Tag Archives: styles

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, violĂ . 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.


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