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Quick Tip: Working With Tabs in InDesign

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Read Time: 8 mins
Final product imageFinal product imageFinal product image
What You'll Be Creating

If you've ever worked with a text processor, you're probably familiar with tabs. When you press the Tab (Tabulator) key, the cursor is displaced to the next tab stop; this is particularly useful when you need to organize content in a document.

This quick tip is an introduction to how to use tabs in InDesign, and it's perfect for beginners. Throughout this InDesign tabs tutorial, you'll learn where to find the Tabs panel, how to get started using InDesign tabs, and how to use the different types of tabs.

If you would like to follow along with the asset I'm using for this tutorial, you can grab this pet adoption brochure. Envato Elements is a wonderful resource for high-quality templates, photos, mockups, and much more.

Pet adoption brochurePet adoption brochurePet adoption brochure

Looking for a video tutorial instead? You should visit the Envato Tuts+ YouTube channel to find the best resources! Here's a new video that will teach you everything about InDesign tab settings and the basics of how to use tabs in InDesign:

What You'll Learn in This InDesign Tabs Tutorial

  • Where is the tabs feature in InDesign?
  • How to get started working with tabs
  • How to use the different types of tabs in InDesign
  • How to create leader dots in InDesign 
  • How to indent in InDesign

1. Where Is the Tabs Feature in InDesign?

Step 1

To learn how to use tabs in InDesign, first you need to know where the feature is located. To open the Tabs panel, go to Type > Tabs (Shift-Command-T).

Open tabs dialog boxOpen tabs dialog boxOpen tabs dialog box

Step 2

You should be able to see the following in your workspace:

Tabs indesign panelTabs indesign panelTabs indesign panel

The panel units will be the same as the document's, in this case inches (in). If you want to change the document units while working on your file or just change it momentarily, you can do so by going to InDesign > Preferences > Units & Increments. Change the Ruler Units Horizontal and Vertical dropdown to Inches. The Tabs panel should automatically show the new unit.

2. How to Get Started Working With InDesign Tabs

The following picture shows a brief explanation of the InDesign tab settings. I will explain each of these in the following steps.

Tab panel featureTab panel featureTab panel feature

Step 1

Create a text frame using the Type Tool (T), and take a look at the Tabs panel. The width of the frame is measured along the ruler and shows the available workspace for inserting tabs. If you change the frame size, this workspace is updated automatically. 

Tab panel rulerTab panel rulerTab panel ruler

Step 2

To place a tab, simply click the desired distance on the ruler (in the following image, there are tabs at 0.25 and 0.5 in). If you want to change its position, select the tab by clicking it and input a new X value in the first field (A). When you select a tab, its background is highlighted in blue (B).

Ruler indentationRuler indentationRuler indentation

The ruler displayed in the Tabs panel measures the distances from the text frame only, not for the whole document. For example, if you set up a tab at a distance of 10 mm, this will be situated at 10mm to the right of the border of the text frame. So if you move the frame, its content will maintain all of its properties.

3. How to Use the Different Types of Tabs in InDesign

When working with InDesign settings for tabs, there are four options to choose from:

  • Left Justified (A)
  • Center Justified (B)
  • Right Justified (C)
  • Align to Decimal (or other specified character) (D)
Tabs panel optionsTabs panel optionsTabs panel options

Step 1

Align to Decimal (or other specified character) is very useful when you need alignment to a specific character. Select the Align to Decimal tab and insert the desired character in the Align On field. For this example, let's use "@" as our alignment criteria.

Align to decimalAlign to decimalAlign to decimal

Step 2

You can change the tab alignment by selecting it. All content using that tab will be reformatted. Select the tab to edit it. Select another tab option to change the alignment.

Alight to the left in tabsAlight to the left in tabsAlight to the left in tabs

Step 3

You can also set up tabs after you've entered text in the frame; the only requirement for doing this is to use the Tab key to displace content and not the spacebar.

For this example, let's activate the hidden character display by going to Type > Show Hidden Characters (Option-Command-I). As you can see in the following picture, the text has already been formatted with tabs, but the distance between the content is very short, so it looks too compressed.

Show hidden charactersShow hidden charactersShow hidden characters

Step 4

Select the paragraph(s) you'd like to edit and insert the desired tab(s) option(s) in the ruler as we did in the previous examples. Now, the position of the content will be under the format you just entered, making further editing easy.

