Getting To Grips With InDesign Part 3: Importing Text and Playing With Typography

This article/tutorial is the third in the series. Please take a look at the first and second “chapters”: Document Basics and Master Pages and Working With Text and Graphic Frames.

In the third part of this Getting To Grips Series we will be covering the following topics:

  • Creating and editing text
  • Creating a headline
  • Text alignment
  • Flowing text (automatically and manually)
  • Working with and applying styles
  • Loading pre-existing styles from other documents
  • Finding and changing
  • Spell checking
  • Drag and drop text editing
  • Using the story editor
  • Adjusting vertical spacing
  • Viewing and using baseline grids
  • Fonts and type styles
  • Creating a drop cap
  • Adjusting letter and word spacing
  • Adjusting kerning and tracking
  • Working with tabs

If you like this article, please do spread the word by tweeting, stumbling and digging. There are plenty more InDesign articles on their way, so keep an eye out for them!

Also, please keep in mind that this it a tutorial, and therefore the result isn’t tremendously great – it’s about teaching you how to use InDesign’s tools, not how to use them to create perfect results, that would take lots of practice! Also keep in mind that although this tutorial is long, it doesn’t cover absolutely everything – some things have already been covered in the previous InDesign tutorials, so be sure to check those out!

Creating and Editing Text

InDesign, being a desktop publishing application, holds the ability to enter text directly into your documents using a text frame/box, or importing your text that was previously created using another piece of software, such as Word or OpenOffice Writer. It supports a bunch of files so you shouldn’t run across any problems!

Creating a Headline

Before creating a headline, we need a document – you should now know how to set up a document from previously published tutorials. I used the follow document settings:

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Creating a headline, as you’re probably assuming, is super-simple. If you can drag out a text box and type a heading you can probably work out how to do it yourself without any further instructions, but I’ll tell you anyway. Select the text tool and drag out a text frame, type your heading in. That is pretty much it – you can increase the size of your heading, and so on. That’s far too simple though, so I’m going to teach you how to use styles, making it easy for us to apply the same style to each heading throughout our document.

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Go to Window > Type & Tables > Paragraph Styles. Although titled as paragraph styles, these styles are used to change the formatting of all kinds of text, from headings, subheadings, body copy, quotes… the list goes on. Click on the create new style icon to create a new style – a new one should automatically be added.

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Editing the style is pretty easy, too. Double-click on your new style, you should be presented with a Paragraph Style Options window, looking something like below. Change the name of your style to something suitable, such as “Main Heading”.

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Click on Basic Character Formats to begin formatting your style. You can change the font family, style, size , leading, tracking and positioning from this tab alone, as well as having the option to underline or strikethrough the style. Unless you know precisely what you want, making sure the preview box in the bottom left corner of the options window will allow you to see the changes your making to your heading – this is of course once you have selected your title and told it that you want to apply the style to it; you can do this by highlighting the text and double-clicking on your new style. You may need to increase the size of your text frame so that your text fits, we walked through this process in the previous InDesign lesson. You can see my final settings in the screenshot below.

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We’re not going to go through the other settings just yet, as we will be playing with these later on. Hit the OK button to save your paragraph style. Let’s repeat our process again, this time creating a sub-heading with its very own paragraph style – you know what to do!

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You can use the same technique to create styles for all kinds of text.

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Vertical Text Alignment

Vertical text alignment is when you align your text vertically within a text frame; that’s the space between the top of your text and top of the text frame, and the space between the bottom of your text and the bottom of your text frame.

Click on your text frame and go to Object > Text Frame Options. From here you can select your alignment style of your vertical justification, as seen in the screenshot below.

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Flowing Text (Manually)

We covered this a little in a one of the previous lessons, but now we’re going to go into it in more detail. Text flowing is when you place text into your InDesign document from another source, such as a .doc document, and then having it flow throughout several (or much more than several) text frames that all linked together – a popular process used when preparing books and magazines ready for press. It is possible to flow text manually in InDesign, allowing you to take more control over your actions, whereas automatically saves a lot of time, which is always a good thing if you’re preparing a book with several hundred pages.

