Page Numbering Tricks

InDesign’s automatic page numbers work well enough, but what about special cases? Some documents require pages to be omitted from total page counts. Other documents use several different systems. Sometimes section numbers or special codes must be included. Well, don’t start typing in those numbers manually, because InDesign can handle it—and quite gracefully, too.

Every Page Counts

Remember, whether the number is displayed on the page or not, it is counted in the document. Simply removing a page number marker from a page isn’t going to change how that page is counted. To change the counting of pages you will need to use Numbering & Section Options.

Automatic Page Number Markers

The standard method for displaying a page number in InDesign is to insert an Automatic Page Number Marker into a text frame (Text menu: Insert Special Character: Marker: Current Page Number). This is typically done on your master page(s) so that the page number will appear on every page using that master. If you wish to hide the page number on pages in your document, just use a different master that does not include the marker (or use the “None” master if you do not wish to display any master page items).

Numbering & Section Options

Look in the pages panel at the first page of a document. See the black triangle over the page thumbnail? That indicates that the page is the beginning of a new section. Each page that begins a new section in your document will have that little black triangle over it.

You cannot specify when a section ends. Rather, sections always continue until the next section starts. Each section can have entirely unique page numbering. It can be based on the section that preceded it, or it can arbitrarily start at any number you choose.

To set numbering and section options, either right-click a page in the pages panel or click the page thumbnail and go to the panel menu button. Choose “Numbering and Section Options.” The dialog allows you to:

  • specify whether page numbers continue from the previous section (“Automatic Page Numbering”) or begin at a specific number
  • specify a prefix to differentiate this section from others, and the option to include this prefix as part of the number displayed on the page
  • choose from a range of styles including regular numbers, Roman numerals, letters, etc
  • control document numbering (see the book section below)
Numbering & Section Options with Pages Panel

Numbering & Section Options dialog shown next to the Pages Panel. Notice that the document is divided into three sections, the middle section using lowercase Roman numerals and an alternate master page.

Supplementing the Numbers

Sometimes a simple number just doesn’t do it. InDesign offers several ways to supplement the single number with additional information:

  • Typed text. Usually not the best, because you’ll need as many master pages as you have different instances of text. Try  to avoid this.
  • Section Prefix: the section prefix is limited to 8 characters and can be appended to the page number in the Numbering & Section Options.
  • Section Marker: The Section Marker can be inserted into a text box next to the page number as a special text marker. Its value is set in the Numbering & Section Options.
  • Text Variable: There are several ways text variables can be used, the most common being style-based running header/footer variables. You can define and insert text variables via the Type menu: Text Variables.

Example 1: Un-numbered Pages

A particular report must have pages numbered consecutively from 1-12. In addition, it must have 4 un-numbered pages inserted after page 8. In the past these 4 pages have been produced as a separate file but it would be easier to combine the two documents into a single file. How can this be done?


The solution to this example is pictured in the screenshot included with this article.

  1. Insert all 16 pages into the same InDesign file in the proper order.
  2. Create a new section on page 9. In the numbering and section options, begin numbering at 1 and set the style to lower-case roman numerals (you can use other values if you’d like as long as they’re different than what you’re using for the main sections).
  3. Then create a new section on what is now page v that begins numbering at 9 and changes style back to regular numbers.
  4. Create and apply a master page that hides the page numbers for the section using lowercase Roman numerals.

Example 2: Front Matter for Books

Imagine a book with title page, copyright page, neither shows page number but should be counted in front matter, TOC is 4 pages, then preface is 3 pages, then need a blank page so that book can properly start on the right.


  1. Section starting on page 1 uses lower-case Roman numerals.
  2. Another section begins on the 11th page, resetting the numbering to 1 and changing the style to regular numbers.
  3. Pages i, ii, and x use an alternate blank master to hide page numbers, running headers/footers, etc.

Example 3: Separate Section Numbering

Imagine a book that has typical numbering, but then has three collections of supplemental materials labeled Appendices A, B, and C. Pages in these appendices are to be numbered A-1, A-2, A-3, etc. and restart at 1 for each Appendix.


  1. Use Numbering & Section Options to begin a section to start numbering at 1, set the prefix to the desired letter plus a ‘–’ and include the prefix in the page number.

Working with Books

If you’re working with long documents or producing EPUBs you’re probably using InDesign’s Book utility to manage your project and breaking the book into multiple InDesign documents. Each document starts a section, but you have the same options to choose from in the Numbering and Section Options, with a few additional points to consider:

  • IF a document is part of a book and the previous document ended on a right-hand page, AND if your book options are set to allow documents to start on left or right pages, AND if you choose “Automatic Page Numbering,” THEN the document will be allowed to automatically start on the left page. This is great if you need to break a document up in a spot where it’s not necessary for the next document to start on the right.
  • The book has page numbering options, but document specific numbering options will usually override the book’s settings.
  • Each document in your book can be numbered, and these numbers can be used as automatic chapter numbers. Automatic will increment from the previous document’s number, or you can choose “Same as Previous in Book” if it’s still the same chapter but broken into two or more parts, or you can arbitrarily number it anything you want to. This can save time if you have a large number of chapters that change order frequently, since the numbers will update automatically.

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One Response to Page Numbering Tricks

  1. Camila Silva June 22, 2015 at 5:37 am #

    Thanks for your help! I have been thinking of a way for starting documents on left page. Your simple explanation helped me a lot!

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