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Mastering InDesign master pages

“You mean to say you don’t have to copy and paste all the elements onto every single page?”

That’s right. InDesign master pages are a massive help when creating books, magazines, reports or any other longer document.


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!

What are InDesign master pages?

InDesign’s master pages make it easy to create standardised designs and layouts in multi-page documents such as books and magazines.

You place elements that should appear on multiple pages – such as text frames, image frames, page numbers, headers, borders, backgrounds and logos – on master pages. These elements then appear on all document pages that have that master page applied to them, and you can populate text frames and image frames with text and images. If you later edit elements on the master page, the respective elements on the document pages this master page is applied to then change automatically.

This means that, for example when creating a book, you don’t have to copy and paste all the page elements from one page to every single other page.

Viewing InDesign master pages

To see the master pages and work with them, open Window > Pages (⌘ + F12, Windows: no shortcut). This opens the Pages panel.

The default master pages

Every InDesign document you create automatically has two default master pages: A-Master and [None]. Depending whether your document is set up as single pages or spreads, your A-Master will either be a single page or double page spread.

When you create a new document, you will see that A-Master is already applied to its pages (denoted by the letter A in the top corner of the page icon).

InDesign’s master pages panel
InDesign’s Pages panel, showing that the default master A has been applied to all pages.

It’s easy to see how master pages work.

Double-click on your A-Master master page. It now opens in the main document area, just like a normal document page. Add one or more elements to the master page, and you will see that they automatically appear on the document pages.

Here you can see that I’ve added a placeholder author name and book title, as well as page numbers, to my master pages. These now appear on the document pages.

Master page items on document pages
Items added to master pages automatically appear on the document pages the master is applied to.


To get a text box to appear automatically on every page, check the Primary text frame box in the new document dialogue box. Then, when you import or paste text into the document, it automatically fills the boxes, adding new pages if needed.

You can recognise master page elements on document pages by the fact that they have a dotted border, instead of a solid one. You are also unable to click them in the way you can normal page elements.

Master page items on a document spread
Master page items have a dotted border.

Applying the [None] master page to a document page removes the master page association (but not the master page itself). In other words, the master page elements disappear from the document page.

Creating master pages

In the real world, you’re likely to need more than one master page (or set of master page spreads), with each page or spread featuring different elements.

For example, in a book, there may be preface/prologue/epilogue sections in smaller type, and different sections may have different page numbering systems, for instance, Roman numerals for the preface. You’d therefore create master pages for each of these design variants, and apply them to the respective pages.

InDesign’s master pages are even more useful in magazine design. Magazines typically feature a greater variety of page layouts, utilising different colour schemes, typefaces and graphical elements, with the positioning of these items varying across magazine sections. Each of these has its own master page.

You can create a master page from scratch, or on the basis of a page you have already laid out. You can even create master pages on the basis of existing master pages.

Creating a master page from scratch

Click on the menu icon at the top right of the pages panel, and choose New master.

‘New master’ menu item in the InDesign pages panel
Creating a new master page
New master page dialogue box
This opens the ‘New master’ dialogue box

This is pre-populated with a suggested prefix B (following on from A, the default) and the default name ‘Master’. But ‘Master’ isn’t a very meaningful name, so it makes sense to call it something that makes more sense, perhaps based on how you will be using it: ‘Prologue’, ‘Index’ or ‘Main feature’ etc.

I also changed the number in Number of pages from 2 to 1. This is because, in this example, I’m making a master page for the pages where new chapters start. This will only ever be a single page, not a double-page spread. (Leave this set to 2 if you want to be able to apply your master page to spreads.)


The size and orientation settings in the New master dialogue are useful if you’re creating a magazine or brochure with fold-out sections.

Creating a master page from an existing master page

The Based on master: field enables you to create a master page based on an existing one. This is useful when you want to keep most of the existing elements of a master page as they are, but with some differences. These could be additional or fewer items, different positioning, different colour, different type size etc.

A master page based on an existing master
A master page based on an existing master.

Note that master pages based on other master pages show the original master page’s prefix at the top of their icon, just like document pages based on master pages do.

This feature enables you to create book and magazine layouts that are varied, yet consistent. First of all create a main master, containing the common elements such as text frames, page numbers and anything else that will always be the same. You can then base new master pages for the different sections and layout styles on this. If you need to change the basic design, you only have to change the main master page.

Duplicating master pages

As well as creating new master pages based on existing master pages, you can also just duplicate a master page. To do so, click the master page in the pages panel. Then, either drag it to the new page icon at the bottom of the panel, or open the panel menu and choose Duplicate master spread [name].

