Proposal for InDesign feature

Joshua Langman's picture

Hello everyone. I'm rather excited that I'm starting my first ever Typophile thread. I'm interested in my fellow Typohpiles' thoughts on an idea I had for an InDesign feature that might solve a number of related typesetting problems.

A recent Typohpile thread asked if there's an automated way to create a diagonal strikethrough through a piece of text. Let's imagine there is. Of course, for this to be possible, you would have to be able to tell InDesign where to start and stop this formatting and to treat everything in between these points as a solid clump of text. Otherwise, if this were a character-level option, you might get this:

instead of this:

But even if InDesign knew to make the diagonal span the entire selected phrase, what would happen if two adjacent strings of text had this effect applied? Would the strikethrough span the whole thing? How would the program know that two separate diagonals are wanted? The same problems apply to the idea of automating horizontal brace brackets, etc. used to show a grouping of text, in grammar textbooks, for example, as well as centering metrical diacritics above specific syllables (clusters of letters) in studies of poetry. I have needed to do all of these things at various points and found that there's no way to do them "automatically" — i.e., without drawing or dragging characters on another layer over the text frame and positioning them by hand.

Here's another example: I may be designing a children's book that occasionally has phrases printed upside-down or mirror-image. It would be wonderful to be able to apply these options to text, just as they can be applied to an object (in this case, a text frame), but this creates some of the same problems as above. If I want to invert just a word within a paragraph, InDesign would have to know to think of that cluster of letters as one entity and thus flip the entire chunk, not just the individual characters. (Not to mention contend with line breaks and reflowing text, etc.)

A last example: When designing literary journals, I sometimes want to center poetry on its longest line: in other words, let the whole block remain flush left, but center it as a whole relative the the page margins. I currently do this by centering the longest line, then selecting the rest of the lines and indenting them to match. But what if you could select the whole poem, tell InDesign, "treat this text as one 'chunk,'" and center that "chunk"?

In the first two examples, what I am talking about is really a type of formatting that is higher than character-level but lower than paragraph-level; the last example could easily be a higher-than-paragraph-level setting.

So I would like to propose the addition of two new special characters: "begin adjustment cluster" and "end adjustment cluster." They would be invisible characters that would instruct the program to treat some text as a single entity in regards to a certain operation. I'm very interested in hearing others' thoughts on this idea, as well as any other uses that such a feature might have. Of course, many of the examples here would require additional features for manipulating text that don't yet exist within the program, but allowing the user to specify a sort of custom level on which to apply text formatting could open the door to a variety of such features.



JamesM's picture

My guess is that those features aren't requested very often, but you might try posting your question at the site "InDesign Secrets" ( where they are good at coming up at InDesign workarounds.

For flipping an individual word upside down that still flows with the text, you could create a separate small text box containing just that word, rotate the box 180 degrees, copy that box (not the word but the entire box) to the clipboard, place your cursor where you want it to go, and then paste. This will paste the upside-down-box inline on that line of text, and it will reflow with that text if the line reflows.

> centering the longest line, then selecting the rest of
> the lines and indenting them to match

Not sure if I'm understanding correctly, but I'd do it by putting a tab at the beginning of each line of the poem, then select the entire poem and give that whole block just one tab -- a "center" tab -- and adjust that "center" tab until the entire centered poem has it's longest line just touching the left margin.

Joshua Langman's picture

InDesign secrets — I'll look into that.

"This will paste the upside-down-box inline" Yes, this is what I usually do. Not fun, though, if it's a several-word phrase and reflowing breaks it. (Although, to be fair, I can't say this happens often at all, or even that this particular example has come up more than a couple times.)

"Not sure if I'm understanding correctly..." Judging by your suggestion, I think you may not have, but probably I was unclear. It's typical in poetry anthologies to set poems flush left, but center the entire flush left block of text between the left and right margins. All the lines line up on the left edge, but where the left edge falls is dependent on how long the longest line is. Only the longest line will actually be "centered." So, it is the left indent (or a left tab) that would be needed, not a center tab. Doing this manually, by dragging a tab stop or increasing the indent in the tool bar thingy isn't a nuisance for one poem, but if you have a hundred pages of poems — wouldn't it be nice to be able to make it part of the style? This would necessitate, though, that you designate what to treat as one clump, which brings me to the idea I was proposing above.

Thanks for your suggestions.


Igor Freiberger's picture

Josh, I think part of your demands could be addressed with features available in InDesign since version CS3. Here is one possible solution for centering poems or a-like texts.

Centered poems

(a) cut the text and paste it in a blank area to create a new frame. Adjust its width to match the longest line. Cut the frame (not the text) and paste it into the original frame. Now you can center the paragraph where the frame was inserted and it will align accordingly.


(b) select the poem and convert it to an one-column table. Reduce table width to match the longest line. Format table lines and internal spaces to achieve the same format as a plain text (ideally, you must create table and cell styles to automate this). Center the outer paragraph (where the table was inserted). This procedure has an advantage over the first one as it allows text/table flow through column and page breaks.


Upside-down text

By now, there is no solution for this in InDesign. The method you did adopt is the best ID can achieve. But you can easily solve the problem creating an upside-down version of the font in use, what takes just minutes in FontLab.

