Tabs and Indents Gallery

It’s show and tell time. I’ll show you pictures of tabs and indents, and I’ll tell you how to create the effect. Or, at least I’ll point you to the Help topic that tells you how to do it.

Simple tabs

When you press the Tab key, the insertion point moves to the next tab setting. If you haven’t manually entered any tab settings, default tab settings appear every 3p. These tab settings don’t appear on the Tabs ruler.

tabs simple before.jpg

1. Choose Type > Tabs to display the Tabs ruler (also called the Tabs dialog box).
2. Click above the ruler where you want the tab setting to appear.
3. On the left side of the Tabs ruler, click to indicate which type of setting you want (Left, Center, Right, or Decimal).

tabs simple left.jpg

See the Tabs and indents Help topic.

Decimal tabs

You probably noticed that in our example, the tabs are left aligned. It looks better if it’s decimal-aligned or right-aligned, like this:

tabs simple decimal.jpg

You can get away with right-aligning currency figures because there are always two decimal places, but you really need the decimal align option when decimal numbers vary, like this:

tabs new decimal.jpg

By the way, you can use any alignment character. Just delete the period (.) in the Align To box on the Tabs ruler and type a different character. See Specify characters for decimal tabs.

Tab with dot leaders

To add dot leaders to the tab, type characters in the Leader box. Here I typed a period:

tabs dot leader 1.jpg

 I think the periods are too close together, so I added two spaces before the dot leader:

tabs dot leader 2.jpg

 Ah, much better! See the artless Add tab leaders Help topic.

Indent to here

If you’ve spent a lot of time in Microsoft Word or WordPerfect, you may wonder how to insert an indent. In InDesign, the trick is the Indent to Here character. Place the insertion point where you want the rest of the paragraph to be indented and choose Type > Insert Special Character > Other > Indent To Here. It works especially well in drop caps:

tabs indent to here.jpg

 See the Use Indent to Here Help topic.

Right-aligned tab followed by left indent

Here’s a tab effect that’s undocumented in Help. When you’re laying out a screenplay, how do you right-align the first tab setting and then right-indent the second one?

tabs tricky dialogue.jpg

Add a right-align and a left-align tab settings as shown. That’s easy enough. Then, insert the Indent to Here character in each paragraph so that the left tab essentially becomes a left indent. Oh, and make sure you press Tab to insert tabs in all the right places. It’s easy to forget that tab settings affect only tab characters.When I write the Great American Screenplay, I’ll use tables with invisible borders to achieve this same effect. But you may need to use tabs for whatever reason.

Simple indent

Let’s turn our attention to indents. I created this indent by dragging the markers in the Tabs ruler.

tabs indent db.jpg

First line indent

Instead of pressing Tab at the beginning of every paragraph, create a first-line indent.

tabs first line db.jpg

See Set indents using the Tabs dialog box Help topic.When working with tabs and indents, you can either drag the markers in the Tabs ruler, or you can enter numbers in the Control panel or when creating a paragraph style. It makes more sense to create first-line indents as part of a style:

tabs first line style.jpg

See the Add paragraph and character styles Help topic.

Hanging indent

A hanging indent is also called an “outdent.” Hanging indents are usually used with bulleted or numbered lists and run-in headings.

tabs hanging db.jpg

See the Create a hanging indent Help topic.

Hanging indents with bullets or numbering

Whenever you need to indent the text in bulleted lists and numbered lists, just remember to include offsetting values in the Left Indent and First Line Indent fields.

tabs hanging style.jpg

To indent text in outlines, see this article I wrote a few months ago on creating outlines.

Right indent last line of paragraph

In sales brochures, it’s common for the price to appear at the end of a paragraph. If you want the price to be right-aligned, place the insertion point before the price number and choose Type > Insert Special Character > Other > Right Indent Tab.

tabs right indent.jpg

See the Right-indent the last line of a paragraph Help topic.

Did I miss anything? Got ideas for other galleries? Leave a comment. I finally figured out how to maneuver through my new spam filter — all comments are now flagged as spam by default — but I’ll go through my comments list every day.

