Useful New Features in Adobe InDesign CS4

William Harrel's review of Aldus PageMaker from 1993
William Harrel’s review of Aldus PageMaker from 1993

Anybody who has been into print media design for awhile will remember that Adobe InDesign used to be Aldus PageMaker (I know, technically they are not same, but InDesign was obviously developed with PageMaker code, after Adobe bought Aldus). I started using and writing about PageMaker over 20 years ago. After about Version 6.5, with each new upgrade, before actually seeing the software, I began asking myself,  “Why another release? Everything is already there?” PageMaker and InDesign are, after all, just page layout programs.

With each upgrade, however, Adobe has managed to introduce some pretty handy new features—features that caused me to sit back and ask myself, “Hmmm…  Now why didn’t I think of that?”

InDesign CS4 is no exception. As I usually do after installing newer versions of the software I use in my business, I checked out the new wiz-bang stuff to see how they work and if they can help me be more creative or productive. I found a slew of new things that are definitely going to make my life easier.

(Looking for good info on InDesign? Go here:

InDesign Goes Multimedia
Ever thought you’d be using page layout software to create interactive Flash movies? Me neither. With InDesign CS4 you can save your layouts to Flash XFL files for importing into Flash projects, or you can simply export them to ready-to-go flash SWF movies. The amazing thing is that the text elements you export from InDesign to XFL files remain fully editable in Flash. You can even create interactive buttons and hyperlinks in InDesign, that, when saved to SWF, work in Flash Player, allowing you to create some pretty snazzy interactive movies without ever opening the Flash authoring environment.

InDesign dialog box for creating interativity buttons
InDesign dialog box for creating interativity buttons

For a description of Adobe Flash’s new XFL format, go here:

InDesign now allows for some fairly simple ActionScript commands, limited mostly to document navigation and hyperlinks—you won’t be making any sophisticated Flash applications in your page layout software. But then again, you don’t have to import all of your layout elements into Flash to make your documents interactive. So now any brochure, datasheet, or whatever you create in InDesign, can easily become an interactive electronic slide show. And let’s face it, laying out pages in InDesign is much easier than messing with the Flash stage, sprites and timelines.

Page Transitions
If you don’t use InDesign for anything but laying out print media, then you could care less about this feature. But nowadays, nearly all documents created for the printing press also wind up on the Web as PDFs. This feature allows you to apply some of the same transitions available in Adobe Premiere and Microsoft PowerPoint—blinds, dissolve, fade,  and so on—for export to both PDF and SWF formats. Transitions add a little more pizazz and polish when navigating from page to page in an electronic document.

Dynamic Index Cross Referencing
I’ve laid out many a booklet and book-length document in both PageMaker and InDesign. The index cross referencing feature has been helpful, but far from perfect. My biggest gripe has been that, once the index is created and placed, if you make any changes to your document, such as delete or move things around, your index is hosed—no longer accurate. You either have to manually update the index references or generate and place the index all over again.

InDesign CS4 to the rescue. The software now has the ability to update index reference page numbers as you edit and move information around in the document.  For those of us who layout long documents, this feature is going to save us a lot of time.

Smart Text Reflow
Most of us who have been doing page layout for awhile usually create and edit our text stories in Word (or some other word processor) and then import and place the story in InDesign. Invariably, though, we wind up adding text and making further edits during the layout process, causing text oversets or empty pages. This handy new feature allows you to set default settings to automatically create new pages when oversets occur and delete pages when your edits remove all the text from an existing page. You can tell InDesign where to create new pages, such as End of Page, End of Story, and End of Section.

Granted, this feature won’t eliminate the need to print composites and check them visibly for layout problems, but it could very well limit the number of composites you print, by automatically correcting problems you might otherwise miss.

Other Notable Features

 A few other handy new features in InDesign CS4 include: Conditional Text, Smart Guides, Spread Rotation and Live PreFlight. Conditional Text allows you to easily create different versions of the same documents based on the same source file. Smart Guides allow you to align, space, rotate, and resize single or multiple objects by manipulating a single guide. Spread rotation allows you to rotate a spread view without physically turning your monitor. Live PreFlight alerts you to potential layout problems, allowing you to navigate to the problem and fix it before printing composites or going to press (I opened several of my pre-CS4 documents, only to discover that my layouts don’t often conform to what InDesign considers good (or standard) layout practices.).

You can get full descriptions and demonstrations of these and other new features on Adobe’s Website at

Bill Harrel —


3 Replies to “Useful New Features in Adobe InDesign CS4”

  1. I see that you don’t talk about scripting in InDesign. I was wondering how well it works. Does it automate tasks in the program, or what?

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