Open the font, select all glyphs and do a vertical flip. The glyphs with ascenders or descenders will be vertically misaligned, so you need to realign them. The best way to do this is to measure ascender and descender heights, select a group of glyphs (say, all lowercase with descenders) and do a shift (Transofrm panel) by this measure.

Before export, rename the font to avoid conflict with the original one. The remaining aspects are the same: no need to edit spacing, kerning or OT features. Note you new crazy-like font permits normal text flow with kerning and even hyphenation.

Of course, this need to be allowed by the EULA.

To get mirror right-to-left text you must convert it to backwards text. There are a number of sites which do this using JavaScript, like this. If you need just backwards text, this is enough. If it also must be flipped, you can apply the upside-down font.

Later I will try to add solutions for your other issues.

JamesM's picture

I guess I misunderstood your centering question. I'd probably just select the poem and apply a left indent until the longest line looked centered. It's not as slick as having an automated method, but it shouldn't take more than a few seconds. It would have the disadvantage, though, that any changes you made to the text later (font, point size, etc) might make it off-center.

Incidentally, you probably know this already, but if you select some text and then click in the left indent box in the control panel, you can then use your keyboard's arrow keys to increase or decrease the value incrementally. Sometimes that's faster than entering a value, seeing the result, entering a new value, etc.

Joshua Langman's picture

Thanks to both of you for your suggestions. These are certainly useful, and I'm aware there are plenty of workarounds for these issues, but what I am most interested in is whether the idea of the feature I am proposing — letting the user define a string of text that behaves sort of as a single character or paragraph — appeals to anyone else, and what other uses for such a feature other designers might have. I will elaborate some more, later in the day, on how I envision it might work.

Thanks again.


JamesM's picture

> letting the user define a string of text that
> behaves sort of as a single character or paragraph

My guess is that if anything like that was ever included with InDesign, it would be as additional settings in the character style sheets or paragraph style sheets.

But I'm just not sure that any of those things you mentioned are requested often enough to get the InDesign team's attention.

Igor Freiberger's picture

Actually, ID has a sort of cluster approach with GREP styles and nested styles. So the problem is not to pick up some text fragment, but to apply one format to it. Although I'm not otimistic about Adobe to do that, I'd like very much to see this:

1. To add a diacritic for a syllabe.
2. To add a graphic mark (say, horizontal bracket) to a sequence of text.
3. To highlight text with a proper tool (no need to adulterate strikethrough and underline).
4. To add vertical bar at left or right of a text fragment.
5. To permit hanging text (today this is possible with anchored frames).
6. To have real conditional text (actual tool is very limited).

So, to put it simple, I'm also interested in your idea to ID improvement.

I'm aware there are plenty of workarounds for these issues

Plenty? I'm unsure if there is even one way to achieve each of the results you described without doing time-consuming manual adjusts. The poem centered with table is easy, but I never saw this solution before –even in InDesign Secrets or other specialized sites.

If you know other workarounds to automate these operations, it would well deserve an article in ID Secrets. Many ID users could benefit from it.

Joshua Langman's picture

Unfortunately, I don't know any secret ways to do these things without "time-consuming manual adjusts" — so I guess what I really meant by "workarounds" was "various ways of accomplishing [whatever] in a time consuming and manual fashion." Such as manually positioning frames or placing frames into the text stream and kerning them over text or using anchored objects, etc.

I too would like to see all of the things you've listed above. More than once I've spent hours positioning breves and ictuses (ictii?) to center them visually over the relevant syllable in metrically scanned poetry by converting them to outlines, aligning them to a horizontal guide above the line of text and adjusting the horizontal spacing manually. What this has in common with horizontal braces, inverted text, centering on longest lines, etc., is that it requires the same effect to be applied to each of the several characters (or lines) that have it applied with different results.

The vertical bar feature, which I have also wanted, should, however, be simple enough to add as a paragraph option, as it would work similarly to the existing paragraph rule tools.

Oh, and thank you for the single-cell table idea. I hadn't thought of that. Although I'm not sure I understand how this is different than pasting a text frame into a centered paragraph, as you describe in option (a) above.


(Edit: Ooh! How about a "bracket" tool that would place a bracket above, below, or vertically in the margin by a selected piece of text? It could have options including square bracket, parenthesis, brace, straight line, angle bracket, maybe others.)

Igor Freiberger's picture

The difference between option (a) and (b): with the table you can resize the frame or link it to another one and the table will flow. With a rigid frame inside other, there is no way to flow text.

About horizontal brackets, I was thinking if it's not a viable idea to make this with underline plus special open and close glyphs. Let me try a better description: suppose you need to add a bracket below the word thing. With special glyphs, you insert the "open bracket", type the word, apply underline to it and insert the "close bracket". If properly designed, these open and close glyphs would glue to the underline and compose a bracket.

To make a bracket above, you just need open and close glyphs at the top of leading and a baseline-shifted underline. To simulate parenthesis and braces, four more pair of open and close glyphs do the trick. It's not perfect, but may be useful.

More than once I've spent hours positioning breves and ictuses

I believe the easier way to do this is to add a small anchored frame and insert the diacritic there. As it's anchored, it will follow text flow. And if you define anchored frame preferences (position, relationship to the anchor, size) it will be automatically positioned at next insertions.

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