Improve your workflow in Adobe InDesign with these superb time-saving add-ons.
If you started out as a print designer in the 1990s, the chances are you learned your trade in Quark Express. Such was the popularity of the market-leader, nobody gave Adobe any credence when it launched InDesign at the turn of the century. Yet today it’s become the tool of choice in the majority of design studios and publishers, thanks to its user-friendly toolset and advanced layout options, which make it quicker and easier to generate complex layouts than ever before.
That’s not to say, though, that it’s a perfect bit of software. There are many areas where it’s more effort to complete a task than it need be, and although Adobe roll out improvements with increasing frequency on the Creative Cloud, there’s still plenty of room for plugins to fill the gap.
Below we’ve picked out the best plugins that will help save you time on common tasks that become a bit of a chore to do manually. Check out our list, and let us know if we’ve missed any of your favourites in the comments below.
Aquafadas AVE offers to make digital publishing easy
- Price: Free, with paid-for enhancements
Aquafadas AVE lets you create a complete digital publishing suite – from content design to cross-platform distribution and analytics – without needing to write a single line of code. Helping you to make highly customised eBooks and apps, the basic package includes enrichments such as video, sliders, audio, interactive buttons, HTML5 and more. Premium enrichments are also available, allowing you to include things like Sudoku, mazes, quizzes, drawing, puzzles, and more. You can export your documents as apps, ePub documents or web-apps (.swf).
Integrate Microsoft Excel-like tables into InDesign with the Active Tables plugin
- Price: $79
Active Tables brings Microsoft Excel-like tables to InDesign, complete with fomulae calculations, the ability to sort tables and similar spreadsheet-like tasks. The plugin fully integrates with paragraph styles, making it significantly easier to style and format tabular data than with the vanilla InDesign tools.
Calendar Wizard takes the hassle out of calendar creation
- Price: Free
One task many of us dread is creating calendars for your business, for your client or your boss. Calendar Wizard is here to spare you some trouble.
This plugin enables you to create highly customised, flexible calendars, including a large number of options, from holidays to phases of the moon. And the icing on the cake: these calendars are available in more than 20 languages, include paragraph, cell and table styles, so you can easily and quickly customize your work. Oh, and it’s free.
PDF2Id allows you to import a PDF and effectively convert it into an editable INDD file
- Price: $199
For any designer who’s ever picked up a job where the layout already exists, but only in PDF format, this plugin is incredibly useful. It allows you to import a PDF and effectively convert it into an editable INDD file. It does this by interpreting the layout, rather than relying on the PDF structure which can play havoc with the ability to edit.
This is such an effective time-saver, it can often pay for itself with a single job, making it an essential purchase if you’ve ever come across this situation!
If you’re producing a lot of barcodes, this plugin can save you fiddling with an external app
- Price: Free version, €39 for pro version
If you create book covers on a regular basis, you’ll need to generate barcodes. Most of us use an external app, but it’s really convenient when you can produce all you need within InDesign. Indiscript has created a plugin for this purpose, called BookBarCode, enabling you to create a vector bar code from a ISBN number, which is EAN-13 compliant and adjustable to your needs.
Group layers together within InDesign and produce Layer Comps with this cool plugin
- Price: $49
This is actually two plugins bundled together by the same company that produces the Active Tables plugin. In this set you get the ability to group layers together within InDesign, and produce Layer Comps, much as you can inside Photoshop.
The benefit of Layer Comps especially is that you can create multiple versions of a layout inside a single InDesign file, making it easier to trial-run different options with your client, without having to maintain many different documents.
Go from InDesign to iPad in minutes with FutureFolio
- Price: Free (see below)
This InDesign plugin helps you deliver interactive magazines that surprise and delight readers around the world. And best of all, it’s completely free – you only need to pay when you’re ready to ship your app.
Automatically thread all your different text frames on a spread with TextStitch
- Price: Free
This incredibly useful plugin from Rorohiko allows you to automatically thread all your different text frames on a spread, in a logical fashion – left-to-right, top-to-bottom. As well as the stitch function, you can also unstitch, breaking the link between text frames. Note that this plugin requires the APID ToolAssistant plugin from the same site, but doesn’t require you to purchase a license.
- Price: $39.95
MFC is probably the most powerful find/change InDesign plugin out there. It runs multiple queries at the same times, allowing you to clean your InDesign documents without any fuss. A big timesaver for those of us who work on long, text-based InDesign documents and have to clean up lots of typos (including GREP and glyphs) on a regular basis.
- Price: Free
Most of the time, we’ll use Illustrator to create pie charts and other graphics. But when we’re in a rush, it’s handy to be able to produce everything within InDesign.
Claquos 2 (Claquos means Camembert in French slang, FYI) is a big time saver, allowing you to create pie charts directly into InDesign. Though technically still in beta, this plugin is really effective and generates highly customized graphics. The generated pie chart is also handily broken down into different InDesign objects.
Generating perfect grid-based layouts with Grid Calculator Pro
- Price: $299 (purchase) or $9/month subscription
Grid Calculator Pro Edition is a tool for generating grid-based layouts. Rather than having to manually generate the guides required to create a perfect grid for your document, Grid Calculator Pro will do all the painful maths and make the guides for you.
A particularly useful feature is the ability to specify a base leading height for your grid, such as 14pt, then have the plugin adjust it to perfectly match the height of your page to be 100% accurate. It will also calculate column widths, indents, margins and other positioning-based attributes to match. Very handy for designers who frequently find themselves having to set up templates.
This suite of 12 tools is mega-useful
- Price: $99
This is actually a suite of 12 tools, designed by David Blatner ofindesignsecrets.com. The set includes some real gems including Power Styles, which allows you to automatically apply character styles throughout your document, saving a lot of time if you’ve ever been handed a manually set document, a useful Quality Assurance pre-flight system which looks for errors such as empty text frames, duplicate objects, double spaces and orphaned parenthesis.
Other features include automatic formatting of fractions, finer control over text frames, a basic version of the DTP tools History plugin, and several other useful tidbits.
Integrate Google Docs into your InDesign documents with DocsFlow
- Price: $200
DocsFlow allows you to integrate the collaborative-friendly Google Docs format into your InDesign documents. Once installed you can place spreadsheets and word processing documents into InDesign, just like any other document.
Once placed, however, the plugin keeps track of changes to the online version, and merges changes into the InDesign document, rather than simply replacing the story. This means you can format text and produce your layout while story editors continue to make changes to the copy, without the risk of losing any work.
Connect to a datasource and generate a catalogue with EasyCatalog Lite
- Price: $299
EasyCatalog Lite, which is also available in a more fully-featured version, offers the ability to connect to a datasource, and generate a catalogue from this. Ideal for the production of price lists, brochures and catalogues alike, the repetitive aspects of producing collateral like this are effectively removed, saving a lot of time and effort.
Images and text can be generated as live links to the source data, allowing for last minute copy and photo changes without any of the usual headaches! Be careful to ensure you download the right release for your version of InDesign.
Design and generate patterns to fill frames using PatternMaker
- Price: Free
This handy free plugin makes for a powerful design tool, allowing you to design and generate patterns to fill frames within your InDesign documents. Patterns are native to InDesign, so standard effects can be applied including drop shadows, feathering, shear and skew. Each pattern can be adjusted with a set of simple controls, making it both quick and easy to generate unique fills for your document.