Saturday, 19 May 2012

Say it with styles part one: Character Styles



There are a few things that can highlight the difference between a novice InDesign user and a experienced one. Near the top, if not the very top, of my personal list is the understanding and proper use of Styles. Once you know a bit about Styles and all they entail your workflows will have the opportunity to be greatly enhanced. Then when you start using Next, Nested and GREP Styles you will wonder why, or even how, you ever worked without them. But before all of that we need to begin at the beginning.



A good judge of characters
Character Styles, if taken on their own, appear to have limited appeal. As the name suggests when applying Character Styles they will only effect the selected characters, whether or not they make up a word, a paragraph or an entire story. It's later that their real ability becomes apparent. Nested Styles are great, really really great but they can't exist without Character Styles. As with all Styles, one of the great things about them is that you can make formatting changes to whole ranges of text by making adjustments to the Style itself. It's so much easier than going through a document selecting and changing text formats as you go.


The way to configure and create all Styles is very similar. You can create a new Style and then edit the properties. Or format some text (or objects, if you are making Object Styles) and then create a Style based on it.




To create a Character Style using the first method open up the panel found in Window>Styles>Character Styles or use the shortcut Shift+F11. To begin making your new Character Style Alt/Option+Click the Create New Style button. This will generate a new style and open up the properties panel. If you just left click on the Create New Style button then the style will be created and appear in the panel list. To then modify the formatting you will then need to double click on the name.


So much style it hurts
The first dialog in the panel is fairly straightforward. The first main points of interest are the Based On and Shortcut sections. The Based On drop down menu will contain other existing Character Styles. If you choose one from this list then the new Style will be linked to it. It will then format the new Style using the settings from the Based On Style. Confused? You may well be in a moment. Now, any changes you make to the Based On Style will be reflected in the new Style. That is as long as you haven't already changed those particular settings for the new Style already. I feel an example is in order.


Step One
Style 1 is set to Arial 19pt. Style 2 is based on Style 1 and so is also Arial 19pt.
Step Two
I change Style 2 to 12pt with an underline. Style 1 is still Arial 18pt.
Step Three
I change Style 1 to Gill Sans 18pt. Style 2 is now Gill Sans 14pt with an underline.


Got it? Good. Luckily there is an easy way to see what formatting is applied to a Style and if you have amended a Based On Style. The lower section of the dialog has an area entitled Style Settings. This area lists all of the formatting contained within the Style. If it is based on another style it will be named in here. If you have applied some different settings they will appear after the Based On Style name. Using the example above, the Style Settings would say: Style 1 +size 14pt. To easily make the Style once again match the Based On Style hit the Reset to Base button.




The Shortcut text box allows you to assign a keyboard shortcut to the style with one proviso, it has to use a number on the numeric keypad. So if you don't have a separate keypad, you are out of luck. Apart from that you can use the usual modifier keys along with the numbers.


The checkboxes here are pretty useful too. Preview shows a live update of any changes you are making to any text with the Style applied. If you want to apply the new formatted style to the selected characters, if you have some selected, then tick the Apply Style to Selection check box. Otherwise you will have to apply the Style later on.


The next sections  are all fairly straightforward and handle the usual formatting you would apply to texts. I won't go into them too much here as it is fairly obvious what each one does.

  • Basic Character Formats: As the name suggests this deals with font families, sizes and the other things that go hand in hand with them. All of the features should be obvious to any InDesign user.
  • Advanced Character Formats: This is the place to be for Scale, Skew and Baseline Shift settings. At the bottom is a handy language drop down menu for spell checking purposes.
  • Character Colour: The usual bunch of colour options for Fill and Stroke.
  • Open Type Features: This is where to go to change any settings with regard to Open Type fonts, if you are using one with your Style.
  • Underline Options: You can enable the underlining of text in this window, this comes with a standard set of Stroke options. As with all Strokes, if you chose a dashed or dotted line you can also change the gap colour for some "pretty" effects.
  • Strikethrough Options: This is the same as above, except its a strikethrough not an underline.
  • Export Tagging: This section deals with how the text will tagged when exporting to HTML, ePub or tagged pdf file. None of this will have any noticeable effect in the Layout View of your document. It only comes into play when you have exported the file in one of the formats mentioned above.

Once you have set up the Style to your exacting specifications then just click OK to set it in stone. Albeit a stone that can be chopped and changed at will.


Or, rather than do all of that you could just format a selection of text in your document and then, with it still selected, create a new Style. This will populate the settings to match your formatted, selected text. As mentioned above though, check Apply Style To Selection in the general window to apply the Style to the text.


Or, just load in some styles from another document, from the panel menu choose Load Character Styles or Load All Text Styles. Remember, any styles created with no documents open are considered global styles. They will appear in every new document from that point on, whether you use them or not. To quickly get rid of them choose Select All Unused from the panel menu then hit the Delete button.


Sure you got style, but do you know how to use it?
OK, so we have a nice snazzy new Character Style. To apply it, highlight some text and choose it from the panel. Once you have applied a Style to a selection you can still change the formatting. This is known as local formatting and will override the selected Style. Any text styled and then overridden is easily identified in the Character Style panel as a + symbol appears next to the name of the Style.


If you decide that this newer version is now the way the Style should be, right click the Style name in the panel and choose Redefine Style. This updates the Style to match the settings of the selected text. This also means that any text styled with that Style will be updated to the new look.


You may decide that the local formatting applied over a style is no good. A quick fix is to Alt/Option+click on the Style, with the text highlighted, to strip out out all the overrides and reset the text back to the original Style. Another useful feature is found in the panel menu, Break Link To Style. This will leave the selected characters formatted as per the Style but they are no longer linked to it. So any changes made to the Style will no longer effect that selection.


To delete a Style, drag it to the Delete icon, or select it and then press the Delete button. If it is in use in the document you will be asked what to do with those bits of text. You can select a new Style for them, or use the default [None]. There is even a checkbox to retain the formatting. If you had already chosen Break Link to Style for some of the text, it will not be effected by the deletion.


A lot of the basic principles of Styles are the same between the varying types. So when I come to the other, more meatier Styles on offer, I won't need to tread over this same ground. Anyway, styles are great. If you are not using them, start. Right now. Go.



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