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    How To Convert A Physical Planner Into A Digital Planner With InDesign

    January 25, 2021 Amanda Cross 11 min read
    Note: This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure for more details. Thanks for supporting the brands that make The Happy Arkansan possible!

    I'm about to step on some toes, y'all. Recently, I wanted to turn my planner, The Yearly Sorority Social Media Planner, into a digital version. It was so hard for me to find an actual tutorial on creating a digital planner that wasn't stuck behind a paywall (and for some reason, these paywalls weren't even enrolling students?!) So, I figure it out on my own. Here are the steps I took to create my own digital planner, which you can check out here.


    1. Open Up The Physical Planner In InDesign

    So, I am not going to teach you planner creation basics. That would be a very long tutorial, although I might decide to do that one day. I've been learning a lot about planner creation with InDesign. The course that has taught me the most about planner creation is Sarah Steckler's Publish With Purpose course. She doesn't teach her content in InDesign, though, just Canva and KeyNote. While I think those two platforms are powerful, I used all of her guidance, and I've created all my Amazon journals with InDesign.

    2. Figure Out The Dimensions

    This was a bit complicated for me to figure out. I had an 8×10 planner, but I needed to create a space that was a little over double that so that I could create the perfect space. Remember, you don't need to double the planner's height, just the width of the planner. I ultimately created an 18×12 planner. I gave myself an extra two inches on both so I'd have room for my footer/tabs, and everyone could have a little bit of scratch space on the side to test pens and such.

    3. Map Out Your Needed Master Pages

    Before you build your master pages, think about which ones you'll actually need.

    I decided that I needed a:

    • Cover Master Page
    • Front Inside Cover Master Page
    • Regular Two-Page Master Page

    My cover was just pink, the front inside one had a pink page and a white page, and then my regular two-pager was just two white pages next to each other.

    Open up a planner right now. You'll likely see a cover, the front inside, your regular pages, and even a back inside. I decided not to include any back cover, although I definitely could have.

    4. Design Your Master Pages

    Master pages are an amazing lifesaver if you want to create digital planners in InDesign! Instead of designing every page individually (or copying over pesky settings that can start to get in the way, you design on a master page. These master pages can be applied to any of your pages. They are straightforward to create in the pages panel of InDesign.


    Here's a peek at what one of my master pages looked like once I was done creating it for reference.

    Use The Shape Tool To Define Your Work Area

    First, you'll want to define your work area or background. I used a pretty light pink to create my work area. This is essentially the entire canvas that you've created for yourself. I just opened up the rectangle shape tool and created a shape the size of my page, and filled it with the pink color I wanted.

    Use The Shape Tool To Create Your “Pages”

    Next, you'll want to define your pages. I created two rectangles the size of my journal pages (8×10 or as close as I could get to that.) Once you've created one rectangle, duplicate it. Don't try to reinvent the wheel. Give the second shape a little bit of a gap, so just a bit of your background color shows through. Then you'll want to select both of those rectangles and center them to the page if you haven't already.

    Lock Your Work Area And Pages

    It can be hard to work with so many random layers. Your best bet is to lock your work area, group your pages, and lock them too.

    Add-In Fun Spiraling Or Stitching To “Bind” The Pages

    Next, I added some fun spiral binding to my pages. There are so many fun spiral/stitching options online. I grabbed this fun set of digital binder rings from Creative Market. A heads up, these rings are a bit short. I basically lined up two of the same ring on top of each other. Once everything was aligned, I cropped the parts that overlapped and tried to line up the rings as best I could so you couldn't tell there was an issue. I think it went over well, all things considered.

    Create Your Tabs

    Next, you'll want to create your tabs. Tabs are just rectangles with words on top that are linked to pages within your document.

    This video helped me learn basic tab creation, but instead of creating content on the page, I used master pages, and I think that's a better way to go over the way she added tabs directly on a page in the video.

