InDesign Basics: The Beginner’s Guide to InDesign Styles

styles paragraph character object indesign skills

In this Bitesize tutorial, we’ll look at how to create Styles and apply them to text and objects throughout your InDesign documents. Styles are a great way to keep your work looking consistent, and can really help to cut down on the time you spend formatting. We’ll cover:

  • How to create Character Styles and Paragraph Styles

  • How to create Object Styles

  • How to apply your saved Styles to elements in your InDesign document


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Step 1: Find and Open the Styles panels


You can find all the Styles panels by going to Window > Styles. Here you’ll find five options for applying styles to different elements. When you open a particular Style panel, you’ll notice that they group with other related Style windows.

Character Styles and Paragraph Styles can both be applied to text. A Character Style remembers formatting for single characters, words or phrases. A Paragraph Style will remember the formatting applied to a whole paragraph (a section of text separated from other text by line breaks).

Table, Table Styles and Cell Styles are grouped together in one panel.

Object Styles has its own panel (Window > Styles > Object Styles). You can apply an Object Style to graphics, shapes and frames.

styles paragraph character object indesign skills


Step 2: Create and Apply a Character Style


Once you’ve formatted a letter, word or phrase, you can save your edits as a Character Style, to apply to other parts of your text with ease. In this example, for a magazine layout, I have set the first word of a short extract in a decorative font, LeckerliOne Regular, and set the size to 32 pt and the colour to a dark red CMYK swatch. The text is also aligned center.

Character Style indesign skills styles

Open the Character Styles panel (Window > Styles > Character Styles). Highlight the relevant text and either click on the small square icon at the bottom right of the panel (Create new style) or select New Character Style from the panel’s drop-down menu.

Character Style indesign skills styles

The New Character Style window opens. You can give the style a recognisable name, and scroll through the formatting options from the left-hand menu; editing them further if you want to.

Character Style indesign skills styles

Click OK and the Style appears in the Character Styles panel. Highlight individual letters, words or phrases in the text of your document and simply click on the Style’s name in the panel to apply it.

Character Style indesign skills styles


Step 3: Create and Apply a Paragraph Style


To create a Paragraph Style, first format a single paragraph of text. You can apply a Drop Cap and Indents, as well as Font, Size, Weight, Leading, Tracking and Alignment.

Paragraph Style indesign skills styles

You can then either place your cursor somewhere in the paragraph or highlight the paragraph before selecting New Paragraph Style from the Paragraph Styles (Window > Styles > Paragraph Styles) panel’s drop-down menu.

Paragraph Style indesign skills styles

You’ll notice there are two sets of menus running along the left-hand side of the panel. The top menu lists the formatting attributes already applied to the text, but you can add further attributes from the bottom menu. Check the Preview box to see your edits as you go.

Paragraph Style indesign skills styles

You can also create a Nested Style by selecting Drop Cap and Nested Styles from the left-hand menu. This allows you to ‘nest’ a Character Style within the Paragraph Style, allowing you to define more specific formatting rules for some characters in the paragraph.

Paragraph Style indesign skills styles

When you’re happy with the settings you’ve defined for the Style and given the Style a name, back under the General options, click OK.

You can apply the Style to a paragraph by resting your cursor in a paragraph of text and clicking the name of the Style in the Paragraph Styles panel.


Step 4: Create and Apply an Object Style


You can apply an Object Style to graphics, shapes and frames. Formatting attributes like Fill, Stroke (colour and weight), gradients and transparencies, as well as text wrap settings, can be saved as an Object Style and applied to objects. Open the Object Styles panel by going to Window > Styles > Object Styles.

Object Style indesign skills styles

As an example, this polygon, with a solid white Fill and a decorative dark red Stroke, is being used as a background shape for a magazine layout (the text frame is separate from the polygon, and layered on top).

Object Style indesign skills styles

Select just the shape alone (you can also copy formatting from a text or image frame) and select New Object Style from the drop-down menu in the Object Styles panel.

Object Style indesign skills styles

In the window that opens give the Style a name, here I’ve named the Style ‘Magazine – Polygon’.

The top left-hand menu lists attributes already applied to the shape, but you can add extra attributes from the bottom left-hand menu, such as transparency, drop shadow, bevel etc.

Object Style indesign skills styles

Once you’re happy with the formatting, click OK to add the Style to the Object Styles panel.

Object Style indesign skills styles

You can then apply the Object Style to other objects (frames, shapes) in your document. Click to select the shape you want to edit, then click once on the name of the Object Style in the Object Style panel.

In this example, you can see how the Style applies all the formatting characteristics of the original shape, such as the Fill Colour, Stroke Colour, Stroke Weight and Stroke Type, to this shape created using the Ellipse Tool (L), but the Style doesn’t alter the original shape of the shape/frame.

Object Style indesign skills styles

Get in the habit of using Styles and see your InDesign documents become more polished and the time spent formatting your designs cut dramatically. Build on your knowledge and develop more InDesign skills using our beginner InDesign tutorials page.