Create a list using tabsCreate a list using tabsCreate a list using tabs

Step 5

How to Create Leader Dots in InDesign

The Leader field is great for when you need to make a table of contents. Here, you can define a character which will precede the content from a tab. To use the Leader field, press the Tab key to create a space between the title and page number. Highlight all of the text in the frame and change the X field to 3 in. Type a period (.) in the Leader field and press Enter.

As you can see in the image below, I used a single period (.) as the Leader character, and it automatically fits the space between the text. With this feature, you can move tabs without worrying about adding or subtracting dots (or whatever character you are using) because it's updated automatically. This is a much easier method than adding dots manually.

Add a table of contentsAdd a table of contentsAdd a table of contents

Step 6

The magnet button positions the Tabs panel above the text frame you are currently working on and automatically resizes to its width. With this option, you can achieve a better layout distribution because your tabs will be lined up between the panel and the text frame. To use the magnet button, select the text frame and click the magnet icon.

Magnet featureMagnet featureMagnet feature

Step 7

How to Indent in InDesign

As with a text processor, you can also indent the first line or the left margin which will affect the whole paragraph. Indent is the space between text and the border of its text frame. To indent the first line, click the small triangle (highlighted in blue) in the top left corner of the Tabs panel and move your cursor to the desired distance or enter an X value in the first field.

Use triangle indentUse triangle indentUse triangle indent

Step 8

To indent the left margin, click the small triangle that's underneath the top triangle we just moved. Place this triangle where you like. You can use a combination of indentations of the first line and the left margin.

Paragraph indentParagraph indentParagraph indent

Step 9

Finally, the Tabs panel has some additional features you can take advantage of by clicking the hamburger menu in the top-right corner. You can clear all, delete, repeat tabs, and reset Indents. A shortcut to delete a tab is to select it and drag it away from the ruler.

View tab optionsView tab optionsView tab options

Start Using Tabs Like a Pro With This Set of 5 Stunning InDesign Templates!

I hope this quick tip on InDesign tab settings was useful for you. Tabs offer an essential shortcut to making layouts quicker. This tutorial introduced you to tabs and walked you through how to use them. Now you can break up content into paragraphs and create your own table of contents. 

If you're looking to improve your InDesign skills, take a look at this collection of pet-themed InDesign templates. Practice what you just learned and explore the different ways you can use InDesign tabs.

1. Pet Care Trifold Brochure (INDD)

Pet care trifold brochurePet care trifold brochurePet care trifold brochure

You've been looking for the perfect pet flyer template for what seems like forever! Well, I have one to offer, and it's specially made for pet shops and animal shelters. Ideal for pampering any four-legged friends and their humans, this InDesign template will make your shop stand out from the rest.

2. Pets Louver Brochure Template (AI, EPS, PSD)

Pets louver brochure templatePets louver brochure templatePets louver brochure template

A dog is a man's best friend. Created using various programs like Photoshop, InDesign, and Illustrator, this template is easy to customize and make your own. Download it and use it to advertise your pet shop with flair.

3. Pet Shop Trifold Brochure (INDD)

Pet shop trifold brochurePet shop trifold brochurePet shop trifold brochure

You've got a new shop, and you're ready to show off your pet store products. Or maybe you have a one-off event coming up? Use this InDesign template and spend less time on design. This pet shop trifold brochure is perfect for any dog lover or animal enthusiast.

4. Pet Grooming Care Flyer (AI, EPS, INDD, PSD, DOCX)

Pet grooming care flyerPet grooming care flyerPet grooming care flyer

Get ready to wow everyone with your new pet shop grooming care flyers. All you need is a little creativity, and this InDesign template will do the rest. Create a woof-worthy flyer in minutes.

5. Pet Shop Flyer Templates (INDD, PSD)

Pet shop flyer templatesPet shop flyer templatesPet shop flyer templates

Promote your pet store with this easy-to-use flyer template. This InDesign template design has everything you need to create a professional flyer for your pet shop.

Take Your InDesign Skills to the Next Level!

Learn the ins and outs of InDesign with these tutorials. Discover the benefits of packaging an InDesign file, learn how to turn off hyphenation, and more:

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