Tab Leaders (Part 6): Tips and Tricks

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.

Pariah Burke

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