How to Use InDesign: Liquid Layouts for Ad Resizes

Animated slideshow of web banners made in InDesign's Liquid Layouts.
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Print ads and web ads both have one thing in common: the same ad appears as many sizes. Fortunately, as of Adobe Creative Suite 6, designers can use InDesign Liquid Layouts to automate much of these small adjustments so designers can quickly create ads in multiple sizes at once. Learn how to use InDesign Liquid Layouts to automate several alignment, scaling, and positioning edits to make web ad resizes easier.

Web ad banners will always in width and height, in anything from small increments—like 200×200 to 200×230 pixels—to large increments, like 200×200 to 728×90 pixels. Generally, content stays the same. However the different aspect ratios and/or orientations might require re-centering and/or scaling up or down content, or keeping content a specific distance from an edge no matter the change in size.

Nevertheless, these small edits to update a collection of ads across various sizes can quickly become tedious. Learn how to use InDesign liquid layouts to work faster.

What Is Liquid Layout?

“Liquid Layout” refers to a page with several versions of itself that adapt to a variety of page sizes. They have two main components:

  1. Page Rules
    A user-defined action telling InDesign when and how to scale, orient, or fix content on a page
  2. Alternate Layouts
    A new page which recreates an old page in a new size according to the Liquid Layout page rules

The Adobe support page for InDesign CS6 and InDesign CC discusses Liquid Layouts in more depth.

Illustration of a variety of web banner ad sizes compared to each other with the text, "Liquid Layouts can automatically scale, orient, and position the same content in a variety of page sizes."
Screenshot. Several web banners made using Alternate Layouts from InDesign Liquid Layout tool.

Comparing Alternate Layouts Created with Liquid Layout versus Other Methods

Multiple methods can create multiple versions of a document (or print or web ad). Yet the best methods allow the designer to perform a task once and only once with minimal manual editing. Liquid Layouts might offer the best way to automate redundant tasks while staying close to the designer’s vision.

  1. Create a new document for each size and/or version
    This method requires redundant labor. Graphics, text, and styles must be recreated in each version. Additionally, edits made to one document fail to reflect in the other versions, further requiring manual updates to each file. Lastly, the project itself is splits between multiple files on a directory or server, making it difficult to find, maintain, and update.
  2. Create new pages for each size and/or version within the same document
    This method at least contains the project to a single document for easier location and maintenance but fails to resolve redundant labor. The new Page tool (as of InDesign CS5) allows a designer to keep multiple page sizes within a single document. Nonetheless, although the designer may have to recreate styles, the designer must still duplicate graphics, text, and edits to change sizes or update the project.
  3. Create Alternate Layouts for each size and/or version within the same document
    This method both contains the project to a single document and resolves redundant labor with the assistance of automation. Alternate Layouts is an InDesign tool that automatically places graphics and text from an original page into a new page of a different size. It also synchronizes the text frames so that editing one applies the edits to all of them at once, automatically. Further, for even greater control of how Alternate Layouts places graphics and texts, designers can add new page rules in Liquid Layouts. Consequently, dictating how graphics scale, orient, and re-center in an Alternate Layout minimizes manual editing as much as possible. Nonetheless, a designer’s touch is still necessary to perfect the new layout. Yet, the Alternate Layouts method demands much less of the designer than the previous two methods.

Comparing Liquid Layout to Layout Adjustment

Layout Adjustment” is an older InDesign tool that provides some of the capabilities as Liquid Layout but fails to offer as much customization. It would also seem that Adobe is phasing out this feature in favor of its newer feature, Liquid Layouts. In the meantime, access Layout Adjustment two ways:

  • Menu bar > Window > Interactive > Liquid Layout > hamburger icon > Layout Adjustment
  • Layout > Margins and Columns

What the Liquid Layout Rules Are & How to Use Them

Controlled by Master [Default]

All the rules of the Master page template apply to the pages, including “rules” such as page size, margins, and columns. Each individual page has “Liquid Page Rule” sets to “Off,” because the master controls all page rules by default. Further by default, the Master page itself also sets the “Liquid Page Rule” to “Off,” unless the designer has specified otherwise. The Control bar for the Page tool (Shift + P) displays menu options for liquid layouts and liquid page rules to allow designers to specify how the Master page should react.

Scale

InDesign groups the content on each page and resizes it altogether at the same rate. This can be problematic when layouts are sized smaller if the text resizes to a point value too small to read.

Re-center

InDesign groups the content on each page and re-aligns the group to the new page’s horizontal and vertical center. This rule is most evident when scaling up a page size.

