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Using the InDesign Touch Workspace

They say seeing is believing, but when it comes to modern technology I think you can take it a step further and say touching is believing. Right now you can control anything from a car to a refrigerator with a touchscreen, so it’s no surprise that even InDesign is gaining more touch features, in addition to ones we’ve noted in the past.

In InDesign CC 2015 there is a workspace called Touch.

InDesign Touch Workspace welcome screen

For the time being, you can only use it on Windows-based devices with touch capabilities, such as the VAIO Z Canvas, which I reviewed for CreativePro. Let’s take a look at how to use InDesign’s Touch workspace.

Getting to Know the Touch Workspace

To switch to the Touch workspace, tap the icon at the top of the InDesign window, or choose Touch from the Workspace menu.

InDesign Touch Workspace toggle button

There’s also a preference you can set to switch to the Touch workspace automatically when you detach your keyboard from your device.

InDesign Touch Workspace preference

The first thing you’ll notice about the Touch workspace is that it seems pretty sparse. Yes kids, minimalism is in.

InDesign Touch Workspace

The Tools panel has only a few items: a Selection tool, a Drawing tool (which only appears in the Touch workspace), a Type tool, and tools for drawing various shapes, plus a pair of undo/redo buttons.

For panels, you get a combination Color Picker and Swatches, Strokes, Align and Distribute, Opacity, Text (which combines features of the Character and Paragraph panels), CC Libraries, and a context menu whose content changes depending on what you have selected.

There’s also just one menu, File, with commands like New Document, Open, Place, Close, Save, and Share on Behance.

InDesign Touch workspace file menu

The simplicity of the Touch workspace is fitting since it is mainly geared for quickly sketching out layouts, similar to what you can do with the Adobe Comp CC mobile app.

When you want to switch back to one of your usual workspaces, just tap the button at the top of the screen again.

InDesign Touch Workspace toggle button

I love how this allows you to toggle back and forth between your most recently used workspace and Touch so quickly and easily. Little things like this make the Touch workspace feel like a pure bonus, and a natural extension of my normal way of working.

When you’re ready to create a new document, tap the File menu > New Document, and then tap the size you want in the dialog box that appears.

InDesign Touch Workspace New Document dialog box

For adjusting the document display there are three handy buttons in the bottom right corner of the window that you can tap to toggle the Preview mode, Fit the Spread in the Window, or zoom to Actual Size.

InDesign Touch Workspace display controls

Drawing Objects in the Touch Workspace

In the Touch workspace, you can still use your mouse or trackpad to control your cursor and create new objects. But it’s way more fun to take advantage of the gestures that InDesign recognizes. There are 16 gestures in all for creating and deleting objects.

Tap the Help symbol in the top right corner to reveal the guide to drawing gestures.

InDesign Touch Workspace welcome screen

Then tap a gesture to watch an animated version showing how it works.

InDesign Touch Workspace gestures

If you’ve never used Adobe Comp CC or other touch-based apps, there might be a little learning curve as you get the hang of things. On one hand, you don’t have to worry about being perfect. For example, to create a square you don’t have to draw anything close to a perfect square, or even a closed shape. You needn’t give up caffeine to draw beautifully in the Touch workspace.

InDesign Touch Workspace drawing a square

On the other hand, if you’re trying to draw something like an oval, you might have a few unsuccessful attempts as InDesign thinks you want a rectangle or triangle. You also can’t dawdle since you only have about two seconds to complete a gesture before InDesign passes judgment on what you drew. Practice makes perfect, especially with more complex gestures like the ones for polygons and rounded and chamfered rectangles. If sketching a layout with your fingers seems too clumsy, try using a stylus.

If you totally mess up and draw something that InDesign doesn’t recognize, it simply gets ignored and disappears, and you have a clean slate to try again. If only everything in life worked that way!

