Tab Leaders (Part 2): Formatting Leaders

Last week in the first part of this back to basics series on tab lead­ers we dis­cussed cre­at­ing dot­ted tab lead­ers in the Tabs palette to sep­a­rate colum­nar text. Now, let’s talk about for­mat­ting those lead­ers.

Tab leaders–dots, under­scores, hyphens, smi­ley faces, whatever–inserted via the Tabs Ruler are auto­mat­i­cal­ly the same font and col­or as the sur­round­ing text. If you set a lead­ered tab­stop amidst black 12/16 pt Electra LT Std Regular text, you’ll get a black 12/16 pt Electra LT Std Regular leader. And, if you change the char­ac­ter and para­graph attrib­ut­es of the entire para­graph, the leader will change as well. Often times that’s exact­ly what you want. Often times, you’re sat­is­fied with the choco­late cov­ered coconut good­ness of a Mounds bar. But, some­times you feel like a nut (see Figure 1). Sometimes you want to go all the way and get your­self an Almond Joy. It’s at those times you want the tab leader to look a lit­tle different–maybe a dif­fer­ent shade, col­or, or even type­face. Formatting the leader is the top­ic of this install­ment of “Tab Leaders,” and it’s easy.

Figure 1: Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don't.

First, set your text, and, fol­low­ing the instruc­tions in “Tab Leaders (Part 1): Separating Columns of Text with Dots,” cre­ate the tab lead­ers. Close the Tabs Ruler.

As you can see with invis­i­ble char­ac­ters shown (Type > Show Invisible Characters), InDesign treats tabs insert­ed with the key­board TAB key as char­ac­ters. They’re invis­i­ble char­ac­ters, obvi­ous­ly, but char­ac­ters nonethe­less, and they can be for­mat­ted like any oth­er character–visible or invis­i­ble. Using the Type tool, select just the tab char­ac­ter, which should now be rep­re­sent­ed by a vis­i­ble (and print­ing) series of dots. Now you can for­mat the lead­ers like you’d for­mat any character–using the Character, Swatches, Color, or Gradient pan­els.

Want a leader that is a lighter shade of its cur­rent swatch col­or? Open the Colors pan­el and drag the tint slid­er to the left. Pick a new swatch to change the leader col­or entire­ly. Adjust the Tracking field on the Character pan­el to loosen or tight­en the spac­ing between peri­ods in the leader. How about larg­er peri­ods? No prob­lem: up the Font Size or even adjust the ver­ti­cal or hor­i­zon­tal scale. Heck, if you don’t like the shape of the peri­ods, you can change the Font Family and Style fields, too.

Of course, any changes you make to the tab and leader count as over­rides to your para­graph style. If you ever force reap­ply the para­graph style or use one of the oth­er meth­ods of clear­ing over­rides, your care­ful­ly for­mat­ted tab lead­ers will revert to match­ing their sur­round­ing text. They will, that is, unless you cre­ate a char­ac­ter style just for the leader.

  1. With the leader still high­light­ed, open the Character Styles pan­el (Window > Type & Tables > Character Styles). Click the New but­ton at the bot­tom of the pan­el, which will cre­ate a new style, “Character Style 1.” (New char­ac­ter styles are num­bered sequen­tial­ly, so yours might read “Character Style 2” or anoth­er num­ber.)
  2. Double-click “Character Style 1” to open the Character Style Options dia­log (see Figure 2).
  3. Change the name to some­thing more rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the style’s func­tion, some­thing like “List 01 – Tab Leader” or what­ev­er works for you. click the OK but­ton.

Figure 2: (Click to Zoom) The Character Style Options dialog

Now, you’re done. By double-clicking the char­ac­ter style to access its options you also simul­ta­ne­ous­ly assigned it to the high­light­ed tab char­ac­ter. Now high­light the tabs in the list’s oth­er lines and assign the same char­ac­ter style to them.

Assigning char­ac­ter styles to the tabs can also be automated–you do it once, and there­after InDesign will do it for you auto­mat­i­cal­ly. We’ll talk about that in part 4 of “Tab Leaders.” Next week in part 3 we’ll per­form a very dif­fer­ent task: insert­ing lead­ers in para­graph text to cre­ate write-in blanks such as you might find in a con­tract or form.

For now, there’s one oth­er impor­tant bit of infor­ma­tion I’d like to impart: The loca­tion of the tab­stop and the fact that it has a leader is also an over­ride to the para­graph style. To ensure that you don’t lose those bits of data, high­light a bit of text in your line–don’t include the tab in your selec­tion. Then, on the Paragraph Styles pan­el (Window > Type & Tables > Paragraph Styles), open the pan­el fly­out menu in the top right cor­ner and choose Redefine Style (see Figure 3). That will add the loca­tion of the tab­stop and its leader option to your para­graph style def­i­n­i­tion. Of course, if you hadn’t already cre­at­ed a para­graph style for the tab-separated list, cre­ate one using the same pro­ce­dure as build­ing a char­ac­ter style but on the Paragraph Styles pan­el.

Figure 3: Redefine Style on the Paragraph Styles panel

Follow this link for part 3 in the series.

Pariah Burke

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