Nested Styles: An InDesign Secret Weapon

In layout, it goes without saying how important styles are; without them, layout artists would be reduced to formatting text paragraph by paragraph and character by character. The idea is almost enough to make one want to go back to hand typesetting, or even breaking rocks on the chain gang. But ever since the advent of modern-day electronic layout, the immense power of software have continued to deliver design muscles only dreamt of even a decade ago. Every professional-grade tool (and even some home-user tools) provide paragraph and character-level styling; enabling instant styling of body text, captions, kicker paragraphs, and other things.

But think about removing one more level of drudgery; think about applying a paragraph style and automatically having character styles applied to designated parts of the paragraph. Only InDesign gives you this level of control in nested styles.

What exactly is a nested style?

When we say nested we mean in the manner of putting things in other things; nested graphics are graphics inside of other graphics, so a nested style is a style within a style, an inner style that is applied whenever the outer style is called.

To be more precise, a nested style is a character style contained inside a paragraph style. Controls within the application allow the user to define a range over which the nested style applies, and a number of nested styles can be sequenced within the paragraph style itself, specifying ranges as one goes.

Drop Caps and Nested Styles Pane

The Drop Caps and Nested Styles pane of the Paragraph Style Options dialog. Note the Nested styles list in the right hand side.

To access and enable nested styles one goes to the Nested Styles and Drop Caps pane of the Paragraph Style Option dialog of the paragraph style which one wants to nest styles within (double-click on the paragraph style to bring that dialog up, or simply create a new paragraph style from the flyout menu on the Paragraph Styles palette). The lower half of the pane shows the Nested Styles list. Nested Styles are defined by clicking the New Nested Style button, cleared out (if necessary) by the Delete button, and can be shuffled about by clicking on a style then clicking on either arrow button.

Now we know where it is, but what goes in there? Let’s back up a step. Nested styles are character styles within paragraph styles; let’s set up some of each.

The Situation

We will take, as a for-example, a publication that wants to have a page of nature outings. One could simply list out the events one by one in a standard, readable font (such as Times New Roman), but this bothers us designers; unless there’s a good reason, we don’t want that “I didn’t design” it that default styles give us. Moreover, we may have graphic standards we need to comply with. So, let’s take it apart just a little.

Above is the unstyled paragraph. Below is the same paragraph, with embedded paragraph styles applied in one step with the assistance of nested styles.

Up on top is what we have. Below that is what we want. We can set up character and paragraph styles to give each paragraph the look we want, put the paragraph styles on all the body text, and then go through and pick out the individual details we want.

Doing that bit-by-bit with character styles is better than nothing but InDesign gives us even more power. With nested styles we can specify the headline as Myriad Pro Condensed Semibold; the event rating as the italic semibold, and the outing leader name and email address so that they jump out for quick referral.

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3 Responses

  1. LaurenMarie says:

    Samuel! I didn’t realize you were one of the editors here! Small world…

    I didn’t know InDesign could do this! Incredible! Ah, this is why I love the program. Thanks for the awesome tutorial.

    I’m currently working on a huge legal document in Quark and there are so many things I miss about ID, but I’m finding a lot of nice functionality with Quark. I’ll have to figure out if I can do these things in InDesign also (like defining section starts and section numbering).

    The two hardest parts about going between the programs: shortcuts and naming (like text wrap vs. runaround); it makes it difficult to search the Help and even online because the same function is called different things.

  2. Paul Chernoff says:

    InDesign handles section starts and section numbering very nicely.

    But nested styles are terrific. Than have saved us hours of work on various articles.

  3. mjenius says:

    I always have a hard time explaining nested styles to Quark only users. But every single one of them who start using it, absolutely love it. In fact web designer, who never touched print design have an easier time understanding this. Now I just send them this link, makes my life easier.