InDesign Styles 101

InDesign’s styles are global formatting presets. InDesign offers powerful styles for text, tables, objects, and several other design elements in your document, but we fill focus only on text styles for the time being. A paragraph style can save and apply complex text formatting to an entire paragraph with just a few clicks. Character styles are similar, but should only be used when there are words in a paragraph that are formatted differently from the rest of the paragraph—italicized or bolded, for example.

Styles apply global formatting. By global, we mean that changes to the style will affect the entire document. For example, let’s say we have a paragraph style called “body” that uses 12pt Garamond type. We’ve applied this style to all body paragraphs throughout our entire document. Then we decide we need to change all paragraphs to 11pt. If we edit the “body” style and change its size to 11pts, EVERY paragraph throughout the document that uses that style will change to 11 points.

Styles save time and provide needed consistency in your document. Once an InDesign user has grasped the basics, proper use of styles will take them to a whole new level.

Defining, Applying, and Editing Text Styles

Paragraph Styles and Character Styles panels, showing some of the styles I defined and use for one of my clients.

To use paragraph and character styles, you will need to open the “Paragraph Styles” and “Character Styles” panels from the Window menu, Styles submenu.

To define a style:

  1. First format some text exactly how you would like it using the Control Panel at the top of your screen.
  2. Then make sure you have a blinking cursor somewhere in that formatted text.
  3. Now, go to the paragraph style panel menu button and choose “New Paragraph Style.”
  4. Enter an appropriate name, such as “body,” “subhead,” etc.
  5. On the general tab, in the “style settings” area, you’ll see that all the formatting for the paragraph in which your cursor is blinking has been picked up in that style. You can make additional changes to the style if you’d like by clicking on the various tabs on the left and changing values appropriately.
  6. Click OK to save the style in your document.

To apply a style, simply click in a paragraph or highlight multiple paragraphs and then click the style name. Remember that a paragraph style will apply itself to an entire paragraph even if you only have part of the paragraph selected. If you wish to apply formatting to only part of a paragraph, you will need to use a character style or apply a local override.

To edit an existing style, double-click its name in the Styles panel. Any changes you make will affect all paragraphs that have that style applied to them throughout the entire document.

Resolving Local Overrides

Local overrides are changes made to formatting that do not use styles. Any time you format text using the Control Panel at the top of your screen you are creating local overrides. InDesign will attempt to preserve local overrides when applying styles.

If you select some text in a paragraph, the Paragraph Styles Panel will highlight the paragraph style applied to that text. If you see a “+” next to the name of the style then you know there are overrides preventing the paragraph style from being fully applied. If you wish to remove all overrides in a block of text:

  1. Select the text from which you’d like to remove overrides.
  2. Hold down the ALT (Windows) or OPTION (Mac) key and click the name of the style that should be applied to the selected paragraph(s).
  3. The “+” will disappear, and the selected paragraph(s) will match your paragraph style (and character style(s), if applied) perfectly.


This has been a very brief introduction to styles in InDesign. We’ve just scratched the surface, but it’s a good start. By defining and applying styles throughout your document you can improve consistency and make formatting changes a snap. When you begin to master styles, you truly begin to master InDesign.

Additional Resources

Adobe Help—About Character and Paragraph Styles lesson tutorial preview

I originally wrote this post today as an e-mail response to a client who is designing their very first InDesign document. Since it is a topic of fundamental importance I’ve decided to post it here as well. I often help my clients develop solid, styles-based templates for their projects.

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