InDesign Add Style and Save Time with Paragraph Style Sheets

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Paragraph styles allow designers to achieve and keep consistency throughout documents. They often save the designer what he runs short of: time

Paragraph styles work in a very similar way to character styles, but they are applied to entire paragraphs, therefore they have extra options. This tutorial is quite big and there is a lot to take in. So get yourself prepared: Get a coffee, a tea or a [beverage of your choice] so you can study this tutorial in between sips…

The easiest and fastest way to explain how Paragraph Styles work, is by going through an actual example where these are applied. Download this practice file (400KB, zip), paste the text contained within and place it into InDesign, so you can follow the tutorial. To place text into InDesign from a file, simply draw a text frame and then use the place command as you would do with an image.

Once you have placed the text make sure the width of your text frame is 107 mm (just an arbitrary figure, but as it’s the one use in this exercise, I advice you use the same so we obtain the same result). Next place your text cursor after the period which follows the word “uptat”, before the word “Dui”. These two words should be somewhere along the third line of your paragraph. Press Shift+Return. I will explain you later why Shift+Return.

Let’s have a look at the illustration below. How did I get to that result? Well I could have just simply selected the different parts of text and applied the formatting to each part individually. But if you are creating a long document, you might not want to do that to every paragraph. So that’s where the paragraph styles come useful.

sample paragraph

Create a Character Style

First of all I created a character style for the writing in small caps and one for the blue header. Any of the fonts I have used in this example are not necessarily the best fonts to use generally, I have just chosen some random ones. I set the writing in small caps by doing the following: I clicked on the New Character Style button in the Characther Style palette. Once in the Character Style Options window, I then set the formatting to Book Antiqua Regular, 10 pt. Case: Small caps, Position: Normal. (If you don’t have Book Antiqua, choose Times or Times New Roman) Then I clicked on the Character Colour tab and I have chosen Black. I have named this style “first 3 words”.

The settings of the blue header were: Font family: Arial Narrow, Font Style: Bold, Position: Normal. Character Colour: Blue. Just as a note, I made that blue swatch myself beforehand, it wasn’t part of InDesign’s default swatches. If you are not sure about how to create a costum swatch, read the Working With Colour In InDesign CS tutorial. I named this Character Style “blue header”.

The “Base On” function

Now you have character styles to base your paragraph style on. If your Paragraph Styles palette is not open, go ahead and open it now. You will see that it looks like the Character Styles palette. Select your text frame and then make a new Paragraph Style the same way you would make a new Character Style.

We will explore several sections of the Paragraph Style Options window as we go along. In the General category you will see that you are able to choose whether to base an existing Paragraph Style on another one or not. As this is the first style you are creating, you won’t be able to base it on anything. I will explain how this works anyway. Let’s say you have a basic Paragraph Style, called “Body Text”. You then make 3 new Paragraph Styles and you base two of them on the “Body Text” style, while the 3rd one isn’t based on anything. Any change you make to the “Body Text” style, will also affect the other two styles that are based on it, but not the one which isn’t based on any style.

paragraph style windowenlarged version

The “Next Style” function

Let’s go back to our example. We have just looked at the Based On option. Now I will explain the next option which is Next Style. In order to use this option, you also need to have more than one Paragraph Style. Let’s say you already have a Paragraph Style called “Paragraph A” and you are creating a new style called “Paragraph B”. You are in the Paragraph Style Options window and you are modifying the attributes of “Paragraph B.” If you choose “Paragraph A” in the Next Style option, the next paragraph will assume the formatting of the “Paragraph A” style. InDesign will know when the next paragraph begins when you press Return (this is also called Hard Return). A way to go onto the next line without making a new paragraph is by pressing Shift + Return (also called Soft Return). If you press Shift+Return instead of just Return, any of the formatting that is applied to any text before that point will still be applied to the text after the Soft Return.

If you choose Same Paragraph in the Next Style Option, the next paragraph to the one you are formatting will still hold the properties of “Paragraph B” style until you manually change it.

Note: the Soft Return is a very useful command. In an earlier tutorial I have explained how to indent the first line of each paragraph, or how to apply drop caps. using the Paragraph palette. If you apply drop caps formatting for example, every time you press return, a new paragraph with its own drop cap will start. If you press Shift + Return (Soft Return) to go to the new line, you won’t get a new drop cap because InDesign will consider it still part of the same paragraph. This rule is valid just about for any formatting that is applied to a paragraph.

Other Functions in the General Category

Still in the General category, you will notice that there is a Shortcut field. That allows to assign a handy custom shortcut to your Paragraph Style. Last but not least, there is a box under the Shortcut field which gives you a summary of the formatting that you have applied to your Paragraph Style. Also note the Preview checkbox on the bottom left of the Paragraph Style Options Window.

And how could I forget, at the top of the window, you have the Style Name field. I called our new style “Test Style”.

The Basic Character Formats Category

Now go to Basic Character Formats. Also this one looks like the Character Style Options window. For the purpose of this excercise choose the font Book Antiqua Regular, size 10pt, Case and Position both set to Normal. Take a moment to explore the rest of the Paragraph Style Options window. You will see many familiar commands, if you have done the Character Styles tutorial, and you just use them as if you were to use them the same way I have explained in that tutorial.

You could already apply the paragraph style the way it is now. Every single paragraph with that style will have the font Book Antiqua regular, size 10 pt, will be left justified and the first line will indent 10 mm. But it won’t look like the paragraph I have showed you yet. So how do we get that result? With the use of Nested Styles (no, not Nasty Styles–Nested). This is a feature that InDesign offers and is definitely worth to learn, or at least learn its basics.

Nested Styles

In your Paragraph Options Palette, go to Drop Caps and Nested Styles

paragraph styles windowenlarged version

A nested style is a style applied within another one. In the Drop Caps and Nested Styles category of options you can apply these nested styles to your paragraph and also, as the name says, drop caps.

In the Drop Caps section you can see the fields Lines and Characters, which allow you to specify respectively how many lines and how many characters you want your drop caps to be. And up to here it’s all pretty straight forward. In the Character Style drop down menu, you can decide whether your drop caps will have the attributes of one of the existing character styles. If you have done all the steps that I have done so far, you should be able to choose between the blue header or the first 3 words character styles, or you can just even choose No character style.

Now we come to the actual Nested Style options. Click on New Nested Style. This is how the Paragraph Style Options window will look like after you have done that.

enlarged version

Click on [No Character Style] right under the writing Nested Styles. It will turn into a drop down menu from which you can select the character style you want. Choose “blue header”.

Now click on through. Another drop down menu will appear which will allows you to choose between through and up to. If you wanted to apply a certain style to 3 words in your paragraph, you would either set that style through 3 words or up to 4 words.

Click on the number 1. You will be able to change the number of words, sentences, etc, to which apply the nested style. In this case just leave it to 1.

And at last, click on words which will turn into another drop down menu. Choose sentences.

Now click on New Nested Style again. Choose the character style “first 3 words”. Set the rest of the options to through 3 words.

Note the two arrows on the bottom right of the window, just above the OK button. They will allow you to re-organize the order of your nested styles.

Now you are ready to apply a new style to your life… I mean to your paragraph. Click OK. Et voila! You are done!

As a note: like for Character Styles, if you make changes to a paragraph where you have applied a Paragraph Style, a + sign will appear next to the name of the Paragraph Style. If you want to make changes to all the paragraphs with a given Paragraph Style, you simply double click on the Paragraph Style to change its property.

You can do many things with Paragraph Styles and it would take quite a long time to go through all of the options. But you can experiment them on your own and you can post your excercises in the Internet Corner forum. It shouldn’t be too difficult to understand the other options now that you have a basic understanding of Paragraph styles.

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13 thoughts on “InDesign Add Style and Save Time with Paragraph Style Sheets”

  1. Is is possible to define a character style where when we use that style, an extra word space will come after that.

  2. You don’t have to export char/parag styles. Just save the document where you have all the styles setup and use that as an import template to your new document.

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