    Add A Footer To All Of Your Master Pages That Links Back To Your Website

    Last but not least, you might want to add a footer to all of your master pages. I added a footer to all of my master pages and made them all link back to my blog, The Happy Arkansan. You can do something similar to your planner.

    Don't Fret If You Forget Something On A Master Page

    The best part about master pages is the flexibility they provide. If you change anything on the master page after you create it, any page using that master page will automatically be updated. Don't fret about forgetting anything here. Just go back to the master pages you created and update anything you'd like to add.

    5. Apply Master Pages To Pages As Needed

    As you are writing your content, apply the master page to the page you are working on. It's a simple drag and drop procedure that will take you no time at all to get the hang of. After you apply the master page, you can begin creating on the page.

    6. Copy/Paste Content From Your Original Planner

    If you have your physical planner open, start copy/pasting from your original or physical planner document into the document for your digital planner. If you created “pages” that were the same height and width as your original planner, this shouldn't be a big deal.

    To do this, you will want to click and drag until all the page elements are highlighted/selected. Then, you'll Command+C on Mac to copy (and Command+V to paste.) On Windows, you'll Ctrl+C to copy (and Ctrl+V to paste.)

    Copy/Paste Across Pages To Make It Even Easier

    Copy/pasting content from one document to another isn't easy, especially if you have 100+ pages in your physical planner. Start copy/pasting across pages to make this process even quicker. The great thing about InDesign is that you can copy spreads over into your new document the same way you would do it for one page. If you view your document with facing pages, keep dragging until the whole spread is highlighted and selected. The same copy/paste mechanisms apply to spreads. You might have to do some lining up if you copy/paste two pages at once.

    If Your Planner Has Reusable Elements, Duplicate It

    The best part about planners is that they usually include some reusable elements. For me, my monthly/weekly calendars were the same. Once I got to those elements, I could duplicate those pages. I didn't have to reinvent the wheel.

    Before You Duplicate Too Many Reusable Elements, Go Over And Make Sure Things Look How You Want

    My original planner was in black/white. I wanted to add some elements and pops of color to this digital planner because I didn't have to pay for color ink in a digital planner. One thing I regret is not adjusting my reusable elements before I duplicated them. So, think about the color scheme you want, so you only need to make adjustments to the first month, and not all 12 or so months. Otherwise, you might be in for several minutes of clicking and copying design styles.

    7. Make Any Adjustments You Want To Your Planner

    After you've gotten all your elements copied over to the new planner, you'll want to make any adjustments and additions to the digital planner. For example, I knew I didn't need a “this journal belongs to” page anymore. As much as I would like to think that a lost iPad would get returned to the owner, that's probably not going to happen. So, that page didn't make nearly as much sense for a digital planner as it did for a physical planner. So, I turned that space into a page for affirmations and reminders. Figure out the pages in your physical planner that need tweaking for the digital world, and get to tweaking.

    Add Splashes Of Color If Your Original Planner Was Black/White

    The best part about digital planners is that you don't need to pay for printer ink. I knew that I wanted my digital planner to have pops of color since my physical planner couldn't. I decided to add my pops of color after creating the planner, but I probably wouldn't do that if I created this digital planner again.

    Two InDesign tools that did help make this process easier were table and cell styles. My planners are typically pretty table heavy. Table and cell styles allowed me to create a specific fill style for all of my tables that I was easily able to add to all the various tables in my digital planner.


    Create A Digital Planner Cover

    You'll also want to create a digital planner cover for your latest creation. I typically create planner covers in Photoshop, but for this planner, I created it right in InDesign, and it worked out perfectly. One of the cool things about digital planners is that you can use the cover to provide some interesting space for your readers to work. I added a quick and easy memo pad to the cover of my digital planner.

    To create that, I added two rectangles on top of each other. I filled the bottom rectangle with color and moved the top one slightly down and away from the bottom rectangle. This let the bottom rectangle's color show up slightly and gave the memo pad a 3D feel. Then, I created a text box with the words “Memo Pad” and many underscores to create straight lines for writing on.

