Anchored Frames Productivity Shortcut

InDesign’s anchored frames feature is a life-saver for certain types of publishing jobs. If you’re in a situation where you’re creating the same type of anchored frame over and over again, then here’s a tip that might help your work go much faster and save a lot of production time.

This tip is about creating a very useful keyboard shortcut that will enable you to insert a styled anchored frame automatically without having to go through multiple manual steps over and over again.

In this example, I’m laying out a book that contains a marginal outline that’s supposed to serve as an aid to the reader. The marginal outline needs to track with the text, so that as the text is reflowed, the marginal outline frames adjust accordingly. This is exactly what InDesign’s anchored frames are designed to do for you.

Here’s a sample spread:

You can see that in a book that contains a lot of pages (in this case it was just under 400) there can be hundreds or even thousands of these marginal frames that need to be created and managed along with the flow of the body copy.

If I can streamline the process of creating, positioning and styling the text frames for my marginal outline, it would be a very, very good thing. Here’s what I did:

  • I created the first anchored marginal note frame from scratch manually. I did all the positioning, defined the paragraph style for the text, etc., and got the frame and placeholder text content looking exactly the way I wanted.
  • I created an object style for the anchored frame that included the anchored frame settings, and the paragraph style settings (just for good measure).
  • I then opened the InDesign Secrets/DTP Tools Keyboard Shortcuts palette. (Now, you don’t have to have this free plug-in to manage your keyboard shortcuts, but you’d be barking mad not to use it if searching for, editing and managing keyboard shortcuts is something you do, if even only occasionally. Put another way, if you care enough about your productivity to edit your keyboard shortcuts, then you’re missing out if you don’t get this free plug-in.)
  • In the shortcuts palette, enter the string "insert anchor", and you’ll see that the plug-in has filtered out all but two of InDesign’s available commands:

What I did was add a shortcut for the Text and Tables: Insert Anchored Object command. This will enable me to use a keyboard shortcut to insert a fully formatted anchored object. I used cntrl+option+i for the shortcut on my Mac, but you can assign whatever you want.

The next thing I do is set the defaults for inserting a new anchored frame. To do this you need to go to Object > Anchored Object > Insert (Defaults)… (if you don’t see this command in the menu, it means you’ve got either an object or text selected, or an insertion point in some text; to escape your selection or insertion point, use cmd/cntrl + shift + A)

Set the object style for your anchored object in the dialog box. This, in turn, will set the rest of the options for the default anchored object for you.

Note that because I’ve chosen the Relative to Spine option, the anchored object will be inserted in the correct position whether I’m on a left or right-hand page.

Now I’m ready to begin constructing my anchored frames in my layout. I click an insertion point in the text in the line to which the frame needs to be anchored, and then use my keyboard shortcut to create the styled anchored object.

I’m now ready to drop the text into the frame. In this case the text for the marginal outline is provided for me, so I place that text out on my pasteboard, do a select all and apply the appropriate paragraph style. Then I open that text in the Story Editor, and tile my windows vertically. When i do that I’ll see my Story Editor and document windows side by side like this:

Then what I do is drag and drop the marginal outline text into each new anchored frame as I go. I finish each marginal frame by using cmd/ctrl + option + C to fit the marginal frame to the text inside, because that’s good document hygeine.

Using the combination of anchored frames, a keyboard shortcut to create the anchored frames, the Story Editor, and the drag and drop text feature, this job will progress with maximum speed. Anchored frames will enable me to make edits to the body text and have the marginal text frames automatically adjust they’re layout positions, and the shortcut, Story Editor, and drag and drop will make the actual construction fly.

5 Responses to Anchored Frames Productivity Shortcut

  1. Anne-Marie says:

    Wow, I LOVE this tip! Especially the combination of all the automation features you described.

    I had no idea that the anchored object fly-out menus show “Defaults” like that if nothing is selected. Fascinating! And very helpful. Adobe should add that to all the commands to which you can set document or application defaults.

    Thanks, Tim … this is one of the most useful ID tips I’ve read in long time!

  2. Klaus Nordby says:

    Thanks, Tim, this is great advice on a great ID feature!

  3. Eugene Tyson says:

    That is a fantastic tip. Well done sir. I have one question though. I see there that you change the “Insert (Defaults)”. Would this effect the style of the anchored object if opened on another computer? You know the way that if you change your Basic Paragraph Style to your own, but open it on another computer and InDesign will use that Basic Paragraph Style.

    [TC: The default object style setting will travel with the document. It’s a document level setting and it should be there when you open the file on another machine.]

  4. kostia says:

    Can you link anchored text boxes? Because you could theoretically make every paragraph set to ‘start in next frame’ and have all those marginal notes as one story.

    I bet you can’t link them (I don’t have ID open right now to check). But that’d be kind of great.

    [TC: You’re right…anchored frames can’t be linked as of yet, but the ability to do so would open up some interesting possibilities.]

    Thanks for this tip, which I love. I didn’t know those default settings were there either. Some of your tips (like the next one on align first line to grid) strike me as obvious (that’s a feature I use every day), but it’s the ones like this that open my eyes that keep me coming back.

    [TC: Glad you’re finding useful information. Experience in the field has taught me that a lot of what we think is obvious if we’ve lived in ID for a while definitely isn’t obvious to a new user or to someone who hasn’t poked around the dialog boxes very much and is just making do with what worked to get their last project out the door.]

  5. Urszula says:

    Hi Tim,
    I would like to have the anchored images use a text wrap so that they can be positioned over the main story text frame. The problem is that when the anchor drops below the image frame, that frame “loses” its text wrap-main story frame text hides behind the anchored image. Any solutions???


    [TC: Hi Urszula. I’m aware of no solution if the frame remains anchored in its original position. The reason that the text wrap doesn’t work in the scenario you describe is that the text you want to react to the text wrap comes before the anchor marker in the text flow, and is therefore composed before InDesign encounters the anchored object further down the text stream. I think the only solution is to move the anchor marker above the text you want to react to the text wrap path. But, to be sure I’d need to actually see the document in question.]