Creative Uses for Paragraph Rules in InDesign, Pt 1

By LaurenMarie

Adding blocks of color behind text seems to be popular these days. Is there a way to do this without creating actual shape boxes though? Why yes there is! Thanks for asking.

By modifying the paragraph rules found under paragraph panel flyout menu>Paragraph Rules… you can make these color blocks appear behind your text.

How big your text is and how big you want your color blocks to be will determine your exact settings, but if you turn on preview (check the box) then it shouldn’t be too difficult to simply adjust the values with the arrow keys until you get the desired effect.

Want an example? Okie-dokie.

Here I have Franklin Gothic Heavy set to 24/20 (24 pt font size with 20 pt leading) and all caps, which adds to the blocky feel of this look. Use the cap feature in the character settings to do this instead of retyping your text.

In my Paragraph Rules, I’m using a 24 pt “rule above.” Here’s the important part: I set the width to text and the offset to -4 pts. I also extended the left indent (negative number means it extends further to the left of the text) and the right indent (negative number here means it’s pushing the rule farther to the right). Without those settings, this is what the block behind the text would look like.

This is also a perfectly acceptable look, though I would offset it by a (positive) point so that the round letters (O, G, U, C, etc) aren’t hovering so awkwardly.

Oh, and for this setup to work, you have to either have single lines of text or add a hard return at the end of each line (otherwise the rule won’t show). If you don’t set a space after/before paragraph, the blocks won’t have the white gap between each line. If you want to adjust that gap, you’ll need to do it with the space before or after in the paragraph settings (I set mine to 5 pts in this example), as opposed to the leading like you would normally.

It’s not perfect, but if you’re only using it for small amounts of text like headers, then it’s not too much work to do the returns. Plus, because you will turn it into a paragraph style, you can update the look in a snap! Different color, different sized text or rule or space between paragraphs? Easy.

I’ve got another one to show you, but it’s a little more complicated and isn’t quite as clean. That’ll be up next week!

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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