    8. Download Your Planner As An Interactive PDF

    Once you are ready to see your planner in action, you'll want to download it as an interactive PDF from InDesign. Typically, if you're designing a physical planner, you'll request a print-ready PDF. If you were to save your digital planner as print-ready, your links wouldn't work. Make sure you download it as an interactive PDF and check on any compression settings to ensure that your PDF file is beautiful and ready for its close up.

    9. Test It In Adobe Acrobat Or On GoodNotes

    After you've downloaded the planner, you'll want to test it to ensure all your links are set up properly. Test the links on all your master page variations. I had mistyped a few of my page numbers, so I was glad I tested my tabs before listing my digital planner. If your page numbers are off, don't fret. Go to the master page you created earlier and update the page number. Once you do that, all the pages using that master page template will update automatically.

    10. Put Your Planner Up For Sale

    After you've tested your planner and it's ready to go live, it's time to put your planner up for sale! I'm not going to go too in-depth on planner sales strategies or anything, but here are a few things you'll want to do as you prepare to list your planner.

    Create A Set Of Instructions For Your Planner

    People are still getting used to digital planning and tools like GoodNotes. If you have some time, create a set of instructions to cut down on administration time for yourself when helping planner users. If you haven't purchased a digital planner before, I encourage you to purchase one from a site like Etsy or Creative Market. Take a look at how other people instruct their planner users. You should never blatantly rip anyone off, but take inspiration and make sure you don't miss anything.

    I actually created my instructions in Canva, even though I designed my pages in InDesign. Canva has come along way, and sometimes it's just easier to work with screenshots in Canva for me. I personally went through the process of downloading my planner into GoodNotes, using my tabs in GoodNotes, understanding the toolbar, etc. While I did that, I took screenshots using my own iPad. I uploaded all of those screenshots to Canva, and then I explained each of the steps to the best of my ability on GoodNotes. If you'd like a copy of my file to see what I did, shoot me an email using my contact page.

    Create A Zip File With Your Planner Instructions And Planner

    Next, you'll want to combine your instructions and planner into one file using the compression or zip file tool on your computer. This is a simple process that enables you to upload one file instead of multiple. Another strategy you can use is uploading your planner file to a site like Dropbox or Google Drive and adding that link to your instructions. This will give you the same ability to upload one single file (your instructions) to the platform of your choice. What you choose to do depends on the platform you want to sell on.

    Use A Mockup Creator To Showcase Your Designs In Use

    Export some of your pages as PNGs or JPGs with InDesign. After you get your pictures, upload them to a site like Smartmockups to start creating presentable images to help you sell your digital planner. Here's a peek at some of the realistic images you can put your content on. Smartmockups is great about adding new options regularly, as well.


    Upload Your Planner To Your Seller Of Choice/Start Promoting

    The last step of the process is to upload your planner to your seller of choice, create a keyword-rich description/sales page, and start promoting it everywhere you can think. I've seen a lot of people use sites like Etsy to sell their digital planners. You can also upload them to your personal website and sell your planner from there.

    Conclusion: You've Created Your First Digital Planner

    Creating a digital planner was a challenge. There were several parts that I needed to work through to make it happen. If you have a physical planner that you'd like to turn into a digital version, I hope this gave you some food for thought. My digital planner isn't perfect, but it gets the job done and does exactly what I want it to do. It's easy to write on, and that's what matters.

    Are you ready to turn your physical planner into a digital planner? Did this tutorial help? Let me know!

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    About Amanda

    Hey Y’all!
    My name is Amanda Cross, and I am the blogger behind The Happy Arkansan. I am a blogger, freelance writer, and podcaster. When I am not creating content for any of my content online, I can usually be found baking, watching YouTube, or napping. I love helping millennials and young adults navigate the mess that is adult life. Keep reading for my thoughts and experiences.

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