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Working with Multicolumn Page Layouts in FrameMaker 6

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What's your pleasure: feather, synchronize, or balance? Multiple column page layouts in FrameMaker offer a variety of ways in which to work with text in columns. This article helps you understand how to accurately use these features, and shows you a few techniques to work with text, graphic, and table elements in multiple columns.
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It was big news when the first automated typesetter, the Linotype machine, was invented in 1886. Creating multicolumn page layouts on a machine as big as a room had to have its challenges and probably took a really long time. Thankfully, FrameMaker provides you with the capability to produce multicolumn page layouts in just a fraction of the time.

In this article, I focus on the techniques necessary to create and work with multicolumn layouts in FrameMaker 6. The highlights of this article include the following:

  • How to create new multicolumn documents

  • How to change existing one-column page layouts to multicolumn layouts

  • Applying multicolumn layouts to specific pages in a one-column layout document

  • Understanding settings associated with multicolumn documents, including Balance, Feather, and Synchronize

  • Working with tables, graphics, and text that span multiple columns


There is no existing HTML element that easily produces a two-column layout. Therefore, multicolumn page layouts do not convert well from FrameMaker to HTML. Consider using Adobe Acrobat to create PDFs instead.

Creating Multicolumn Documents

Whether you are considering creating a multicolumn document from the onset or decide to change a single column page layout to a multicolumn page layout, this section explores FrameMaker features to get the job done.

Starting a New Multicolumn Document

If you are beginning a brand new document from scratch or developing a template, you get to be in charge of the initial document settings. After starting FrameMaker, this exercise shows you how to customize page layout settings.

  1. Select File, New, Document.

    The New window is displayed.

  2. Click the Custom button.

    The Custom Blank Paper window is displayed. If you click Portrait or Landscape, you do not encounter page layout settings for the new document. Those selections use predefined page layout settings for a one-column page layout. You can still use those selections and change the page layout later.

  3. Type the number 2 in the Columns: Number: field. If you want a three-column page layout, type the number 3.

  4. .25" is the default Gap setting.

    Gap refers to the space between the columns as well as to cool clothes. If you type a larger number, such as 1-inch, the overall width of the two columns stays the same, but the width of each individual column is narrower due to the larger size space between them.

    Notice that Flow Tag A is displayed under the Margins pane of the window. Flow Tag A is the default flow tag used when starting a new document, and is what you will use most of the time.

  5. Click Update Entire Flow.

    The new document is created with the two-column page layout already included on Master Pages.


Flow tags indicate the name of a text flow. You can have more than one text flow in documents.

Changing an Existing Single Column Document to Multicolumn

If you are already knee-deep into a document using a single-column page layout and then decide to switch to a two-column format, have no fear. With FrameMaker, many things are possible. You can make this change from either a Master Page or any Body Page—it makes no difference for this particular command. For this exercise, I begin on any Body page. Follow these steps:

  1. Select Format, Page Layout, Column Layout.

    You see the Column Layout window.

  2. Type the number 2 in the Columns: Number: field. If you want a 3-column page layout, type the number 3.

  3. .25" is the default Gap setting.

    Notice that Flow Tag A is displayed under the Margins pane. If you used a different flow tag name, it is displayed.

  4. Click Update Entire Flow.

    The entire document's page layout is updated to the new two-column layout, including all Body and Master pages. If you used more than one flow tag in your document, only the flow tag that was displayed in the Column Layout window is updated.


There is no Undo available for Column Layout commands in FrameMaker. Make sure you save your document first. If you make a mistake, you can use File, Revert to Saved to recover the last saved version of your document.

Changing One Body Page to Multicolumn in a Single-Column Document

Occasionally, for one reason or another, you may want one page using a multicolumn format whereas the remaining pages continue to use a single-column format.

Before you perform this step, your document should be in its final format. Changes to columns on Body pages are applied to a particular page, and not to text per se. Let's say you change page 9 to a multicolumn format, leaving the remaining pages in their one-column format. If you decide to edit text before page 9 at a later time, some of the text on page 9 moves to page 10, and some of the text on page 8 moves to page 9. Now, the text that you originally wanted formatted in a two-column format is formatted incorrectly.

FrameMaker is quite versatile, often providing multiple ways to perform a task. For this task, you can either make the change to a Body page's column, or you can create a new Master page that includes the new column format and then apply that Master page to the Body page you want to change.

Using the Customize Text Frame Command

This exercise shows you the steps to make the change to a Body page.

  1. Click one time in the text column on the page that you want to change.

  2. Select Format, Customize Layout, Customize Text Frame.

    You see the Customize Text Frame window. If your insertion cursor is not in a text frame (column), this command is dimmed in the menu and not available.

  3. Type 2 or some other number is the Columns: Number field.

  4. Click the Set button.

    The column layout for that particular Body page changes to the new column layout. No other pages are affected by this change.

Using a Custom Master Page

This exercise shows you the abbreviated steps to make the change using a Master page:

  1. Create a new Master page with a two-column layout.

    Return to Body Page view.

  2. Go to the Body page that you want to have a two-column layout.

  3. Select Format, Page Layout, Master Page Usage.

  4. Select Use Master Page, Custom.

    Select the new Master page that you created in Step 1.

  5. Select Current Page in the Apply To pane.

  6. Click the Set button.

    The new Master page layout is applied to the indicated Body page. No other pages are affected by this change.

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