Preserve Existing

This option allows the designer’s manual overrides in Liquid Page Rules to persist in newly created Alternate Layouts, whereas selecting another rule applies that rule indiscriminately as though from a blank slate.

However, after applying any of the liquid page rules, text size may be reverted. To reset text to its original size before the liquid page rule, select the text frame then click the menu (hamburger icon) in the Control bar and choose “Redefine Scaling as 100%.”

Guide-based

Content frames intersected by a liquid guide resize either in width or height as the page resizes.

Liquid content is selected by whatever content intersects a horizontal or vertical liquid guide. As the page resizes, content frames resize in either width, if intersected by a vertical guide, or height, if intersected by a horizontal guide. Resize content frames in both directions at once by intersecting them with both a horizontal and a vertical liquid guide. Liquid guides don’t require exact positioning over the content. Centering a liquid guide or just nicking a content frame with the liquid guide produce the same effect.

The ruler automatically creates liquid guides when the Page tool (Shift + P) is active and the Liquid Page Rule is “Guide-based.” Distinguish liquid guides from regular ruler guides by their dashed line versus the standard solid line of regular ruler guides.

The content itself doesn’t scale by default, however. An image resized with guide-based liquid page rules may expose paper on two sides. Turn on auto-fit to allow images to scale with the resized content frames by selecting the image and checking “Auto-fit”:

  • Control bar (under the alignment options) or
  • Liquid Layout panel or
  • Frame Fitting Options by right-clicking the image > Fitting. To choose how the image auto-fits within its frame, select a resize option from the fitting menu here.

Object-based

User-specified object constraints determine how liquid content resizes and re-positions. When a page has object-based liquid page rules, the designer specifies the behavior of each object by first selecting it then applying “constraints” from within the Liquid Layouts panel.

Constraints allow the content to scale in width and/or height (“resize”) as well as to maintain the same distance from the edges of the page (“pin”) as the page size changes.

Set resize constraints by simply checking the Height or Width box(es).

Select pin constraints by either checking the Top, Left, Bottom, or Right box(es) or by selecting the content frame and click-dragging a yellow handle to an edge of the page. The length of the yellow pin determines the distance the liquid rule will hold constant even as the page resizes. Double-clicking a pin head releases the pin to allow the designer to reset the pin.

However content cannot “pin” to each other. Instead content must pin in relation to the edges of the page. To help maintain the distance between objects on a page, consider checking the resize Height and/or Width constraints to scale the content larger or smaller based on the page’s new size. Conversely, to stop an object from resizing in height or width, click the yellow lock on the image’s vertical or horizontal axis. Otherwise, a yellow squiggly line in an axis indicates the image will resize.

Tips for Using Liquid Layouts

  • Check the “Link Stories” option in the Create Alternate Layout panel to create linked text frames. Now a change to one cues an exclamation mark warning next to all the text frames shown in the Links panel. From there, simply click the warning to update all the text frame links.
  • To reset text to its original size before the liquid page rule, select the text frame then click the menu (hamburger icon) in the Control bar and choose “Redefine Scaling as 100%.”
  • Enable an image’s Auto-Fit and set resizing to “Fill Frame Proportionally” for the most conventional result by selecting the image [V], right-clicking it > Fitting > Frame Fitting Options.)
  • Test and preview Liquid Layout page rules by selecting the Page tool (Shift + P), then click and drag the page handles to resize. Watch content move (or not) then release the handle for the page to reset to its original size. (Hold the Alt or Opt key while resizing the page with the Page tool to permanently set the new size where you release the handles.)

InDesign Liquid Layout Tutorial: How to Use Liquid Layouts to Create the Same Web Ad in Multiple Sizes

Like the premise of this post, Liquid Layouts are handy when working to recreate the same content in new and different sizes. Print ads and web banner ads often require this. This tutorial explains how to set Liquid Layout page rules and generate alternative layouts for a bird watching event web banner ad, pictured below.

The Starting Web Ad, 320×250px:

Example web banner ad for a Bird Watch event at Murrells Inlet.

Step 1: Create the original document.

Open InDesign, create a New Document for the Web, and set the dimensions to 320 pixels wide × 250 pixels tall. Lay out a similar “original” web ad. My components consist of:

  • The page itself covered with a solid blue rectangle shape
  • A linked vector illustration of clouds
  • A linked Photoshop document of an isolated Great Egret in a tree
  • A solid yellow rectangle shape for a call-out box
  • A text frame for the body
  • A text frame with border for a call-to-action “button”
Illustration of the graphic and text objects used to build a web ad in InDesign.

