InDesign Primary Text Frames
Learn more about InDesign at the Adobe website.

Autoflowing primary text frames is the key

First off, what the heck is a primary text frame in InDesign? This feature enables your document’s text frames to autoflow newly placed text. It also has the added benefit of adding any new pages needed in order to finish placing the entire inserted document.

Why use primary text frames at all?

They work best for long form documents, especially fiction/nonfiction books that use fewer separate text threads. They are less useful for smaller items like flyers and brochures, and they can be unwieldy in magazine and newspaper layouts that use many separate text threads.

However, have you ever run into an issue where you end up with text frames sitting on top of each other when you place text? Here’s how to avoid that in the future.

Let’s get into the flow…

  1. To start, head over to your parent page templates within Adobe InDesign’s Pages panel (enable this under Window | Pages).
  2. Click into each parent template spread, and ensure your Selection tool is selected (keyboard shortcut: V).
  3. Left-click on the little icon that looks like a tiny piece of paper with text on it in the upper left corner on both the right (recto) and left (verso) pages.
  4. This is essentially a toggle button that turns primary text frame functionality on and off on that specific page of your parent template. You’ll know the feature is turned on when you see a little arrow appear on the icon. This icon also shows up on the pages of your main document. If any of those pages don’t have that primary text frame icon toggled on, then you may end up with duplicate text frames.

Already have duplicates in your document?

What should you do if you already have a duplicate page you need to remove? Take these steps to rectify the problem:

  1. Delete all duplicate underlying text frames all the way back to where the problem first began.
  2. If creating a new document for the first time, ensure that the primary text frame checkbox is checked in the initial Create New Document dialogue box. However, if you forget, you can always go into each parent and add them manually.
    1. Another quick tip on starting a new document: ensure it has at least two pages or Smart Autoflow when placing text won’t work correctly.
  3. Again, it’s important to double check that every single page of every spread in every master/parent template has primary text frame toggled on.
  4. If they are not currently primary text frames, you can easily toggle them on. Just click the little icon in the upper left corner of each page in each parent to make it a primary (it explains what to do in the dialogue box that appears when you hover over the icon).
  5. Now ensure that every page in your document has the primary text frame symbol on the upper left corner. If they don’t, they won’t be autoflowed properly and the primary text frame will ignore them. This is also what causes duplicate text frames (one atop the other) on pages. Instead, what you want is threaded text frames.
  6. When you come across a page that isn’t autoflowing like the rest, move that page over with your selection tool and click into the page beneath it, to see if the frame below it has the primary text frame toggled on. If so, just delete the page above it, click the icon on the bottom right hand corner of the previous (correct page) of your document. This will reload the content that you just deleted on the incorrect page.
  7. Then you’ll simply click on the text threading icon in the upper left hand corner of the correctly threaded page to connect the page into the main flow of the document.

The best way to place text when using primary text frames

When placing new text from a Word doc into a template file that already has some text in it, the key is to click into the page you want to insert new content to, and go to File | Place in your menu or click CMD + D on your keyboard.

If everything is set up properly, you won’t have to Shift-Click or complete any other steps. It should automatically insert and autoflow the text once you click Open in the Place dialogue box.

Learn more…

For further general information on working with primary text frames, check out these resources:

  • Adobe’s user guide article on text threading:
  • InDesign Secrets how-to on primary text frames:

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