How to Create a Brochure with Adobe InDesign: A Step By Step Guide for Non-Designers

But first, let me tell you about a situation I experienced in the past, and you may have experienced something similar.

Okay… It’s time for the team meeting. You sit around a table with your colleagues, and your boss starts recounting the big projects that are approaching next semester. Fundraising season is on the horizon, a new lecture series is starting soon and several faculty members closely affiliated with your department are teaching a new experimental class. Oh, and don’t forget that presidential initiative to support and increase diversity on campus!

All positive updates — great stuff! But then…

We need something,” says your boss. “Something to showoff all these things we’re doing, and the great programs we have…”

And then you hear those four words, and you’re not at all ready for them.

“We need a brochure!”

Immediately your mind starts racing through all the tasks involved in this project. Do we need to take photos? Can the dean write a welcome letter? How big is this project going to be?

If this scenario sounds at all familiar, then this guide is for you. Adobe InDesign is, hands down, the first choice among many professional designers and publishers when creating printed materials. After all, if you’re going to spend the time learning a program and making this brochure the right way, why not do it with the best, most industry-standard tool out there?

Now, this guide is centered around “taking action”. I’m not going to spend a lot of time showing you all the buttons and features, but instead I’m going to walk you through the 6 basic steps required to get up and running. Fast.

Just follow along, do the steps, and you’ll be on your way to creating your brochure in 20 minutes.

For this example, I’m going to create a the structure of a basic recruitment brochure to attract applications for a certificate program, and I’m going to feature a variety of image and text elements including photos of faculty, students and alumni.

But you can apply these same 6 steps a create whatever you need to create, whether it’s a brochure to attract donors, an annual report for your board members or a promotional tool to drum up applications for a grant or fellowship. No matter what the goal or purpose of your printed material is, all of these basic steps will apply.

Now, InDesign can be very intimidating. My goal with this tutorial is to help you understand and focus on the 6 steps you need to master to create just about any printed project with Adobe InDesign.

Step 1 — Get Organized

First, create a new folder with your project name. Within that folder, create two new folders called “Text” and “Graphics”. This folder structure will become your “home base” where you store a copy of all your source files or “input” files. Think of these as raw materials that will be assembled into a finished product, much like you may slice and prep many ingredients before mixing them into a dinner salad.

InDesign has what I like to call a “non-destructive workflow”. This means as you build your publication, InDesign will link to the individual files within your home base folder, but never actually alter, move or edit them. The benefit of this approach is that you can complete your entire layout of the brochure, and then fix typos in your text files or refine the brightness of a photograph at a later time. Changes made to the original text and graphic files that sit within your home base folder will be carried over to your InDesign file.

So you’re going to save each of your text files as individual word documents, named by the location in the brochure where they will be placed (such as deans_letter.doc or student_story_martinez.doc). Just like a magazine has different “chunks” of text on each page, you want to organize your text building blocks in the same manner. In much the same way, save your images at a print-quality resolution (at least 300 d.p.i. or dots-per-inch) and name them accordingly in a such way that you can easily find them later (such as martinez_profile.jpg or cover_feature_art.jpg or deans_profile_photo.jpg).

Step 2 — Create Your Document

Before beginning this project you really need to ask and answer questions like: What’s the goal of this brochure? What am I trying to communicate? Who is the audience who will be reading this? Remember that the purpose of effective design is to bring to life the content (text, graphics, photos) that are in your document.

While you can certainly change the document dimensions later for projects with only a handful of pages (less than 10), it can become a very time consuming task to change your layout for dozens or hundreds of pages. So, as a rule of thumb, it’s best to try to lock down the dimensions of your document at this stage, before proceeding on.

For my simple recruitment brochure, I’ll keep it simple with a letter sized paper and 0.5” margins.

Step 3 — Place Images

Remember that folder we made with the text files and graphics files neatly organized? The “Place” function is InDesign’s way to “put that stuff on the page” in a non-destructive manner. This means that you can places images on the page by creating a “link” to the original image file that sits in your home base folder without actually editing or altering the file.

Step 4 — Place Text

Placing text works in similar way as placing images. The great part is this text is not simply pasted onto the page, but rather it’s linked to the original Word document. This means that any edits you make to your original Word document will be reflected in your InDesign document the next time you open it.

As you can imagine, this is a great system for complex publications in which there will be multiple rounds of reviews, meetings and edits, edits, edits!

Step 5 — Lay out the rest of the document

By learning each of the steps above, you can continue on and lay out the rest of your document. When you need an image, place it and crop it. When you need text, place it and flow it to fit into whatever column arrangement you desire.

These steps are the essential 10% of InDesign that you need to create 90% of all the documents you could imagine.

Step 6 — Export as a PDF to print

When you’re finished with your document, click on File > Export to save your document as a PDF. All that’s left to do is send it on to your printer!

This is all you need to know to get up and running. Don’t let InDesign be a complex and scary place. It’s simple if you focus on my 6 steps.

Ready to get started?

Senior Director of Digital Communications & Brand Experience at NYU School of Global Public Health / Podcast Producer / Occasional Bowhunter