Before moving on, you need a file that we can import into InDesign. I’ve created a quick document containing a bunch of Lorem Ipsum that I pulled off the net (Google “Lorem Ipsum”).

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Go to File > Place and select your dummy text .doc (or similar) document. You can click on “Show Place Option”, which will allow you to remove all the existing styles of your text – a good idea if you had headings, fonts and colors in your word processing document. Once passing the options screen (if you decided to view it), you should have a cursor pop up with a preview of your text, as seen in the screenshot below.

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You can now either click on your page to automatically create a text frame, or drag one out yourself. We’re going to just click, this is how mine looked just after clicking without any further modifications.

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Resize your text frame so that it hits the top margin of your page, and then use the Enter-Key to nudge your text down a few lines so that it appears beneath your headings. Click on your text frame, and give it two columns (as taught in the previous lessons). You should now have something that looks like the screenshot below.

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You’ll notice that there is a little red plus sign in the bottom right hand corner of your text frame, this is just to tell us that there is more text in the frame that isn’t currently visible. We’re going to make the rest of this text flow into a brand new frame. Click on the little red plus, and again you should see the cursor with the text preview. Go down on to the second page and click to create another new text frame. Give it two columns, and kaboom, we have two linked text frames.

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One great thing about this technique is that you can still add images right into the center of our documents text frames – by wrapping the text around the images, the text will automatically carry on throughout the linked text frames.

Flowing Text (Automatically)

Flowing text automatically is virtually the same as doing it manually, it just saves a few minutes (or hours if you have a lot of text!). You still go to File > Place, your still select your document, and you still have to create a text frame (or insert it into a ready-made one). The only different is when you click, instead of just clicking, hold the Shift-Key down and then click. This will automatically create new text frames until all of the text is visible. Handy, eh? It’s so simple, I’m not even going to include a screenshot!

You can manually select areas of text or other sub-headings within your placed text to apply styles to them.

Loading Pre-Existing Styles From Other Documents

If you’re creating a newspaper or magazine, the chances are you’ve done it before, and are just creating a new issue. If this is the case, and you’re not completely restyling the publication and want to keep the same styles throughout your work, you can load pre-existing styles from your other/older documents.

It’s a pretty quick and easy thing to do. Open up your Paragraph Styles window by going to Window > Type & Tables > Paragraph Styles as we did earlier. Click on the more options tab (seen below).

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Click on Load Paragraph Styles. You’ll be presented with the normal Open a File window. Browse for your file, and open it up. You’ll then be able to choose which styles from this particular document you’d like to import. Simple!

Finding and Changing

The finding and changing tool is probably one of the most used tools in the desktop publishing and web development industry. A very simple one, but a very useful and time-saving one, too! Like other finding and changing tools in other applications, the tool allows you to search for and replace a certain piece of text. For example, you want to change all your individual letter “i”‘s to “I”‘s. Or change all of your “and”‘s to “&”‘s.

To do so, go to Edit > Find/Change. You’ll see the Find/Change feature built-in to InDesign is a little more complex than those of simple text editors. Don’t get scared off, though, it’s simpler than it looks. The reason it looks slightly more confusing compared to others is because you have the ability to change Text, GREP, Glyphs and Objects, as well as being able to search for text within locked layers, locked items, hidden layers, master pages and footnotes. You can also choose whether you want your search to be case sensitive. You also have the option of changing the style of your found piece of text.

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Spell Checking

InDesign, thankfully, has a spell checking utility that works in a similar way to word processing applications. You can check your spelling in a selected piece of text, an entire text frame, or an entire document.

To open up the spell checking utility, go to Edit > Spelling > Check Spelling. Your check spelling window should pop-up.

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From here, you can click the start button to search for spelling errors throughout your whole document. Alternatively, you can select you text using the text tool and then hit the start button to scan for errors through that one piece of selected text, rather than the whole document.

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If any spelling errors are found (which in my case almost every word is an error as we are using lorem ipsum text!), you can select the word you want to replace, and type what you’d like to change it to, as seen below.

