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One of the most requested features in InDesign is the ability to put a colored box around or behind a paragraph. You can't really do it yet but there are some good ways to fake it, and my favorite technique is called the one-celled table. Let me show you how it works. I'm going to zoom in on this text here, because I want to put a colored box behind this paragraph. To do that, I need to switch to the Type tool, press the T key, and then select the paragraph. Note that I'm selecting the paragraph, but not the invisible carriage return at the end.
I can see that carriage return there, that little invisible character, because I've turned on the hidden characters at the bottom of the Type menu. Without that turned on, it's really hard to tell where the paragraph really ends. Now that I've selected the paragraph, I'm going to come up to the Table menu and choose Convert Text to Table. It's going to turn this one paragraph into a one-celled table. I'm going to the leave the column and row separators just the way they are and click OK. Now in this case, it broke my carriage return to the next line because there's an extra space right at the end of that paragraph.
So I'm going to press the Delete key and remove that. That looks much better. It put that paragraph into a table and it seems to have broken this down to a separate line and I think the reason is that there appears to be a little space at the end that I didn't capture. So I'm going to delete that by brisk pressing the forward Delete key and yep, that worked. Now we have a paragraph inside a single-cell table and it takes up just the right amount of space. Now these tables by default have a stroke around them but no fill.
But that's okay we can turn that around by giving it a fill and taking the stroke away. To do that, I'm going to click inside that cell and then press the Escape key. Little secret trick, when you're inside of a cell in a table, hitting Escape selects the cell itself. So now I can make sure that all four sides of the table are selected up here in the Control Panel and I'm going to set the stroke to None. Now I'm going to come up here and fill it with some color, maybe 20% magenta.
It's highlighted right now, so I can't see the final effect, but as soon as I click outside of the table, you can see that it looks just fine. As a story reflows, as text is added and removed, the table will move with it. It's anchored in place. Even better, as I add some text here, I'll just add some random text, you'll see that the table gets longer. If I remove that text, the table gets smaller. It's the table that's creating that background color, and therefore it is always going to be behind that paragraph.
Now what's not so great about this trick is that table cells inside InDesign cannot break across multiple pages. The whole cell always has to stay together on the page. Let me show you a couple other instances of how you can use this. Navigate over to the left side page here, and I'm going to put these two paragraphs inside a single cell. To do that, I select both of these paragraphs but not the final carriage return, go to Table > Convert Text to Table and this time I'm going to pause for a moment and not just click OK because we have two different paragraphs that we want in a single cell.
I need to change the Row Separator. The Row Separator is set to Paragraph right now. So if I clicked OK, I would get two rows. One for this paragraph and one for this paragraph. That might be okay, depending on what I'm kind of do, but I want to show you a trick so that you truly get a single cell. Instead of using Paragraph, you could choose Tab or Comma, but there might be a tab or comma in there somewhere, so don't want to take a chance. I'm simply going to select that paragraph and replace it with some character that I'm sure does not show up anywhere and you can pick pretty much anything.
I'll just going to use a square bracket here. You can use a curly bracket or some special character, it doesn't really matter, just something that you know does not show up in this paragraph. Click OK and it turns it into a single- celled table, two paragraphs in the same cell. In this case, I'm going to leave that cell stroked and not filled because I want to show you one more trick down here. I want to put a special effect next of this paragraph. I select it, I do the old routine of converting it into a single-cell table.
Instead of having it colored behind or stroked all way around, I want a stroke just on the left side of this. So to do that, I click inside, press the Escape key, come up here and I'm going to turn off the Stroke on all four sides, and I'm going to turn it on. If you just click on those lines to control which ones you're affecting, and I don't want this next thing to affect all those lines, I only wanted to affect the left line. I'm going to do a nice thick stroke right along that left edge.
So now I have a stroke along the left edge, but the text is bumping up against it. That's okay, I can click inside the cell, go back to the Table menu and choose Cell Options > Text. Here I'm going to unlock this little chain icon button there so I can change the cell inset separately, and I'm going to set the left inset larger, maybe 1 pica. That way, it moves it a little bit farther away from that line. Let's go ahead and jump back to fit spread in window with the Command+Option+0 or Ctrl+Alt+0 and press the W key to go into Preview Mode and you can see the effects that we've created.
First, a single paragraph that has a colored box behind it; second, we did two paragraphs that have a stroke around them; and third, we have a single paragraph that has a line that can expand or contract depending on how much text is in that paragraph. Single-celled tables like these are proof that sometimes when you're trying to achieve a particular effect in InDesign, you need to think outside the box.
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