I created the two text frames using two different techniques:

  • An independent text frame grouped with a separate background shape
  • A stand-alone text frame with modified text frame options

First, I made a yellow-colored rectangle then created a separate text frame, which I positioned on top of the yellow rectangle. I entered some sample text, “Bird Watch at Murrells Inlet, 9.30.18.”

I also wanted to add a button using the second technique, a text frame with modified Text Frame Options (right-click > Text Frame Options… or Ctrl + B). This time, I created a text frame and modified the text frame itself to center align a call to action phrase, “Learn More,” both horizontally and vertically with same extra inset margins and a white border around the text frame.

Group (Ctrl + G) together the text frames and call-out box to keep all this together as the content frame resizes and repositions with the changing page sizes

Additionally, I re-arranged the photo object to bring it to front to allow a peak of the foliage from the bird photo to overlap the call-out for more depth. From now on, I’ll periodically Lock this object (Ctrl + 2) when I need to edit other objects on the page.

You can choose to move the web ad content to a Master page or not; that’s optional based on your work preferences.

The assembled web ad looks like this:

Screenshot of the original web ad in InDesign that will create the future alternate liquid layouts.

Step 2: Note any ad resizes.

This page of the document is 320×250 pixels, but I’ll need several other web banner ad sizes based on this page. Common web graphic sizes include:

  • 160×300
  • 200×200
  • 200×230
  • 300×230
  • 300×250
  • 320×250 [Current]
  • 400×250
  • 480×60
  • 600×300
  • 728×90
  • 970×250

Some of these have very different aspect ratios! (Highlighted in bold text.) Yet, I’ll need the same original content to span across these sizes. To do so, I’ll set up Liquid Layout page rules in InDesign.

Step 3: Choose your Liquid Layout rules.

Open Liquid Layout page rules. Go to the Menu bar > Layout > Liquid Layout.

Screenshot. Open the Liquid Layout panel by selecting it from the Layers menu in the Menu bar.

By default, InDesign sets the page rule “Controlled by Master.” Change the default setting to “Object-Based” to set custom rules for each object. Keep the Liquid Layout panel open, make the Page tool active, and begin by selecting an object.

Screenshot. Select "Object-based" for the Liquid Page Rule of the web ad page.

First, I selected the bird photo first, which is on top and spans the whole page. Change the Liquid Layout Page Rule from the default “Off” setting to “Object-Based.” New options appear.

Then I checked the “Auto-fit,” “Height,” and “Width” constraints.

Next I also chose “Fill Frame Proportionally” for the image’s auto-fit option, (selecting the image [V] >  right-clicking it > Fitting > Frame Fitting Options).

Finally, I locked this photo (Ctrl + 2) so I could edit objects behind it.

Screenshot. Object-based Liquid Page Rules for the Great Egret photo include "Auto-fit," "Height," and "Width," plus the Frame Fitting Options sits the image to "Fill Frame Proportionally."

Similarly, the sky background object group receives liquid page rules like the bird photo: “Auto-fit,” “Height,” and “Width” constraints.

Screenshot. Object-based Liquid Page Rules for the blue sky background include "Auto-fit," "Height," and "Width."

Afterward, I turned to the call-out group. Like the images, I also assigned similar constraints for “Auto-fit,” “Height,” and “Width” but this time, I added pinning as well. I pinned the call-out to “Bottom” and “Right”. Since the call-out position is good and InDesign sets the bottom to the edge by default, I simply added some distance between the right side and the page edge. Dragging the yellow handles tweaks these distances.

Screenshot. Object-based Liquid Page Rules for the call-out group include "Auto-fit," "Height," "Width," "Bottom," and "Right."

Finally, the ad is ready to make Alternate Layouts. Select the page itself and not the Master page. Go to the Menu bar > Layout > Create Alternate Layout. Enter some new dimensions.

Screenshot. Selecting "Create Alternate Layout" from the Layout menu in InDesign's Menu bar.
Screenshot. Setting new page dimensions in the "Create Alternate Layout" panel.

The new ad is nearly ready to go! Just human touches needed now.

Final Liquid Layout Web Ad Banner as Ad Resizes

Here is the result of Liquid Layout, without any manual modification from me:

Screenshot. InDesign's Liquid Layout generates a new page size with Alternative Layouts.

Substantial changes in height or width may require additional tweaking from the designer, but the automated Liquid Layout performs most of the changes needed.

One Last Reminder for Object-Based Liquid Layouts:

A reminder when using Object-Based liquid page rules: the text frame itself resizes but not the text within. I manually increased the font size later after the rest of the content was in place.

Applying the Scale liquid page rule, which applies evenly to the whole layout, does increase/decrease the font size in proportion to the new page sizing, but the other objects have much less control.

Whether one rule is better than another depends on your particular layout.