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If the spell checking tool finds a word that is actually spelt correctly (quite often the case with names) you can add it to the dictionary. Click on the dictionary button and another window will appear. From here you can add the selected word to your dictionary. You have the option of what dictionary you would like to apply it too – InDesign has many dictionaries as standard. You also have the option to set the target of your word – basically meaning you can apply this new word to the InDesign dictionary (allowing it to be spelt correctly in every InDesign article), or you can apply it to just your documents InDesign document, meaning if you were to spell the same word in a new document, InDesign will not recognize it. This is good if there is a specific article that contains the same unrecognised word more than once, and you are unlikely to use it in any following documents, such as names.

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If you’d like your document to check your spelling as you produce it, you can enable dynamic spelling. This will highlight your incorrect spellings as you type or place in your text, allowing you to keep on top of your mistakes instead of having to do it at the end of a document, something that can become very time consuming if you have a 250,000 word book to spell check!

To turn dynamic spell checking on, you can go to InDesign > Preferences > Spelling (or Edit > Preferences > Spelling on a Windows PC). All you need to is check the enable dynamic spelling checkbox. You can change the colors of your misspelled words, repeated words, uncapitalised words and uncapitalised sentences. Red, green, green and green are set as defaults.

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You can also enable and disable dynamic spelling by going to Edit > Spelling > Dynamic Spelling, however you can’t change the other settings doing it this way.

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Drag and Drop Text Editing

Drag and drop text editing allows you to simply drag and drop a selected piece of text from one place in your text frame to another. You’re not restricted to just dragging and dropping you text within a frame though, you can drag and drop it into other text frames, layout windows and even other documents. A good example of when this can be used is when you decide you want to change the order of a couple of sentences, or you accidentally typed your new text into the wrong place.

As probably expected, dragging and dropping is as simple as, well… dragging and dropping! If you’re a Mac user you probably do this all the time anyway. You do however need to make sure drag and drop text editing is enabled. To do so, go to InDesign > Preferences > Type (Edit > Preferences > Type on a Windows PC). Under the Drag and Drop Text Editing section, make sure Enable in Layout View is checked.

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Select a piece of your text, I’m just going to use the first sentence.

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Hover your text tool cursor over the sentence, and drag it into your new place. You can drag it into another document, another text frame, or somewhere in the existing frame. I’m going to put the sentence at the end of my paragraph.

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If you want to duplicate a sentence instead of just moving it you can do the exact same thing whilst holding the Option-Key (or Alt-Key on a Windows PC).

Using the Story Editor

In the last step I mentioned that you had to have the drag and drop text editing checkbox checked. What that did was enable us to use drag and drop text editing in our Layout View. The layout view is the normal view that you see on our screen, which is basically exactly how the document should print, with the text, images, wraps and so on.

The other mode you can view your work in is the Story Editor, which is basically just a way to view the text, without the distraction of images and other elements. To view your document in story editor mode, select one of your text frames and go to Edit > Edit in Story Editor. You should have something similar to the screenshot below pop up on your screen.

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You can easily edit your text this way, although the standard view is a little bit messy and hard to read. You can change this by going to InDesign > Preferences > Story Editor Display (or Edit > Preferences > Story Editor Display on a Windows PC). From here you can edit your text to make it suitable for you to read. I have used Times New Roman at 18pt with a soft anti-aliasing and singlespace line spacing – you can see my settings below.

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This is how my story editor now looks; much better!

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The story editor is basically there to make it easier for you to edit your text. It comes in super-handy when you have a huge amount of type to edit – close the story editor once you’re done with editing and your text frames in your Layout View mode will automatically update.

Setting up and using a baseline grid to vertically align text

Using the baseline grid to align your text is similar to writing on lines, as if you were typing directly onto a lined notepad. First, we need to create a grid. Go to InDesign > Preferences > Grids (or Edit > Preferences > Grids on a Windows PC) to open up the grid preference window.

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We need to base our grid around our pages margins. Start your baseline grid at the same distance as your margins (should be set as default) and set your increment every field to the current leading your text is set to (found in the control panel when you select your text). Click OK.

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To view your grid, go to View > Grids & Guides > Show Baseline Grid.

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Select your text tool and select your text, you can click in your text box and hit the Cmd+A (Ctrl+A on a Windows PC) to select all of your text. Once your text is all selected, in the control panel (above your document) click on the align to baseline grid button (seen below). This will align your text to your grid.

