InDesign page numbers – how to insert and use them

You’ve just manually inserted page numbers into a 300-page novel or catalogue you’ve created in InDesign? Oops, you should have read this first and learned about InDesign’s page numbering function! This ensures the page numbers you insert always remain up to date, even when you add and remove pages, or move pages about within your document.

How to add automatic page numbers in InDesign

You add automatic page numbering to InDesign’s parent pages (until 2022, called master pages).

Note

Starting from InDesign 2022 (version 17), Adobe has renamed its master pages parent pages, in order to use language that is more inclusive. Although I applaud this decision, I wrote this article and prepared all the screenshots in 2021, and I don’t fancy redoing them all. So they remain master pages for now, although I mean parent pages!

On the master page, create a text frame where you want your page numbers to appear, such as in the top or bottom corner, or centred in the top or bottom margin. If you’re creating a document with 100 or more pages, make sure the text frame is big enough to hold three figures. It should also be large enough to hold any page number prefix you may wish to assign (eg ‘page’, or the equivalent in your language).

If you’re creating a document with spreads (left-hand and right-hand pages facing each other, such as for a book or magazine), you will need to create a text frame for both pages. You can copy and paste, or duplicate, your existing one and then change anything that should be different on the facing page.

InDesign page numbers: Creating a text frame on the master page
Create a text frame on your master page.

Then, with your cursor at the point where you want the page number to appear, go to Type > Special character > Markers > Current page number, or press ⌘ + Shift + Option + N (Windows: Ctrl + Shift + Alt + N).

The master page’s prefix (ie A for A-Master) now appears as a placeholder. Style the page number placeholder as you want the page numbers to appear (typeface, size, colour etc).

InDesign page numbers: Page number placeholder on the master page
The page number placeholder now appears on the master page.

The actual page numbers now automatically appear on the document pages this particular master page is applied to.

InDesign page numbers automatically inserted on document pages
InDesign’s automatic page numbers now appear on the document pages.

Tip

Create your text frame(s) on their own layer, above the main content. The page numbers therefore always appear above any photos or backgrounds. Perfect for magazines and certain kinds of book, although not necessary for novels or any other books that just feature text, and no coloured backgrounds of any kind.

Changing the numbering style

InDesign’s automatic page numbering uses Arabic numerals as default. Don’t panic – you don’t need to learn Arabic, as this just means 1, 2 and 3 etc. Look familiar?! You can also use Roman numerals, in uppercase or lowercase, or add one or more leading zeros to your Arabic numerals.

To change the style within a document, you need to use sections. More about these below. But let’s say you want to add a leading zero to pages 1–9, so they are numbered 01–09, then continuing from 10 in the usual way. The first page affected by this change is page 1. Right-click on page 1 in InDesign’s Pages panel and choose Numbering and section options. Then select ‘01, 02, 03’ (or your preferred numbering system) from the Style menu and click OK.

Opening the ‘Numbering and section options’ contextual menu item
Opening the ‘Numbering and section options’ dialogue box.
Specifying leading zeros in the ‘Numbering and section options’ dialogue box
Specifying leading zeros in the ‘Numbering and section options’ dialogue box.
InDesign page numbers with leading zeros
Document pages 1 to 9 now have leading zeros.

Removing automatic page numbering from covers and front matter

If you follow the instructions above, and assuming you are only using the default master page A-Master, automatic page numbers will appear on every page of your document. Great! Except…

Although this may be OK for a report you’re printing on the office printer, you’ll have noticed that magazine and book covers aren’t numbered. And in the case of books, neither is the ‘front matter’, ie the pages containing copyright information and dedications etc.

There are a few ways to achieve this:

  • Apply the default master [None] to pages where you don’t want page numbers to appear.
  • Override the page number text frames on these pages, detaching them from their master page (explanation in this post, and then delete the text frames. The quick and dirty way, probably best suited to one-off documents.
  • Apply a different master page, without automatic numbering, to these pages. This is a good idea if you’re creating a magazine or series of books, as it enables you to still take advantage of the benefits of master pages. Your magazine or book will have other uniform elements on these pages that you will want to control with master pages.

Sections

Sections enable you to number some pages of your document differently. Why would you want to do that?

Consider a novel or some other kind of text-based book: the front matter (title page, copyright page and dedications page etc) is typically not numbered. But after these pages, there may be a preface or prologue numbered using Roman numerals. This is then followed by the main body of the work, numbered in the usual way, starting from 1 (even though this page is not the actual physical first page).

There are therefore three sections in your document: the front matter (without page numbers), a preface (numbered using Roman numerals) and the main content (standard Arabic numbers).

I explained how to remove page numbers from the front matter in the bulleted list above.

You therefore need to create sections for the preface (Roman numerals) and for the main body of the document (standard numbering).

In the Pages panel, right-click on the page where the new section should start, for instance, the first page of the preface, and choose Numbering and section options.

