For detailed information and instructions, click the links below.

About masters, stacking order, and layers

A master is like a background that you can quickly apply to many pages. Objects on a master appear on all pages with that master applied. Master items that appear on document pages are surrounded by a dotted border. Changes you make to a master are automatically applied to associated pages. Masters commonly contain repeating logos, page numbers, headers, and footers. They can also contain empty text or graphic frames that serve as placeholders on document pages. A master item cannot be selected on a document page unless the master item is overridden.

Masters can have multiple layers, just like pages in your document. Objects on a single layer have their own stacking order within that layer. Objects on a master page layer appear behind objects assigned to the same layer in the document page.

If you want a master item to appear in front of objects on the document page, assign a higher layer to the object on the master. A master item on a higher layer appears in front of all objects on lower layers. Merging all layers will move master items behind document page objects.

Masters, stacking order and layers
Master items (top left) appear behind page objects on the same layer (bottom left); moving a master item to a higher layer (top right) moves it in front of all objects on lower layers (bottom right).

Tips and guidelines for masters

  • You can compare alternative design ideas by creating a variety of masters and applying them in turn to sample pages containing typical content.

  • To quickly lay out new documents, you can save a set of masters in a document template, along with paragraph and character styles, color libraries, and other styles and presets.

  • If you change column or margin settings on a master, or apply a new master with different column and margin settings, you can force objects on the page to adjust to the new layout automatically. (See About automatic layout adjustment.)

  • Automatic page numbers inserted on a master display the correct page number for each section of the document to which the master is applied. (See Add basic page numbering.)

Create masters

By default, any document you create has a master page. You can create additional masters from scratch or from an existing master page or document page. After you apply master pages to other pages, any changes made to the source master carry forward to the masters and document pages that are based on it. With careful planning, this provides an easy way to make layout changes to multiple pages across your document.

Create a master from scratch

  1. Choose New Master in the Pages panel menu.
  2. Specify the following options, and click OK:
    • For Prefix, type a prefix that identifies the applied master for each page in the Pages panel. You can type as many as four characters.

    • For Name, type a name for the master spread.

    • For Based On Master, choose an existing master spread on which you’ll base this master spread, or choose None.

    • For Number Of Pages, type a value for the number of pages you want in the master spread (as many as ten).

Create a master from an existing page or spread

  • Drag an entire spread from the Pages section of the Pages panel to the Masters section.
  • Select a spread in the Pages panel and choose Save As Master from the Pages panel menu.

Any objects on the original page or spread become part of the new master. If the original page used a master, the new master is based on the original page’s master.

Creating a new master spread based on another page or spread
Creating a new master spread based on another page or spread

Base one master on another

You can create a master variation that is based on and updates with another master (called the parent master) within the same document. The master spreads based on the parent master are called child masters. For example, if your document has ten chapters that use master spreads that vary only slightly, base all of them on a master spread that contains the layout and objects common to all ten. This way, a change to the basic design requires editing just the parent master instead of editing all ten separately. Vary the formatting on your child masters. You can override parent master items on a child master to create variations on a master, just as you can override master items on document pages. This is a powerful way to keep a consistent yet varied design up to date.

Parent and child masters
Original parent and child masters (left); when the parent master is modified, the child masters are automatically updated (right)

  • To base one master on another, in the Masters section of the Pages panel, do either of the following:
    • Select a master spread, and choose Master Options for [master spread name] in the Pages panel menu. For Based On Master, choose a different master, and click OK.

    • Select the name of the master spread you want to use as the base and drag it onto the name of another master to apply it.

    B-Master based on A-Master
    B-Master based on A-Master

Edit the layout of a master

You can edit the layout of master pages at any time; changes you make are automatically reflected on all pages with that master applied. For example, any text or graphic you add to a master will appear on document pages to which the master is applied.


When you override or detach a master page object on a particular page, that object may not update to reflect changes made on the master page.

  1. In the Pages panel, double-click the icon for the master you want to edit, or select the master page from the text box list at the bottom of the document window. The master spread appears in the document window.
  2. Make changes to the master.

InDesign automatically updates any pages using that master.

To change the size of the master page, select it using the Page tool, and then use the options in the Control panel to change the dimension. See Use multiple page sizes.


Use multiple views to see the results of master edits. Choose Window > Arrange > New Window, and then choose Window > Arrange > Tile. Set one view to a page and the other view to the master applied to that page. Then edit the master and watch the page update.

Change master page options

You can edit master page options to change the name or prefix of the master, base the master on another master, or change the number of pages in the master spread.

