InDesign Typography
Illustration by John Hersey

Understanding tabs


InDesign Typography

with Nigel French

Video: Understanding tabs

This chapter is about tabs and tables, and this movie is specifically about tabs. Let's start off by looking at the different types of tabs. Frequently misunderstood, often a cause of frustration, but once you get the hang of them they are really rather straightforward. So when you insert a Tab Stop using your keyboard, notice I have my hidden characters shown, so I can see where those tab stops are. You never want more than one consecutive tab because you can just set the position of the one tab that you have and these are the four main types of tab, Left, Center, Right, and Decimal, and each of these four types of tab are aligned in this case to the same point, and this is the result that you get.
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  1. 4m 4s
    1. Welcome
    2. Using the exercise files
    3. Customizing the workspace for type
      2m 18s
  2. 9m 25s
    1. What is Typekit? (CC 2014.1)
      1m 56s
    2. Choosing and syncing fonts (CC 2014.1)
      3m 6s
    3. Syncing problems (CC 2014.1)
      1m 43s
    4. Typekit resources (CC 2014.1)
      1m 5s
    5. Using the Font menu (CC 2014.1)
      1m 35s
  3. 55m 41s
    1. Working with text frames
      8m 26s
    2. Using a primary text frame (CS6 and later)
      3m 59s
    3. Understanding text flow methods
      6m 25s
    4. Understanding text threads
      3m 40s
    5. Understanding Smart Text Reflow
      2m 27s
    6. Mocking up pages with placeholder text
      5m 47s
    7. Placing multiple text files
      3m 50s
    8. Using Auto-Size text frames (CS6 and later)
      4m 1s
    9. Copying and pasting vs. placing
      2m 25s
    10. Cleaning up text with Find/Change
      5m 46s
    11. Using the Story Editor
      3m 41s
    12. Spanning columns
      5m 14s
  4. 48m 34s
    1. Choosing your type
      6m 46s
    2. Understanding text essentials
      6m 37s
    3. Scaling type
      2m 27s
    4. Using italic and oblique type
      4m 33s
    5. Working with condensed and extended type
      4m 26s
    6. Setting type in all caps
      3m 46s
    7. Setting type in small caps
      4m 21s
    8. Underlining type
      4m 11s
    9. Using superscript and subscript
      4m 35s
    10. Applying baseline shift
      4m 8s
    11. Combining typefaces (CC 2014.1)
      2m 44s
  5. 16m 6s
    1. Understanding type anatomy
      3m 25s
    2. Exploring serif and sans serif
      2m 48s
    3. Comparing points, picas, and ems
      8m 34s
    4. What's in a name?
      1m 19s
  6. 16m 27s
    1. Setting leading
      4m 56s
    2. Avoiding auto-leading
      4m 12s
    3. Leading shortcuts and preferences
      4m 7s
    4. Using autoleading with inline graphics
      3m 12s
  7. 21m 25s
    1. Defining kerning and tracking
      2m 5s
    2. Understanding kerning methods
      5m 10s
    3. When and how to kern
      5m 53s
    4. When and how to track
      8m 17s
  8. 48m 42s
    1. Working with quotes, primes, and apostrophes
      8m 16s
    2. Using dashes
      5m 24s
    3. Using ellipses
      2m 56s
    4. Working with accents and special characters
      4m 1s
    5. Using space characters
      4m 15s
    6. Working with ligatures
      4m 29s
    7. Setting fractions
      3m 56s
    8. Using lining and proportional numerals
      2m 49s
    9. Using alternates, swashes, and ornaments
      5m 2s
    10. Working with optical sizes
      4m 40s
    11. Stylistic sets (CC 2014.1)
      2m 54s
  9. 57m 20s
    1. Understanding alignment
      3m 47s
    2. Working with left-aligned type
      3m 24s
    3. Working with justified type
      7m 5s
    4. Using Optical Margin Alignment
      3m 39s
    5. Determining column width
      4m 53s
    6. Working with center alignment
      5m 36s
    7. Working with right alignment
      1m 22s
    8. Aligning to or away from the spine
      1m 50s
    9. Understanding the Paragraph Composer and Single-line Composer
      3m 44s
    10. Combining alignments
