Using character styles for dot leaders

The topic of tabs and leaders has been covered on InDesignSecrets before in a 6-part series but it’s worth sharing this particular tip as it saves me plenty of heartache in my day-to-day role.

Usual technique

The usual practice of creating a dotted line (usually for either leading up to a page number in a table of contents OR preparing a space for users to add information to a handwritten form) is often accomplished by the tabs feature. For example:

This is achieved by making a paragraph style that has a tab stop that has been right-aligned to the end of the text frame, and in the leader text field of the tab dialog box, a period has been entered, and it is this period that repeats to generate the dotted line.

Issues with this technique

However, I find this is quite restrictive in terms of:

My preferred technique

Instead, I prefer to make a character style called “dotted line” giving it the dotted line appearance that I’m after in the underline panel of the character style dialog box.

If more control is required, I can also prepare a stroke style specifying the dot style and frequency that the dots appear.

I can then either apply the character style manually to the areas requiring the dotted lines, or I can make a paragraph style that calls the dotted line character style using a GREP style that looks for tab spaces.

Bonus tip

Note that my GREP style is looking for \t|~y rather than just \t – the ~y represents a right indent tab. For dot leaders that need to go to text at the end of a text-frame, I prefer to use a right indent tab instead of setting a right align tab, because if the text frame changes width and I want the right aligned item to remain right aligned to the text frame, I don’t have to adjust the tab stop of the right align tab.

To insert a right indent tab, press SHIFT+TAB. This will work anywhere in a text frame except within a table where it will highlight the previous cell. To apply a right indent tab inside a table, either insert one via right-clicking to call upon the contextual menu, then navigate to Insert Special Characters, Other, then Right Indent Tab.

Otherwise, it can be called upon by opening the quick-apply menu via COMMAND+RETURN on Mac (or CONTROL+RETURN on Windows) and type either Right Indent Tab (or, if you’re really lazy – nt tab as highlighted in pink in the figure below).


Features or Speed… why not both InDesign?


After a recent post discussing the complications of indexing a rather large InDesign file (1600+pp), it is worth mentioning another issue encountered with the project, namely the reduced speed of InDesign.

There are already several articles concerning “slowdowns” while working with InDesign, namely:

Put simply, the larger the file became, the harder it was to work on. Little things such as placing the text cursor between words resulted in a spinning beachball of death for five minutes before the cursor once again became a text cursor.

Disabling several features in InDesign made the file somewhat workable:

1. Display performance – to these settings :

2. Pages panel – turn off the preview for the actual pages:

3. Turn the preflight panel off:

4. Live screen drawing – never:

5. Dynamic spelling off:

6. Do not use GREP styles or Nested styles
7. Do not use index entries or cross references

While this made the file workable, it was at the expense of the good features of InDesign. The slowdown was to the stage where using a word processor to accomplish the same task was considered!

Within the preferences, there is no ability to control the amount of RAM reserved for InDesign to use, nor is there the ability to control how often InDesign autosaves to its backup… something that is possibly slowing InDesign down even further.

Some of the features of InDesign were not necessary for this task as the project was completely black text supplied by the client, so having a lower quality display performance without seeing the page previews was not an issue. Preflight was not a concern with this particular file given that it was black text within one rather long text-frame and the spelling was to remain as the client provided the artwork.

Initially there was concern that turning GREP styles off would limit the control of “runt lines”. GREP styles had also been used for formatting of particular words, but because no type was going to be added, performing a one-off find/replace using the relevant GREP was able to remove the need for GREP styles. It was amazing to see the difference in speed when the file had the GREP styles turned on, opposed to when they were not applied – in this project the GREP styles were a major contributing factor to the file’s slow performance.

Followers of this blog will be familiar with several GREP styles that have been used to correct names or details within variable data campaigns. After this experience, it would appear that GREP styles are better suited to projects where content will be added dynamically (such as a Data Merged file) or constant alterations need to be made; rather than static documents – especially where no new content will be added.

The project DID have to be indexed (as discussed in a previous post) and found that once the file was indexed, the speed of the file slowed to a crawl.

Never Break-up on a Date… or a name… or a time…

In issue of 52 of InDesign Magazine, Sandee Cohen provides a brilliant and simple solution to a problem that many designers face – how to control widows and orphans on paragraphs (this is separate to page-defined widows/orphans). Download the issue to read about this handy tip.

Her advice is great, but can go one step further. Her solution can be adapted to not just fixing paragraph widows/orphans, but also any situation where a type should not break, such as:

  • Dates (e.g. 31 July)
  • Names (Mr John Citizen)
  • Times (4.00 pm)

The example here is an article about the Adelaide Phenomenon known as “Mad March”. The dates at the end of the article are breaking, and so is an individual’s name. These have been highlighted in Magenta to illustrate what needs to be fixed.


