If I need to make more than a hundred documents, with the same layout but different content, it seems to make sense for me to use a master page and do them in the same InDesign file (exporting them to individual pdf pages at the end) so I can tweak the layout later.

If every document needs to have a different colour that represents the product on it... I need to make a new swatch for every page and I need to manually select every coloured object and change it to the new colour. Is there a more efficient way to do that while still retaining the ability to edit the layout across all of them later?

[edit: I've convinced people to have a different colour for each product range, rather than for every single product, so I'll only have a max of 12-14 different colours.]

Or do I have this all wrong? Should I be using the book functionality instead (which seems a bit clunky so far)?

Here is an example that uses master pages in the way that I have found works, previously:

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  • A-Master is based on [None].
  • B, C and D-Master are all based on A-Master.
  • B, C and D-Master are applied to pages where text boxes can be edited.

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Should the layout need to be changed then this is possible by editing A-Master.

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And every single page in the document follows suit.

In reality, there could be tens, or hundreds of items on a page so editing every page manually is not ideal. I've used this for creating ranges of product labels before, so I can do late tweaks to layout easily. InDesign is good at handling multi-page documents and I've never run into performance issues before (I'm pretty sure it can handle complex documents with hundreds of pages).

There are downsides to this approach however... You need to be more careful with your backups in case the one file gets corrupted. Only one person can work on any of the documents at once too. You also can't have more than 27 spot colours per document (you can have more process colours than that) so if these were a whole, huge set of litho printed product labels, each with a different colour, then you'd be stuffed. There's probably other reasons too but I can't think of any at the moment.

If I do this as a book instead:

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I can make a set of documents using the same master page still...

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And I should be able to synchronise these documents. I know this works well with paragraph and character styles.

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But any master page local overrides break. In this case, the overridden sections end up doubling up.

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If I move away the local overrides, you can see the synced master page items underneath, and you can see that the size/shape of the local overrides haven't been synced at all.

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To summarise:

  • 150+ single page sheets.
  • One product per sheet.
  • Every sheet has the same layout.
  • Several ranges of products; each range has a colour that represents it that features in headers, footers, some text boxes and outlines.
  • Local overrides for text, product images and colour.

What is the best way to set up master pages/documents so the layout can be adjusted on a master page later?

  • 1
    I've just realised that there is a maximum of 27 spot colours within an InDesign document (why?). Nov 18, 2015 at 16:34
  • 1
    @marcusdoesstuff Perhaps because there are no printers in existence that have more than 27 distinct ink heads simultaneously, making more than 27 spot colours a physical impossibility in printing (I’m guessing—I have no idea what super-machines are out there)? Why are you defining all your many swatches as spot colours instead of process colours to begin with? Nov 18, 2015 at 16:43
  • 1
    THAT's why you would you use the "book" feature to break things up. The pantone book is an extreme use of spot colors, not the norm for most people.
    – ErickP
    Nov 18, 2015 at 17:05
  • 2
    I've convinced people to not do a separate colour for every sheet now, and instead use a colour per range. This still leaves 12 or so ranges, each with it's own colour (which will be process colours by the way). I'll add screenshots in the question in a moment. Nov 19, 2015 at 10:05
  • 1
    My bad. InDesign does have a limit of 27 spot colours... But it doesn't seem to have the same limit for process swatches, which is what's important here. Still a bit odd to have a limit there, as you might want to run off colour book colours and convert to process in the ink manager. Nov 19, 2015 at 11:08

2 Answers 2


Off the top of my head, if each layout consist of multiple pages (even just two) then it would be in your best interest to create a Master page for each layout. And only for the reason of each layout needing it's own color theme. Now if each layout is only 1 page, the it doesn't really help the workflow to have individual Master pages. In this case, I would just have one Master page and then go and over-ride the colors for each layout.

The "Book" feature can be powerful if you can justify grouping layouts into sections. This way you can separate out layouts into individual files so you don't have all your eggs in one basket in the event a file somehow gets corrupted. It's also a great way to organize/manage a large project under one umbrella. The usual example is a Book with chapters. Each chapter would be its own file falling under the Book umbrella. But you can take that concept and apply it to various workflows. I hope this helps.

  • Every info sheet will only be one page and with very little layout changes (that will be overriding the master). I think I will learn my way around the book functionality more though. I've probably just not used it enough. Nov 18, 2015 at 16:42
  • At the end of the day, the "book" feature in ID is like an internal file management system. The "book" file is a container for separate files you add to it. Of course that's a simplistic view and there's more to it but in essences that's what it is.
    – ErickP
    Nov 18, 2015 at 18:15
  • Essentially, what you're saying in your answer is the same as what I'm doing already. See the updated question. There are limitations of having everything in one file, of course. You make a good point about corruption. The book feature of InDesign seems to break when I use local overrides, however. Nov 19, 2015 at 11:19
  • How is the "book" feature breaking when you use local overrides? Each file is still somewhat independent, unless you are using style guides and assigning one of those files within the book as the master, which would override the styles all throughout. I could be missing something, that's why I'm asking.
    – ErickP
    Nov 20, 2015 at 15:31
  • I added a demonstration of how it breaks, to the question, the other day. I can get colours to sync but master page layout works strangely. If I want to move anything (layout wise) on the master page on the document I'm syncing from, it ends up doubling up on every asset. One for the newly synced object and one for the old overridden object, rather than just moving the overridden object (eg. a text box with text added or a rectangle overridden with a colour). Nov 23, 2015 at 9:18

That's a personal preference: I'd do 1 indesign for each file and simply delete/replace the swatches by the new ones; when you delete one it asks you to replace it with a new one.

This way you'd only have the swatches you need in your document and not 300; it's less risky for mistakes and less confusing.

All the styles and graphics (shapes at least) will be updated automatically too and you won't need to manually update each line of text, styles or shapes. The new color will replace the previous one and use the same opacity and presets.

Why I also don't recommend everything in the same document is for performance. It will be faster to simply update the swatches but also to browse your file. And you won't have a nervous breakdown if one file ever get corrupted!

That's the trick I use when I have that kind of task, maybe there's a better workflow using some Indesign gadgets but that seems like a pretty fast way to work with that kind of project.

You might need to make some tests first with one layout and see how you'll replace your colors. You'll need some kind of logic for the choice of colors for your styles if you don't want to end up tweaking stuff manually (eg. titles might need to use always the darkest color, and your opacity for the text-on-shape will need to be adjusted to fit any kind of color, etc.)

  • “1 indesign for each file”? Nov 18, 2015 at 16:40
  • @JanusBahsJacquet 1x Indesign file for each different layout
    – go-junta
    Nov 18, 2015 at 16:41
  • @go-meek The layout won't change. Only the content and colour. I've added more to the question now. Nov 19, 2015 at 11:16
  • @marcusdoesstuff Thanks! That's how I understood it too and I'd still do it with the method above but it doesn't mean there's no better options though ;) (Seeing your screenshots, it could be in the same file though, it doesn't seem too "heavy" and complex layout)
    – go-junta
    Nov 19, 2015 at 11:57
  • @go-meek That was just an example. My actual design is a bit more complicated but not too much. :) I just don't understand why local overrides break on a book but not on a document. I'm not sure if I'm just doing it wrong or not. Nov 19, 2015 at 12:21

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