      9m 20s
    11. Using hanging punctuation
      2m 13s
    12. Working with vertical alignment
      10m 27s
  10. 14m 9s
    1. Using first-line indents
      2m 26s
    2. Using indent alternatives
      2m 3s
    3. Working with left and right indents
      4m 0s
    4. Using last-line indents and outdents
      1m 26s
    5. Using paragraph spacing
      4m 14s
  11. 23m 19s
    1. Setting hyphenation
      6m 14s
    2. Working with line breaks and discretionary hyphens
      4m 48s
    3. Balancing ragged lines
      1m 36s
    4. Using the No Break feature and non-breaking characters
      2m 52s
    5. Using frame, column, and page breaks
      3m 42s
    6. Defining Keep Options
      4m 7s
  12. 37m 53s
    1. Understanding tabs
      8m 58s
    2. Considerations for table text
      3m 55s
    3. Table tips and tricks
      11m 55s
    4. Creating a bulleted list
      6m 50s
    5. Creating a numbered list
      3m 46s
    6. Creating a multi-level numbered list
      2m 29s
  13. 23m 12s
    1. Understanding drop caps
      11m 3s
    2. Navigating tricky drop caps
      5m 14s
    3. Using a nested character style with a drop cap
      3m 59s
    4. Other uses of drop caps
      2m 56s
  14. 1h 11m
    1. Understanding paragraph and character styles
      7m 13s
    2. Creating, applying, and editing styles
      7m 3s
    3. Removing overrides
      4m 58s
    4. Creating and applying character styles
      5m 4s
    5. Creating and applying nested styles
      12m 30s
    6. Using GREP styles (regular expressions)
      4m 8s
    7. Creating and applying sequential styles
      6m 19s
    8. Using paragraph rules creatively
      11m 48s
    9. Mapping Word styles
      6m 12s
    10. Working with anchored objects and object styles
      6m 24s
  15. 25m 30s
    1. Applying a text wrap
      6m 7s
    2. Making items ignore a text wrap
      1m 46s
    3. Using text wraps for flexible layouts
      3m 2s
    4. Working with difficult text wraps
      8m 39s
    5. Inverting text wraps
      2m 7s
    6. Setting text wrap preferences
      3m 49s
  16. 29m 33s
    1. Choosing a page size and setting margins
      6m 33s
    2. Setting up columns
      2m 53s
    3. Dividing a page into rows
      3m 27s
    4. Setting up a baseline grid
      5m 40s
    5. Handling baseline grid problems
      3m 37s
    6. Baseline grid tricks
      7m 23s
  17. 44m 26s
    1. Working with type outlines (CC 2014.1)
      6m 50s
    2. Creating an interlocking effect (CC 2014.1)
      3m 31s
    3. Fusing letterforms (CC 2014.1)
      7m 15s
    4. Type and gradients (CC 2014.1)
      4m 57s
    5. Type and transparency (CC 2014.1)
      1m 50s
    6. Type on a path: Circles (CC 2014.1)
      4m 48s
    7. Type on a path: Calligram (CC 2014.1)
      6m 16s
    8. Vertical type (CC 2014.1)
      2m 58s
    9. Type and image: Gradient (CC 2014.1)
      1m 38s
    10. Type and image: "See-through" type (CC 2014.1)
      1m 8s
    11. Type and image: "Disappearing" type (CC 2014.1)
      3m 15s
  18. 12m 19s
    1. Looking at screen documents
      4m 2s
    2. Setting size, leading, and line length onscreen
      3m 13s
    3. Exploring typefaces designed for the screen
      3m 36s
    4. Accessibility: Contrast and color
      1m 28s
  19. 28s
    1. Goodbye

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Watch the Online Video Course InDesign Typography
9h 20m Intermediate Aug 03, 2012 Updated Nov 12, 2014

Viewers: in countries Watching now:

Explore the numerous type options, type-related features, and type-specific preferences of Adobe InDesign. Using practical, real-world examples, instructor and designer Nigel French dissects the anatomy of a typeface and defines the vocabulary of typography. The course moves from the micro to the macro level, addressing issues such as choosing page size, determining the size of margins, adjusting number columns, and achieving a clean look with baseline grids. This course takes you from laying out a page to delving into the hows and whys of typography.

