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How to Create a Table of Contents in InDesign

Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

Working in Adobe InDesign and need a table of contents for your document? Before you set off to create one by hand, wait a minute! There's a much easier way to do it! Did you know that InDesign can render a table of contents for you? In this tutorial, I'll show you how to do it!

It might be tempting to create your table of contents from scratch—for example, you could set your text and add the numbers, all by hand. It works. You could do it that way, and there's nothing wrong with that. It can just be a tedious process, especially if you're working with a long document. 

However, there's a much easier way to do it—why manually manage your table of contents when Adobe InDesign can do the heavy lifting for you? This way, for example, if pages need to be shifted, changed, or rearranged, you don't have to go through the headache of manually editing your table of contents. This can be particularly handy when building InDesign templates!

Follow along with us over on our Envato Tuts+ YouTube channel:

What You'll Need

The following assets are used in this tutorial:

We'll use this Adobe InDesign template in this tutorial, to illustrate creating a table of contents. Feel free to use it along with me! However, you can also walk through these steps with any InDesign document that has multiple pages and content or sections that would benefit from a table of contents. 

You could either build your own or use InDesign book templates, an InDesign magazine template, an InDesign eBook template... your choice! So many different types of projects would benefit from these table of contents features.

Ready? Now, let's dig in.

1. How to Create Paragraph Styles

Step 1

First things first, in order to use Adobe InDesign table of contents features, we have to use Paragraph Styles. If you're not familiar with them, don't worry—they're super easy to use!

As an example, in a New Document, start off by selecting the Text Tool. Click and drag to create a text box, and go ahead and add some type—any type will do.

In this case, I used the font Quinta.

Using the Text Tool

Step 2

Then, style your type any way you'd like. You can change the font in the Character panel. Don't see it? Go to Window > Type and Tables > Character, to open it up. 

You can also change the paragraph properties in the Paragraph panel. This would include attributes like alignment and hyphenation. 

You can open that panel up via Window > Type and Tables > Paragraph

Character Panel and Paragraph Panel

Step 3

Now, once we have our text styled just the way we like it, we can turn it into a paragraph style.

What does that mean? Basically, we can save the way the text has been styled and easily apply it to any other text in our document, by selecting our created paragraph style.

Open up the Paragraph Styles panel by going Window > Styles > Paragraph Styles.

Paragraph Styles Panel

Step 4

Creating a paragraph style is simple. 

Select the type that you'd like to save as a preset style. Then, click on the plus sign in the Paragraph Styles panel. This creates a new style. It's that easy!

Note, however, that we can select the type in different ways. First, we could select the entire text box, as seen below. Notice how we see resize handles around the text box when it is selected.

Text Tool InDesign

Step 5

Or we could select a specific paragraph within a text box to create a Paragraph Style, as seen below. 

Notice that I have "Here's my other paragraph" highlighted. I then used this to create a new Paragraph Style called "Small Italic Style". It is technically a new paragraph, on a new "line". Unlike the previous line, it aligns right and has different character styling.

One text box can potentially contain more than one paragraph, so it can also contain more than one Paragraph Style. Our table of contents, for example, could work that way if we wanted our title to be a different style from the text and/or numbers within the table of contents.

However, note that Paragraph Styles and Character Styles are similar, but not necessarily the same thing. If, for example, I wanted "Hello" to be one style and "World" to be another, I would need to use Character Styles—as that's different characters, not necessarily a different paragraph.

Adding Text

Step 6

And, after we've created our Paragraph Style, we can easily edit it, too. That's one of the major benefits—if, for example, you wanted to change how your headers look, you could change one Paragraph Style, which would then change the appearance of all your headers—all at once, rather than doing it manually throughout your entire document.

To edit a Paragraph Style, simply click on it within the Paragraph Styles panel. This opens up our Paragraph Style Options.

Here, we can rename and change a host of options. I highly recommend tabbing through and looking at all the options here—I could do a whole separate tutorial on all of these options, there are so many! However, one of the best ways to learn, in my opinion, is to just jump right in and try them out. Give it a try!

Paragraph Style Options

2. How to Create a Table of Contents in InDesign

Step 1

Now that we've looked at creating Paragraph Styles, let's talk about how we can use them to create our table of contents.

Long story short, InDesign is going to use a specific Paragraph Style to render our table of contents for us. Neat, right? This can save us a lot of time and make our table of contents far more dynamic than it would be if we typed everything out by hand. 

Let's walk through making that happen.

For this demonstration, I'll be using this Dessert Cookbook InDesign Template that I've already created. You can use this file along with me, or you can apply these techniques to your own multi-page document.

Cookbooks generally list each recipe in the table of contents, so that's what our goal is going to be here. 

Sample Table of Contents

Step 2

First, we need a Paragraph Style to act as a sort of "marker". You have a lot of options here. For example, if you were working on a book, you might want to make this your chapter titles. This would be something that would likely be consistently styled across your document.

