Custom Page Numbering in Adobe InDesign

In this post we will take a look at how to customize page numbering in your Adobe InDesign documents. As a layout designer or even an eager beginner, you may have come across instances where you needed your page numbering to start at a particular page, not necessarily from the beginning of the document. It could be because your document starts with a cover page or a table of contents, for instance and you may want to start your page numbering from the third page of your document for example.
InDesign uses a “section” system, which allows us to customize page numbering quickly and easily. A section can start at any page of the document, and you can have multiple sections. Let’s find out how.

Step 1: Create or Open an Existing Document

Launch Adobe InDesign and create a new document (File > New > Document) or open an existing one (File > Open). For this example, I’ll create a new document with at least 12 pages.

Step 2: Set Up the Parent Pages

Parent pages are a kind of template pages that can be applied to your document pages (not to be confused with InDesign Templates which are a type of InDesign document). Parent pages are convenient for adding consistent elements like headers, footers, or page numbers to multiple pages at once, allowing you to control these elements centrally in one place.
Go to the Pages panel which is found in the Window menu. At the top, you’ll find the Parent pages, with the default Parent being the A-Parent. Double-click the A-Parent to switch to it.
Select the Type tool and draw a text box where you want the page number to appear, for instance, at the bottom of the page. Now, go to Type menu and under Insert Special Characters select Markers then Current Page Number. This action will insert a placeholder in this case in the form of a letter A (referring to the A-Parent) for the page number. Note: If you have used Facing Pages you will need to do this on both the left and right pages.

Step 3: Apply Parent Pages

Now that we have a page number placeholder in the Parent page, we need to apply it to our document pages. This process is automatic for a new document; all pages will have the A-Parent applied to them. For existing documents, you can drag and drop the A-Parent onto the desired pages in the Pages panel, or alternatively select the pages within the panel and right click to choose Apply Parent to Pages.

Step 4: Add Prefix to current numbering

To start page numbering from the third page, we need to create a new section that starts on that page. Before doing so however I am going to rename the current section which starts on the first page. This will allow us to start our new section at 1 when we create it later on the 3rd page.
In the Pages panel, right-click (or Control-click for Mac users) on the first page thumbnail and select Numbering & Section Options. In the dialog box that appears, set the Section Prefix to A then click OK. You should now see all your pages have been renumbered to A1, A2, A3, etc..

Step 5: Create a new Section

Having done this right click (or Control-click for Mac users) on the third page within the pages panel, and once again select Numbering & Section Options. This time we will check the second check box and set Start Page Numbering at: to 1. If you wish to change the style of your page numbering you can do so here from the Style drop down under the Page Numbering section. Click OK to save the changes and finish.

Step 6: Remove page numbering from the first 2 pages

You may notice that the first two pages, A1 and A2, still have numbering showing on them. You can remove this in a few different ways:
  • Ctrl (pc) / Cmd (mac) + Shift click on the page numbering text frames on those pages to unlock them and then delete them.   
  • Create a B-Parent with no numbering on it and apply to the two pages.
  • Apply the None parent, which removes all Parent formatting, to the first 2 pages.
And there you have it! With a few simple steps, you have customized page numbering in Adobe InDesign, allowing the numbering to start from the third page rather than the front cover.
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