Topics include:
  • Understanding text threads and text flow methods in InDesign
  • Using Copy and Paste vs. Place
  • Choosing and combining typefaces
  • Understanding leading and how it relates to type size and column width
  • Comparing points, picas, and ems
  • Learning the proper use of white space and break characters
  • Understanding the finer points of kerning and tracking
  • Working with punctuation, special characters, ornaments, and ligatures
  • Aligning text
  • Applying global formatting with paragraph, character, and object styles
  • Refining spacing with indents
  • Creating drop caps
  • Avoiding common problems associated with justified type and text wraps
  • Setting up margins and columns
Nigel French

Understanding tabs

This chapter is about tabs and tables, and this movie is specifically about tabs. Let's start off by looking at the different types of tabs. Frequently misunderstood, often a cause of frustration, but once you get the hang of them they are really rather straightforward. So when you insert a Tab Stop using your keyboard, notice I have my hidden characters shown, so I can see where those tab stops are. You never want more than one consecutive tab because you can just set the position of the one tab that you have and these are the four main types of tab, Left, Center, Right, and Decimal, and each of these four types of tab are aligned in this case to the same point, and this is the result that you get.

If I put my cursor in this text frame and come to the Type menu and choose Tabs, I get a Tab Ruler above my text frame. Now if I am lucky that Tab Ruler exactly aligns with my text frame. If forever reason it doesn't, maybe it looks like this, slightly offset, you can click on the magnet, and it will snap back to align with the text frame. If that doesn't work, then close the Tab Ruler and change your view size to 100% or 200%, and it should work that.

So here we see the left-hand tab, so to insert that, I just clicked on the ruler, making sure I am clicking on a left-hand tab and then drag that over wherever it is I want it to go. Next up, Center tab looks slightly different, just above the ruler, and the right-hand tab, and finally the Decimal tab. And the Decimal tab, when you insert a decimal, or indeed it could be any character perhaps you want to align to a currency symbol, like a dollar sign or a pound sign, that's the point at which the character is aligned, and here we have just a diagram of the Tab Ruler.

As well as the more obvious uses of tabs there are some unexpected uses and a couple of different types of tabs that I have yet to mention, and one of those is the Right Indent Tab, and we see that right here, that's what it's hidden character looks like, the purpose of the Right Indent Tab is just to shunt over whatever text is to the right of the cursor, to the right-hand edge of the text frame. Shift+Tab will insert a Right Indent Tab. You can also go to it in your Insert Special Character > Other > Right Indent Tab.

Another usage of the Right Indent Tab is when you are setting up a folio for a magazine or any other type of publication where you want to have both flush left and flush right on the same line for an easy way of achieving that. As well as setting the position of the type, you can also fill in the space between the Tab Stop and its position with a particular character. This is an old trick to create some sort of reply form.

Now if you feel that the underlines, or underscores, are too heavy, then you can use an alternative approach, and that's what I have used down here, I'll show you that in just a moment. But to get the result that we have in the top example, I am going to press my Tab shortcut, Command+Shift+T. Now we can see that I have a right tab specified at the right edge of the text frame and then in the Leader field I have typed in an Underscore so that the space between the text and the Tab Stop is filled in with an underscore.

Now down here in this second example, where the underscore, or the rule, is a lot lighter in weight, that's achieved in a slightly different way, that's actually achieved using a nested style, so if we look at the tabs here, you can see I have the right tab in the same position, but there is no Leader character involved. What is involved is a Character Style. So I have set up a Character Style, I've called it line, let's just go and look at its properties. In the properties of this line character style I have edited the Underline Options where I have changed the Offset, and I have changed the Weight.