I find that once I’m in the drawing mode, I want to do just about everything with gestures, so one feature request I’d make would be for a new gesture to resize rounded or chamfered corners. Right now you have to switch from the Drawing tool to the Selection tool before you can tweak your corners.

Editing Objects with Touch

Once you’ve created an object, you can modify it with gestures too. For example, you can twist two fingers to rotate selected objects. Tip: when you rotate an object, it’s very easy for your fingers to get in the way so you can’t read the angle. To solve this problem, start your rotation gesture with your fingers spread apart so they’re outside the bounds of the object, or even use both forefingers so you can spread them really far apart.

Tap on an object to select it, then drag to move it, or tap the round button that appears above the object for a small context menu.

InDesign Touch Workspace context menu

Maybe my favorite gesture of all is the one to erase objects. Just use your finger or stylus to scribble over the object a few times and it disappears.

InDesign Touch Workspace erase gesture

You don’t have to select anything first. Better yet: this works with multiple objects. You can just keep going with a single long, squiggly gesture, and one by one objects will disappear.

And I absolutely love the slider to move objects up and down in the stacking order.

InDesign Touch Workspace arrange object control

It’s all so natural it makes me think that keyboard shortcuts are an endangered species. No one will devote brain cells to remembering Ctrl+[ or Ctrl+] when all they have to do is tap and drag a slider. How will we explain all those keyboard shortcut posters to our grandkids?

Working with Text in Touch

Of course you can create and edit text frames in the Touch workspace. There are three gestures to make text frames filled with placeholder text.

InDesign Touch Workspace text frame gestures

You can also drag with the Type tool. A really nice touch (no pun intended!) is that as you resize the text frame, the amount of placeholder text automatically changes to fit the frame. So cool! I wish this was a feature in all workspaces.

In the Touch workspace, each text frame is adorned with a round menu button and a slider for adjusting the type size.

InDesign Touch Workspace text frame controls

InDesign Touch Workspace adjusting type size

Tap once on a text frame with the Type tool to select all the text. To grab a range of text, double-tap on a word to select it, and then drag to extend the text selection. To edit text, use either your regular keyboard or an onscreen one. To adjust the formatting of text, use the Text menu.

InDesign Touch Workspace Text menu

Document Navigation with Touch

Not only can you create and edit objects, you can (and should) navigate through your document using gestures for maximum speed. Pinch and spread your fingers to zoom in and out (keeping an eye on the zoom percentage at the top of the window if you like). Drag two fingers to scroll through the pages of a document.

At the bottom left of the window are buttons you can tap to jump to a specific page, go forward or backward a page at a time, and create or delete pages.

InDesign Touch Workspace page controls


Like just about everything in the Universe, the Touch workspace could be improved. I have a few minor beefs like the fact that you can’t draw a diagonal line. You have to draw a vertical or horizontal line and then rotate it to the angle you want. Also, when you’ve locked an object, there’s no good way to unlock it. You have to go to the context menu on the right side of the screen and choose Unlock All. And I’m still working through my feelings about a right triangle being called a “corner”—somewhere, a geometry teacher weeps. But I’ve yet to encounter anything truly annoying or dysfunctional. I think Adobe got all the key elements right, and I’m sure we’ll see enhancements in the future.

Keep InTouch

Overall, I’ve been amazed at how quickly I’ve gravitated towards using the Touch workspace. I had been a bit skeptical of using a touch interface for production work (not including things where touch has an obvious advantage like drawing/painting, photo retouching, etc). But once I had the basic gestures down, and gained some confidence I smoothly started working a few modifier keys in like Alt-dragging a frame to duplicate it. Or adding Ctrl+Shift when dragging a corner of a frame to scale the content within it. If you know InDesign, your hands already know what to do and the Touch workspace becomes just another tool for getting your work done.

In fact, for me it got to be so natural that when I switched back to my normal workspaces, I started to tap objects expecting to get context menus, and was disappointed when they didn’t pop up. How quickly our minds adapt to cool new things!

