Synchronized Text in InDesign

September 20, 2005 - 1:00am ||| 3 Comments | Add new

QuarkXPress 6.X has an interesting feature called Synchronized Text, useful for keeping the contents of multiple text frames in synch with each other. When you modify the text of one of these boxes, all the other boxes you tagged to "synch to it" update automatically with the same text modifications (but keep their own formatting intact).

It's great for those times when you need more flexibiity than a master page text box affords, since a synched text box can be placed on any page on the fly, in different locations with different formatting, even in multiple layouts in the same project (file). No need to go to a master page to edit it, just edit the text in any of the frames and the ones in synch with it immediately update to match.

Surprisingly, everything you need to add a Synchronize Text feature to InDesign CS and CS2 is sitting right there in your program installation CD. They're called the InCopy Plug-ins. Look inside the program CD for a folder called Technical Information and you'll find them.

Everyone thinks of the InCopy plug-ins as something only useful for InDesign/InCopy workflows, but it's not true. A lone designer or design department can gain some new, useful InDesign features (such as Notes) just by using the plug-ins themselves, no editors need be involved.

With the InCopy plug-ins loaded (put them in a folder called InCopyWorkflow in InDesign's Plug-ins folder, then restart InDesign), you can create multiple instances of the same text frame in your layout and keep their contents — text *and* formatting — in synch by just modifying one of the instances.

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How to Synch Text in InDesign
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Set up: Assuming you've got the plug-ins loaded, go to File > User (a new menu item courtesy of the plug-ins) and give yourself a user name. Any name will do, it's not important if you're not actually sharing the layout with InCopy users.

Then anytime you want to create a set of synchronized text frames, do this:

1. Drag out a regular text frame and enter your text, formatting it as you wish. Leave your cursor in the frame, or select it with the Selection tool.

2. In InDesign CS2, choose Edit > InCopy > Export > Selection (in CS1, choose Edit > InCopy Stories > Export Selected Stories). You can also do this by right-clicking on the text frame and choosing the command from the contextual menu, or you can make a custom keyboard shortcut for the command.

3. In the resulting dialog box, choose a name/location for the InCopy story it's about to export, and click OK. You might want to give the story a meaningful name, like "house ad" or "return address," but keep the file extension intact (it'll be .incd for CS1, .incx for CS2).

If you're in Normal View mode (not Preview) with Frame Edges showing, you'll now see a little icon (a globe on a piece of paper) appear at the top left corner of the text frame, indicating the story is linked to an external InCopy file. You can still move the frame around and change its size, stroke, fill color, number of columns, etc. as with any other frame; but you won't be able to edit the text unless you check it out first. More on that in a bit.

Also take a look at your Links palette: You'll see an entry there for the story you just exported, ending in .incd or .incx. This is key, that the content of the text frame is linked to an external file. Don't worry about not having InCopy to edit the external file, you won't need it.

4. To create "instances" of this text frame elsewhere in your layout, copy/paste the entire frame with the Selection tool, or choose File > Place, select the story file that you saved and place it as you would any text file. Note that each text frame instance carries the same InCopy icon in its upper left-hand corner, and each instance gets its own entry to the same InCopy story in the Links palette, just as when you're working with placed images.

As with the first frame, you won't be able to edit the text content of these frames initially. However you can apply different fill colors, strokes and the like to one or more of them. Those frame properties aren't synched… you'd have to use CS2's Object Styles for that. Only the contents of the frames are synched, as in QuarkXPress.

5. To edit the synched text, select any of the instances you created in the layout, or the original one, and choose Edit > InCopy > Check Out (or press Command/Ctrl-F9). The icon on the frame changes to a Pencil indicating it's in editing mode. Go ahead and make any textual or formatting changes to the copy you wish.

6. When you're done, check the story back in by choosing Edit > InCopy > Check In Story (or press Command/Ctrl-Shift-F9), which automatically saves your changes to the story. Now save your document as well.

Unlike the Synchronized Text feature in Quark, checking in/saving your edits to a synched frame in InDesign doesn't automatically update all instances of it — boo, hiss, feature request. At least you're notified that you have to take one more step, though, by the little yellow triangle icons that sprout on their frames, the same "out of date" icon you're used to seeing in the Links palette. And indeed, the same warning triangles appear next to their entries in the Links palette. (If you're not seeing the triangles in the Links palette, close and open it again to refresh it.)

7. To synch up the other instances of the story to match, do it the same way you'd update a modified, placed image. In the Links palette, Shift- or Command/Ctrl-click all the stories with a yellow triangle, and choose Update Link from the palette's menu or icon. All the synched frames redraw and show the changes you've made to the one you edited, formatting intact.

That's it!

By the way, if you ever want to "un-synch" a frame, just select its entry in the Links palette and choose Unlink from the Links palette menu. That turns it into a regular InDesign text frame, and it loses its InCopy icon.

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Better/Worse than QuarkXPress?
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In many ways, the Synchronized Text feature in QuarkXPress is better — obviously because it's an actual feature complete with its own dedicated palette, whereas in InDesign we're using plugins meant for a different purpose. But let's talk about it a bit.

First, in Xpress, each synched text box can have its own formatting … what's actually synched is the literal text string inside the text box, and that's it. In InDesign, the formatting of the text is synched as well as the text itself. You can't have two synched frames with the same text but different styles applied in InDesign.

The other big advantage in Quark is the Synchronized Text palette itself. Naming synched frames, tracking them and synching/unsynching them is straightforward with the help of the palette. InDesign's Links palette (and the Assignments palette in InDesign CS2, which is dedicated to linked InCopy stories) do the job but they're far more complex, since each palette does much more than just synch text frames in the same file.

But using the InCopy plug-ins for synched text in InDesign offers a feature Quark's Synchronized Text does not: You can synch the same text across multiple documents. Quark can do this with multiple layouts in the same file, but not across multiple files, as in a Book project, where it'd really come in handy.

You can understand this crucial feature better if you think of that external InCopy story — the one you created when you exported the first frame — as an original image that can be placed into multiple files. If you open a document that has a link to it, and the story has been modified, you can update any instances of that text frame just as you would for an image.

And how does that external story get modified if you don't have InCopy? From InDesign! You just did it in steps 5 and 6 above. When you check out a story, you're saying "let me edit this external file." When you check it back in, you're saying "save these edits to the external file."

I think it's pretty cool.

Comments (Subscribe to Comments RSS)

1 February 11, 2012 - 4:31am by Veronica (not verified):

Thanks for tip how to edit the synched text, I always had problems with that flex seal reviews

2 April 23, 2012 - 10:48pm by alodiechris5 (not verified):

This is a extremely excellent post. I enjoyed reading through your current post. Need to confess that you’re most likely amongst the flex seal reviews leading bloggers I’ve read.
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3 October 3, 2012 - 3:27am by David (not verified):

I am looking for this exact information. I am glad that I found this information here. You tips to sync text in InDesign are really good.
David

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