In our new series of tutorials, How Did They Do That?, we dissect the tricks used by graphic design pros and share with you the simple tips that will make your InDesign documents look ultra-professional, even if you’re a beginner to the software!

In this first installment of How Did They Do That? you will learn how to recreate a simple 3D effect commonly used across magazine publishing. It’s super simple to do, and at no point do you need to do any fiddly photo editing in Photoshop.


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3D Effects in Magazine Cover Design


Magazine covers are the perfect place to get really creative with design. After all, they’re meant to attract the reader to buy the magazine. Some magazine designs get playful and showcase some fantastic optical illusions, turning a 2D medium into a 3D work of art. Here are some inspirational examples, where typography and images interact and appear to ‘jump’ off the page:

magazine cover design 3D effect v magazine

A high-contrast design with subtle 3D effect starring Lupita Nyong’o from V Magazine

magazine cover design 3D effect GIA magazine

Stylish 3D graphics from GIA Magazine
magazine cover design 3D effect zembla magazineA creative cover starring Tilda Swinton from Zembla Magazine

Now let’s create our own version…


Step 1: Set up the Layout of your Magazine Cover


Here, I’ve set up a New InDesign Document for Print, Width 203.2 mm and Height 276.22 mm, a standard size for Condé Nast magazine covers. I’ve set the Top Margin to 12 mm, Bottom Margin to 11 mm and Left and Right Margins to 9 mm.

I then placed a photo within an image frame, using the Rectangle Frame Tool (F), which extended across the whole page.

magazine cover design 3D effect photo alone

I then created a new layer (Window > Layers, to open the Layers panel, > Create New Layer) and used the Rectangle Tool (M) to create a frame with no Fill colour and a solid Stroke set in [Paper], with a Weight of 2 mm (edit these from the Character Formatting Controls panel running along the top of the screen). I’ve adjusted the size of the frame so that it sits on the Margin lines.

I then added a few text frames on another New Layer using the Type Tool (T), setting the Font to Didot in [Paper], and have placed the magazine title so that it sits very snugly against the top right corner of the white frame.

magazine cover design 3D effect before

What would make our cover really ‘pop’ is to create a 3D effect, to give the impression that the white frame is interacting with the woman, and the woman is stepping outside of part of the frame.

magazine cover design 3D effect before and after

Left: The cover before the effect is applied; Right: After the 3D effect is applied


Step 2: Use the Scissors Tool


Select the Scissors Tool (C) from the Tools panel (go to Window > Tools if not shown by default).

scissors tool indesign

Zoom in to the area indicated below, and snip the edge of the white frame just above the top of the woman’s leg.

magazine cover design 3D effectscissors tool indesign

Repeat for the section of frame just below the woman’s leg.

magazine cover design 3D effectscissors tool indesign

Select the section of the white frame lying across the woman’s leg and press the Delete key on the keyboard to remove the section of frame.

scissors tool indesign


Step 3: Use the Rectangle Tool (M)


Select the Rectangle Tool (M) from the Tools panel.

rectangle tool indesign

Drag to create a small long rectangle, at a similar width to the width of the white frame. Set the Stroke colour to [None] and the Fill color to [Paper].

Sit this new frame on top of the existing white frame, so that the bottom edge of the rectangle is almost touching the top of the woman’s leg. You might need to zoom right in and adjust the width of the rectangle so it fits perfectly on the edge of the white frame. You can also adjust the Width of the rectangle to exactly 2 mm from the top control panel.

rectangle tool indesign

Deselect the rectangle and then choose the Direct Selection Tool (A) from the Tools panel. Select the bottom right corner of the rectangle and drag the point down until it touches the woman’s leg. Select the bottom left corner of the rectangle and drag the point until it touches the edge of the woman’s leg also, being careful to keep the vertical sides of the rectangle very straight.

direct selection tool indesign

You can select the white rectangle and Edit > Copy and Edit > Paste, before adjusting, as above, for the lower part of the woman’s leg.

direct selection tool indesign


Step 4: Repeat the Process Above


Repeat the process described in Step 3 and Step 4 above until you have created an effect on the parts of the white frame you want to appear 3D. For this image, this is where I made all the cuts with the Scissors Tool (C), as an example.

scissors tool indesign

And you’re finished! It’s as simple as that!

magazine cover design 3D effect final cover

There’s no need to do any fiddly photo editing to achieve this simple, high-impact effect. Have fun creating your own 3D effects in InDesign!

Explore more awesome quick tutorials for InDesign.


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