quick tips for great typography in indesign

Posted on Oct 21, 2010 | 12 Comments

One of the things I always do when I pitch up somewhere new is get my preferences set up on InDesign. This helps me get the best looking type I can from the program before I go in and start tweaking.

So here’s a list of the things I do. Make sure you do these with no actual document open. If you do have one open it will only affect that document.

1. With the type tool selected go to the control bar and change the tracking from ‘metrics’ to ‘optical’. Legend has it that Erik Spiekermann was once asked how he goes about kerning his new fonts. His response ‘I use the optical spacing in InDesign and go from there.’ If it’s good enough for Erik then it’s good enough for the rest of us. It’s a great starting point for headlines and an absolute must for bodycopy.

2. In the paragraph palette deselect ‘hyphenate’. It’s always best to avoid hyphens, but if you need to, put them in yourself.

3. In the same palette click the options arrow in the top right and select ‘adobe single-line composer’ instead of ‘adobe paragraph composer’. I just don’t like the paragraph composer feature. I like to go in and make my own line breaks to achieve the best feel and this just confuses the hell out of me.

4. In the story palette click ‘optical margin alignment’. Why wouldn’t you? There might be a 1% chance you wouldn’t want this feature.

5. Under preferences > Units & increments, I always change the bottom value, kerning/tracking to 5/1000em. This gives me greater subtlety when kerning my work.

I’m sure there are loads more tips out there but this gives me a good base to work from. Let me know if you have any others.


  1. Andy
    October 22, 2010

    Cheers for these tips, some I hadn’t dabbled with before, will give them a whirl.

  2. JAWN
    October 22, 2010

    Thank you much! I hadnt know about a couple of these before… Should help a lot.

  3. Sam
    October 28, 2010

    It’s funny… I use these settings on a lot of documents I work on, but it never occured to me to make them default. My hat’s off to you!

  4. Rob Cubbon
    October 28, 2010

    Really good tips, Rob, I’m going to have to the click ‘optical margin alignment’ and see what happens!

  5. Rob Sutton
    October 28, 2010

    Once you click it Rob, you’ll never go back!

    It does a great job of overhanging punctuations when you justify type. The only time I have found it problematic is when using bullet points, it seems to overhang them on the left too far.

    Sam, Jawn and Andy, hope they prove useful.

  6. Robbie Sparks
    November 12, 2010

    It’s always great to hear about the really useful stuff in graphics programs, especially coming from an industry pro like Rob.
    Knowing Mr Sutton as I do I can almost hear him reading those posts. If he says it works – then it does.
    One little thing he didn’t mentions is to set any Preferences with no documents open and it will apply the new set to any new work.
    If you have a document open, it will be applied to that document and close with it. Therefore, if you need to bring a document in line with your workflow, change the Prefs and they will stick. It’s not like Quark where you have an option of Document or Application Preferences, with InDesign is Document all the way.

  7. Babs Baronski
    January 6, 2011

    In addition to these settings, I also like to set my Justification to 60%/80% [found in the Paragraph fly-out menu].

  8. Rob Sutton
    January 6, 2011

    Thanks Babs, I’ll have to play around with that one.

  9. Babs Baronski
    January 6, 2011

    suppose I should be clear, I enter 60% in the first field under Word Spacing, Minimum, and 80% in the second filed under Word Spacing, Desired.

    Also find that knocking Auto Leading down 5-10% works best for me.

  10. Rob Sutton
    January 6, 2011

    That’s interesting Babs. I haven’t spent too much time messing around in there. I suppose I don’t tend to work on particularly large documents so find I am able to go in and manually space and create line breaks that I think work best, but if I was doing a brochure or magazine it would be a big time-saver to use this.

    Thanks so much for your comments

  11. Gamaliel Carbajal
    January 7, 2011

    I know another tip for InDesign. In Paragraph Style change
    the options for size of glyps Min: 98% Max:103%. This make a nice
    difference, a lot in justified paragraphs.

  12. Robbie Sparks
    January 26, 2011

    Scaling glyphs more than than 99% or 101% as a default???
    As a typographer I’d rather start slicing my fingers off one by one with a blunt saw.
    It goes along with:
    Using tabs or spaces for indents
    Double returns for paragraph spaces
    2 spaces after full points (periods)
    Using tabs instead of soft returns
    Using multiple tabs instead of setting them properly
    Hyphens instead of en rules
    Putting clear text frames on top of coloured ones instead of using the options in the Text Frame Options
    Multiple returns to break columns
    Multiple returns instead of Text Wrap or Space After to accommodate images
    Lets all get back to a bit of craft

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