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Case Study on the Benefits of InDesign Style Sheets

Creating style sheets in InDesign is a lot of work. However, this preparatory effort can pay off in remarkable ways. Using style sheets will help you produce any publication more quickly and will make the results more consistent. A one-page flyer will even benefit from the use of style sheets, but the longer your document, the more style sheets you have, and the more standardized its format, the more streamlined the production process will be, and you will minimize errors and inconsistencies.

Producing a longer document one time using style sheets will benefit you. But if you need to update a book, directory, or other long work the following year, you will see a dramatic reduction in formatting time.

Background for the Case Study

I am producing a print version of a directory for a non-profit education foundation. The directory will be approximately 180 pages in length. I know this because I produced last year's version as well.

Essentially the book is a repetition of a single format: name of the company, contact information, and description of the company. Each directory entry is repeated under different category headings.

Repetitive formatting lends itself to style sheets

The repetitive nature of formatting a directory lends itself to style sheets. These style sheets can be defined if you take the time to develop different “tags” for the heads, subheads, contact names, italicized Internet contact information, and company description (or whatever other fields pertain to your particular directory—or other book). Then, all you need to do is highlight the actual items in the raw text for each directory entry (or other design element) and apply the styles. When you do this, the following items will be correct and consistent in all cases:

  1. typefaces
  2. text and headline point sizes
  3. leading between lines of type
  4. spaces between paragraphs
  5. indentations
  6. rule lines
  7. initial caps (large capital letters at the beginning of a paragraph)

Take the time for preparation and planning up front, using “paragraph styles” and “character styles,” which are accessible from the InDesign “Window” menu (then look towards the bottom of the list for “Styles”). Double click on the name of a style, and it will bring up a menu of attributes that you can alter, such as “indents and spacing,” “basic character formats,” “hyphenation,” “paragraph rules,” etc.

As tedious as this preparation may seem—which it is—it is infinitely more tedious to highlight each line of type, or each paragraph, within a text document and attach complex style attributes like font names and point sizes to these chunks of copy.

Next year's version of the book

Once you have produced a long directory (or any other multi-page document) the first time, producing next year's version should be quite a bit easier with an InDesign formatting attribute based on “tags.”

Assuming you have the prior year's version of the directory with all style sheets accurately attached to each chunk of copy (contact names, descriptions of the companies, etc.), you can use the “Adobe InDesign Tagged Text” format in the “Export” option under the “File” menu to create a text file that includes all the tags you created the prior year. Just highlight the linked text you want to export from last year's copy of the directory (if everything is linked, you can highlight the entire book). Go to Export, then choose InDesign Tagged Text, and the program will create a text file with each element of the copy preceded by a “tag,” a name such as “. Note the open and closed “greater than” and “less than” symbols that surround the tag.

Here's the real joy of the process.

  1. Update the content of the text file from last year's book in a text editor (like MS Word). Change any factual information that you need to change. Don't delete any tags (copy within the open and closed “greater than” and “less than” symbols).
  2. Create a new InDesign document.
  3. Import the style sheets from last year's book into your new InDesign document.
  4. Import the new tagged text file into your new InDesign document.

(Instructions for these InDesign procedures can be found in online tutorials.)

And voila, the new text you have updated with the current year's information will flow into the new InDesign file, automatically acquiring all the formatting you spent so much time creating the preceding year. You will be pleased to watch the copy flow through the entire book, assuming you have set the “Place” command under the File menu to automatically add pages.

Why should you do this?

Two reasons:

  1. It will save you a huge amount of time.
  2. All copy will be consistent throughout the document.

Remember that the preceding information is based on a directory project, but the same steps can pertain to any longer document with consistent, stylized sections (heads, text, captions, etc.).

Computers are a blessing for repetitive tasks that would drive you mad if done manually.


[Steven Waxman is a printing consultant. He teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.]

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