Writing Portfolio

Tab Leaders (Part 1): Separating Columns of Text with Dots

Published By: InDesignSecrets.com
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Way back in Podcast 25 lis­ten­ers asked ques­tions about under­lin­ing text and cre­at­ing tab lead­ers. After hear­ing the same ques­tions recent­ly from col­leagues, I thought the top­ic was worth revis­it­ing.

Vanessa from Australia asked:

I have a name, address, and a com­pa­ny name. I want to fol­low each one of those with a dot­ted under­line that goes all the way to the right edge of the box. How do I do that?

The dot­ted under­lines you ref­er­ence, Vanessa, are called a tab lead­ers (pro­nounced lee­durz). Tab lead­ers can be dots, dash­es, under­scores, and even dec­o­ra­tive glyphs from fonts oth­er than those used in sur­round­ing text. I’ll cov­er the last option in a future edi­tion of this series of posts. For now, let’s cre­ate stan­dard dot lead­ers.

  1. Begin by set­ting your text in tab-separated columns (see Figure 1). Use a sin­gle tab no mat­ter how mis­aligned the results appear for the moment. The tab, rep­re­sent­ed by a dou­ble brace (») when Show Hidden Characters is enabled from the bot­tom of the Type menu, will become the dot leader.

Figure 1: Shows two irregular columns of text separated by tabs.

  1. Highlight all the lines of text that require a dot leader and open the Tab Ruler. In InDesign CS2 and ear­li­er select Window > Type & Tables > Tabs; in InDesign CS3, choose Tabs from the Type menu. You can also open the Tabs ruler from any ver­sion with the CMD+SHIFT+T/CTRL+SHIFT+T key­board short­cut.
  2. When the Tab Ruler appears, it will auto­mat­i­cal­ly size itself to the width of your high­light­ed text col­umn. Select the appro­pri­ate tab­stop align­ment character–in this case you prob­a­bly want the Right-Justified Tab mark­er, which is the third arrow at the top of the Tabs pan­el (the arrow has a tail point­ing left). With the Right-Justified Tab but­ton active, click in the blank area imme­di­ate­ly above the ruler, as far right as you can with­out pass­ing the big arrow (the right indent indi­ca­tor) there. Any text after the tab should auto­mat­i­cal­ly jump to line up along the right edge of the text frame (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Shows the same text with the right column now aligned to the right of the text frame.

  1. With your colum­nar text sep­a­rat­ed and aligned, the only thing left to do is add the leader. First, res­e­lect the tab­stop by click­ing on the mark­er arrow above the ruler in the Tabs pan­el. When you have it select­ed, you’ll notice that the X field along the top of the Tabs pan­el shows the marker’s posi­tion. (If you acci­den­tal­ly add anoth­er mark­er instead of select­ing the first, just drag the extra mark­er down into the ruler itself; it will then dis­ap­pear.)
  2. Beside the X posi­tion field is the Leader field. Enter a sin­gle peri­od in that field and press TAB on your key­board to leave the field. The result should be what you see in Figure 3. Close the Tabs pan­el.

Figure 3: Shows Tabs ruler panel above two columns of text now separated by a dot leader.

If you’d rather a dif­fer­ent kind of leader, say dash­es or a sol­id line instead of dots, put some­thing oth­er than a peri­od in the Leader field. An em dash will cre­ate a sol­id hor­i­zon­tal line at the mid­point of the text’s x-height (ver­ti­cal­ly halfway up low­er­case char­ac­ters), and an under­score (_) will cre­ate a sol­id base­line rule between the left and right columns. You put in the Leader field any char­ac­ter you want. In fact, it can be more than a sin­gle glyph! The Leader field accepts input of up to 8 glyphs. For exam­ple, to cre­ate a very loose dot leader, insert space peri­od space, or get real­ly cre­ative with some­thing like peri­od space peri­od peri­od space peri­od peri­od peri­od. Whatever you enter in the Leader field will be repeat­ed as many times as nec­es­sary to fill the space between columns.

In my next install­ment in the “Tab Leaders” series, I’ll explain how to change for­mat­ting options spe­cif­ic to tab lead­ers so that you can cre­ate lead­ers that are dif­fer­ent col­ors, sizes, or even com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent type­faces.