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David has been a graphic designer, art director, teacher, and author on digital printing and publishing for nearly forty years. He has written several books, designed well over a hundred fonts, and taught on the digital publishing industry needs for the past fifteen years.

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BESTInDesign: Grids into Complex Tables by merging

One of the common tasks desktop publishers encounter is the need to reproduce existing forms. Design & publishing expert David Bergsland shares this step-by-step tutorial for the best way to make Complex Tables in Adobe InDesign


InDesign: Grids into Complex Tables by merging

David Bergsland...

traditional forms made easyOne of the common tasks we run across is the need to reproduce existing forms, with changes (of course). Here's a little procedure demo. I'll go through it step-by-step for you to learn how to do it.

Getting Setup

We are going to take a scan and use it as a background on top of which to build an exact copy. If you have a job where the duplication of orders is a normal part of your duties, this is probably a good idea. The original scan is a 500k PSD. (See Fig. 1)

Historical note: This type of form has been used for so many years by so many companies from so many suppliers that you may be asked to virtually duplicate it. Its design has become a comfort to customers. But only if you are going for nostalgia and old-fashioned ambiance. The font used has usually been Optima or a variant of it.

A single table form

You can read this with an eye to doing one of these projects on your own. Obviously, if I were designing this project from scratch, I would simplify the cell structure. But for this discussion let's just go for duplication.

Open new document in InDesign: 4" x 6.5" with 3/16" margins (.1875").

Drop in graphic: align it with the margins setting the bottom of the THANK YOU at five-eighths inch (.625").

Select tiff: With the transparency palette make it 35% opaque. This grays it out to help you see the actual new table on top more clearly.

Open Layers Palette: Lock Layer 1 (with the tiff in it). Make a new layer and move it on top.

Make text frame: With the Type tool drag out a text frame that starts at just above the grid area and extends down below THANK YOU. Normally, you would start the text box above the company name so the entire page is in one text frame, but for this exercise we are ignoring the company name.

Count rows and columns in grid: there are 18 different rows dividers and eleven different column dividers.

Insert Table: Choose Table > Insert Table [Command+Option+Shift+T] and use 18 rows and 11 columns.
Press Enter.Type tool

Click in table with the Type tool: Then use the diagonal arrow at the upper left corner of the table to select it all. Use Swatches to make the borders (stroke) .5 pt Black and make the type Optima or a variant like Zapf Humanist, 6-point. (See Fig. 2 at right)

Open Cell options: Press [Command+Option+B] and change the insets to .03 top, 0 bottom, .03 left, and .03 right. Set the alignment to top. Press OK. (See Fig. 3)

With everything still selected: Make all the type flush left. Yes, I know there is no type in the table yet. We are pre-formatting the table at this point. Note: It greatly speeds up production to preformat cells before you add type wherever possible.

Align the rows: With the selection tool, select the text frame and align the top left corner of the table with the top left corner of the grid. Then starting with the second horizontal line in the grid, drag the grid lines down to line up with the scan.

Align the columns: Starting with the second vertical line from the left, drag them left and right until they line up with the vertical dividers of the scan. The result should look like this. As you can see there are several extra vertical dividers. (See Fig. 4)

Merge the cells:

Note: You will probably want to add a shortcut to your keyboard shortcuts if you have not already done so. Under the Tables Menu Product Area you'll find the Merge Cells command. The is no shortcut by default, I would suggest Command+Option+M or Ctrl+Alt+M. If you are already using this, add the shortcut to the Tables Context: in that popup menu.

Figure 5 Now, with your type tool and looking at your sample, select the cells that need to be merged and press the shortcut we added for Merge Cells [Command+Option+M/Ctrl+Alt+M] or you can click on the Merge Cells button in the Table Control palette, or you can right-click and use the Merge Cells command in the contextual menu.

The shortcut is by far the fastest method. So, if you were disobedient, go add the shortcut NOW. ;-)

The process will look something like this as you merge the cells. These three cells are selected and ready to merge. (See Fig. 5 at right)

Merge all the cells that need merging: You will quickly see why you made the extra column divisions.

Add the type:

Click in a cell holding copy and type in the type seen in the scan. Most of the copy is 7-point, the grayed row in the middle is 5-point, SUB TOTAL, TAX, AND TOTAL are larger. Some of the cells are centered. Press [Command+Shift+C/Ctrl+Shift+C] to center the type.

Add the type below the table:

Click in the type above the table again to get outside the table. Hit the Down Arrow key twice and then hit Enter to start a new paragraph below the table.

For Rec'd by ________ you'll want to use a Shift+Tab to kick the rule to the right. The rule characters will need to be tracked together.

finished form in InDesignAdd the gray to the tinted cells: select the tinted cells and press [Command+Option+B] to open the dialog box.
Click on the Strokes & Fills tab and set the fill at 15% Black. You'll have to do this three times to color all the cells that need to be gray.

It took less time to do than to write

The time I took to do this simple form was around 15 minutes -- and I'm a very slow typist. Typesetters doing this full-time can probably shave a minute or two off the time -- once they get used to the procedure.

You can see the final result to the right. The grid matches perfectly. The type needs a little kerning to be perfect. But, it is good to go as is.

The final result looks like this: (See Fig. 6)

Another template for your collection...

The good thing is that corrections are easy because the entire document is in one text frame. All the type is live and editable. The table is live and editable. A reorder would be a cinch to produce.

David Bergsland

David Bergsland

David has been a graphic designer, art director, teacher, and author on digital printing and publishing for nearly forty years. He has written several books, See his books and tutorial materials) designed well over a hundred fonts, and taught on the digital publishing industry needs for the past fifteen years. Presently he is working for a large printing company developing training materials for InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop, and Acrobat. Most of his recent works are published by Radiqx Press and available on his Website: bergsland.org

Copyright David Bergsland This is reprinted here with permission and kudos to David for contributing some of is extensive knowledge for DTG readers!

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