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.

Pariah Burke

Author, consultant, trainer, guru: Digital Publishing, ePub, InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop, Quark. Empowering, Informing, Connecting Creative Professionals™

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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.