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Tab Leaders (Part 6): Tips and Tricks

Published By: InDesignSecrets.com
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This is the last installment in the back-to-basics-and-on-to-advanced “Tab Leaders” series. If you’ve been following the series, we began by inserting tabs and dot leaders in columnar text (Part 1); moved on to formatting tab leaders differently than the text they separate (Part 2); created in-line, fill-in-the-blank-style tab spaces (Part 3); used the automated formatting of nested styles to eliminate manual tab leader formatting (Part 4), and; responding to a reader question last week, created fixed-width floating tabs and spacers (Part 5). The “Tab Leaders” series has spanned a range of topics, techniques, and skill levels. I’d like to wrap it up with some sundry tips, tricks, and mini-topics that should help you streamline your tab work and polish the results.

Right Indent Tab
Up on the Type menu, under the Insert Special Character submenu (CS2) or Insert Special Character > Other (CS3) you’ll find the Right Indent Tab option. Using this command you can insert a right-aligned tab, at the paragraph’s right indent or right margin, without having to open the Tabs palette. In fact, the Right Indent Tab will not appear in the Tabs palette; instead it shows within text as a special character when hidden characters are shown. The purpose of this command is to make short work of columnar text. After insertion of a right indent tab, any text to the right of the insertion point aligns to the right.

Although the Right Indent Tab indent tab isn’t managed on the Tabs palette, assigning a dot, dash, or other leader to the Right Indent Tab does require use of the Tabs palette (Window > Type and Tables > Tabs in CS2, and Type > Tabs in CS3). To give your Right Indent Tab a leader, set a tab stop outside the right margin of the text frame, and give that tabstop the leader (see Figure 1). If you already have tabs defined (within the text frame area), the Right Indent Tab will pick up and use the leader assigned to the last tabstop on the ruler.

Figure 1

One of the greatest benefits of a Right Indent Tab is its flexibility. Because it is a special character that sends text to the right frame edge or indent as opposed to a regular, fixed-position tabstop, it adjusts itself automatically if you widen or narrow the text frame.

Tabs Inside Tables
Also on the Type > Insert Special Character > Other menu is a command to insert a Tab. Why on Earth would Adobe create a menu command for a function already included on every keyboard manufactured in the last 30 years? Does Adobe really expect you to navigate two or three menus deep instead of flicking your left pinky finger? No, of course not. Tab is included as a command for a couple of reasons: First, to make it easier to include in InDesign (and InCopy) scripts, and, second, to give you the ability to insert tabs in places where the keyboard’s Tab key has another function–such as within tables.

If you’re cursor is inside a table cell when you press the Tab key on your keyboard what happens? Right: the cursor jumps to the next column. Utilizing tabs to effect indentation or separation inside a table cell becomes problematic then. That’s when the Tab menu command comes in handy. It will insert a tab space even inside a tab cell; you can then use the Tabs palette to add a leader or change the position or alignment of the tabstop.

The menu command is great for the first or an occasional tab, but if you need to insert several tab spaces inside table cells, save yourself a little time (and wrist strain). Insert the first, show hidden characters (Type > Show Hidden Characters), and then highlight and copy the first tab space. From then on, just paste it where you need it. Note that you’ll be inserting just the tab itself–the position and alignment are a function of paragraph formatting, and will not be copied (or pasted) with the tab space/character.

End Nested Style Here
In Part 4 of this series, “Automatic Styling,” we used nested styles to format tab leaders and a lot more. For InDesign to begin or stop using a particular character style automatically, you must specify a break point, a marker of some type, that says to InDesign stop either before or immediately after this. In the price list example I employed, tabs, dollar signs, decimal points, and even numerals were used as the break points to exchange character styles. What do you do if you haven’t such easily identifiable markers? Insert one.

The End Nested Style Here marker is an invisible, dimension-less character that can be inserted anywhere in text (or a table cell) as a break point for a nested character style. No matter what the nested style is supposed to be looking for, what condition or break point character, the End Nested Style Here marker will stand in for it, ending the nested style at that point.

Obviously, the End Nested Style Here marker must be inserted manually, reducing the utility of using nested styles to automate formatting in the first place. Therefore you shouldn’t use it as a means of controlling formatting throughout a document. Find the most common break point in your text and define that as the nested style start/stop conditions, and use End Nested Style Here as an exception, when the usual condition can’t be met.

Align On
In the Tabs ruler are four kinds of tabstops–Left-Justified Tab, Center-Justified Tab, Right-Justified Tab, and Align to Decimal Tab (see Figure 2). The first three are self-explanatory; the fourth, however… Well, most people think they know all about Align to Decimal (aka Align On) tabstops, but many of them would be surprised. It’s all there in the tooltip that appears when you hover your mouse cursor over the Align to Decimal Tab button, but even many of the long-time InDesign users I teach misinterpret Align to Decimal tabstops as being only for lining up on decimal points.

Figure 2

True, the most common purpose of align on tabstops is to line up prices or statistics in a list. In such cases, all numbers are aligned such that their decimal points are stacked regardless of how many digits appear before or after decimal points (see Figure 3). That’s if you typeset primarily prices in US Dollars. In the UK, decimal points and commas are the reverse of the way they’re used in the US; periods are used to separate whole values in the hundredths, thousandths, millionths, and so on while commas precede less-than-whole value digits. Therein lies a clue to power of align on tabstops–the Brits don’t align on decimal points, they align on commas. So can you. Or you can align on dollar signs, zeros, exclamation points, the letter A

Figure 3

When you select the Align to Decimal Tab type of tabstop the Align On field activates. In this field you can type (or paste) any single glyph and press Enter, Return, or Tab to commit that glyph as the align on marker. For instance, if you chose the capital letter A as your align on marker, then InDesign will configure text following the tab in all affected lines to snap the letter A to the tabstop (see Figure 4). If there isn’t an A following the tabstop, InDesign presumes there would be one after whatever text is actually there.

Figure 4

Although the vast majority of the time you’ll align to decimal points, commas, or other numeral punctuation, aligning on other glyphs can be very useful on those rare occasions when you need something special.

Fading Leaders
In my figures in earlier installments of this series I used but didn’t specifically call out gradient or fading tab leaders. As you may (or may not) know, InDesign can fill glyphs with gradients (so can Illustrator, incidentally, but not as easily or obviously as younger brother InDesign). Tabs are treated like characters, so fill a tab with a gradient and its leader will fade from one color to another (see Figure 5).

Figure 5

This is one of my favorite little tricks, actually. Tab leaders are incredibly useful and necessary for leading a reader’s eye through columns of text like a table of contents, but sometimes they’re too obtrusive. This is particularly so, I find, in one-color documents; you can tint the leaders down, make their constituent periods, dashes, or what-have-you smaller or tracked out, but sometimes, no matter what you do, they look out of place. Gradients can help–whether its a subtle shift from one tint to another or making a leader actually fade out into the background and then reappear again.

Experiment on your own leaders; see how they look with subtle or even bold gradient color or tint changes.

Double Leader Underlines
Combine tab leaders and character underlines for interesting effects (see Figure 6).

Figure 6

That concludes the “Tab Leaders” series… Unless there are questions or suggestions that might inspire more installments (hint, hint)? If not, go forth, Padawan, and tab something.