Friday Fundamentals: Setting Text in InDesign

Theoretically, Creative Cloud subscriptions are going to expose more people to Adobe’s layout program, InDesign. If you’re new to InDesign, but familiar with Photoshop and Illustrator, then you’re probably coming to ID for one key purpose: wrangling large bits of text. If you’re a veteran text wrangler—steeped in the behaviors of word processors like, well, Word—then your interest in InDesign may be about learning to set text in the context of a graphics-rich environment. Either way, it’s about getting those words in there. That’s why today’s Friday Fundamentals is about setting text in InDesign. 

Setting Text in InDesign

If you’re new to working with text in InDesign, here are the key things you need to know (gleaned and adapted from Deke’s Up and Running with InDesign course at

1) You have to create a text frame for your text to live in.

InDesign understands everything in terms of objects, even text. So unlike a word processor where you create a document and just start typing, you have to create the appropriate object—a text frame—in which your text can survive the InDesign environment.

There are a few ways to do this, but I think the easiest is to create it directly with the Type tool. Grab the Type tool from the toolbox (or press the T key), then click and drag to draw out a frame for your text, like so:

When you release your mouse, you’ll see a blinking cursor in the upper left hand corner of your new frame, just waiting for your words of wisdom to be added. If you click the text frame with the black arrow tool, you’ll see the box has handles like a bounding box would in Photoshop or Illustrator, indicating you can adjust the size or scale.

2) Fill the frame with your desired text.

At this point, you can add text in one of four primary ways:

Start typing. (I trust you’ve got this one.)

Copy and Paste from elsewhere. (Standard Command/Ctrl-C, Command/Ctrl-V shortcuts work.)

Place a text file using File > Place. (Save this one for later.)

Choose Type > Fill with Placeholder Text if you just want to quickly see what your design will look like when text is added. (What I’ve done below.)

Choose Type, then Fill With Placeholder Text

(Note that the default placeholder text is faux-Latin nonsense copy; I’m partial to genuine, well-crafted nonsense copy, so I’ve replaced my placeholder file with text from the first chapter of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. To see how to do this yourself, check out this old, but still relevant, post. This trick is the same for InDesign CC and every version of InDesign that’s been released since I wrote it.)

3) You can adjust the Text Frame Options to taste, especially for spacing.

With your text box selected (i.e. the bounding box is showing—use the black arrow tool if you need to), right-click on your text frame and choose Text Frame Options or go to the Object menu and do the same. The Text Frame Options dialog box has a bunch of options that are primarily about setting the general position of your text with regard to its frame.

In my case, the main thing I want to set here is Inset Spacing, so that the text doesn’t press right up against the sides of my text. A 6-point buffer on the right and left sides relieves the strain. You can see a fainter blue line that indicates the frame margin I’m applying:

Choose Object, then Text Frame Options to set the spacing around the frame edges.

4) You can set paragraph-level attributes in the options bar.

Click anywhere in the paragraph(s) that you want to format (or click-and-drag through multiple paragraphs), make sure the Paragraph (pilcrow) icon is selected at the far left of the options bar, and tweak your paragraph as you see fit.

In my case, I’ve set the typeface to Garamond, the paragraph spacing (Space After) to 9 points, the alignment to Justified, and the Drop Cap to 4 lines. (That last thing means that InDesign will make the first letter of the paragraph take up four lines worth of space.) 

Set paragraph options in the options bar

5) You can set character level formatting in the options bar, as well.

Drag to select the specific characters you want to format. In my case, I just want that big old A at the beginning. Make sure the A icon is set at the far left of the options bar, so that you have the character-level options available. Then you can change things like typeface, type size, and color.

Note that Bold or Italic styles are applied as typeface variations, rather than all-purpose treatments like they might be in Word. That means you’ll find the fully designed available variations for your typeface underneath the typeface field. Here I’ve chosen Italic. I’ve also clicked on the down-arrow to the right of the T icon and set the type color for just my drop cap letter to a dark green. 

Choose character attributes in the options bar

There’s much more to learn about text, including threading text from one frame to another, creating styles that can be reapplied over and over, and setting type on a path as I’ve done below.   

Set text in InDesign

To learn more about the basics of InDesign type, check out Chapter 2, “Formatting Text” from Deke’s Up and Running with InDesign. For more advanced type trickery, try Chapter 4, “Advanced Typography and Text” from David Blatner’s InDesign Insider Training: Beyond the Essentials. Both courses are available at, and if you’re not a member you can get a free week’s trial at

Have a wonderous weekend, my dekeAdventurers.

Next entry:Deke’s Techniques 243: Recreating the Creative Cloud Logo in Illustrator

Previous entry:Deke’s Techniques 241: Drawing an Orthogonal Cube with the Line Tool in Illustrator


  • Placeholder Text

    There is a big disadvantage using genuine text, even if it is some theoretically well-known one; one doesn’t immediately recognise the text as placeholder. It may not sound like much but I’ve often enough seen ads, brochures and such almost going out with “genuine” placeholder text. It was pure coincidence I got to have a look at that before printing - and I did happen upon material [examples you will find on Photoshop Disasters, for instance] where nobody caught the wrong text.

  • Really good point, Evo2Me

    I usually end up using placeholder text for situations like this one (demonstration), and hadn’t thought about how it might be fatal in a fast-paced production environment. That said, you’ve probably seen some Lorem Ipsum fly by in your day. Thanks for sharing your valuable experience.

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