Quick Tip: Speed Up Your Adobe InDesign Workflow With the Content Collector Tool

Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

A problem many Adobe InDesign users encounter is the time-consuming and mind-numbingly repetitive task of copying and pasting content, e.g. images, shapes, etc., from one page to another page in your InDesign document, or even pasting content onto completely separate documents.
In Adobe InDesign CS6 and CC you’ll find a fantastic little tool that can help you manage repeated content more easily: the Content Collector Tool, and its partner-in-crime, the Content Placer Tool. 
Read on to find out how you can use the Content Collector function to speed up your workflow, and help you better manage long, image-filled documents like magazines, brochures and books.
You can treat the Content Collector function as a sort of ‘basket’—you can drop content into it, and this basket will remain filled as you move through a document, and even when you move across into other InDesign documents.
I like to think of the tool as a basket, particularly because the keyboard shortcut for the Content Collector Tool is B

content collector tool

You can hit B again to switch further along to the Content Placer Tool. This tool effectively empties the basket.

content placer tool

Find the Content Collector and Content Placer Tools in the Tools panel, towards the end of the first section of the panel.

the tools panel

Selecting the Content Collector Tool (B) opens up a greyed-out panel at the bottom of the workspace. InDesign refers to this as a ‘conveyor’.

open conveyer

In this tutorial I’ll demonstrate how I can use the Content Collector and Placer Tools to move content between the pages of an example magazine layout, and also how I can move content easily between the magazine document and another InDesign document, which is an image-based moodboard.
If you want to learn more about creating the magazine layout andmoodboard pictured here, click on the links to go to the full tutorials.
Here we have the first spread of a magazine layout. Let’s say we want to pick up some of the images used on this spread and the pasteboard beside it, and copy them over to another spread of the same magazine document.
First up we need to select the Content Collector Tool by hitting the keyboard shortcut (B) or selecting it from the Tools panel.

magazine spread

Note: Whenever you have the Content Collector or Content Placer Toolsselected, the grey conveyer belt will appear at the bottom of the workspace. If you deselect the tools, say to use a different tool like the Selection Tool (V, Escape), the conveyer belt disappears. 
The Content Collector will store any group of content you have picked up, and remember it the next time you activate the Content Collector Tool.
While you have the Content Collector Tool (B) selected, you can simply click on any element on the page to pick it up and drop it into the conveyer. 
You’ll notice that when you hover over a single element on the page, such as an image frame, a text frame, or a shape, the cursor highlights that element with a prominent colored frame, which corresponds to the color of the layer that the element is placed on.

picked up content

We can now navigate to another spread in the magazine document, finding a page where we want to drop our stored content.
Switch to the Content Placer Tool by hitting B again on the keyboard.
You’ll notice that the cursor adjusts, and now has a ‘loaded’ symbol next to it, implying it’s ready to drop the content onto the page.
On this spread we want to drop the image of the woman, not the first image loaded onto the cursor, which is of a pile of jeans. To switch between the content loaded onto the cursor, just use the left and right arrow keys on the keyboard.

cursor loaded with content
ready to place content

Click onto the page to drop the item of content onto the page. The item will be at the same dimensions and proportions as the original item of content, when it was picked up on the first spread.

placed image

You can then go ahead and resize the content if needed, to adapt it to the spread. If you return to the Content Placer Tool you can see that the cursor is still loaded with the other item(s) of content not yet placed on the document.

resized image

Again, we can move to another spread and click onto the page to release the cursor’s loaded content onto the page. This time, an image of folded jeans provides a central focus for this otherwise text-based spread.
When the content in the conveyer is exhausted, InDesign automatically closes the conveyer and deselects the Content Placer Tool.

second placed image

Note: Empty the conveyer by pressing the Esc key, which will clear your content one by one.
You can also place content onto a completely separate InDesign document, using exactly the same process. First, pick up the content from the first document using the Content Collector Tool (B).

moodboard with content conveyer

Navigate to the second document, hit B again to activate the Content Placer Tool, and load up your cursor with content.

loaded cursor

Click onto the document to place the content. Even better, if you have pre-prepared image frames on the page, you can place the content directly into these.

placed content into image frames

A great tip for preserving the arrangement of a number of items on a page or spread is to create a Set in the Content Collector conveyer. 
This is different to a Group of items, which we actually created in the steps above. AGroup is a collection of separate elements that you can place into the layout one by one. 
Set remembers how elements are arranged on the page, and replicates that arrangement for you when you use the Content Collector and Placer Tools. Let’s take a quick look at how to create a Set
Here we have returned to one of the spreads of the magazine layout. Now, let’s say I want to make a copy of some of the elements on the page, and transfer them to another document, preserving their arrangement on this, the original layout.
First, I select the Content Collector Tool (B) and bring up the conveyer on screen.

picked up a set of content

I then drag across the page to select a number of elements, and when I release the mouse, the Content Collector Tool has arranged these into a single Set in the conveyer below. 
Here, I can see that I’ve picked up an arrangement of 12 items.

twelve items in set

I go to a different document, and then switch to the Content Placer Tool. When I click onto the page, the tool remembers how the items related to one another on the original spread, and places the items just as they appeared on the original spread (though the Set will position itself from the place where you just clicked, not at the original X and Y positions of the original spread).

new blank document
placed set of content

You can also scale the Set of items, by clicking and dragging downwards onto the page, rather than just clicking once. You can choose to scale the content up or down, and InDesign will adapt the size of the frames as you drag.

scaled set of content
enlarged content set

In this Quick Tip tutorial I’ve given you a brief introduction to using InDesign’s Content Collector function. 
It may sound a little gimmicky, but in the right context, when dealing with long or numerous content-heavy documents, it could quickly become your new best friend. Every design professional wants to be able to speed up their workflow and become more time efficient, and the Content Collector allows you to do just that!


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