Inadvertent Changes to Defaults, and How to Correct Them

I recently participated in an online discussion started by an individual having difficulty when placing text. The text would be automatically be formatted by a certain paragraph and/or character style. The styles would stay the same for each document placed for a while, and then change for some reason. She hadn’t been able to discern a pattern, and she had searched for explanations and found no answers.

It turned out to be yet another case of inadvertent changes to default settings. I obtained her permission to share her experience and the answer I wrote.

Changing a Default with One Misdirected Click

It’s almost too easy to change a default in InDesign; one click on any setting with nothing selected and you’ve just changed a default!

For example, with nothing selected, choose a color stroke and fill. Then, create a rectangle (not a rectangle frame), and you’ll see it picks up the stroke and fill colors you had selected. Or, with nothing selected, choose a character and paragraph style. This will set the defaults for all new text frames. Then create a new text box and start typing, and you’ll see your defaults at work. Any setting you choose in any menu or panel with nothing selected will generally become the new default to be used in that document.

You can see what your current default paragraph and character styles are by deselecting everything. A paragraph and character style will still be highlighted, showing you that they are the current defaults. Just choose which paragraph style you wish to use by default when you have nothing selected. You would probably set your character style to none, since character styles should be used only when some text differs from the rest of the paragraph, so you wouldn’t want to be using one by default.

Setting defaults is a useful trick, but it can be very frustrating if you do it by accident. I once received a phone call from someone with a very strange problem. Every time he made a new text box on a left hand page and started to type the text would immediately become overset—it would disappear with the red plus showing that the text would not fit in the frame. However, if he moved that frame to the right-hand page, the text would appear. It seems he’d had nothing selected and then accidentally set his keeping options to allow paragraphs to only start on the next odd page (a setting that can be useful for chapter headings, but certainly not for general use). Since nothing was selected when he chose this setting it became the new default. We fixed the problem by turning off the keep option with nothing selected. We could have also had nothing selected and then chose a good default paragraph style and removed all overrides from it (Option-Clicking the name of the style).

Changing Defaults On Purpose

Once you understand what’s going on this becomes a very useful InDesign feature. If you choose a setting with nothing selected in a document, it becomes the new default in that document. If you choose settings when no documents are open, they will become defaults for all new documents you create. For example, with all documents closed I turn on “show text threads,” “show hidden characters,” and “Layout Adjustment” and then every document I create from then on has these features enabled by default.

When Defaults Get Completely Out of Control: Reset Your Preferences

Sometimes InDesign can get rather messed up. For inexplicable reasons, it will just not behave properly. Many times this is caused by some application setting’s default getting changed, either inadvertently by the user or by some sort of corruption. In such cases resetting the preferences will correct the problem. Keep in mind that this will cause all preferences and settings to revert to their out-of-the-box state, so any customizations will have to be redone.

To reset preferences, launch InDesign and immediately hold the following keys:


A window will pop up asking if you wish to reset your preferences or delete the preferences file, depending on your version.

More Information

For more information on setting defaults and preferences you can see an article I wrote on the subject here:

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