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.