I often like to put the title in my footers, so that's what I'll do in this example. Note, this isn't the only way to do this—it's just one way. You could position the type any way you prefer.

Here's a look at what my footers look like. Notice how I have the page number and then the title of the recipe. I styled this text the way I like it, and then I made it a Paragraph Style called "Table of Contents".

Do this on any page that you'd like included in your table of contents.

Adding Paragraph Styles

Step 3

Now, we're going to use this Paragraph Style to generate a table of contents. 

I paged up into my document to the page where I'd like my table of contents to be. If you're using this template along with me, you'll notice I've already included a completed, active table of contents here—feel free to check it out! For this tutorial, I will erase it and create it again, a second time.

Once you've navigated to the page where you'd like your table of contents to be, go to Layout > Table of Contents

Creating Table of Contents InDesign

Step 4

This opens up our Table of Contents options. There's a lot here, so let's start with the options at the top.

TOC Style

You can access a saved table of contents style here, if you've already created one before.


This is the title of your table of contents. You can leave this blank if you don't want a title. In this case, I named mine "Table of Contents", as I'd like that text displayed.


This is the Paragraph Style that will be applied to your table of contents title. I often like to use a unique Paragraph Style for this, as I did in this case (I created a Paragraph Style called "Contents Title", using the same method we walked through earlier). 

Select the style of your choice from the drop-down menu. You can always change this later! 

A little tip here! I added a 25 pt baseline shift here to add some extra space between my title and my table of contents. When looking at your Paragraph Styles, you can find this under Advanced Character Formats.

Styles in Table of Contents

This where we're going to use our Paragraph Style from earlier. Think of this as "what content should be included in the table of contents". 

So select our Table of Contents Paragraph Style in the right-hand column, and then click Add to send it over to the left-hand column. Now, any content using this style will be included in our table of contents.

Include Paragraph Styles

Step 5

Next, click on More Options to expand additional the table of contents options in this window.

Here's where we can style our table of contents—and this is important, because we're rarely going to want to use an unstyled default look.

We can use the Entry Style here to style our table of contents text. Note, this isn't necessarily the Paragraph Style used to generate the table of contents—just how you'd like it to look (I created a Paragraph Style called "Contents Text", using the same method we walked through earlier).

You can also choose things like where you'd like the page numbers to be generated: before or after the text. 

Keep an eye on the Between Entry and Number option here, too—this dictates how your numbers will appear in relation to the text item. For example, here, I selected Right Indent Tab, as indicated by the ^y here, so my numbers would align right.

Paragraph Styles Settings

Step 6

At the bottom, we have even more options for your consideration. 

Pay special attention to Numbered Paragraphs, at the very bottom. Here, we can decide if we'd like to include the full paragraph (which is the text and the numbers in your table of contents), include the numbers only, or exclude the numbers. This dictates what content you would like generated. In this case, I went with Include Full Paragraph, because I'd like both the item names and the page numbers.

Once you're happy with your choices, click OK. Note, you can come back and adjust these options if you'd like to!

Include Full Paragraph

Step 7

And here's what our table of contents looks like! Neat, right? Note that my table of contents has been styled—if you don't apply Paragraph Styles, you'll be left with the default values. 

What if we need to make updates here? Do you reach for the Text Tool and make edits? Nope! InDesign handles that for us too.

For example, let's say I add a new page to my cookbook. As with my other pages, I add text to my page that uses my "Table of Contents" Paragraph Style in my footer. 

Then, all I have to do is return to my table of contents. Select it using the Selection Tool, and then go to Layout > Update Table of Contents.

Update Table of Contents

Step 8

And there you have it, my table of contents has been automatically updated. 

This is why it's important not to go in and update your table of contents by hand. If you do, as soon as you update your table of contents, the revisions you made by hand will be lost, as InDesign regenerates this content.

Applying Table of Contents Changes

Step 9

One more handy tip here before we go! Let's say you've created your table of contents, but you're just not liking how it looks. 

Simply go to your Paragraph Styles panel and edit the styles used in your table of contents. It's that easy! 

And, when editing Paragraph Styles, consider toggling Preview On. This way, you can check out your changes in real time, rather than having to go back and forth. It makes tweaking the look and feel of your table of contents a breeze!

Preview Paragraph Styles

And There You Have It!

Making a table of contents in Adobe InDesign is a snap, if you know where to look—and you know how to use Paragraph Styles! Thankfully, both of these aspects of the software are pretty user-friendly and can make working in InDesign so much faster and more convenient. 

Envato Elements
Want to check out the InDesign document used in this tutorial? Download it now on Envato Elements!

I hope you found this tutorial helpful—thanks so much for walking through it with me! Happy designing!

Love Adobe InDesign? Want to learn more? Check out more InDesign tutorials here on Envato Tuts+:

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