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Fonts and Type Style & Text Wrap

In this section we’re going create a quick quote box in our document and make use of a different font and color. We’re also going to wrap our existing text around a new text frame. Select the text tool and drag out a new frame, it only needs to be a small one. Copy a piece of your box that you’re like to quote, and paste it into your new text frame. Alternatively you could duplicate it using the technique taught earlier.

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Position your text frame into place and go to Window > Text Wrap. Select the wrap around bounding box text wrap option (I’m going over this briefly as we have already learnt how to text wrap in a previous tutorial) and add some offset, I’ve used 5mm.

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Select your new quote text and change the font, size and color. You may need to change your types leading (the field beneath the font size) to get it to fit nicely onto our baseline grid.

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Creating a Drop Cap

A drop cap is something we tend to see in elegant publications, as well as some magazines and newspapers. It is basically a large first letter (or sometimes even word) at the beginning of an article. They are incredibly easy to use in InDesign. The first word in my document is only three letters long, so I’m going to make my first three letters become drop caps.

Click on the text frame that you would like to add a drop cap and using the text tool, select your first word (or letter). In the control panel and locate the drop cap number of lines field.

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Enter a number in to the field; the number represents the number of lines the first word or letter will take up. I’ve selected two.

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As you can see, it has only drop capped our first letter. The field next to the one we just edited is called the drop cap one or more characters option. The number entered into this field represents the amount of letters that become drop capped. In my case I want this to be three.

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Leading, Kerning and Tracking…

Leading, kerning and tracking are often overlooked when it comes to typography. By just slightly adjusting your leading, kerning and tracking you can completely transform how easy your typography is on the readers eyes. A little more space between those paragraphs can make things much easier to read, whist not spoiling the design. They are all very easy to change, in fact, it’s exactly the same as changing your font size, so you already know how to do it. The only difference is you have to change the leading, kerning and tracking fields rather than the font size. All of these can be found in the text tools control panel beside the font size.

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You can quite easily find out what each setting does by just playing with the settings, but I’m going to explain it all anyway.

Leading is the spacing between your lines. The higher the number, the bigger the space between the bottom of your characters and the top of your characters on the next line. Typically, the tighter the leading, the harder your writing is to read, but have it too large and it may look unprofessional and again may be hard to read. You need to find what is right for your particular font and it’s size – it’s different every time!

Kerning allows you to manually adjust the amount of space in between two individual characters. Some fonts may be tighter than others, especially two specific characters combined, which can sometimes look like another letter if too close. Although sometimes you may want to make two letters closer together.

Tracking is the same as kerning, apart from it controls the distance between all of your characters rather than just individual one. It is recommended that you find a suitable tracking figure, and then leave it alone, making any further modifications by playing around with the kerning figure.


So there we have it, the end of the third part of the “Getting To Grips With InDesign” series. You should know how to import and edit text, and how to play with a selection of InDesign’s powerful typography tools.

We’ll be back soon with part four of the series. In the mean time, why not check out the others:


  1. says

    Thanks so much for all three parts of the series. I found them really helpful; especially the Story Editor section that was in this article. It was an awesome series to read as I’m learning my way through inDesign. Thanks!

  2. says

    one other to explore is importing text from databases, spreadsheets and external sources.

    i’ve had a problem with this in the past, working on 1000+ page catalogs.

    what a nightmare :(

    Well written article by the way. Its been awhile since I’ve used InDesign in this context.

  3. says

    I’m enjoying this series. To create new Character and Paragraph Styles I usually set them on the page and clicking the Create New Style icon in the palette sets the new style exactly as the text is where your cursor happens to be. (Badly explained but I hope that makes sense.)

    Of course you can import the styles from the word processing document and then change them to the ones you want. Handy sometimes; others not!


  1. Getting To Grips With InDesign Part 3: Importing Text and Playing With Typography…

    In the third part of this Getting To Grips Series we will be covering the following topics: Creating and editing text, Creating a headline, Text alignment, Flowing text (automatically and manually), Working with and applying styles, etc……

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