27 Responses to Tabs and Indents Gallery

  1. TimD says:

    Hi,Very helpful article, thanks! To push my luck, do you know if there is any way of setting up a paragraph style to do this bit?:”You can get away with right-aligning currency figures because there are always two decimal places, but you really need the decimal align option when decimal numbers vary, like this”(I use it a lot in tables and would be easier not to have to set the tabs for each column…)__7.00900.00__9.00__0.6782etc..Thanks for any help!Tim[While creating a paragraph style, use the Tabs section to define the decimal tab location. Then make the paragraph style part of a cell style, and apply the cell style to the cells with the decimal text. Let me know if you need more details, and I’ll flesh it out. -Bob]

  2. LizP says:

    Yes. The Tabs options in the Paragraph Style Options window allows you to do the same thing at a paragraph level. Then you can also make the paragraph style part of a cell style.

  3. lilbunnyfoofoo says:

    Fantastic article, the tip for decimal-aligned tabs in cells is fantastic!

  4. Jane says:

    Hi Bob!Great article, and but only goes halfway to resolving my particular issue, so I’d be over the moon if you could help me solve this one!I need to align columns of figures (in a table) so that the decimals line up (which is fine), but ALSO the commas. As you could imagine, a figure like $111,111.11 won’t line up with $888,888.88 in a font like Gotham.I have explored the Open Type features in the character palette, as suggested by another blogger but to no avail. (Tested on an OpenType font, not Gotham.)Do you have any ideas?

  5. Rachel Suissa says:

    I can not find tha TABS in my new INdesign can you kindly help me, thanks rachel

  6. Nataniel says:

    Where is the video…………………… 🙂

  7. Adam says:

    nice tabs

  8. Susan says:

    I have a particularly difficult issue in setting up an annual report: I have columns of numbers where there are no decimals to align on but some are positive and some negative–which are listed in parentheses. Where do I “hang” the tab in that case?

    This example is faked using spaces, but numbers should right-align with the parens hanging
    112 352 25
    (32) 25 (812)

  9. Bob Bringhurst says:

    Susan, go to the user forum for this type of question:

  10. Stephanie says:

    Very helpful, but I am still having a problem: I was experimenting with tabs and tab leaders and now, no matter how many times I delete the tabs and the leaders, both from the text box and from the dialogue box in the tabs menu, the original settings keep reappearing when I try to create new (and different tabs) where the old ones had been. The same for the leaders. Help please!

    Thanks so much.

  11. Brenda says:

    I often can’t get the leader to “set”. So whether I put in the leader before I type my text, or highlight the text and try to set the leader later, it just won’t work. What am I doing wrong?

  12. Mang says:

    how do you use a tab to indent a table in a text frame? -> On tabbing the table moves to the next line. Anyone out there with a solution?

    • Bob Bringhurst says:

      Move the insertion point before the table and press Tab. Use the Rulers dialog to change the tab setting.

  13. Dan says:

    I’m looking for a wrapping tab. In my situation, I’ve got a event that I’d like to put on two lines, then a tab, then the time for the event on the top line to the right.

    Here’s a example:

    Here we go ’round Friday 7 p.m.
    the mulberry bush

    I appreciate your expertise!

  14. Chloe Parent says:

    This is perfect! Many thanks!

  15. Mik says:

    Awesome…I was looking for the “Right-aligned tab followed by left indent”-thing… Thanx

  16. Henrik Stig Møller says:

    First-line indent is great, but on top of a page or colum (frame) it does not look good.

    Is there an option something like: If the paragraph is placed on top of the frame, then ignore “first-line indent”?

  17. Srikanth says:

    It is very useful.

  18. Jane Smallfield says:

    I am new to InDesign and have a simple (I’m sure) issue I would like help with. I have a list of names and qualifications and for clarity reasons I want to indent the odd line only through the document when the entry runs over more than one line. How do I do this please?

  19. Martha says:

    I was driving myself insane over the dot leaders, not having done them in ages. Thanks so much for the assist!!

  20. Elaine says:

    I can’t get the tab box to align with my text when I click on the horseshoe button in the tab box. It works inconsistently. Sometimes it will snap to the text box, other times it just stays unaligned. What am I missing?

    • Bob Bringhurst says:

      Is your cursor in the right paragraph? Are you zoomed out enough to allow the Ruler to snap to the text frame without going off the screen? By the way, the InDesign forum is a better way to get questions like this answered.