Designing templates in FrameMaker (Part 1)

In this detailed blog post series, Asit Pant, a veteran technical communicator and FrameMaker community member, guides you through the main steps in the process of creating a FrameMaker template. The information in this series is targeted mainly toward creating unstructured templates, but many parts of it also apply to structured templates.

Think of a FrameMaker template as the foundation of the structure and appearance of your documents. An analogy might be to consider the template as the house plan of the document – while you will construct the actual house later (that is, create the content that goes in the document), the layout and the appearance will be based on the house plan (that is, the settings that you have defined in the template). Here are a few examples of how you can use the template definitions in your document:

  • Define how your headings and body text will look like, using paragraph formats
  • Set up character formats—for example to specify which bullets to use in a bulleted list or to define italics, underline, and so on
  • Set up several table formats, which you can choose from when you author the content
  • Store frequently used text (such as product name, book name and version, copyright information), which you can then insert anywhere in your document later
  • Set up headers and footers. You can also use variables in headers and footers and have, for example, the most recent heading appear at the top of every page

This article is in several parts. In this first part, we will cover the following topics:

  • Overview
  • Setting up paragraph formats


In FrameMaker, the template settings are defined within the document. That is, the document and the template are the same physical file. You do not need to attach any separate template file to your document.

Note that the purpose that a template and a document serve is different. Here is how you can think of a template and a document to differentiate them:

  • A FrameMaker template is a FrameMaker document that contains everything you need to hold your content with a pre-defined formatting and appearance
  • Every FrameMaker document is an instance of a FrameMaker template. A FrameMaker document cannot exist without a FrameMaker template (FrameMaker document = FrameMaker template + content)

You can easily import template-related settings from one document to another using the File > Import > Formats menu command.

If you are setting up a template from scratch, you start with a blank document and define a template using the document. The following are the important parts of setting up a template (the order need not be the same as shown here):

  1. Start with a blank document (or use an existing document if you are modifying the settings)
  2. Define paragraph formats
  3. Define character formats
  4. Define variables
  5. Define conditional text setting
  6. Set up Reference pages
  7. Set up Master pages
  8. Define color settings
  9. Perform iterative updates

Let us now look at each of these steps in detail.

Setting up paragraph formats

Paragraph formats define the formatting and other properties at a paragraph level. For example, you can create different heading styles, a style for body text, multiple bulleted and numbered list styles, and so on. Here are some typical styles used in documents:

  • Chapter title
  • Chapter number
  • Headings (typically three or more levels)
  • Body text
  • Note
  • Tip, caution, and warning
  • Glossary definition and glossary entry
  • Code extracts
  • Bullets and numbered lists
  • Side heads
  • Editorial comments
  • Footnotes
  • Table titles
  • Table text
  • Indented formats
  • Book Title

To create a paragraph format do the following

  1. Open the Paragraph Designer (Format > Paragraph > Designer).
  2. A: Basic properties | B: Default font properties | C: Pagination properties | D: Properties for Numbering | E: Advanced properties | F: Properties for Asian text | G: Table Cell properties

  3. Click in a paragraph whose format is like the one you want to create. Even if you are starting from scratch, you can look at the default formats that come with FrameMaker or use one of the supplied templates as a starting point.
  4. Choose New Format from the Commands pop-up menu in the Paragraph Designer and enter a name for the new format in the Tag box.
  5. Select Store In Catalog. This allows you to later update the new format or copy it to other documents by using the File > Import > Formats command.
  6. To apply the new format to the current paragraph, select Apply To Selection.
  7. Click Create.
  8. If you didn’t select Apply To Selection in step 4, choose the new format name from the Paragraph Tag pop-up menu.
  9. Modify any of the properties you want.
  10. Note: Don’t set any property to As Is. Paragraph formats should have all properties specified.

  11. Click Update All.

In the Paragraph Designer, the icons at the top represent the available properties. Most of the values of these properties are self-explanatory; some of the not-so-obvious ones are explained in the coming paragraphs.

Basic properties

Space before and after

If paragraph A is followed by paragraph B, the space between the two paragraphs will be the larger of the following values:

  • Space after paragraph A
  • Space before paragraph B

Line spacing

To allow extra space between lines to accommodate superscripts, subscripts, rubi text (small characters that appear above other characters—used in Japanese-language), and larger font sizes that appear in the paragraph, turn off Fixed.

Tab Stops

Setting tab stops is easier than it appears. The following steps cover the basics:

  1. Click Edit in the Tab Stops group
  2. In the Edit Tab Stops dialog box, type an appropriate number for New Position. This is the distance from the left edge of the column to the tab stop.
  3. If you want the tab stop to repeat— that is, have multiple tab stops on a single line—select Repeat Every, and specify a value.
  4. If required, specify a leader for the tab stop. A leader is a visual connector (for example a dashed line), which helps guide the eye from text separated by space. Leader lines are typically used in table of Contents to separate the heading name and the corresponding page number. In the Leader area of the dialog box, click one of the predefined tab leaders or enter your own custom leader
  5. Set Alignment options. By default the tabs are aligned to the right, but you might want to change it—for example, in a ToC or a table with numbers, you might want the numbers to be aligned to the right.
  6. Click Continue to go back to the main Paragraph Designer window.
  7. Select Update All to set the tab for all paragraph formats.

Default font properties

Note: To define or change the default font properties of an entire paragraph, use the Paragraph Designer. To define or change properties of specific text within a paragraph, use the Character Designer.

Numeric underlining

To use a single offset and thickness for an underline regardless of the character’s font or size, choose Numeric Underlining. Regular and numeric underlining does not affect tab characters. If you want the tab space to be underlined, format that tab stop so that it uses a non-breaking space as a leader.

Change bar

To display a change bar next to text, select Change Bar.


To add or subtract space between characters, enter a percentage for Spread. Spread—also called tracking—is expressed as a percentage of an em space. Normal spread is 0%.


To set the width of the character shapes, enter a percentage for Stretch.

Pagination properties

Widow/Orphan lines

Widow lines are short lines at the end of a paragraph that appear at the top of a column, continued from previous column.

Orphan lines are short lines at the end of a paragraph that appear at the bottom of a column, continued to the next column.

Widow and Orphan lines can cause extra spaces to appear at the top or bottom of columns, creating a visual disharmony. To set the minimum number of widow lines and orphan lines, enter a value in the Widow/Orphan Lines box. To keep all lines of a paragraph in the same column, specify a large number— up to 100—for the Widow/Orphan Lines setting.

Numbering properties

The Numbering properties of FrameMaker are powerful —and easy to use once you understand how the building blocks work.

You use numbering properties to set up numbered lists (that’s kind of obvious!), bulleted lists, and paragraph formats that contain text entries (for example, “Note”, “Caution”, or “Warning”).

This topic from FrameMaker 10.0 Online Help explains in detail how to set up numbered lists.

Update: The part 2 of this series of blog posts is now live at this URL.

Suggested Further Reading

For more information, read the following articles from FrameMaker Online Help: