Good Typography in InDesign 2 - Paragraph Styles and Character Styles

chasteauneuf's picture

I think for a lot of designers this is a given, and I have met many who think this is about the most basic of skill. So I was kinda thinking what is the point of writing this article. Well, I am still amazed by the amount of designers I know, and freelancers I hire who don’t practice this. So this article really aims to stress the benefits of Paragraph and Character Styles in InDesign and also show how I use them.
Basically Styles work in a similar way to any style sheets from CSS to word and powerpoint. They are used to apply certain Styles, such as size, font or colour etc, to text. We all know how important consistency is throughout a document, Styles allow you to maintain that with ease and also keep a large amount of control throughout. Imagine if you created a large document that used a style of body text in a certain colour, and headings in a another colour. Once everything has been designed and layed out, keeping with tradition, your client says, im not sure about these colours anymore - can we change everything? So rather than go back throughout the whole document highlighting and changing small paragraphs of text spending hours and hours, if you have set up the document using style sheets, it just takes a few clicks to change everything. Paragrgraph Styles will apply the attributes to the entire paragraph and Character Styles just the highlighted text.
I first started using Paragraph Styles when working on education brochures which were produced in many different languages. It was appropriate because I could set up Styles which then other designers could flow different text into without everything having to be re-typeset and designed.
So anyway, in this article im going to give you a very quick example of how I use them. The first thing I do is make some basic design choices over how I want the basic body text to look. In this case I am using a cool grey background, so I have chosed a white Helvetica Neue 65 font at 10pt. I am also using a basic 3 column grid, although this is not recorded in the Style.

Once you are happy with the way the body text is looking (and don’t worry it can still be easily changed later) we want to record those attributes so we can apply it to any text we like. To do this, first bring up yur Paragraph Styles, which is in Window>Type and Tables > Paragraph Styles. Simply highlight some of your designed paragraph, then click on the arrow with the Paragraph Styles options as shown. Select New Paragraph Style and in the Style Name, type body text. And thats kinda it in terms of creating a basic paragraph style. If you click on Basic Character Formats, you will see that it lists the Styles you have given your text. In fact virtually everything you would want to do to text is somewhere in these options. To prevent your text hyphenating, go to the hyphenation option and untick the hyphenate box. To align to a baseline grid as show in my other tutorial on setting up baseline grids ( go to Indents and Spacing, and change the align to grid option to ‘all lines’. You can also define how much space you want between paragraphs here. This can be really useful for differing space between heading Styles and body text paragraphs. Most things can be figured out quickly by looking through the options. When you are done, press ok, and you will see body text saved in your Paragraph Styles.

So now when you place text in from a word document, you can highlight anywhere in a paragraph and click on the body text style and it will add your attributes to the entire paragraphs.

Now we will add another style which will be the heading. We want this to be ina slightly heavier font and also in a different colour. We could achieve creating a style by highlighting a segment of text again, but this time we will do it by duplicating the body text style and changing its attributes. Click on the paragraph style arrow in the top left corner of the options box and select duplicate style. Again the Paragraph Style options box will appear, but type over ‘body text copy’ in the name panel with ‘heading’. In Basic Character Formats make the font 85 heavy helvetica neue, and in the Character Color option, we are going to use pantone 382 which we have already created in the swatches pallette. Press ok and you can see heading in your Paragraph Styles. As we have duplicated this style from the body text it will inheret all the common Styles that we did not change from that of the body text style. You can see this on the general tab of the Paragraph Style options. This means that if we were to decide to use a larger font for the body text, all we would need to do is change the size of the body text paragraph style and the heading size would change automatically too.

Next we will create a paragraph style for bullet points. Here I have placed the text required in bullets in the top right hand corner of the page. Currently it is set in the body text style. Add a bullet point and a tab before every new bullet point, and set the tab to 5mm or however far you wish. Bring up the paragraph tab, set the left indent option to 5mm and the first line left indent to -5mm. We will save this style sheet as bullets. Again, this is pretty basic stuff for most designers, but when I set a dummy brief recently for a junior designer position, not one of the candidates set the bullets up correctly. This way allows them to look neat and clean, and also different from that of the body text.

So thats it, that is pretty much how Paragraph Styles work. Character Styles work pretty much in the same way as Paragraph Styles, but they exhist within Paragraph Styles. Say if you wanted certain words in bold or italic the way you would do that is to set up a Character Style in the exact way that we have set up the Paragraph Styles. The only difference is you would not apply it to a whole paragraph, but rather a word or words you want to be bold or italic. Again, pretty much all character attributes can be applied to a character style.
I always use Styles to set up my document and they allow a terrific amount of control and consistency. I hope you have enjoyed this tutorial, article type thing...
Im sure lots of people use Styles in a different way to I do, so please let me know if I have missed anything or got anything wrong. Happy designing...

Please feel free to have a look at my other blogs at and let me know what you think. I have only wrote a few articles and would be great to get some feedback.



nithrandur's picture

This is great stuff, especially for a wannabe like me. Thanks!

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