Have you used the Touch workspace yet? Or Adobe Comp CC? Let us know what you thought in the comments! We’d love to hear your experience and if you have any cool uses or tips.

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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  • - November 30, -0001
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17 Comments on “Using the InDesign Touch Workspace

  1. What I’m impressed with is that about 90% of what you just wrote up works the same in Adobe Comp CC on my iPad!

    It is a matter of practice. I did a quick comp last night and after having using it a few times before, it came back to me pretty quickly.

    • I just purchased the Surface Pro 4 last week. While I find the touch interface interesting, the SP4 lacks some basic functionality when separate from the keyboard that I haven’t been able to get past. The onscreen keyboard does not have a shift key so how do I select multiple (but not all) objects on a page (especially if they’re overlapping)? Same for proportionally scaling objects in ID and PS.

      I do, however, look forward to trying out this work space further.

      • Hi Jenni-

        That’s a great question and I should’ve addressed it in the article. Unfortunately, to select multiple objects you’ll need to use the Selection tool as usual. On the bright side, there is a multi-object selection mode in the Adobe Comp CC app, so hopefully someday soon that feature will find its way into InDesign.

  2. Alas, since I do books, often complex scientific ones, the existing Microsoft touch UI for layout isn’t of much use to me even if I had the right hardware. And, if it were, as Steve Werner points out, the Comp app on my iPad would serve as effectively. With books, the page layout isn’t that complex. It’s managing hundreds of pages of highly formatted text that matters.

    What I do a lot of is dull, tedious work with text content. Word imports always go badly, so I need to go through hundreds of pages applying paragraph and text styles. ID has a lot of features to make that go better, but it’s still drudgery.

    One key reason it’s so bad are InDesign’s panels, particularly those for styles and indexing. They’re powerful, but with their tiny size and type, they’re a paint to use. The books I work on have many dozens of styles and hundreds of index entries. Scrolling through the in a panel-based UI is a royal pain.

    It’d be great to have an iPad app that was task-oriented rather than multi-purpose like panels. For instance:

    1. To apply paragraph styles, users would activate that mode in the iPad app. It’d select the current paragraph in the ID document. Tapping an icon in the app would select the next paragraph and the next, with the selection being shown inside ID. When all the selecting is done, there’s be one of a touch UI’s marvelous features, that weighted, scrolling list. Users would find and tap the appropriate paragraph style. It’d be applied to all the selected paragraphs.

    2. Indexing would be similar. Users would put the iPad app in indexing mode, click in the text where an index entry is to appear, and then find the appropriate entry in that easily scrolled list rather than a painfully moused through list in a tiny panel. Later, Adobe might want to add another useful feature. Users could select a range of text that covers a specific topic, much like with paragraph styles, and the index entry would reflect that range of text. No messy counting a paragraphs or pages to get the range.

    3. ID’s search and replace is already enormously powerful. But touch screen could also be used to make it even more so. In addition to making the replace or not choice easier with a touch screen than a mouse in a panel, search and replace could offer multiple replace options. One common search and replace deals with whether hyphens become an N-dash or M-dash. Rather than make two searches through hundreds of items, the replacement could be done in one and without the clumsiness of mousing tiny distances.

    In short, adding a tablet screen as a supplemental and enhanced panel interface could continue to do what Adobe has long been doing with ID, which is to reduce much of the tedium of working with long blocks of text. Rather than tiny panels and tedious mousing on them, users would have a large tablet screen and easy selection.


    One suggestion for a future article. As an experiment, I bought some images from Adobe rather than my usual sources. I was surprised to discover that I couldn’t find an easy way place them in an ID document. I ended up closing out all open documents and getting to the one’s I’d purchased through the new ID opening screen. I can’t believe that’s the only way Adobe lets users access them, but try as I might, I couldn’t get to my cloud-based Adobe images from inside an ID document. I ended up managing them just like I do those from other sources, downing the file and putting it in a folder.

