Ghost In The Machine


Ahoy mateys! T’is I, Captain Mike, returned from my time at sea, with a tip straight from Davey Jones’ locker, on how to hoist a ghostly Jolly Roger on an InDesign page. Arrrr!

Whew, sorry for the piratespeak. A week of sun, sand, and gift shops stocked with eyepatches and rubber hooks will do that to a person. Here’s in interesting tidbit on what I have dubbed InDesign Ghost Frames, which I discovered last week on the Vineyard while my kids were watching Scooby Doo. Coincidence? Hmmmm.

I never believed in ghosts till I started reading the InDesign Help file. I’m not talking about the ectoplasmic remnants of ex-people. I mean spooky page objects that affect a layout even though you can’t see or select them. Behold, an empty looking document page.

All layers are visible. Guides and frame edges are showing. You’ll have to trust me on those; scout’s honor. OK, nothing there, right? Now I draw a frame and fill it with text.

ZOINKS! It’s the ghost of Credit Card Bills Yet To Come! This page is haunted! Or is it? There must be a perfectly logical explanation. Hop in the Mystery Machine and help yourself to some Scooby Snacks. We’re going to find just what this ghost is made of.

In a new document, go to a master page and create a text frame. Using a ghastly font, type a ghoulish glyph.

Convert it to outlines (cmd-shift-o).

Now let’s gracefully remove the outlined glyph from its frame. With the Selection tool, select the text frame and the outlined glyph, then choose Object > Pathfinder > Intersect.

Scale it to monstrous proportions.

Turn on Text Wrap: Wrap Around Object Shape, with zero offset.

Set stroke and fill to None.

And now for unmasking. Our ghost becomes totally invisible on a document page if we go to the Pages panel and uncheck Allow Master Item Overrides on Selection.

As a master page item, our skull and crossbones would normally have a dotted outline in its layer color. And it could be overridden by cmd-shift clicking/dragging it. But with this option turned off, the outline vanishes and the object cannot be overridden or detached from the master. From the document page, it is invincible and invisible–lurking until its presence is revealed by some unsuspecting text that wanders by. Of course, I could have used any object with text wrap applied to it; I didn’t have to start out with a glyph. But then you wouldn’t’ve gotten the bonus Pathfinder tip. Also, I did a Find/Change after filling the frame with text to remove all End of Paragraph markers and give the skull a cleaner outline.

I’m not yet sure what I’d use a Ghost Frame for, but it fascinates me that I can completely hide something on a document page. Maybe a less creepy hidden message or watermark. Keep this trick in mind if you ever can’t tell why text is jumping around on an otherwise deserted page. It’s also a good prank to play on your unsuspecting co-workers. Just make sure there are no meddling kids around to foil your plans.

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