Part of Sandee’s fix, without revealing her magic trick, is to create a unique character style that only has the “no-break” attribute turned on and everything else left off.


The paragraphs in this text have a paragraph style applied that will undergo some GREP style magic. To do this, the paragraph style has to be edited, particularly the GREP styles portion of the dialog box.


Firstly, the dates have to be fixed. Click the “New GREP Style” button and select the “no-break” style that was made earlier, and then in the “To Text” field, type the following:


This will look for any number followed by one space and followed by any month written in full. Anything that matches this will now have the “no-style” applied. Don’t click OK just yet, but click once in the grey box just underneath the field that was just typed to refresh the page.


Fixed. Now let’s fix the name Mr Paul McDermott. Still in the same window, click the “New GREP Style” button again, again using the “no-break” style, but this time in the “To Text” field, type the following:


This will look for any name that has a title, initial or name, and surname. Yes, this is a basic GREP code and a better one could be written to encompass all sorts of names, but for this demonstration it will do. Click OK.


Voila! All fixed. The advantage with using these GREP style fixes as opposed to using non-breaking spaces or forced line breaks is that if the copy changes for whatever reason, many of the forced breaks don’t have to be removed. Non-breaking spaces are a hassle so if they don’t need to be made, why bother?


This article has focused on two instances where a no-break character style (with some GREP style magic) can keep names and dates together, but there are other uses for this such as times, dollar values… the list is up to you. As usual to see how this was done, feel free to download the sample here.

Ninth of November Rumblings

Has been a while since I’ve written a general “What’s going on” post. Many things have happened this year, but among the most noteworthy would be:

Move to Openbook Howden Design & Print

As of 14 November, Openbook Howden will be my new employer, having served at another printer for the last four and a half years and contributing to:

  • 2011 Excellence in Craft award (PICAs) for “Alfred James Company History”
  • 2011 Excellence in Print award (PICAs) for “The art of Jeremy Boot”
  • 2010 Excellence in Digital Craft award (PICAs) “Sir Joseph Banks Journal”
  • Preparing PDFs for Print presentation for the Adobe Users Group of SA (AUGSA)
  • Various VDP, javascript and brain-breaking projects which were undertaken, especially the last VDP 8pp book!

I’ll miss the old crew, but won’t miss one colleague’s constant whistling! Nevertheless, it’s time for a change and to bring on the new projects.

Chance to assist Marc Autret with his “HurryCover 2.0” script

For those not familiar with the name, Marc Autret is a Developer and Graphic Designer at StudioEditorial in France. He is also a brilliant scripter and has produced some must-have scripts that no copy of InDesign should be without, among them being:

  • BookBarcode, a paid script for making the EAN13 barcodes which appear on books;
  • Wordalyzer, a paid script for making “Wordle” style graphics;
  • PageBorder, a free script for applying or removing a border to pages simply so clients can see the trim edge of odd-sized artwork;
  • Speeech, a free script for creating comic-like speech bubble effects;
  • His latest effort, HurryCover 2.0, a beta script (soon to be a paid script) for creating hard cover, soft cover or dust jackets for books.

During the year I had the opportunity to assist with the HurryCover project and, while it worked on the machine at home, would have issues on my old work mac. After several back and forths of versions to test with myself and many other beta testers, Marc has produced a brilliant script which any InDesign user should definitely add to their repetoire. For more information on Marc and his work, visit his website at Indiscripts.

Discovery of two major GREP styles

Since InDesign CS4, the software has supported the pattern-based application of styles better known as GREP styles. Often overlooked by many users, this feature has been invaluable on many VDP projects, but more specifically its ability to:

  • Make “square pegs fit round holes” by being able to auto-size the type based on the length of how many characters were in a line and then adjusting the character height/width percentages; and
  • “Hiding” text by applying no fill/strokes and changing the character width to 1% to literally hide characters which shouldn’t be there.

The odd mention here and there

Even though I wasn’t there, I had noticed that my blog had been referred to in a slideshow by the Paris InDesign Users Group (IDUG) as “Un site à voir pour les fans de la fusion de données!” (A site to see for fans of Data Merge!) The slideshow also featured some of the more complicated examples of Data Merge that I’ve done such as the piecharts and paragraph swapping. To Loic Aigon for mentioning this blog in the show, a big thankyou – Merci Beaucoup!

Also, during the usual posts on the Adobe Forum specifically for InDesign users, the respected and regular contributor to the forum Peter Spier graciously referred to me in one post as being the “Resident Expert of Data Merge”, a title which is quite a compliment. Having said that, like any other user I always learn from others and still have lots to learn myself.

So I think that’s it for now!

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