Speed Tips for Working with Graphics and Adobe InDesign

Digital Workflow

When working in InDesign, knowing a few shortcuts and keeping track of which tool you’re using will help you work faster and easier. The fastest way to place an image in an InDesign page is to use the keyboard shortcut Command-D (PC: Control-D) to activate the Place command. What happens next depends upon what’s currently selected on your page, which tool is active, and what you do with the Loaded Graphics icon that appears—so it pays to have a plan. Let’s assume the simplest case: Nothing is selected on your InDesign document.

Click to place
Once you activate the Place command, a small Loaded Graphics icon appears. If you simply click on the page with this Loaded Graphics icon, your graphic will be placed at 100% size, and where you initially clicked will be established as the upper-left corner of the image. This may be okay if the dimensions of your image aren’t too large, but may be a rude awakening if you’re placing a 24×26″ digital camera image whose output dimensions you’ve not yet resized in Photoshop. This often leads to frustration and time wasted resizing the images. And depending upon which tool you have selected, this circumstance may lead to even further frustration (more on tools below).

Click-and-drag to place
Often, a better approach is to click-and-drag to create a graphics frame at approximately the size that you want and then use some keyboard shortcuts and your selection tools to quickly control your final image size and placement. Here’s a typical effective sequence:

After pressing Command-D (PC: Control-D) and selecting your image in the Place dialog, click-and-drag to create a graphics frame. A portion of the image you’re placing will appear inside of that graphics frame. Here’s where the keyboard shortcuts come in handy. With your graphic object selected, activate your Selection tool (V). Now, select Object>Fitting to view the Fitting choices. You’ll see five Fitting options with a series of somewhat confusing keyboard shortcuts. Focus on and learn two of these: Command-Option-Shift-E (PC: Control-Alt-Shift-E) to Fit Content Proportionally (without distortion) in the current window, and Command-Option-C (PC: Control-Alt-C) to Fit Frame to Content.

These keyboard shortcuts can be performed in rapid succession. See how fast you can do them. If you use two hands to apply your keyboard shortcuts (right hand on the control keys and left for the alpha keys, E and C) you can perform both of these in less than one second (fit the image proportionally within the frame and then resize the frame around the image). Try it!

Now, with the Selection tool still active, press Command-Shift (PC: Control-Shift) and then click-and-drag one of the corners of your image to proportionally resize both the graphics frame and its image contents to whatever dimension you desire.

Then, with the Selection tool still active and without any keys pressed, simply click anywhere in the middle of your image and drag it to where you want it placed. Practice this sequence until it’s second nature.

Replacing images

Sometimes when you place images, weird things happen, such as your image being placed at 100% inside your text frame—how the heck did that happen anyway? The key to avoiding confusion when placing a graphic in InDesign is to always keep track of two things: (1) What tool is currently selected, and (2) what frame is currently selected. Then you want to pay attention to a very important checkbox in the Place dialog that’s easy to miss. Let’s start with a selected graphics frame whose contents you want to replace.

In this case, you’ll want to start with your Direct Selection tool (A), which will allow you to work with the contents of the graphics frame unlike the Selection tool (V), which works more directly with the frame itself. Click on the graphic you’d like to replace.

Press Command-D (PC: Control-D) to activate the Place command. Now here’s the easy-to-miss checkbox! In the Place dialog that appears, look in the lower-left corner and check the Replace Selected Item checkbox. This will direct InDesign to replace the graphic in the graphics frame you selected above. Click Open. Your replacement image will be placed at 100%.

Click on the graphics frame again with the Direct Selection tool to select it, use the keyboard shortcut sequence Command-Option-Shift-E (PC: Control-Alt-Shift-E) to Fit Content (the image) Proportionally in the graphics frame. This is one shortcut you’ll use a lot.

Now, with the Direct Selection tool still active, press either Command-Option-> (PC: Control-Alt->) to enlarge or Command-Option-< (PC: Control-Alt-<) to reduce the dimensions of your image. You’ll notice that the content is resized and not the frame. The Frame remains in place, as it should. Remember, your goal is only to replace the image.


At any point you can click-and-drag the image to reposition it inside the graphics frame. The keys here are: (1) staying in the Direct Selection tool the entire time, and (2) knowing a couple of important keyboard shortcuts. Practice this sequence until it becomes second nature. You’ll use it frequently!

This is a great sequence to use when you want to quickly duplicate a current image and frame and replace it with another graphic image (use V to activate the Selection tool and then Option-drag [PC: Alt-drag] to duplicate and move the initial graphics frame).