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Align and distribute objects using rulers

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Learn to customize the layout of your project in InDesign using rulers.

Rulers in InDesign show the exact dimensions of an object and its position on the page which helps users align and distribute objects consistently throughout a design.

The image shows the horizontal and vertical rulers and the measuring units

Manage rulers and measurement units

InDesign provides horizontal and vertical rulers that assist in creating and aligning objects on your document. These rulers, located at the top and left sides of your workspace, display measurements in your chosen unit (For example-inches, centimeters, or pixels).

To show or hide rulers, choose View > Show Rulers or Hide Rulers.

You can easily modify the measurement units displayed on the on-screen rulers and apply them. You can even temporarily override the default units when entering values. When you change measurement units, it doesn't move guides, grids, and objects.

Rulers in a document window
Rulers in a document window

A. Labeled tick marks B. Major tick marks C. Minor tick marks 

You can set up different measurement systems for horizontal and vertical rulers.

  • Horizontal ruler: It governs tabs, margins, and indents.
  • Vertical ruler: It governs the spread.

However, all vertical rulers use the same settings you specify in the Units & Increments preferences dialog box.

To change the units in Units & Increments, select:
  • (Windows) Edit > Preferences > Units & Increments 
  • (macOS) InDesign > Preferences > Units & Increments 
Options available to customize Unit & Increment s
Units & Increments

Ruler Units:

Origin

Changes the origin of the zero point.

Horizontal

Changes the horizontal measurement system used for rulers, dialog boxes, and panels.

Vertical

Changes the vertical measurement system used for rulers, dialog boxes, and Control panel.

Other Units:

Stroke

Changes the values of stroke.

Points/Pica Size:

Points/Inch

Changes the value of calculating points. For PostScript points, you can use 72 points per inch, 72.27 traditional printer points per inch, or you can use a different measure, depending on the selected preference.

Keyboard Increments:

Cursor Key

Controls the increment for the arrow keys when you move objects.

Size/Leading

Controls the increment for increasing or decreasing the point size or leading using keyboard shortcuts.

Baseline Shift

Controls the increment for shifting the baseline using keyboard shortcuts.

Kerning/Tracking

Controls the increment for kerning and tracking using keyboard shortcuts.

Tip:

Right-click (Windows) or Control-click (macOS) at the intersection of the horizontal and vertical rulers to change the ruler units for both rulers at the same time.

Override default measurement units

You can specify a unit of measurement that is different from the default. You can type the new value using the notation given in the following table:

To specify

Type these letters after the value

Examples

Result

Q

q

6q

6 Q

Ha

h

6h

6 Ha

Inches

i

in

inch

"

5.25i

5.25in

5.25inch

5.25”

5 1/4 inches

Millimeters

mm

48mm

48 millimeters

Centimeters

cm

12cm

12 centimeters

Picas

p

3p

3 picas

Points

pt

p (before value)

6pt

p6

6 points

American points

ap

6ap

6 American points

Picas and points

p (between values)

3p6

3 picas, 6 points

Pixels

px

5px

5 pixels

Ciceros

c

5c

5 ciceros

Agates

ag

5ag

5 agates

Pro tips

  • Q and Ha are units used in a Japanese manual or automatic photo composer to show font size, tracking or leading length. Each unit has a value of 0.25mm. 
  • Q is used only to express font size, and Ha can be used to express direction and length for leading, object spacing, and similar elements.
  • You can also use points (also known as American points) to indicate font size on computers or Adobe PostScript® points to indicate leading or spacing. 
  • One American point is 0.35146 millimeters, and there are 72.27 American points in 1 inch and 72 PostScript points in 1 inch.

The zero point

The zero point refers to the origin of both horizontal and vertical rulers, from which measurements start. You can customize the zero point to suit your design requirements, making it easier to measure and align objects within your layout. By default, the zero point is located at the upper-left corner of a page or spread. You can move the zero point to measure distances, create a new reference point for measurement, or tile oversized pages.

Adjust the zero point

When you move the zero point, it moves to the same relative location in all spreads. For example, if you move the zero point to the top left corner of the second page of a page spread, it appears in that position on the second page of all other spreads in the document.

Watch this short clip to learn how to adjust the zero point.

Tip:

To lock or unlock the zero point, right-click (Windows) or Control-click (macOS) the zero point of the rulers and select Lock Zero Point in the context menu. 

Change the default zero point

You can change the default zero point for rulers as well as the scope of the horizontal ruler. The scope determines whether the ruler measures across the page, across the entire spread, or, for multipage spreads, from the center of the spine.

  1. Select Edit > Preferences > Units & Increments (Windows) or InDesign > Preferences > Units & Increments (macOS).

  2. In the Ruler Units section in the Origin menu:

    • Select Spread to set the ruler origin at the top-left corner of each spread. The horizontal ruler measures across the entire spread.

    • Select Page to set the ruler origin at the top-left corner of each page. The horizontal ruler starts at zero for each page in a spread.

    • Select Spine to set the ruler origin at the center of the spine. The horizontal ruler measures in negative numbers to the left of the spine and positive numbers to the right of the spine.

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