InDesign #101 – A beginners Guide to Killer Grids

Grid systems play a fundamental role in graphic design.

Whether you’re designing for print or the web, using grids will give you a solid foundation to work from.

Grid systems can be very complex and creating your own can involve a lot of fiddling and a few sums, to keep this guide simple I’ll show you how to setup a simple but versatile grid for an A4 document.

For more information and other grid templates I’d recommend checking out The Grid System a great resource for all things grid. If you fancy a little further reading you can’t go wrong with reading the Grid Systems in Graphic Design book by Josef Muller-Brockmann.

Let’s get started…

Step 1: Setup a new document, whatever size you will be working too, we’ll use A4 for this example. Don’t forget your bleed!

Step 2: It’s always best to setup your grid for the entire document, select both of the page icons for A-Master on the pages tab. Remember you can setup multiple grids by using multiple master pages.

Step 3: Adjust the margins and columns (Layout > Margins and Columns). I generally find a number of columns that is divisible by 3 works well, but use whatever will best suit your design. adjust your margins from the default, I like thin inner and outer margins and telling above and below, but it varies per project.

Step 4: Now it’s time to add the baseline, but first you need to see it. Hit ‘View > Show Guides and Grids > Show Baseline Grid’ to reveal the default baseline.

Step 5: Edit the baseline through ‘InDesign > Preferences > Grids’, your baseline height will depend on your main body of text. There are a lot of possibilities, but as a rule of thumb I tend to use 9 or 10 point size text for the body which sits well on a 12 point baseline. I also tend to set the baseline to within the margins and to start right at the top.

Step 6: Hit ok, unless you’ve been super lucky you’ll probably have an unsightly gap between the baseline and the bottom margin – let’s close this up.

Step 7: Go back into the ‘Margins and Columns’ options, tweak the top or bottom baseline by a few .points of a mm and get the lines in sync.

Step 8: So you have margins, columns and a baseline all sitting together nicely, but why leave it at that? Let’s add some horizontal rows to build up the modular grid system.

Step 9: Select ‘Layout > Create Guides’, this will give you a few options for adding rows and columns. As we’ve already added our columns you can ignore that section and just stick with the rows. Set the gutter to your baseline height (you may be organised and have all your measurements set to the same unit, or you may be like me and enjoy a little chaos, in which case a handy tip is to enter 12pt and watch indesign convert it to mm – 4.233mm in case you wondered!)

Keep the columns within your margins and increase the number of rows until you have a grid system you’re happy with, making sure the rows line up smoothly with your baseline (this is why you set the gutters to the same height as the baseline, there is method to this madness).

Step 10: Hit ok and you should have a great little modular system that will provide a balanced grid system to design on.

Step 11: This is just the starting point for you to experiment with. For most projects I would start working out a typographic hierarchy, often beginning with some of the larger heading styles. Remember to make sure your paragraph styles are set to ‘All Lines’ on the baseline.

Why not check out my previous blog post Typography #101 – 5 Simple Steps for Better Communication for some extra tips on this.

Step 12: As you add sub-headings and body text using the grid and baselines you should see a natural hierarchy develop. Columns of type will sit on the same baseline

I’ve uploaded my template for you to experiment with, click the link above to give it a download and experiment with some grid based design.


  1. If you send me a business email using Comic Sans I cannot take you seriously.

  2. jon

    Great tutorial and thanks for providing the template.

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