Now to incorporate that into this Paragraph Style, I have created a Nested Style. I will be talking about those more in the chapter on Paragraph Styles. But right here in Drop Caps and Nested Styles we can see that this is how this effect is achieved. I have no Character Style applied up to 1 Tab Character and the Tab Character you can see inserted right there. Thereafter, I have that line Character Style through 1 Tab Character.

Now in this case, the through is not going to matter too much, that could be a number of different delimiters and still get the same result, but on this third line, where we have three different pieces of information on the same line, then we need to go one step further, this is a separate Paragraph Style based on the first one that we saw, and this in addition to the None through 1 Tab Character and then the line Character Style, we have this option Repeat, and that just repeats, in this case, the last two styles so that we can have the rule between State and Zip and between Zip and the end of the line.

So it's just an alternative approach to a reply coupon, which if you have to make them are not that much fun, but they are necessary, so rather than using tab leaders, using a Character Style. All right, back on to tab leaders though and other instances of tab leaders. You see them frequently used in price lists to separate the text and the price itself to fill in the space, and in this case, I click on my tab--they are rather fiddly these tabs-- but there it is right there.

If we click on that, you can see it's slightly highlighted in blue to indicate that it's selected. In the Leader field, I have typed not just one period, but a period followed by a space, just to space out those dots, a bit more, which is how I prefer them. And of course this can then be incorporated into a Paragraph Style. When editing tabs, it's certainly possible to edit them through your Paragraph Style Options, but I tend to find that the Ruler that you are given here, doesn't give you much flexibility and also you can't align it over the text frame.

So for that reason, if I am changing anything about tabs that are incorporated into a Paragraph Style I prefer to do it like this. So let's say that I would like to bring that Tab Stop in a fraction, Command+Shift+T to go to my Tab Ruler, which we can see is not actually aligning with my text. So I will try the magnet that doesn't work, I will close that, I will switch to a different view size, I'll go back to my Tab Ruler, and now it does.

So let's say I want to bring these in a fraction, I will make the change to that one instance right there which is going to cause this Paragraph Style called tab leaders to be overwritten, i.e. there is something about is that is not in the style definition. Now I actually want to incorporate that into the style definitions. So I will right-click and then choose Redefine Style and then all of the instances of that Paragraph Style will be updated. So that's just on a side really on how to work with tabs once they have been incorporated into a Paragraph Style definition.

One more instance of a Tab Leader, and we see it very frequently, is its usage in a table of contents, and we have that right here and here it's being used to push out the page entry to the right-hand edge of the text frame. And while this is very common, it may not necessarily be the best solution because it does two things that may be less than desirable and those are there is an awful lot of distance between the entry and its page number so it may be difficult for the eye to track along the page, and secondly it opens up some rather unfortunate white space, even though in this case that white space is filled with dots between the entry and the page number, and that's going to very quite a lot, so here it's very short and up here it's very long.

So as an alternative to dot leaders in table of contents, you might consider instead separating the entry from the page number with nothing more than an em space, and if I now turn on my Guides, we can see the hidden character right there for an em space so that's quite a lot larger than a regular space, and I would say in many ways that's a preferable solution.

Find answers to the most frequently asked questions about InDesign Typography .

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The exercise files provided aren't working in my version of InDesign (CS4, CS5, or CS5.5). What should I use?
This course was recorded using InDesign CS6. For InDesign users working with CS4, CS5, or CS5.5, IDML files are provided.
Q: Where can I learn more about graphic design?
A: Discover more about this topic by visiting graphic design on
Q: This course was updated on 11/12/2014. What changed?
A: We added 18 new movies, primarily in the "Using Typekit" and "Type Treatments and Effects" chapters. These movies describe new and enhanced typography features in the latest release of InDesign CC, and are indicated by the "(CC 2014.1)" tag in their names.
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