The menu method only works if you click the master page’s name (not its icon). The drag and drop method works if you click on either.

Duplicate master spread
Duplicating a master using the menu

Creating a master page from an existing document page

Sometimes you may have laid out a document page to your satisfaction, and then realise that you could use it as a master page.

This is easy to do. Just drag your page or spread from the document pages section of the pages panel (below the horizontal divider) to the master page section.

Alternatively, create a new master page in the usual way, then choose an existing master page from the Based on master dropdown.


Master pages sit behind the document page content, but you can use layers for your master pages, just as you can on normal pages. If you put page numbers and headers etc on a higher layer, they then appear over coloured backgrounds and photos.

Applying master pages in InDesign

To apply master pages to document pages, you can either:

  • Drag and drop a master page’s icon onto a document page icon in the pages panel
  • Right-click a document page icon in the pages panel, and choose Apply master to pages. Then, in the dialogue box, choose which master page you want to apply to which page(s).
  • To apply a master page to multiple pages, select the pages in the pages panel and option-click (Windows: alt-click) a master page.


If your document is set up as spreads, and your master pages are therefore also spreads, you don’t have to apply the entire spread to your document pages. Provided that the elements on your master spread do not overlap from one page of the spread to the other, you can apply a left-hand master page to a left-facing page, and a different right-hand master page to its opposite page.

But if your master spread features a photo, background or some other element that overlaps across both pages of the spread, applying a master spread will apply this master to both pages of the document spread.

How to edit an InDesign master page

Editing a master page is just the same as editing a normal page – double-click on it in the pages panel, and it opens in the main screen, just like a normal page.

Your edits automatically appear on all the pages this master page is applied to.

Unless you have used overrides on your document pages…

Overriding master page elements

Sometimes you may want to edit a page element that originates from a master page. While you could of course create a new master page for this small edit, it may not be worth doing.

You can therefore override master page elements. To do, ⌘ + Shift + click on the element. (Windows: Ctrl + Shift + click). Its border now changes to that of an editable page element, meaning you can resize it, reposition it or change its colour etc.

Even though you have overridden this item’s master page element, the link to the master page still remains. If you later change your mind, and would like to restore this item to how it originally was on the master page, this is easy to do.

Select it, open the menu at the top right-hand side of the pages panel and select Master pages > Remove selected local overrides.

Remove selected master page overrides
Removing selected local master overrides from a document page.

You can also override all master page elements on a particular page by selecting it in the pages panel and choosing Override all master page items from the panel menu, or by pressing ⌘ + Shift + Option + L (Windows: Ctrl + Shift + Alt + L). 

Override all master page items
Overriding all master items on a particular page.

Detaching master items from master pages

From this same menu, you can also choose Detach selection from master, which breaks the selected overridden element’s link to the master page.

Similarly, Detach all objects from master detaches them all.

Detach a master page item from its master
Detaching a selected, overridden object on a document page from its master.

Copying master pages between documents

There are a few ways to do this.

  • In the target document, go to the pages panel’s menu and choose Master pages > Load master pages. Then select the source document.
  • Open the source and the target documents. In the source document, right-click on the name of a master page (not its icon) in the pages panel, choose Move master and then select the target document. Alternatively, choose Layout > Pages > Move master.
  • Open the source and the target documents, and drag the master from the source to the target.
Loading master pages from another InDesign document
Loading a master page from another document
Moving an InDesign master page to another document
Moving a master page to another document


This is OK if you find you’d like to use your master pages in another document. But if you will be creating magazines or books, or some other project that will always use the same master pages, it’s easier to create an InDesign template. Open a document that contains the finished master pages you will be using, and go to File > Save as > Save as InDesign template. Then, when it’s time to create your next project, simply open the template. This creates a new, untitled copy of the template file for you to work on.

Deleting master pages

In the pages panel, drag a master page to the wastebasket icon at the bottom of the panel.

Alternatively, right-click a master, choose Delete master spread [name] and confirm.

InDesign now applies its [None] master to the pages this deleted master page was applied to.

Delete master page
Deleting a master page.


I hope that’s made the subject of InDesign master pages a bit clearer for you, and that you’ll be able to use this knowledge in your own projects.

Anything still not clear? Let me know in the comments below.

Paul Jackson

I’m Paul Jackson, a British graphic designer/web designer in Essen, Germany. “I help record labels and other creative people realise their music, book and website projects.” See my about me page for more information.

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