1. Design & Illustration
  2. Typography

Quick Tip: Easy Graphics Using the InDesign Glyphs Panel

Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

Sometimes you want to quickly liven up an Adobe InDesign layout without the need for creating custom images in Illustrator or Photoshop, or having to track down and purchase stock images.

But how can you avoid the need for importing images when you want to give your text document more of a visual edge? This is when the InDesign Glyphs panel really comes into its own. There are thousands of free or good-value fonts available to download on the web, and many of these typefaces have all sorts of different decorative elements as part of their character set.

In this Quick Tip tutorial I’ll take a look at how you can use the Glyphs panel in Adobe InDesign to add ready-to-use graphic elements to your layouts, and I'll also recommend some great symbol-based fonts. 

1. Opening and Navigating the Glyphs Panel

Step 1

Open Adobe InDesign and create a new document for Print (File > New > Document). We’ll just be experimenting with the Glyphs panel, so any document size will work just fine.

To open the Glyphs panel, navigate to the menu bar at the top of the Workspace and select Window > Type & Tables > Glyphs

Type  tables menu

The Glyphs panel will open up on screen. All of the characters (glyphs) of the font that is currently active in the Character Formatting Controls panel at the top of the screen will show up in the lower, main part of the panel. By default, when you open InDesign, this will probably be set to Minion Pro Regular. 

glyphs panel

Step 2

You can adjust the Font and the Font Weight of the glyph set by selecting a different option from the drop-down menus accessible at the very bottom of the panel.

list of fonts

When dealing with very large glyph sets, you can also choose to view a selection of the glyph set by selecting a different option from the Show drop-down menu, above the main glyph window in the panel.

In this example, I chose to filter the glyph set to just show all Minion Pro glyphs related to Currency.

filter currency

At the top of the Glyphs panel you can see a selection of Recently Used Glyphs. These showcase characters that you have inserted into your InDesign documents directly from the Glyphs panel.

recent glyphs

Step 3

You also have the option to create a custom set of glyphs of your own selection, by accessing the panel’s drop-down menu (accessible at the top-right corner of the panel) and selecting New Glyph Set.

new glyph set

Try this now—you can give the Glyph Set a memorable name. Here I’ve named it ‘My New Glyph Set’. 

my new glyph set

When you come across characters you frequently use, or that are related to each other, you can Right-Click (Windows) or Control-Click (Mac OS) and select Add to Glyph Set > ‘Name of Glyph Set’.

add to glyph set

Once you’ve built up your custom set, you can view the whole set of characters in the custom set by accessing the panel’s drop-down menu and selecting View Glyph Set > ‘Name of Glyph Set’.

This is a great way of storing up unusual glyphs that catch your eye or frequently-used characters that aren’t instantly accessible via the keyboard, creating a ready-to-use glyph set that’s instantly to hand as you design.

view glyph set

2. Applying Glyphs as Graphics

Aside from the more traditional use for the Glyphs panel—for inserting language-specific diacritics, for example, or creating custom glyph sets of your most frequently-used text characters—you can also use the Glyphs panel in the same way as you might use the Mini Bridge function in InDesign. But instead of browsing photos or vectors, you can browse the glyph sets of symbol-based fonts, and use them as a sort of graphics library.

Let’s take this example. I am creating a menu card in InDesign (see the full menu tutorial here) with an Art Deco-themed design. 

final menu

I have set up text on the page, but want to give the title, ‘Menu’, a more special touch. I can use the Glyphs panel to do just that!

I downloaded the lovely, Jazz Age-inspired font ArtDeco, which has a variety of decorative, graphics-based glyphs to choose from.

I then selected the Type Tool (T) and created a small text frame. I put my cursor in the text frame and set the Font to ArtDeco Regular from the Character Formatting Controls panel at the top of the Workspace

With the Glyphs panel open (Window > Type & Tables > Glyphs) I can now view the full set of glyphs available in the Art Deco font. 

glyphs panel with art deco symbols

By clicking on the little double-pyramid symbol at the bottom right corner of the panel, I can also increase the viewing size of the glyphs to get a better look.

enlarged glyphs

I then double-click one of the glyphs to insert it into my newly created text frame. Because the glyph is a text element, not an image, I can be flexible with how I format the glyph, in just the same way you would format any other text character. So I can up the Font Size, adjust the Color, and even apply effects to the text frame, like adding Drop Shadows, Gradients or Transparencies.

placed glyph

I can also adjust the orientation of the image by copying, pasting and rotating it to create a mirror image (Edit > Copy, Edit > Paste the text frame, and then Control-Click (Mac OS) or Right-Click (Windows) > Transform > Flip Horizontal) to help frame the ‘Menu’ title.

mirrored glyph

If I want even more flexibility with the glyph, I can convert it to outlines (Type > Create Outlines), which makes it easier to scale or distort the glyph manually. 

create outlines
outlines glyph

3. Great Symbol-Based Fonts

These are just a few of the thousands of fantastic symbol-based fonts available to download online. For almost any style you’re hoping to achieve—Art Deco, vintage, ornate, floral, icons, maps—there’s likely to be a glyphs font out there with all the graphics you’ll need to achieve the right look. Here are a few of my favorites...

Adhesive Nr. Seven: a vintage, letterpress-inspired font with versatile banner glyphs.

adhesive nr seven

Printers Ornaments One: a beautiful, elegant font with decorative floral symbols and a period feel.

printers ornaments one

StateFace: a quirky map-based font; perfect for infographics.


These are just a few font examples. Why not share your own favorite symbol-based fonts in the comments below? 

As we have looked at in this Quick Tip Tutorial, the Glyphs panel can be both practical and creative, and as a result is a diverse InDesign feature that should be a staple of every graphic designer's workflow. Have fun with experimenting with creating your own glyph sets, and incorporating unique graphics into your InDesign layouts quickly and easily.

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