InDesign’s “Paste Into”: 5 Uses for an Often Overlooked Feature

Josh Norman
Josh NormanPrincipal / Chief Creative Officer

If you’ve spent any time with Adobe InDesign, you know essentially every element you place or draw on a page is a frame of some sort. Those frames can contain anything including a color, a color gradient, an image, text, or  table. Your collection of frames and their content make up your entire page’s design. Frames can be rectangles, ovals, hexagons – even a freehand shape.

You can create advanced visual effects in a frame by using InDesign’s “paste into” feature, which allows you to position a limitless number of elements inside a frame. How is this different than using InDesign’s “place” feature (which allows you to place text or images into a frame), and why would you want to use it? Here are five examples:

1. Keep your document tidy around the edges

If the frames you’ve drawn in a document are rotated, it’s possible to end up with a pretty messy piece of art, with images or text that rest on the pasteboard, well outside of the bleed area of your document (typically .125” around all trim edges for a document intended to be printed). While there’s nothing technically wrong with this, it’s important to consider keeping your document as clean as you possibly can, much like Steve Jobs’ obsession with the quality of things that go unseen.

Here’s a look at a billboard design I recently worked on, with the bleed area shown.

Here’s what it looks like without using the “paste into” feature in InDesign to keep things tidier:

The secret? Simply group all the frames that contain objects that rest on the pasteboard, beyond the bleed area. In this case, that includes the spider webs and the light tan area behind the skewed type. Group them, cut them, then draw a new frame that sits precisely on the bleed area of your document and select Edit > Paste Into. Your group of objects will be placed inside your new frame, essentially cropping them to the bleed area, and making all your art stop where it should, precisely at the bleed area.

2. Effects on effects

After copying an object, or a group of objects, and “pasting into” a frame, you can apply any effect that you might apply to a normal frame: Drop shadows, inner shadows, and feathering, to name a few. Here’s an example of where this can come in handy:

In the above screenshot, you’ll notice a false horizon that has been added to create a “floor” for the knocked-out images of people to stand on. Not only does that floor have a gradient at the bottom, but also an additional gradient to the left. This was done without ever opening the Effects panel in InDesign.

To create the effect, I made a rectangular frame, added a color, set transparency to Multiply, then used the gradient feather tool to create the gradient from the bottom of the rectangle, creating transparency where the floor “fades to nothing” at the bottom. I then selected that frame, cut it, drew another frame just a bit larger, and selected Edit > Paste Into. My gradient rectangle appears inside the new frame. I then used the gradient feather tool again to create the gradient from the left side, making very quick work of a faux horizon line that gives the group of people in the design a “floor” to stand on.

3. Cropping live, editable text

You can use Paste Into to create cropped areas for editable type to live within, resulting in fun and seemingly complex typography without converting type to outlines.

The word “FRENZY” above has individual letterforms with different colors going through them. The type is still editable, and not converted to outlines with a multicolored image placed inside, as you might have guessed.

This is accomplished by first setting up the word “FRENZY” in a text frame, and assigning a color to it (black, in this case). Cut the text frame. Draw a trapezoid around the type, splitting the letters R and E diagonally. With the trapezoid selected, choose Edit > Paste Into, and your black type will appear in the frame.

Then, select Edit > Paste in Place. Your original “FRENZY” type will be placed right on top of your cropped text. Change the type color (in this case, to magenta). Draw a new trapezoid in a similar fashion as before. Cut your text frame, and then select your trapezoid, and choose Edit > Paste Into.

Repeat the process once more for the rest of the type setup. Here’s a look at the layout with frames shown.

After you’re done, shift the positions of your three trapezoid frames to create even more “frenzy.”

4. Add a gradient edge to a group of objects

The technique is handy when drawing maps in InDesign. Below is a screenshot of a map that was drawn using frames and rules, all assigned the color white, on a gray background with type labels for buildings, roads, and surrounding restaurants.

Notice that the outer edges of the map are a bit unsightly, with streets extending far and wide, with somewhat ugly endpoints. A simple fix: group all the objects that comprise the map, and cut the group. Draw a new rectangular frame in the position where you wish the map to be, select the new frame, and select Edit > Paste Into. Your grouped map will appear inside the new frame, allowing you to apply effects to the frame that will be applied to the entire group contained within the frame. From the Effects panel, apply a basic feather to the frame, and the map will have even, feathered edges on all sides. Resulting in:

5. Hide frame effects where they’re unwanted

Recently, I found myself wanting multiple instances of the same image on top of one another with different colors applied, but an inner shadow on the image prevented me from getting the desired effect. What I ultimately wanted is an effect like this:

Those are two grayscale TIFF images placed into InDesign, one with a blue color applied to the grayscale image, with a gradient that fades the blue image into the grayscale image. Each has an inner shadow applied for a vignette effect. If you were to just place the images into different frames with the inner shadow effect, you’d end up with this:

The inner shadow on the blue image is being created by the oval frame AND the outside straight edges of the frame, and I didn’t want that oval frame to show an inner shadow in this case.

The trick is to place/position the black and white image first, and set the inner shadow. Copy and paste-in-place, and change the content color on the top-level image to blue. Cut the blue image, and draw the oval frame on the right side of the page. Select your oval frame and choose Edit > Paste Into. The inner shadow is cropped by the oval frame. As a final step, I used the gradient feather tool to make the blue image fade out at the bottom.

Because the oval frame is essentially serving as a mask, effects applied to the image that’s pasted into the frame remain true to the full image’s shape, regardless of the containing frame.

Have any InDesign “paste into” tricks to share? Let us know in the comments below.