Modular grids play a fundamental role in the foundation of graphic design and page layout. Whether you’re designing for print or web, using grids allow you to organize content, establish consistency and create hierarchy within your layout. Grid systems can seem daunting and complex but they’re actually simple in concept and allow you to create variations of your designs quickly while keeping symmetry on a page. In the following tutorial, I will go through how to set up column grids and modular grids using Adobe InDesign CC. The same steps can be used for older versions of InDesign, such as CS6 and CS5.
For further information on grids I would recommend The Grid System which is a good online resource. The also recommend some great books on using grid systems within page layout, web and typography. http://www.thegridsystem.org/category/books/
I would also recommend a great Open Source Textbook by OpenTextBC Graphic Design Principles.
Building Modular Grids with InDesign
Step 1: Create a new document in InDesign. (CMD+N). I’ll be creating a 16x10in document, which is 96 picas(p) x 60 picas(p). You can set your margins to .25in all the way around, which is 1p6 or 1.5p.
To convert inches (in) to picas (p): Take the number of inches and multiply by 6. 6 picas = 1 inch. Eg., 10 inches x 6 = 60 picas.
To convert points (pts) to picas (p): Take the number of points and divide by 12. 12pts = 1 pica. (Use remainders and not decimals) Eg., 18pts / 12 = 1p6 or 1.5p.
Step 2: Open the page panel and double click on the master page to activate it. It’s good practice to setup your grids on your master pages so that they will be applied to the entire document. If you have facing pages, select both master pages before creating your grids. You can also setup multiple grids by using multiple master pages.
Step 3: Now that you’ve selected your master pages, you can adjust and create grid columns by going to your menu and selecting (Layout > Margins and Columns). I usually find setting my columns in increments of 3 or 5 to work well with print layouts. However, you are free to use as many columns necessary for your design and the amount of content you are laying out.
When applying grids to facing pages (spreads) I usually like to increase my inner and bottom margins to accommodate for the gutter of the booklet and folios along the bottom of the page.
Step 4: Now that you have your columns set, it’s time to create your modules for your grid. We can add horizontal guides to create our modular grid by going back to our menu and selecting (Layout > Create Guides).
Since we’ve previously added columns we can skip adding column guides and focus on adding row guides to build our modular grid. I’ll enter 6 rows for my grid. You also want to start your guides within the margins and not the page so that you get equal spacing.
When setting the gutter spacing for your grids, the gutter width is dependant on your leading spacing. Let’s assume your text will be set at 10pt on 12pt leading. Your gutter spacing should be a minimum 12pt and can go up to 1.5x your leading space. Eg., 12pt x 1.5 = 18pt. Therefore 18pts would be the maximum width for your gutter spacing. If it is set larger than 18 pts, and you decide to have two or more columns of text on the page, it may appear as if your text reads as separate paragraphs.
Step 5: We can take this grid a step further and setup our baseline grids to align our text columns without staggering their appearance. Go up to your menu and select (View > Show Guides and Grids > Show Baseline Grid). To view the baseline grid, you may have to zoom in a bit for them to appear.
Step 6: Now that our baseline grid is displayed, we can adjust our baseline grid to match our intended leading spacing for our body of text. We’ll continue to assume that our text will be 10pt on 12pt leading. Go to your menu and choose (InDesign > Preferences > Grids). I like to set my baseline relative to the top margin and start it at the 0, which is the very top.
Step 7: If you notice any overlap in your grid compared to your margins, you can always go back to your Margin and Column menu and adjust the top and bottom margins so that they align to the baseline grid.
Step 8: Now that you’ve got your modular grid setup and ready to go, let’s start to add some type to our page and put the grid into action. Go back to your page panel and exit your master page by clicking on page 1 of your document. We can now type out a heading using a typeface and font size of your choice.
To use the grid, start your text blocks, text columns and or images on the left of one grid column and end on the right side of a grid column. Never begin on the left side of a grid column and end on the left side of another grid column. The gutter spacing is used for equal spacing between page elements.
After typing out your heading, highlight your text and align your text to the baseline grid by selecting the ‘align to baseline grid’ icon in the control panel.
Modular Grid Summary
You can now experiment freely with your modular grid. Try creating text columns and fill them with placeholder text (Type > Fill with Placeholder Text) and remember to align your text to the baseline grid. As you get more familiar with using grids, you will start to see how quickly you can create consistency on a page and establish hierarchy within your designs.
Try this mini assignment for more practice using modular grids. I’ve provided an example alongside of the instructions.Modular Grids Project