InDesign FX: Simulating ruled notebook paper

Published by | Thursday, September 6th, 2012

This week’s InDesign FX movie is another example of how you can combine simple and precise drawing techniques, transparency effects, and an eye for detail to simulate real-world objects in a convincing manner. In this case, I made sheets of notebook paper from scratch.

Sheets of college-ruled notebook paper made in Adobe InDesign

You may be wondering, why would you want to go to the trouble of making something like notebook paper, when you can find it in a piece of stock art, or simply put a sheet of it on a scanner? There are two main reasons, I think. The first is flexibility. When you create artwork from scratch, you get to make every choice about how it looks. That’s not the case when you use a piece of stock art and sometimes you have to settle for whatever you can find in a timely manner. That time you spend searching in vain could be spent drawing exactly what you want—and later on, if you’re asked to change the art, you know exactly what can be done and how to do it, because you built it in InDesign. That brings me to the second advantage: efficiency. Every high-resolution photo you place into InDesign adds complexity and size to the file, and another piece to track in your workflow. You also have to maintain image files on disks and sometimes move them between machines. While storage is cheap and plentiful nowadays, that’s not always the case with bandwidth. If I’m stuck somewhere with a slow Internet connection, I’d much rather have to retrieve a 75k InDesign snippet than a 25 MB Photoshop file.

But of course these advantages don’t really matter if you can’t get a look that’s really convincing. In the movie, I accomplish this by using dialog boxes and panels to create, size, and move objects in a precise and consistent manner, rather than dragging them around the page and approximating. For example, the lines on the paper are easily achieved with paragraph rules.

Detail of the paragraph-ruled lines on the notebook paper in Adobe InDesign

This makes it very easy to quickly add as many equally spaced lines as I want just by pressing the return key on my keyboard. I can move them all at once by selecting the text frame (no grouping necessary). And if I want to adjust them at all, I can simply select the text and change the width, color, or offset in the Paragraph Rules dialog box.

Paragraph Rules dialog box in Adobe InDesign

Holes can be punched in the page using blending modes with the Knockout Group feature.

Detail of the holes in the notebook paper made using Adobe InDesign

Another nice thing about drawing the pages from scratch is that you can copy and paste one of them to easily add as many more pages as you like. And you can add even more realism by reducing the opacity of the pages, so you can see through them just a little, as is the case with real notebook paper.

Detail of the semi-opaque ruled notebook pages made using Adobe InDesign

I also have another member-exclusive movie in the library this week called Using multiple effects to create plastic type.

Molded-plastic type effect made using Adobe InDesign

In this new movie, I show how to create a plastic-molded type look by layering copies of text with various effects applied to each one. If you’ve never tried the Pillow Emboss option, this effect shows you one of its uses.

See you here again in two weeks with another InDesign effect!

Interested in more?
• The complete InDesign FX course
• All InDesign courses on
• All courses by Mike Rankin on

Suggested courses to watch next:
• InDesign Secrets
• InDesign CS6 Essential Training 
• InDesign CS6 New Features 
 Deke’s Techniques

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6 Responses to “InDesign FX: Simulating ruled notebook paper”

  1. ngoc hoang says:

    Thanks for this tutorial. You teach me understand something. (~.~)

  2. Mike Rankin says:

    Hi Ngoc-

    Thanks for watching! Glad you enjoyed it.

  3. Amanda says:


    I know this may be a basic question, but how did you get your initial background to look like that? Also, the tutorial was very helpful. Thanks!

  4. Krystal says:

    This is a great tutorial. How do you place a large amount of text on the page without moving the lines down?

  5. Mike Rankin says:

    Hi Amanda-

    The background under the paper is a placed stock photo of some wood grain. Thanks for watching!


  6. Mike Rankin says:

    Hi Krystal-

    I’d use two text frames, stacked right on top of each other. The one underneath will have no text in it, but a whole bunch of empty paragraphs (just a series of paragraph returns stretching to the bottom of the page) styled to create the blue lines. Then on top of that, a text frame with no fill color containing all the text.

    Glad you enjoyed the video :)


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