In the resulting dialogue box, which we met further up, check the Start section box.

Below that there are two options: Automatic page numbering and Start page numbering at:. The first option means that the automatic numbering will take into account the actual document pages, so if there are 10 pages of front matter, your preface will start at 11 (or its Roman numeral equivalent). You probably want to select the second option, entering 1, so that the front matter really is unnumbered, and that the preface starts at 1 (or I, or i etc).

Choose one of the Roman numeral options (for our example scenario) from the Style menu, and click OK.

Specifying Roman numerals in the ‘Numbering and section options’ dialogue box
Specifying Roman numerals in the ‘Numbering and section options’ dialogue box.

In the Pages panel, you’ll notice that a small triangle above the page now shows that this is the start of a new section.

Section marker indicator in the Pages panel
Section indicator in InDesign’s Pages panel.

Now repeat the procedure for the first page of the main body text, this time choosing 1, 2, 3, 4 from the Style menu, and again ensuring that page numbering starts from 1.

Voila, your document now comprises different sections, using different numbering systems.

An example of different page numbering systems in an InDesign document
Document pages now using different numbering systems.

Tip

You may have noticed that the Numbering and section options dialogue box also includes an area for document chapter numbering. But before you get too excited, this works in a different way to section numbering. Any document is only allowed to have one single automatic chapter number. Huh?! What’s the point of that?

This is used in InDesign’s ‘book’ workflow, where each chapter is created as a separate document, with the software’s ‘book’ functionality collating them all. This is useful for large, collaborative projects, such as catalogues or dictionaries, but overkill for most typical book projects, and therefore not really necessary. In most cases, working with just one InDesign document means you maintain a better overview of the project, and that search and replace operations are easier. If in doubt, check with your printer to find out what they’re expecting to receive from you.

Section markers

As well as prefixes (such as ‘Page’, and mentioned right at the start of this article), it’s also possible to add section markers. What’s the difference? These enable you to specify a section name that automatically appears on all pages within that document section. For instance, in a catalogue for a furniture retailer, these could be ‘bedroom’ or ‘kitchen’ etc. In our example, I’m going to create a section for each chapter, with the chapter name added to all right-hand (recto) pages.

There are two parts to the process – specifying the section marker, then adding it to your section.

To add the section marker, right-click on the first page of the section in the Pages panel, choosing the same Numbering and section options box. Add the section name in the Section marker field, for example ‘This chapter is called XXX’.

Specifying a section marker in the ‘Numbering and sections options’ dialogue box
Adding a section marker in the ‘Numbering and section options’ dialogue box.

Now go to that page’s master page and click into the page number placeholder text frame. When your cursor is at the place you want the section name to appear, go to Type > Insert Special Character > Markers > Section Marker. The placeholder ‘Section’ appears on the master page, but the section marker you specified in the previous step now appears on the document pages in this section.

Place your cursor where you want the section marker placeholder to appear
Place your cursor where you want your section marker to appear.
The section marker placeholder on the master page
The section marker placeholder on the master page.
InDesign’s automatic chapter prefix on a document page
Your section marker now appears on the document pages in that section.

Repeat the process for each section.

Adding automatic InDesign page numbers for ‘continued on’/‘continued from’ text

Magazines and newspapers often start an article or feature on one page, and then continue it on a page that isn’t the one immediately following it. InDesign also makes it easy for you to add these types of ‘continued on page X’ or ‘continued from page Y’ links. If you change the layout, moving the other part of the article to different pages, the page numbers in the ‘continued on/from’ boxes automatically update.

To do so, proceed as follows:

Create a new text frame and position it where you want it to appear. Important: it must also touch or overlap the text frame you want it to work with. Add your text to the text frame, such as ‘continued on page’ or ‘continued from page’ etc.

Creating a jump frame: cursor in position
The cursor in position, ready to add the marker

Now go to Type > Insert special character > Marker and choose either Next page number (for a ‘continued on’ frame) or Previous page number (for a ‘continued from’ frame).

Creating a jump frame: adding the ‘next page number’ marker
Adding the ‘next page number’ marker

The page number of the page where the next/previous text frame is located is added.

Creating a jump frame: the ‘continued on’ page number is automatically inserted
The ‘continued on’ page number has now been automatically inserted

If you move the next/previous text frame to another page of the document, this page number will now also automatically update to reflect this.

Creating a jump frame: the ‘continued from’ page number in place
The rest of the article, showing the automatic ‘continued from’ page number

It’s probably a good idea to group the main text frame and its accompanying ‘continued on/from’ frame. Select them both and press ⌘ + G (Windows: Ctrl + G) to group them.

Summary

Hopefully you now have a better understanding of how InDesign page numbers work. You can now take advantage of InDesign’s automatic numbering function, including using prefixes, sections and continued on/continued from jump links.

Has that helped you create your report, book or magazine? Let me know in the comments below.

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