InDesign Project — Lists, Tabs and Final Details

By LaurenMarie

To date in the InDesign Project series we have looked at Grids, Guides and Baselines, Setting Up Master Pages and Styles and Working with Text and Images. Now it’s time to take a deeper look at formatting text by using tabs and bulleted lists and number lists. We will also discuss checking the file before exporting it to PDF to send to the printer.

Formatting a List Using Tabs

I needed to create an index of sorts for the booth numbers of the various exhibitors listed in this project. The list was already compiled outside of InDesign, but the Adobe LiveDocs for InDesign CS3 offers a section on creating a Table of Contents. Bob also keeps the LiveDocs updated with user tutorials on various InDesign features (he has previously included my article on InDesign Layers), so be sure to check out links in the comments area of the LiveDocs pages.

To create this pseudo-ToC (Table of Contents), I used a feature of Tabs. When you hit the tab key on your keyboard you unlock some powerful InDesign features, which can be accessed via the Tabs palette, which can be accessed with Ctrl/Cmd+Shift+T (or Type>Tabs). I remember this feature being a little ambiguous when I was trying to figure it out. I hope I can offer detailed explanations that will make this process easier for you!

InDesign Tabs Palette

First let me explain the palette a bit. The first four buttons you see at the top of the window are your tab alignments: Left, Center, Right and Align To. These will make the content after the tab align—just like a paragraph—either left, center, right or to a particular character you define.

The first field, labeled X, is the location on the ruler of the selected tab marker (the arrow). If you don’t have a tab selected, it is blank. I never use this field. If I want to create a new tab location, I simply select my alignment and then click on the ruler in the Tab palette. If you need precision lining up many tabs, though, this is exactly where you’ll get it.

Next, you see the Leader field. This is where you would define a character to precede the content after the tab. I’ve used it in the above example to create the periods. This is a very handy feature because you don’t actually create those periods (or whatever character you are using) in the document. This means that you can adjust the tab to your heart’s desire and not have to worry about adding or removing leader characters. The ability to define your own leader is also useful when creating forms because you can make the leader character an underscore and instantly have a line for someone to write on. The underscores will be perfectly aligned at the end of the line of text regardless of how long the preceding text is (and without any more work from you than adding in a tab).

InDesign Tabs - Leader Example for Forms

The last field is the Align On field, which allows you to specify a character for the tab to align to (of course, that character has to be present in every line where there is a tab!). This is handy when you are creating a menu, for example, and you want all the prices to align on the dollar sign and the period. I’ve also used it to line up schedules on the AM and PM (you could align it on the colon, too).

InDesign Tabs - Align on Example for Forms

InDesign Tabs - Align On Example for Schedule

Finally, there’s the little magnet button, which is very handy; it aligns the Tab palette to the text box you are working in so that your tabs will line up properly between the palette and the text box. InDesign tabs also have a useful feature of a toggled guide that runs down the length of the text when you are dragging a guide in the palette. This helps you see how the tab aligns to other text in the layout.

To create the list I used for this project, I hit the tab key on my keyboard instead of having a space in between the company name and the booth number. I only used that one tab and I aligned it right so that all the numbers would be in a straight line along the left side, independent of how long the company name was. I added the dots in by defining a Leader character.

Tip: If you create all the tabs in your text with the tab key before heading to the Tabs palette, you can then select all the text (Ctrl/Cmd+A while in the text box, the highlight will looks similar to the “form” and “menu” examples above) and define the tab alignment for the whole selection in the Tabs palette. This is light years faster than trying to align each line individually as you go!

Working with Lists (Bullets and Numbers)

Bulleted and Numbered Lists in InDesignUnlike Quark, InDesign has native support for bulleted and numbered lists. It’s kind of hidden, though, and you might miss it if you don’t know where to look. List options are found on the Paragraph palette under the twirly down menu (that’s the technical name!)

  1. Select all the text you want to be in the list
  2. Click the preview button! (new to CS3 I believe)
  3. From the drop down menu choose bullets or numbers (depending on what you need)

Now you have the rest of the fields open to you.

Alignment: I can’t think of a time when I’ve used anything except left (default)

Left Indent: Distance from the edge of the text box. Can’t be a negative number.

First Line Indent: Distance from the edge of the text box the first line is.

Tab: The tab is how far the first line will be from the bullet or number. This value must be between the Left Indent and the First Line Indent.

InDesign Bulleted Lists

Notice if you will that I have a negative value for the First Line Indent. This allows me to have hanging bullets. So long as your First Line Indent is the opposite of your Left Indent, the bullets should fall outside of the text and the text will be aligned on each line. In InDesign (so far, up to CS3), you can’t have text fall outside of the text box, so you’ll never be able to have a negative Left Indent, which is why you have to do this bit of a work around.

Wrapping Up – Preparing the File and Preflight

Finally, it’s time to prepare the file for the printer. I like using a PDF workflow and so far I haven’t had any problems with printers not accepting only PDFs. Many people who have been working in the industry for a while still prefer to send their native files to the printer, but that means burning a CD/DVD or uploading it to an FTP of some kind. Most of my PDFs are small enough that I can send them via email. The down side to doing this is that the printer can’t make any adjustments that you might need at the last minute, like changing text. You’ll have to make the changes and resend the file.

Before you export the file to PDF, you’ll want to quickly run a Preflight to see if you are using any spot colors or RGB images. File>Preflight will launch the feature and the first tab on the resulting dialog box will be a summary of the status of the project files.

InDesign Preflight Warnings

If anything is wrong, go to the section on the left side where there is a problem and click on it. Check the box at the bottom that says Show Problems Only. Fix the issues before exporting, otherwise you’ll have problems when the file gets to the printer.

InDesign Preflight - Images

  • If you’re missing fonts, find the fonts, buy them or change them.
  • If you have RGB images, open them in Photoshop and change the color mode to CMYK
  • If you have Spot inks…

Changing Spot Colors

For this particular project that I am using as an example, I had many ads from third parties that had logos with PMS colors in them. It is definitely a bad idea to send a document with 30 PMS colors to your printer! This is one of the more devastating mistakes a designer can make.

InDesign - Preflight Spot Colors

InDesign - Color SwatchesSo how do you change the spot colors to process colors?

  1. Double click on the swatch in your Swatches palette
  2. Under the Color Type drop down menu choose Process (instead of Spot)
  3. Click ok

Notice how the icon next to the color changes to indicate the color is now process.

Export to PDF

Exporting an InDesign Project to PDF is super-easy. The quickest way to do this is File>Adobe PDF Presets> and select the quality. This will first bring up a browser window where you determine where to save the file and what to name it. Then you get the PDF settings dialog window.

InDesign PDF Export Options

The big things to check are bleed and printer’s marks. Both of these are under the Marks and Bleed on menu on the left side of the dialog box. I usually just check the boxes for Bleed and Crop Marks under the Printer’s Marks section and I always check the box for Use Document Bleed Settings. (Speaking of which, I never showed you how to set up bleed! I have a few more little details I’ve missed, so I’ll go back and do a review on Friday.)

If there are settings that you use regularly, you can even create a new PDF Preference file for them. I’ve created presets for Press Quality with Bleed (so those options I told you about above) and Newsletter Web (because I do quite a few newsletters and I want the image quality to be 150 ppi instead of 72) at the bottom of my list of PDF presets.

Do you need more help with InDesign? Feel free to leave a comment below, contact me or head over to 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, now too! Just follow that link.

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