    You might want to do an article on image management with InDesign, particularly cloud-based management of Adobe images. I may not be the only one who is confused.

  3. I just downloaded the trial version and it opened to the “Welcome to the InDesign Touch Space”. However, I cannot get out of this page to open up another page.
    What can I do? there’s no phone support on this.

    • Hi Joyce-

      You should be able to tap on the keyboard icon at the upper right of the screen (next to the word “Touch”) to pick another workspace. See the screenshot above (6th image from the top in this blog post).

  4. I don’t want to use the touch screen, and the thing keeps popping up every time I open InDesign. Whatever is supposed to turn it off doesn’t seem to work for me. I have to follow all the way through the “View Gestures,” “Let’s Get Started,” to get to a spot where I can then switch over to traditional InDesign. This is really irritating. I checked out the “Touchscreen” preferences, and all it has is one checkbox for using when keyboard is detached. It seems presumptuous for it to come on all the time, as if this is what EVERYONE would prefer. Is there a way to turn it off and keep it off? Like I said, I tried something I read about (I think it was in the upper right corner), but no go. Not until I go several screens in. Just don’t want it! Make it go away! Thanks for any help.

  5. On my Surface 3 Indesign always activates Touch Mode even I deactivbated it and set the preferences not to activate it when Keyboard is detached. After running Indesign again w/o restarting the PC the touch mode is automatically enabled and Indesign then crashes. My Version is 2015.4 and it is a fresh install on a fresh OS-install. So I want to deactivate the Touch Mode function forever in Indesign. Is there a way?

  6. I know this is an old thread, but I’m interested to know how you other Surface users are using touch to navigate your pages in InDesign when in the full desktop version (which I use 99% of the time). I’ve just gotten the Surface Pro 2017 (i7, 16gb), and I love the speed and think it will be great for InDesign if I can figure out the most efficient methods. I’m coming from Mac with the excellent multi-touch pad, which I used often on its own for zooming, panning and rotating, or in combination with a Wacom tablet. While the Surface has a good touchpad by Windows standards, it’s anemic compared to the Mac (windows constricts it to herky-jerky right angle panning, no pinch-to-zoom, and no 2-finger rotate). So I’m trying a few ways to navigate around my pages as fluidly as on the mac:

    – Pinch and zoom on-screen, and drag with 2 fingers. I usually do this with my left hand so my right one stays in place on the keyboard. Works pretty well and mimics the pinch-zoom of the Mac trackpad, but it requires moving my hand up to the screen a lot. Not that I can’t use the exercise, but still…
    – Keyboard controls to zoom (ctrl-space, ctrl-alt-space), navigate with 2-finger scrolling on trackpad.
    – Wacom + holding down the space bar to get the grabber hand to pan. (I noticed I can’t hold the space bar for grabber hand AND use the trackpad for panning, which is odd, and annoying.)

    On another note, I love the ability to jump between Touch mode and Advanced mode in InDesign. I can see using that when I want to simplify down the interface to focus on simpler stuff (rearranging elements, for example). I also love that with the Surface, you can use touch AND other input devices together– trackpad, pen, surface dial, keyboard, mouse, Wacom. There is a lot of potential power in being able to operate a touch screen device with multiple input devices.

    So how do you touchscreen-enabled-Windows users prefer to work in InDesign? The “regular” way, as though it were a regular desktop computer, or do you use the touch features?

  7. I forgot to mention another way I’ve been experimenting with for navigating: using the Surface Dial to zoom in and out, while using the trackpad for panning. The dial works well for that and is very fluid, but I’m not sure that’s the fastest or most efficient method.

  8. On further research, I realize I’m blaming Windows for what is Adobe’s failure to implement better trackpad gestures in InDesign.

  9. Has anyone programmed the Surface Dial for use with InDesign. The Surface Dial works well on my Desktop computer and I wonder if combining that with the Wacom Intuos 5 tablet (also with programmable keys) could produce a more efficient interface to InDesign?

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