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Tip of the Week: How to Create Unequal Columns

This InDesign tip to create unequal columns and shrink text frames to fit was sent to Tip of the Week email subscribers on July 7, 2016.

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Ever have to create page designs with multiple unequal columns? InDesign does not allow you to set up unequal column widths in any of the dialog boxes for working with margins, columns, or text frames. But you can work around this problem in a few ways.

Some folks who love designing on grids create a bunch of narrow columns by figuring out the math so the column guides align with all the major and minor column edges.

indesign unequal columns layout grid

Then draw out the text frames as you want them, snapping the edges to the column guides.

indesign unequal columns draw frames to grid

That works, and it can also help you precisely position other items on the page for a strong overall design. But if you’re not a huge grid fan you might find all the extra lines distracting.

Another approach (if you already know what your desired column widths and gutter space are) is to simply start with a single-column layout and draw the text frames you want.

indesign unequal columns draw text frames

Then select the text frames and lock them (Command+L/Ctrl+L).

indesign unequal columns locked text frames

Then choose Layout > Margins and Columns, and in the dialog box, set the number of columns and gutter that you want.

indesign unequal columns dialog box

Unlock the column guides by choosing View > Grids & guides > Lock Column Guides.


Then drag the column guides where you want them.

indesign unequal columns dragging column guide
indesign unequal columns locked

It’s probably also a good idea to re-lock the column guides when you’re done so you don’t accidentally move them later on.

Finally, unlock and delete the text frames on the master page if you don’t want them there.

indesign unequal columns major minor

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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5 Comments on “Tip of the Week: How to Create Unequal Columns

  1. Another approach: create frames on a new locked layer. With Smart Guides, this will behave as though they were real column guides.

  2. Does this mean that Indesign does not support unequal collumnwidth in text frames? (which Ventura Publisher already supported in 1990…)

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