InDesign tutorial: How to insert an image into an InDesign document

As part of our beginner's guide to Adobe InDesign, we show how to enhance your InDesign project with photos and illustrations.

One of the first things to do when creating a document in Adobe InDesign is to add images - InDesign's great strength is combining words and images to create professional-looking page designs. So today's beginner's tip explains how to insert an image into an InDesign document.

(This process is essentially the same in all versions of InDesign. We'll be using InDesign CS5 and InDesign CC, but earlier versions will use almost exactly the same menu items and options.)

Create an InDesign document

If you haven't created one already, you'll need an InDesign document. Start InDesign and go to File > New > Document. (Or use the shortcut Apple-N on a Mac, or Ctrl-N on a PC.) Then pick the details and dimensions of your document (we'll stick with the defaults) and click OK.

Create a frame

Your exact interface will depend on how you've set up the workspace* but again, since we're talking through beginner processes we'll assume you're using the defaults. In any case, we'll only be using the basic Tools palette, so if you can't see it any point, go to Window, then scroll down and tick Tools.

How to place an image in Adobe InDesign 
These are the three shapes the Tools bar can take - click the little double arrow in the dark grey bar to swap between them.

The Tools palette is the small bar with 18 little tool icons on it, starting with the black and white arrowheads at the top/left. Found it? Good.

We'll start by creating a frame for the image to appear in. Click the Frame Tool - it will be a rectangle, oval or hexagon with an X in the middle. If you click and hold on the icon, the three kinds of frame will become visible. We just want a plain rectangle for the time being.

How to place an image in Adobe InDesign 
The Polygon Frame Tool doesn't just create hexagons, by the way, although that's the default. Select it, then double-click on the document, and InDesign will ask you how many sides you want the polygon to have.

The cursor will now change into a cross. Click and drag across the document to place the rectangle at the size you want. You can change the dimensions afterwards by clicking on the black arrowhead tool and clicking and dragging one of the corner squares; or just drag around the whole box.

How to place an image in Adobe InDesign 
The blue rectangle is our picture frame.

Place the image

Now select the white arrowhead tool, and click the image frame. Now go to File > Place… (The default shortcut is Apple-D on Mac or Ctrl-D on PC.) InDesign now asks you to select the image you want to place. Locate it on your desktop or in the folder where it's stored and click Open. The image will appear in the frame.

How to place an image in Adobe InDesign 
We've found this image of two iMacs on our server. Bear in mind that if the server goes down the link will be broken. We'll safeguard for that later.
How to place an image in Adobe InDesign 
The image is clearly a bit too big for the frame. We'll deal with that next.

Position, resize and crop the image

The image will appear at 100 percent so it might be far too big for the frame. (It also might be too small, in which case you should probably find a new image - blowing it up significantly above 100 percent is likely to compromise the visual quality, so avoid this if the document will be printed or shown off in other ways.)

The easiest way to fit the image to the document is by using the Fitting options. Select the black arrowhead tool and click the image in its frame. Now select Object > Fitting and then either Fill Frame Proportionally (which fills the frame with image, but will leave some of the image invisible outside the frame if they're not the same shape) or Fit Content Proportionally (which will fit the entire image inside the frame, but will leave some frame unfilled if they're not the same shape).

How to place an image in Adobe InDesign 
In this case we've selected the option Fit Content Proportionally.

Once again, you'll quickly get the hang of using keyboard shortcuts instead. For Fit Content Proportionally, the option we use most often, it's Shift-Alt-Apple-E on Mac or Shift-Alt-Ctrl-E on PC. The same buttons with C instead of E will invoke Fill Frame Proportionally.

For finer control, select the contents of the frame with the black arrowhead (the white arrowhead will select the frame itself) and then move the image around inside the frame with the mouse or the arrow keys for very fine (but slow) control. You can change the scale (effectively the magnification) in the top bar, where you'll see two '100%' numbers on top of each other. One is the vertical scale and the other is horizontal, but by default they're linked, so if you change the top figure to 99% the overall scale will drop to 99 percent and the image will appear smaller on the page.

How to place an image in Adobe InDesign 
The scale percentages are visible below the Type menu on this screenshot, although your experience may vary slightly depending on your workspace options. Both horizontal and vertical scale are set at between 67 and 68 percent. The reason it's such an odd number is because we used proportional fitting earlier.

Package up the InDesign document

When you're finished and happy with how the image looks on the page, it's worth packaging up the document - this is the process where you collect the InDesign document itself along with all the images into a single folder. (Remember that the image you've placed on the page isn't actually part of the document - it's linking to an image stored elsewhere.)

Go to File > Package… and then (assuming InDesign doesn't find any problems) click Package - or Shift-Alt-Apple-P - and decide where you want to save the folder.

How to place an image in Adobe InDesign 
InDesign is happy to proceed with the packaging process, but if a link to an image had broken, the error would be flagged up here.

The most common problem for InDesign to discover is when the link to an image has been lost, because you've placed an image and then moved or deleted the image so InDesign can't find it any more. If that's happened, go back to the problem image and place it again - it should retain the same scale and positioning.

*Another strong feature of InDesign is how easily you can customise the layout of the tools and functions, so that items you rarely use can be hidden and favourites put in prominent positions, and then save sets of interface preferences as named 'workspaces' - but that's a story for another day.

Note: We may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site, at no extra cost to you. This doesn't affect our editorial independence. Learn more.

Read Next...