Skip to content

Crash Course: How to Format Text Part 1

tutorials , , Crash Course: How to Format Text Part 1

‘Typography’ is a term used to describe how text can be formatted and arranged to make it look attractive and appealing; and it’s at the heart of every great print design. Adobe InDesign just happens to be perfectly adapted to help you create beautiful, eye-catching typographic effects.

In the first part of this two-part tutorial, we’ll give you a crash course in the basics of typography in InDesign, and find out:

  • What ‘Typography’ actually is, and how you can create it in InDesign
  • How you can format your text using the Character and Paragraph Formatting Controls panels

1. What is ‘Typography’ and How Do I Create it in InDesign?

InDesign is designed to give you flexibility and professional control over your typography.

What do we mean by ‘typography’? Well, typography is a term we use to describe text that has been specially formatted to create a particular look—typography can transform text from dull and illegible to beautiful and clear to read.

Here, the designer has transformed the text on this magazine cover to give it a playful, lively and 3D appearance. Check out more examples of creative typography in print design here.

Magazine: Harper’s Bazaar España; Publisher: SpainMedia

indesign inspiration playful text typography harper's bazaar spain

InDesign is designed to give you flexibility in formatting your typography. Because it’s a publishing design application, InDesign’s main focus is on helping you to create layouts, and text is a fundamental element of any layout. Master the basics of typography and there’s no limit to what you can produce in InDesign.

To create typographic effects in InDesign, you first need to select the Type Tool (T) from the Tools panel, and drag onto the page to create a text frame.

typography indesign type tool

Place your type cursor into the frame to type some text, or import a Word document. Now you’re ready to apply formatting, and transform your text from simple type to extraordinary typography!

2. Get Familiar with the Character Formatting Controls panel…

…Let’s take a good look at the Controls panels which are going to allow us to apply formatting to text. You can find these up at the top of the InDesign workspace.

Just below the Application Bar, where you can see the InDesign logo, is the Controls panel. With just the default Selection Tool active, the Controls panel just shows navigational options, such as the position of your cursor on the page.

UNLIMITED DOWNLOADS: 50 Million+ Fonts & Design Assets

If we go over to the Tools panel, which is docked on the left-hand side of the Workspace, and click the ‘T’ symbol to select the Type Tool (T), and then click and drag on the page to create a text frame, you’ll notice that the Controls panel has suddenly changed.

typography indesign character formatting controls panel

Now there’s a small ‘A’ symbol to the far left of the panel. This indicates that the panel is now showing all the Character Formatting Controls. This includes all the options you need for formatting type.

typography indesign character formatting controls panel

So if I click into a text frame I’ve created and type in the word ‘Foodie’ and then highlight the word, I can start to play around with the look of the text using what’s available to me in this control panel.

First up, you can change the Font of the text. Click on the little arrows symbol to the right of this box, which should have Minion Pro set as its default, and you’ll find a long drop-down menu of all the fonts you have installed on your computer.

Let’s scroll down to ‘G’ and pick Gill Sans. And then just below the menu of fonts, or from the drop-down menu next to the font itself in the font list, we can also pick the Weight of the font – such as Bold, Italic, Light, SemiBold, etc.

typography indesign gill sans font

We can adjust the Size of the text from up here too, which is measured out in points, by either selecting a value from the drop-down menu or by manually typing in a size directly into the box. 

typography indesign font size

3. Expand your Typographic Know-How with the Paragraph Formatting Controls panel…

Now take a look at the far left of the Controls panel, where you can see the ‘A’ symbol. Below that there’s a little paragraph icon. Click on that and the Controls panel shifts again. Now we’re viewing the Paragraph Formatting Controls panel.

typography indesign paragraph formatting controls panel

This panel has everything you need to use to format a whole paragraph of text. There are some things that are repeated here with the Character Formatting Controls panel, things like Font and Font Size options are still here, but they’ve been shifted over to the right side of the panel. Back over to the left-hand side, we’ve got all these new options to play with.

typography indesign paragraph formatting controls panel

There are lots of new options that apply to larger sections of text. So if I just click my type cursor into this ‘New equipment and fittings for the home’ section of text in a text frame I created earlier, from the Paragraph Formatting Controls panel we can adjust things like the Alignment of the text, from this first section of the panel, and also apply things like Indents from the next section along.

typography indesign paragraph formatting

Further along, you can also see a little check-box next to ‘Hyphenate’ which you can uncheck if you don’t want InDesign to split your words with hyphens, and instead tell it to push whole words onto the following line.

typography indesign hyphenate

Basically whatever you set here, up in the Controls panel, will apply to just the paragraph of text that you have either highlighted or positioned your cursor into.

To recap, if you want to format isolated pieces of text, whether that’s several characters, words or phrases, you can use the Character Formatting Controls panel options, which will appear automatically when you select the Type Tool from the Tools panel.

typography indesign character formatting controls panel

If you want to format larger portions of text, like whole paragraphs, and be able to effect things like Alignment of text and Indents, you should click the paragraph symbol in the panel to switch to the Paragraph Formatting Controls panel. 

typography indesign paragraph formatting controls panel

Get friendly with both of the Controls panel, and you’ll be able to format your typography really quickly and easily!

typography indesign magazine cover

Check out Part Two of this tutorial to find out why you should get friendly with the Big Four of Typography: Leading, Tracking, Kerning and Drop Caps.

For more useful InDesign tutorials and tips pay a visit to our beginner InDesign tutorials page.