Join David Blatner for an in-depth discussion in this video Set tabs and tab stops, part of InDesign CC 2018 Essential Training.
- [Narrator] I'm looking at my table of contents page from my long document file in the exercise files folder, and I've placed tabs in the text to separate the columns, but I can't see those tab characters, and of course you can't, because tabs are invisible, right? But we can see them if we go to the type menu, and then way down at the bottom choose show hidden characters. When I do that, we now see all these little blue characters throughout the text, like this blue paragraph symbol at the end of this line.
Also between each word, you'll see a dot. That's a space character, and then over here, before the number, you'll see a little double angle bracket. That is a symbol for a tab character. I often like working with those hidden characters turned on, because it shows exactly what's in my text frame, and that's especially true when I'm working with tabs, because I need to know where the tabs are to set them up right. Now I'm going to double click on top of this text frame to place my cursor inside the story, because there's a problem here that I need to fix.
The numbers don't all line up, and that's because tabs, by default, always go to the nearest tab stop, and tab stops are set up every half-inch across the text frame. Now you might be tempted to come in here and start adding additional tabs by pressing the tab key, but don't do that. Stop. Let me delete those. You only want one tab. In fact, there are three ground rules that you need to keep in mind if you're going to be using tabs. First, never type a tab at the beginning of a paragraph in order to create an indent.
That's what the left indent and the first line indent features are for. I talked about those earlier on in this chapter. Second, never type two tab characters in a row. If you want your tab to take you farther than a half-an-inch, then set a tab stop where you want to put it, and I'm going to show you how to do that in just a moment. Finally, if you're using tabs to make something that looks suspiciously like a table, it probably is a table, and you should probably be using InDesign's table features, not tabs.
I cover tables in a later chapter, but here, even though this is called a table of contents, it doesn't really look like a table, so it's okay to use tabs. So, we're only using one tab before the number, and now we need to set up a tab stop, so the first thing I need to do is select all the paragraphs that I want to affect. In this case, it's everything from this first line to the bottom, so I'll just drag over that. Now, I'm going to make sure that I can see the top of my text frame. I don't technically need to do that, but I find it's useful to see the top of the text frame when I'm working with tabs, because now when I got to the type menu and choose tabs, the tab panel automatically snaps to the top of the text frame.
See how the white triangles, which define the margins are aligned with the text frame? The panel can't do that if I don't see the top of my text frame. Instead, it just kind of floats around on the page. Okay, now to add my first tab stop, all I need to do is click in the blank area above the ruler, then if I want to move the tab stop, all I need to do is click and drag it. You'll notice that as I'm dragging, you can see a black line that indicates exactly where the tab stop is going to be, exactly where the numbers are going to align to.
I'm going to move this one over near the edge of this text frame, and then I'll let go of the mouse button. Now all of those numbers after the tabs are lined up, but unfortunately, they're aligned up on the left edges, and that means some of them are wrapping around to the next line, so I need to have these lined up along their right edges. That's okay. I can do that. While this tab stop is selected up here in the tabs panel, I'm going to go over here and click on the align right tab stop, also called the right justified tab. When I do that, it turns the selected tab stop into a right justified, or right aligned tab stop, and now the tab goes right up to that point, and then all this text, those numbers are set flush against the right tab stop.
I'm going to go ahead and drag this a little bit closer to the right edge, or if you know exactly where you want that tab stop to be, instead of dragging it, you can come up here and change the value inside this X field. I happen to know that this frame is exactly five-inches wide, so I'll type that in here, then I'll hit enter or return. You can see those numbers moved over to the right edge. Now of course, we can have additional tab stops up here as well. I can create a new tab stop right in the middle here, and then I'm going to set this one to be a center-aligned tab stop.
Let's see what that does. I'll come down here and click on this line, then I'll hit tab and start typing. As I type characters, the text will always be centered on that tab stop. Now, for this table of contents, I don't really need that, so I'm going to go ahead and delete that. I also want to delete that tab stop, and you can remove a tab stop simply by clicking on it, and then dragging it right out of the panel. Pop! it's gone. Now I did just notice though that I removed the tab stop, but only from that paragraph, so I need to go back and select all these paragraphs again, and then remove that tab stop one more time.
Alright, I'm going to go ahead and click out here again, so I can see what I'm doing, and now, I don't need to see those hidden characters any more, so I'll go back to the type menu and choose hide hidden characters. I know where the characters are now. So this looks pretty good, but the only problem I see now is that the space is really big. You know that space from the text to the number? It would be helpful to have some dots in there, or something to lead my eye from one side to the other, and the key word there is lead. What we want is a leader, so let's go ahead and add one.
I'm going to select that text again, then go back to my tabs panel and click once on that tab stop, and now I'm going to type something in the leader field up here. I can type any character I want for a leader, and it will repeat it over and over again. But in this case, I'm just going to press a dot, a period, and then I'm going to hit return or enter, and you'll see that there's little dots that fill all those spaces now. By the way, I should point out that you can actually select a tab, just like any other character. You just kind of drag over it, and it becomes selected, and now that that tab character is selected, I can format it.
Let me zoom in here. I'm going to press command two or control two on Windows. Any formatting I apply to this tab is applied to all the characters inside that leader. So for example, I might go up here to the control panel and make those dots smaller, then I'll go over to my tracking field and make it much larger. I just think that looks a little bit more elegant. If you want to learn more about building a table of contents automatically and formatting it, check out Mike Rankin's title InDesign, Creating Long Documents here in the Online Training Library.
For now though, you can see that these tabs and tab stop features are essential tools that will take you a long way toward making sure your documents look good.
- Creating a new layout
- Inserting pages
- Adding text
- Inserting graphics
- Applying color and transparency
- Drawing and editing frames and paths
- Formatting objects
- Formatting text
- Creating styles for uniform formatting
- Building tables
- Adding links and interactivity
- Printing and exporting InDesign documents