Paragraph and character styles are a vital – but often misunderstood – function of InDesign. They enable easy, swift, and global customizations, making them ideal for the template user, yet remain one of the most confusing InDesign features for designers.
Here is a handy breakdown of what paragraph and characters do, how they’re different from each other, and best practices for their use.
On this page:
General: What are Character and Paragraph Styles? | What is the Difference Between Character and Paragraph Styles?
Common Issues: Text Style Overrides | Clearing Text Style Overrides
What are Paragraph and Character Styles?
Both paragraph and character styles are text presets that you create and apply to your document text as needed. All the modifications you need to make to your text – font, color, spacing, and so on – can be done in the paragraph and character style settings. These styles can control all types of text, from huge headers to small photo captions, and you can make as many of them as you need.
It is considered best practice to use paragraph and character styles when setting up your InDesign templates, and they are required for Adobe Stock submissions.
What is the Difference Between Paragraph and Character Styles?
If you open both the paragraph and the character style dialog boxes, you will notice that paragraph styles have more control options than character styles do.
Paragraph style options (top) vs. character style options (bottom)
This is because paragraph and character styles have two distinct uses, even though they work together. Their use depends on what – and how much – text you are changing.
A paragraph style is what you would use to control large amounts of text, ranging from a single paragraph to entire pages. If you wanted to make all your body text 12pt, Times New Roman, and black, with 16-point leading, for example, a paragraph style is what you would choose.
A character style, however, is what you would use to change small amounts of text. For example, if you want to make certain words bold, or a few characters green, or italicize a sentence or two, you use a character style.
Another thing to remember is that character styles are not used instead of paragraph styles; they are used with them. The "golden rule” here is that all text must have a paragraph style applied to it, but not all text will need a character style. As this can be confusing, it is helpful to think of character styles as highlighter pens, as they serve a similar purpose. For example, one uses a highlighter pen on short passages of text, but not on an entire document. Similarly, one uses a highlighter pen on existing text that has already been formatted - just like a character style.
Each InDesign template you submit should have at least 3 defined paragraph styles. None of your text should be assigned the default “Basic Paragraph Style” or “[None].”
Character styles are not required, since they are not always needed, but you should use them if you do end up changing small sections of text.
Text Style Overrides
Most commonly, style overrides happen when you change an aspect of a text style - color, font, font weight, size, etc - using the top control panel rather than by editing the paragraph or character style assigned to that text (or creating a new one, as needed).
Overrides are shown as a little plus (+) sign; it appears next to the paragraph or character style that you applied to the text that contains the override.
InDesign will automatically highlight style overrides if the Overrides Highlighter – a button located at the top right of the paragraph or character style window, marked [a+] – is turned on.
If you change the design aspects of your text from within the paragraph or character style controls, chances are you will not have style overrides.
However, there are some instances where changing a paragraph or character style can result in problems. If a piece of text has both a paragraph and a character style applied to it, and you change an aspect of one style that is not supported by the other style, it will display an error.
For example, if you open up a character style and change its font weight to one that does not exist in the font family of the paragraph style you have applied to the same selection of text, the character style will fail. Text with these errors will appear with a highlight.
Clearing Text Style Overrides
There are several ways that you can clear paragraph and character overrides - read on for three different methods you can utilize.
The first is to do it “by hand” using the Preflight panel and our custom QA Preflight Script. Each override is logged with its corresponding page number (or master page letter), and that number/letter acts as a link. When you click on that number, the document view will automatically jump to the spot where your override is located - and selects it. From there, you can clear it from within the character or paragraph style panel.
Another way to clear an override is via a right-click shortcut. With the overridden text still selected, right-click on the name of the style. Select ‘Apply Style and Clear Overrides’ from the fly-out menu. The override plus sign should disappear.
The final way is to use the Find/Change function.
From the top menu, select Edit > Find/Change. The default setting for the Find/Change panel is ‘text,’ so leave that as it is.
Click on the ‘Find Format’ box - it looks gray/blank, but don’t worry - and select the problem paragraph or character style from the dropdown list. Pick either a paragraph or a character style, not both.
Then click on the ‘Change Format’ box. Select the same paragraph or character style as you did for ‘Find Format.’
This effectively finds all instances of your problematic paragraph or character style and changes it... to itself, clearing the overrides in the process.
For more information about InDesign styles, see About character and paragraph styles.
Last Published: November 24th, 2020