InDesign liquid pouring into smartphone

Liquid Layouts were an idea ahead of their time. They let you create “rules” governing how the items on your InDesign pages would scale and change position if the InDesign page were to change size.

liquid layout panel

This liquid ability was no doubt the InDesign team’s solution to a problem that was on its way: the mass availability of smartphones and tablets of various screen sizes, and the need to create digital content for these new devices.

The Liquid Layout feature pre-dated what would be the web’s solution to this problem: CSS Media Queries.

There’s a motto in investing, “being early is the same as being wrong.” Here, the InDesign team’s efforts were early, and Liquid Layout Rules do not map well to CSS Media Queries.

So what are Liquid Layouts good for?

Liquid Layouts still have two excellent uses, both connected to Alternate Layouts:

  1. To more quickly create Alternative Layouts, with less rework.
  2. To create Responsive Layouts, using the in5 add-on.

Let’s look at both of those in a bit more detail.

Using Liquid Layout Rules to create Alternate Layouts

Since Liquid Layout Rules help you dictate how your page items will scale and re-position, this will apply when you create Alternate Layouts. Alternate Layouts are an InDesign feature that let you design pages in parallel so that you can design for different sizes (e.g., letter and A4) in the same InDesign document.

alternate layouts example in the pages panel

The big advantage is that you can reuse all of your artwork, your text styles, and you can even link your text so that you don’t have to make edits more than once.

If you didn’t apply Liquid Layout rules before creating an Alternate Layout, then you’d need to manually re-position and scale every item on every page. Setting up a few rules in advance makes this whole process easier.

The best documentation on this use of Liquid Layout can be found in Eric Gamet’s Understanding Liquid Layouts series.

Using Liquid Layout Rules to create Responsive Layouts

While Adobe’s Digital Publishing Suite (DPS) has vanished, there’s still a home for InDesign and Liquid Layouts in your digital publishing projects.

in5 supports both Liquid Layouts and using Alternate Layouts to create CSS media query breakpoints (mentioned above). This is done automatically—under the hood—without the need for you to write any code. in5 uses your Alternate Layouts to create different layouts for different screen sizes and automatically shows the correct layout to the reader.

responsive layouts switching as browser size changes

in5 can also use Liquid Layout rules to interpolate within those layouts, so that you see dynamic scaling and positioning within a single layout.

By combining Liquid Layouts and Alternate Layouts, in5 lets you create a modern, responsive website or digital magazine…even though the Liquid Layout panel itself was a little too far ahead of its time.

You can learn all about creating Responsive Layouts with Liquid Layouts.

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