Improving Your Paragraph Styles

Michael Streubert
Michael StreubertSenior Art Director
Improving Your Paragraph Styles

Over the last few years, I’ve become a massive proponent of Paragraph Styles, even to the point where I’m happy to set up a unique style for all repeatable type treatments in any InDesign document that crosses my desk. 

Paragraph styles are a powerful feature in InDesign that often go overlooked and underutilized. While they can seem clunky to set up, their efficiency in making global changes should always offset the initial time investment. 

While most designers should be familiar with the basics of paragraph styles (font, color, size, and spacing), I wanted to highlight some features I’ve been utilizing that I see a lot of designers overlook.

STAY ORGANIZED (even when you haven’t settled on your design).

Every group of text separated by a paragraph break should be associated with a style and therefore you should name and organize your styles from the very beginning. 

This is a basic idea of how I’ll name and group my styles. If you were to open this design for the first time, you could easily discern which styles are associated with each element.


Unlike marriage or adopting a puppy, paragraph styles aren’t a lifelong commitment. If you commit a change to a style, a “+” will show up after the name. 

Right-clicking on the name will give you options to either clear the override or commit the edit across all instances. This step is useful if you’re tweaking a design but don’t want to update changes in the styles panel interface.


This one seems pretty obvious but underutilized. Too many folks would rather draw a line and let it float aimlessly in their layout instead of creating a paragraph style that associates a rule with text. Here’s a quick look at the settings I use to achieve a simple column wide rule under a header.

Similarly, you can do the same thing with a vertical rule by using the paragraph borders.

Unlock the link button on “stroke” and “offsets” and you can easily create vertical rules to add separation to your text.


In the following example, you can see the Header 03 Style is not a separate shape. By using paragraph shading you can give subheadings extra style in one step.


Technically this is a Character Style tip, but I have to give the folks something for the road. A lot of designers might hit the “bullet” button and call it a day with the default black dot. But if there’s one thing that helps keep clients from asking you to “make it pop”, it’s changing the color of a bullet point (no, seriously - it works).

In the Bullet Style Options, you’ll notice a “Character Style” dropdown. In older versions of Indesign, you could pull in a character style you had already created, but most people don’t think that far ahead. More recently, Adobe added the ability to create a  “New Character Style”. Selecting this option will open the Character Style editor and you’re free to customize your single bullet character like you would any other character style i.e. change the color, size, font, vertical alignment, etc. Pretty convenient if I do say so.

Hopefully, if more designers use paragraph styles and label them accordingly, we can all stop cursing each other’s workflow under our breath. Cheers!

If you’d like to read more Adobe Indesign tips posted by our creative team, follow these tutorials:

Using the Preflight Panel, Easy Indesign Mockups and Automatic Styling with GREP