Using Type: Tabs, Nested Styles

Nested-Styles-1 Nested-Styles-2
Tabs and nested style settings in InDesign aren’t hidden away anywhere, but the ins and outs of their use can still be tricky. As a brief addendum to Using Styles Properly and last week’s how to on figures, I thought I’d demonstrate a couple of techniques for automating the application of styles, which happen to sometimes require a good understanding of tabs. The above example uses a character style, a couple of paragraph styles, and is set in FF Milo and FF DIN Round.

Show Hidden Characters

First, when working with any kind of information that requires a tabular layout, make sure you can see exactly what’s there, and what isn’t. This means turning on invisible characters. Type > Show/Hide Hidden Characters. Now we can see our tabs, represented as guillemets, spaces, shown as vertically centered periods, as well as various break characters, etc.. As covered in Using Figures, the decimal points of the numbers above should align vertically. This is done by using a decimal tab as opposed to the left-, center-, or right-aligning tabs shown at the top left of the tab panel. Upon closer inspection, the decimal tab additionally works with “any specified character” in the “Align On:” field of the same panel. Think for a moment of a case where you might want to align to an arbitrarily specified character.

Align to "s"

I admit I didn’t think of anything all that useful beyond the obvious, but I’ll keep thinking. End of detour.

Repeat tabs

Since the columns of figures I’m working with are all of equal width, I can specify the first interval, and then repeat the tab position automatically. Another way of wielding tabs with precision is by placing guides on your document, or of course, by performing arithmetic. Tip: if you want to move a tab by a half inch, type “+ .5” at the end of the contents of the “X” field and hit enter. After setting this line as a paragraph style by simply keeping my cursor blinking on the line and clicking New Paragraph Style, I was able to apply this style to all the lines. With the top line, the exception, I adjusted the tab over the center of the first column, changed it to a center-aligning tab, set the next at the same interval, and repeated the tab just like in the image above.

Center-aligned tab

All lined up. Now on to that character style I apply to the ‘month’ label along the left edge.

Month labels

By the way, I don’t show you this so you can repeat it, I do it so you can become familiar with the possibilities and come up with even better ways of using styles and saving time producing your own work. The first thing I did to create the style was change the font to FF Milo. Then I took the size down slightly, painted it white, raised it off its baseline some, and applied the all caps feature, available through the Character panel. (By the way, this isn’t the same as Text > Change Case > UPPERCASE. If you’re a CSS hacker, this is akin to text-transform: uppercase.) Then I gave it its magenta background, which is in fact a thick underline. I also put a space on either side of each month label. Then, highlighting the characters I had just changed, I hit “New Character Style” in the Character Styles Palette.

In order to apply the magenta and white character style I had just created to the rest of the lines in the table, I opened up the paragraph style I had called ‘entry’ and went to its Drop Caps and Nested Styles page.

Nested styles

Because I used a preceding tab on each line, I set the first nested style to [None], then the character style ‘month’. The style applies itself automatically up until that second tab, just where I want it. Now if I have pages to format similarly, I just apply the paragraph style and I’m done.

I kept this example relatively simple, but by all means, go nuts. Nest twelve character styles across four lines and three forced line breaks, systematically cycle through all the weights of a typeface, and put a bar chart in the center column.

Thanks for reading. Any questions? Feel free to ask in the comments. Using Type continues here Thursday.

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