Tag Archives: indesign

Using Styles Properly

Last week we discussed a few basics of setting up and applying styles properly, now let’s do it. All instructions below apply specifically to InDesign, and generally to any technology that makes macrotypography possible through styles.

Using Type

Start fresh, specify as little as possible

In the previous piece on the theory behind setting up styles, I end with the question, “What’s the rule, and what’s the exception?” Let’s start there. If you’re designing a novel or textbook, your audience will spend most of its time in the text. That means the text should be your top priority, and everything else should exist to serve the reader while in her role as a consumer and digester of, referrer to, and participant in the text. When making styles, start with the body text as a new paragraph style.


It’s here where we specify the font family, size, etc.. Since I had already aligned the text frame to the baseline grid before creating the Body style above, now any paragraph that has this, or dependent styles, applied to it will also align to the baseline grid. Wait. How did I create the style? I left my cursor blinking in the middle of the paragraph, and hit the ‘Create new style’ button at the bottom of the Paragraph Styles panel, opened the just-created style, typed Body, and hit enter.

Body settings

The next and subsequent styles you create will be based on this style. Note the ‘Based On’ in the image below. In the Style Settings below it, you’ll see that another style I just created, Body initial, is the same as Body, only without the indent. This I’ll use just after a chapter heading, atop a new section, or after a break in the text.

Body initial, based on Body

Subsequent styles are all based on Body


A little typographic system is forming, all based on the most common style, Body. Note especially how I applied the italic as part of the paragraph style Quote. I selected the paragraph, hit Shift+Command+I, (that’s Shift+Control+I in Windows), and created a new paragraph. I didn’t specify the italic weight in the Basic Character Formats dialog. This means that if I change the font family in Body later, there’s no need to also come and specify the new font family’s italic here. But—a caveat. This method supposes that the font manufacturer set up their style names properly within a single font family. So check first. If you follow my method of italicization above and nothing happens, you’ll know, and have to go the old route of manually specifying. This is also true if specifying fonts across different optical sizes. Even if it’s a bit of a hassle to specify it though, assuming I make more styles based on these, it will end up saving time and effort if a change needs to be made. And that’s the gist of paragraph styles.

Quote style settings

So what are character styles for? Character styles are exceptions to paragraph styles on a per-character basis. Need all keywords in a paragraph to be blue? That’s what character styles are built for. And as you make more use of things like nested styles, character styles can be a huge time-saver. Thanks to MVB Verdigris for setting this paragraph by the way. Let’s change it to Coranto 2 from yesterday’s Great Pair just to see what happens.

Change the font family to Coranto in one place and everything updates to it.

Above: All I did was change Body’s font family to Coranto 2, and all the other styles automatically changed. Even that italic in the Quote.


Paragraph styles work on the paragraph level, meaning from one hard return to the next. (Soft returns, Shift+Return, bump text to the next line inside a paragraph.) You can set a paragraph style without highlighting anything, just with the cursor inside the boundaries of the paragraph. Character styles require that you highlight the part of the text to which you wish to apply the style. (If you have both a paragraph and character style applied to a paragraph, the character style will take precedence because it’s more specifically applied.) CSS-defined styles are applied at the element level, targeted with whatever selector(s) you specify.

Quick Apply

Say you’ve got your styles set up in a small sample of the document you’ll be working on, and now all that’s left is to go through the thing and apply the styles. Particularly if, like me, you’re averse to clicking around with a mouse when it’s unnecessary, I suggest you try Quick Apply. Just leave your cursor in the middle of the paragraph, hit Command+Return and type the name of a paragraph style you’ve created. A little dialog will come up with suggestions. Arrow to it, hit enter, violà. Same with character styles and certain OpenType features (type ‘small caps’ for instance), just make sure you’ve got them highlighted. Enjoy.

And that’s all. My hope is that this introduction to interdependent or cascading styles will help you to think in terms of systems when working with type, and save you from hours of going back and fixing things that robots are capable of figuring out on their own. Using Type continues here Thursday.

Oh! I was thinking of doing a brief demonstration on setting up @font-face styles properly, but I’m not sure if there’s much demand for that here. If so, let me know and I’ll do it. It just seems like it’s something nearly everyone gets wrong. My evidence? The widespread presence of faux bolded heads and subheads on the internet.

Using Baseline Grids

Let’s dive in. If you missed the theoretical introduction on baseline grids, you may want to review it first. It’s a quick read. In this section I’ll give a few pointers on getting the interval right, some specifics on how to set up an InDesign document, and I’ll likely keep it pretty vague discussing baseline grids on screen media.

Using Type, set in Premiéra

Adhering to an appropriately adjusted baseline grid irons out small mistakes and makes the large ones you really should know about much more evident. Here’s a text frame with some bobbles in the vertical spacing, and the same text frame aligned to the document’s baseline grid. Note how when the leading or line spacing is slightly under the set increment of our grid, the line of copy is still forced to the next spot down. Near the bottom of the text frame, the leading is greater than the baseline grid’s increment, so again, the line is kicked down to the next indicated spot for a baseline on the baseline grid. If you’re wondering how to make it align, here’s how: Select the text frame, then ‘Align to baseline grid’ at the bottom right corner of the Paragraph panel.

Align to baseline grid

Above: On the right, lines of copy are kicked down to the next marked baseline on the grid.

To turn the grid on and off, either use View > Grids & Guides > Show/Hide Baseline Grid, or I’d suggest using a keyboard shortcut. You can assign your own if the default doesn’t make sense to you. While you’re at it, assign a similar shortcut to access the baseline grid settings. The dialog you’re looking for is at Edit > Preferences > Grids (Windows) or InDesign > Preferences > Grids (Mac OS).

Baseline grid dialog

Tip: Open this dialog without any documents open, put in some values. Close. It’s now your default baseline grid setting.

Finally, a few general design concerns: Baseline grids should relate to the overall composition of the piece you produce. If it’s a print piece especially, find a measure and grid increment that relates well to the physical size of the medium. This may be, but isn’t necessarily a dimension derived from the larger document. Don’t be too dogmatic about it though, use your eyes and adjust as needed.

InDesign is quite capable of rendering baseline grids set to increment in fractional units. There’s nothing special about the 6 pt setting above. If 5.718 pt works better, use that.

Grouping bits of pertinent info

Letting your body text land on every other or every third grid increment is advisable. When testing your grid, make sure to account for cases such as multi-line bulleted list items.

That’s all for now. Using Type continues here Thursday. Our supporting typeface is Thomas Gabriel’s Premiéra. I’ll add more to this bit on baseline grids if there’s demand for it. Is this helpful? Let me know.

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