  1. In the Pages panel, click the name of a master spread to select the master spread.
  2. Choose Master Options For [master name] in the Pages panel menu.
  3. Change any option, and then click OK.

Apply master pages

If your document contains custom spreads (such as a 3- or 4‑page foldout in a magazine), any master you apply should contain the same number of pages.

If your master page has a different page size than the layout page, applying the master page changes the size of the layout page. If the layout page has a custom page size, you can specify whether to keep the custom layout page size or apply the size of the master page.


Master items on a document page have a dotted border. If you cannot view master items on a document page, the master item may be hidden on a lower layer or the master items may be hidden. Choose Show Master Items from the Pages panel menu.

Apply a master to a document page or spread

  • To apply a master to one page, drag the master page icon to a page icon in the Pages panel. When a black rectangle surrounds the desired page, release the mouse button.
  • To apply a master to a spread, drag the master page icon to a corner of the spread in the Pages panel. When a black rectangle surrounds all pages in the desired spread, release the mouse button.

    Applying a master to a page (left) and applying a master to a spread (right)

Apply a master to multiple pages

  • Do one of the following:
    • In the Pages panel, select the pages to which you want to apply a new master. Then press Alt (Windows) or Option (Mac OS) as you click a master.

    • Choose Apply Master To Pages from the Pages panel menu, select a master for Apply Master, make sure that the page ranges in the To Pages option are the ones you want, and click OK. You can apply a master to multiple pages at once. For example, you can type 5, 7‑9, 13‑16 to apply the same master to pages 5, 7‑9, and 13‑16. (See Display absolute or section numbering in the Pages panel.)

Applying a master to a discontiguous range of pages
Applying a master to a discontiguous range of pages

Unassign masters from document pages

  • Apply the None master from the Masters section of the Pages panel.

    When you unassign a master from a page, its layout and items no longer apply to the page. If a master contains most of the elements you want, but you need to customize the appearance of a few pages, you can override master items and edit or modify them on those document pages instead of unassigning the master.

Copy masters

You can copy masters within the same document or from one document to another to use as the starting point for a new master. You can also copy masters to other documents when you synchronize documents in a book or import master pages from another document.

Copy a master within a document

  • In the Pages panel, do one of the following:
    • Drag the page name of a master spread to the New Page button at the bottom of the panel.

    • Select the page name of a master spread, and choose Duplicate Master Spread [spread name] in the panel menu.

When you copy a master, the page prefix of the copied master becomes the next letter in the alphabet.

Copy or move a master to another document

  1. Open the document you want to add the master to. Then open the document with the master you want to copy.
  2. In the Pages panel of the source document, do either of the following:
    • Click and drag the master spread to the destination document’s window to copy it.

    • Select the master you want to move or copy. Choose Layout > Pages > Move Master, and choose the destination document name from the Move To menu. If you want to remove the page or pages from the source document, select Delete Pages After Moving, and then click OK.

If the target document already has a master with the same prefix, the moved master is assigned the next available letter in the alphabet.

Delete a master from a document

  1. In the Pages panel, select one or more master page icons.


    To select all unused master pages, choose Select Unused Masters in the Page panel menu.

  2. Do one of the following:
    • Drag a selected master page or spread icon to the Delete icon at the bottom of the panel.

    • Click the Delete icon at the bottom of the panel.

    • Choose Delete Master Spread [spread name] in the panel menu.

When you delete a master, the [None] master is applied to any document page to which the deleted master was applied.

Override or detach master items

When you apply a master page to a document page, all objects on the master, called master items, appear on the document page. Sometimes you want a specific page to be only slightly different from a master. In this situation you don’t need to re-create the master layout on the page or create a new master. You can override or detach the master item, and other master items on the document page will continue to update with the master.

Note the difference between overriding and detaching master items on a document page:

Override master item attributes

Overriding a master item puts a copy of it on the document page without breaking its association with the master page. Once the item itself is overridden, you can selectively override one or more attributes of the item to customize it. For example, you can change the fill color of the local copy. After that, changes to the fill color on the master page itself will not update to the local copy. However, other attributes, such as size, will continue to update because they have not been overridden on the local copy. Overrides can be removed later to make the object match the master.

Attributes you can override for a master page object include strokes, fills, contents of a frame, and any transformations (such as rotating, scaling, shearing, or resizing), corner options, text frame options, lock state, transparency, and object effects.

Detach items from their master

On a document page, you can detach (disassociate) a master item from its master. The item must be overridden on the document page, creating a local copy, before you can detach it. A detached item does not update with the master because its association with the master page is broken.

