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I work at an engineering/research firm (as engineer/researcher), and I make a lot of figures for reports and presentations. My usual workflow uses Illustrator and InDesign (and matlab): I make graphs in matlab, export them to illustrator where I will add labels and/or diagrams where needed, and then place the linked .ai file into the InDesign document. I have no formal training in graphics design or any of the tools I use, so all I know is what I have learned over the last few years after switching to them from MS Office and latex.

However, I often find myself unsure what I should do in InDesign and what I should do in Illustrator. I might have some graph or image, and I want to add text labels to various parts of the graph. I find it easier to do this all in Illustrator, but then after adding it into Indesign I find that the graph doesn't quite fit that way because the labels make it too bulky. Then I have to go back to Illustrator, move around the labels, guestimate where it will fit better, and then update the Indesign links. This then repeats until I am done.

Because of this, it can sometimes be tempting to just make the labels in InDesign instead, but then it can get harder to keep track of changes later (I might update the graph because some data changes or we decide we need to add something else), and then I am stuck with the fact that now my Indesign labels need to be redone.

In other words, Is there some way for me to make parts of an Illustrator image editable in Indesign? Or is there some better general workflow to deal with this?

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It really all comes down to the actual artwork.

There are times where I add labels within Illustrator to artwork. And there are just as many times when adding labels in InDesign is actually more efficient due to changes/placement.

It really all comes down to what works best for you for a particular project. There's no "right" or "wrong" way with this as long as output is correct.

If labels are easily created in InDesign and circumvent the need to constantly alter and guess with the AI artwork, then add labels in InDesign. You can always group the labels with the AI art in InDesign so it's still seen as one object within InDesign. Note that even grouped, if the linked AI file changes, ID will still update that portion of any group. But labels may be easier to edit. You can double-click groups in InDesign to edit individual objects within the group.

While you can certainly copy/paste from AI to ID and retain vectors. I tend to avoid that method because I'd rather retain figures as separate linked files in case of later changes. But that's merely my preference. There's no technical reason copying and pasting vector art between the two applications is a problem. That is unless the artwork is rather intricate and detailed. InDesign may, at times, have issues with overly complex vector pasting.

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The workflow you do is the right one, the only problem I see is that you must be very careful when placing the graphic in InDesign and adjust it to don't affect the text size. By just fitting the AI graphic in InDesign can provoque all the images with different text sizes.

There are some tricks you can use:

  • For simple vector diagrams or graphs, instead of label them in Illustrator, just copy the vector image and paste it in InDesign. With this you keep the vector quality, you can always modify the place of each element, color, etc. and use the same InDesign text styles for all different labels.
  • If copying/pasting is not possible, you can make a temporary PDF from the InDesign page layout, place it in the Illustrator file as a template layer and make the graphics and labels. Then just hide the template layer, save it and update the link in InDesign. I use to do this for covers when I need to put InDesign elements but the background is an AI illustration to adjust it according the layout.
  • I thought the right way to do things was to place the illustrator file into indesign because this way I keep the link, and thus when I change the file in illustrator, I get the updated file in indesign too? – Joren Vaes Jun 20 at 10:52
  • That's right, my answer is an alternative, if you copy/paste in InDesign you can forget about the Illustrator file and linking images forever and work directly in your layout page (only simple graphics). The second option is just a workaround to fit the AI illustration into the InDesign layout, but keeping the Illustrator file linked. – Danielillo Jun 20 at 10:56

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