How to Set Up a Consistent Baseline in InDesign

By LaurenMarie

I’ve talked about setting up a consistent baseline before, but I realized I’ve not explained exactly how to do it; I’ve only mentioned it briefly at best.

First, you should be familiar with the points and picas system, and also how to use them.

It will require a bit of planning, but your documents will turn out much more organized and consistent.

Common Measurements

Remember that
1 inch = 6 picas
1 pica = 12 points
1 inch = 72 points

There are quite a few common measurements for my type that I use when laying out documents. Here they are for your reference (they will work with a consistent baseline):
Small
8.5 point type
12 point subheads
1p6 of space between sections
18 point leading, which will mean baselines must be set at 1p6

Medium
10 point type
12 points of leading, which puts thebaseline at 1 pica

Large
12 point font
14 point subhead
18 points of space in between sections
18 points of leading, so baseline equal 18 points, or 1p6.

Leading is the distance between baselines. If 18 points is the leading I’m using, keeping in mind 12 points = 1 pica, then my baseline needs to be one and a half picas, or 1p6.

Remember, the baseline is equal to the leading; the space between the sections must also be the same so that. When you select the Align to Baseline option in the paragraph palette, you are telling it to disregard the leading you have set up, which means you’ll have to adjust the baseline instead.

The Easy Part

Once you have your measurements figured out, the easy part is setting your baseline grid. Go to Edit>Preferences>Grid to adjust the Baseline Grid options. Find the field that says Increment Every and that’s where you’ll plug in your measurement for the leading/baseline. You can also tell it to start measuring the baseline at the top of the page or at the margin in the Relative To drop down menu right above.

Grid Options Dialog

To show/hide your baseline, hit ctrl/cmd+shift+’ (apostrophe).
Align to Baseline Grid
Now you’ll need to set up your paragraph styles to align to grid. If you’re just getting started in a new document, set up your basic paragraph style. The easiest way to do this is by adjusting the character and paragraph properties in their respective palettes. Be sure to select the Align to Baseline Grid option! Then select a portion of the text you just changed (or else this won’t work!), go to the Paragraph Styles palette, right click on [Basic Paragraph] and select Redefine Style. Now all the changes you made are the default for new text in the document.

Hint: you can redefine any of the styles as many times as you want! If you make a change and you want it reflected throughout the whole document, just select the text (important step!), right click on the style in the respective Styles palette and select Redefine Style. Want it changed in multiple documents?
Redefine Style

Troubleshooting

I’ve run into some frustrating situations before when using text that is aligned to the baseline. The biggest ones are trying to adjust the leading or space before or after the paragraph. Remember that when you have Align to Baseline Grid, you cannot adjust your leading or spacing slightly; it has to be enough to move it to the next baseline.

Trouble with Small Text Boxes

Secondly, if you are moving text boxes around, particularly if they are small, you’ll need to make sure they allow enough space above the baseline for the text, otherwise it won’t show up!

Do you need more help with InDesign? Feel free to leave a comment below, contact me or head over to Lynda.com and sign up for their InDesign Tutorials. It’s only $25/mo for unlimited access! This is a resource I use myself and I highly recommend it. You can get a free 7 day pass to lynda.com, now too! Just follow that link.

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