Override a master item

  1. Make sure the master item can be overridden.

    You can override a master item only if Allow Master Item Overrides On Selection is selected in the Pages panel menu for that item.

  2. Do either of the following:
    • To override specific master items on a document page, press Ctrl+Shift (Windows) or Command+Shift (Mac OS) and click the item (or drag to select multiple items). Change the selected master items as desired. The item can now be selected like any other page item, but retains its association with the master page.

    • To override all master page items on a document spread, target the spread, and then choose Override All Master Page Items in the Pages panel menu. You can now select and modify any and all master items as you wish.

    Once you override any master item, its dotted bounding box becomes a solid line to show that a local copy has been created.


    If you override a threaded text frame, all visible frames in that thread are overridden, even if they are on a different page in a spread.

Detach a master item

  • To detach a single master item from its master, first override it by pressing Ctrl+Shift (Windows) or Command+Shift (Mac OS) and clicking the item on a document page. Then choose Detach Selection From Master in the Pages panel menu.
  • To detach all overridden master items on a spread, override the master page items you want to detach, and target that spread in the document. (Don’t go to the original master page.) Choose Detach All Objects From Master from the Pages panel menu. If the command isn’t available, there aren’t any overridden objects on that spread.

Prevent a master item from being overridden

In some instances, you want to override all but a few master items. For example, you may want to override master items such as background images on a document page, but you want to prevent a page-numbering header from being overridden. By preventing the header from being overridden, you can choose the Override All Master Items option to override all master items except for the header.

  1. On the master page, select the item.
  2. Deselect Allow Master Item Overrides On Selection on the Pages panel menu.

Master items that do not allow overrides have no frame edge when displayed on the document page. If you prevent a threaded text frame from being overridden, all text frames in that thread have the same setting applied.

Reapply master items

If you’ve overridden master items, you can restore them to match the master page. When you do this, the object’s attributes revert to their state on the corresponding master, and will once again update when you edit the master. The local copy of the object is removed, and the master item cannot be selected, as indicated by its dotted border. You can remove overrides for selected objects or all objects on a spread, but not across an entire document at once.

  • Do one of the following:
    • To remove master overrides from one or more objects, select objects that were originally master items. In the Pages panel, target a spread and choose Remove Selected Local Overrides in the Pages panel menu.

    • To remove all master overrides from a spread, in the Pages panel, target the spread (or master spread) from which you want to remove all master overrides. Choose Edit >Deselect All to make sure that no objects are selected. In the Pages panel, choose Remove All Local Overrides in the Pages panel menu.

If you’ve detached master page objects, you cannot restore them to the master page; however, you can delete the detached objects and reapply the master to the page.

If you reapply a master to a page that contains overridden master page objects, the objects with overrides are detached and all master page objects reapplied. This may result in two copies of some objects on the page. You’ll need to delete the detached objects to exactly match the look of the master.

Hide master items

Use the Hide Master Items to hide master page items on one or more pages in your document. Hidden master items are not printed or output.

  1. In the Pages panel, select the pages and spreads on which you’d like the master items to be hidden.
  2. From the Pages panel menu, choose Hide Master Items.

To display master items again, select the spreads in the Pages panel and choose Show Master Items from the Pages panel menu.

Import a master from another document

You can import masters from another InDesign document (any version) into the active document. If your destination document contains master pages that have different names from any master page in the source document, those pages and their document page overrides will be unchanged.

  1. In the Pages panel menu, choose Load Master Pages.
  2. Locate and double-click the InDesign document containing the master pages you want to import.
  3. Determine what should occur if a loaded master has the same name as a master in the current document.
    • Choose Replace Master Pages if you want the masters from the source to override the destination document’s masters with the same names. If your destination document does not have any overridden items, it is safe to Replace Master Pages on import.

    • Choose Rename Master Pages to change the page prefixes to the next available letter in the alphabet.

Once you have imported masters from a source document, a link is set up between the source document and the destination document. When you subsequently load masters from the same source document, the association between overridden items and their parent items on reloaded master pages is maintained. This association lets you keep master pages in different documents consistent without putting those documents into a book.

If you want to use this method of keeping master pages consistent, you should load the master pages from the source document before overriding any objects on the master. If your document has overridden items and you have never imported masters from any source, those overridden items become detached the first time you load from a source document and replace master pages with the same name as the parent master of the overridden items.

If you subsequently import masters from a different source document, however, and choose Replace Master Pages, the overridden items may become detached. Any same-named masters from the new source document will be applied to the document page containing overridden items, creating two sets of objects.

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