How to simulate master page text guides in Pages for macOS

An odd omission can be simulated through master pages.

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I first started using page-layout software in 1985 with Aldus PageMaker 1.0. If I recall correctly, it took a few years before you could create a master template that had items that appeared on every page, including guides that helped with placement of text and items.

With that historical perspective in mind, it's odd that while Pages 8 for macOS has master pages, it lacks a way to create non-printable master guides that appear on layout pages. There’s a way to simulate this effectively, although it triggers a bug in Pages that one hopes Apple will fix in a future release. (Master pages appeared as early as 2005 in Pages, but overhauled the whole iWork suite in 2013. I’m not sure how far back this bug dates.)

How master pages in Pages work

If you haven’t used master pages in Pages yet, it’s designed as a way to have recurring printable items that appear on every page. While Pages has long supported headers and footers for titles, chapter heads, and page numbers, among other text, master pages can have a background, objects, text blocks, and more. If you’ve used any other layout program or Keynote, this will be familiar.

Master pages are limited within Pages to documents that are set to the desktop-publishing Page Layout mode—selectable from the File menu—and don’t appear in the default word-processing mode, which automatically reflows text and inline graphics across pages.

These master items appear on every page that references a given master page. You can set up different master pages and each page in a document can be individually set as to which master page it references. This is useful for section and chapter starts, image layouts, and other purposes.

However, any non-printing guides you place on the page dragged from the horizontal or vertical rulers won’t appear on layout pages—only on the master pages. (If you don’t see rulers, select View > Show Rulers.)

How to create non-printed master guides in Pages

Here’s how to work around this absence of non-printed master guides:

  1. Make sure your Pages document is in Page Layout mode. Create a new blank document and then select File > Convert to Page Layout. (If you convert an existing document, all its text is deleted and any objects pasted into the flow of text. Duplicate it first with File > Duplicate.)

  2. Select View > Edit Master Pages.

  3. Under the Pages list at left, you can Control-click the page named Blank and rename it something descriptive.

  4. With rulers showing, drag the guides where you want them. For instance, you might want to set page boundaries.

  5. Now create a box or lines that match your boundaries or other guides you want to see. Click the Shape button and then click a line or square. In the Format sidebar’s Style tab, you can set color—such as a dim gray that recedes into the background—and width. For rectangles, choose No Fill from the Color Fill pop-up menu. For lines and rectangles, I recommend 0.5 pt for line width so it’s not obtrusive.

  6. Select all your objects (use Edit > Select All as ruler guides will make some items unselectable via point and click) and click the Format menu’s Arrange tab. Then, click the Lock button. This prevents accidental modification on the master pages and on layout pages.

  7. Now click the Done button at the bottom of the screen or select View > Exit Master Pages.

mac911 master page simulate text frame IDG

On a master page, create guides with gray lines, and then lock them. They appear (and won’t move around) on layout pages.

On each page, you’ll see the guides you set, and you can use those to snap boxes, lines, shapes, images, and text boxes to them.

The one drawback? These items will print and appear in PDFs. You have to either switch to a master page without these guides or make the guides invisible or delete them.

Apple doesn’t offer a way to change the master page for multiple pages at once, another odd oversight. You must select each page in the thumbnails sidebar or click anywhere on a page where there’s nothing to select. In the Format sidebar, the Master Text Page option appears and you can click Change Master.

However, it’s probably more sensible to temporarily modify the master page. This again requires some workarounds to pull off.

To set up for printing or exporting and then revert to your previous setup, follow these steps.

  1. With nothing on a page selected, click Edit Master Page in the Page Layout view in the Format sidebar.

  2. Control-click your master page and choose Duplicate.

  3. Name this duplicate something descriptive, like “Backup Master Page with Guides.”

  4. On your original master page, select all your guides and unlock all the items in the Format view’s Arrange tab.

  5. Delete all the guide objects.

  6. Click Done at the bottom to require to your main document.

  7. Print or export the document.

  8. Return to the master pages and select the backup page.

  9. Select all items on the page and then select Edit > Copy.

  10. On your original master page, select Edit > Paste.

  11. In the Format sidebar’s Arrange tab, click Lock.

There’s a simpler way, too, which only works if you don’t intend to make any changes after printing or exporting:

  1. Delete all your guide objects on the master page as in steps 4 through 6 above. (You can also make them invisible by using the Format sidebar’s Style tab to set Stroke to No Stroke or Border to None.)

  2. Print or export the document.

  3. Select Edit > Undo or use File > Revert To to find the last version with the guides intact.

I discovered one problem in following this technique, which is why I tell you to lock items in all the sets of steps above. You’re supposed to have the option to keep master page items from being editable on layout pages, and there’s a menu item Arrange > Section Masters > Make Master Objects Selectable that can toggle between those items being selectable and not. However, in my testing of version 8.0, all master page objects were always editable.

Using the Lock option means these items can still be selected on document pages, but they can’t be moved or changed. In my testing, I was unable to get Pages to honor the setting, no matter what I did in any document or by quitting and relaunching Pages. This seems to be a bug, but the above instructions let you bypass it.

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