering scale to our drawings) or in Paper Space (when we draw and print we are using actual sizes in feet and inches).

    I was drawing a school sign in Paper Space to get the actual size of the sign and letters in inches and fractions of inches for the letters. I can’t adjust the width of the letters and spaces between the letters in this version of AutoCAD, so I decided to switch to InDesign CS3.

    How can I adjust the units to print the text in the actual size it will be done on the sign? Please advise, I’m I relatively new InDesign user.

    Thank you.

  3. @Gabriela: Are you saying you want to be able to specify that a capital letter be exactly 1 inch tall, or something like that? Unfortunately, InDesign does not let you do that. If you specify 72 pt (which normally = 1 inch) text, the cap could be larger or (probably) smaller than that. It all depends on the font itself.

  4. Reading the discussion of scaling above, I’m puzzled by this:

    “When the frame is selected (and not the frame?s contents) with the Selection tool, changing the values of the Scale X Percentage and Scale Y Percentage fields always changes the frame and its content.”

    I can’t get this to work in the way I’m understanding it to work. Changing X and Y just makes the object and frame change position, rather than scaling.

    I’m using the Selection tool and clicking on the framed object. Does this equal “selecting the frame and not the frame’s contents”?

    I’m also puzzled by “percentage” because the X and Y fields show a unit of measure, not a percentage.

    What am I doing wrong?

  5. @Tim: I can see how that could be be confusing. However, the “Scale X Percentage” is not the field labeled “X”. It’s the one that is usually third over on the top of the Control panel. If you hover your mouse over it, you should see a tool tip pop up that says “Scale X Percentage.”

  6. Pingback: InDesignSecrets » Blog Archive » Your Forgotten Friend – The Info Panel

  7. When using the scaling tool in CS4 to resize a frame and its contents, in one direction only, all the text in the frame is not resizing. It actually just reflows to fit the smaller space. I do have ‘apply to contents when scaling’ selected in the preferences. Does anyone have any suggestions or ideas?

  8. My content still will not change. It makes the frame box bigger but the content still stays the same. I placed a 2″ square picture into a document and it shows up as .0417″. When I resize, it only makes a bigger frame box. I want to throw my computer off my desk right about now! Someone help??

  9. Which box is the actual size in idensign? there is a pink/purple outline, a black outline, and the red outline….which one is my actual board size?

  10. We replaced my hard drive with a solid state drive and with it we reinstalled CS3. Now some of my preferences are gone and I can’t figure out how to get them back. One that I had was when I scaled a graphic down or up the percentage it was scaled to stayed in the control panel. For instance: I import a graphic but it is too large so I scale it down to 25% of original. 25% would stay in the box that shows scaling. Now it automatically goes back to 100% so I have no idea how much I scaled the graphic. I want this back and can’t find the place to change it. Can you help?

      • Thank you so much David! I have another questions. We also installed Windows 7 when we replaced the hard drive. Just FYI for this next question. InDesign used to open files with the ruler showing. It doesn’t do that anymore and I am constantly hitting Ctrl-R. Is there somewhere I can change the setting for the ruler? I truly appreciate your help.

  11. I want to select the content of a graphic frame (the graphic). It is currently scaled to 81.###% and change the percentage to 75%. By that I mean that after the command, the graphic will be at 75% of it’s original size.

    There’s a drop down list in the Scale X Y fields that shows percentages. When I select the Content of the frame and choose 75% the graphic scales perfectly. But I have to move the mouse to do this. I want commands that I can invoke with kbs.

    So I tried Object > Transform > Scale and entered 75% in that fields for X and Y. The object scales to 75% of 81.###%. (About 61.###%.)

    This doesn’t make sense.

    I tried entering 75% in the X (width) and Y (height) fields. Again, the content is scaled to 61.###%.

    I’ve asked two scripter friends to help. But I wondered if the geniuses here know a solution.

    Basically I need to be able to do this completely with keystrokes.

    • With the frame selected, press shift+esc to select the graphic. Then press cmd+opt+6 to highlight the first field in the Control panel. Hit Tab 5 times. Now you’re in the horizontal scale field. Enter 75 or whatever % you want. How’s that?

      • Wow! Thanks Mike.

        That’s a lot of tap, tap, tabbing. But it does work.

        However, Cmd-Opt-6 hides the Control panel if it is shown. But choose it again and the panel shows up with the first field highlighted ready for tap, tap, tab.

        But Cmd-6 jumps right into the field.

      • Ah, thanks for the correction. Yes, it is a very tappy way to go about it. You’d have to tap pretty quick for it to be faster than mousing. It’s too bad there’s no direct keyboard access to the scale fields. You’d think there would be.

    • And if you need to change the reference point before scaling, hit shift-tab right after command+option+6. This highlights the reference point controls, and you can use your up/down/left/right arrow keys to pick a different reference point.

      • It’s not just that there’s a lot of tapping. It’s that the fields to Scale XY are not the same as the Scale XY fields in the Transform > Scale dialog box.

        This isn’t just an annoyance. It feels like a bug. The interface says the same thing in two places but does different things.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *