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Quick Tip: Mastering Running Titles in InDesign

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In the footer, outer margin or header in books and brochures you often find a title repeated on each page - depending on who you ask these are called running titles or running headers/footers. If you know how to master the parent pages in InDesign, you won't have any troubles with adding a title that is automatically added to all pages, but learning InDesign's text variable options and the different text markers are essential to make a running title, and changing the content depending on the page it is shown on.


In this case, I have created a small dummy book of 48 pages and I want to repeat the book's title, "Lorem Ipsum," on all left pages, and the current chapter title on the right pages. Exploring the "lorem_ipsum.indd," (available to Vector Plus members) document also gives you great ideas for building paragraph and character styles efficiently.

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Note: Adobe Garamond Pro and Myriad Pro are chosen for the document since they are both installed along with InDesign CS4.

Step 1 - Open the Book Document

Open the "lorem_ipsum.indd" document and go to the parent page.

Step 2 - Create a Left Page Running Title

Select the Type Tool and draw a text frame inside the guides and baseline grid. Since Snap to Guides is turned on (View > Grids & Guides) you don't need to type in the size values anywhere, as InDesign is accurate when snapping is enabled.

Type the book's title in the text frame and assign the "Running title" paragraph style to it. Notice how it is aligned away from the spine automatically - a result of the text alignment in the paragraph style.

Step 3 - Create the Right Page Running Title

Depending on your project, you can create the changing running titles in different ways. Either you can let the title be a function of the chapter headings, or you can let them be a function of the section markers. The second requiring a little extra manual work, but often necessary. E.g. if the chapter titles are too long to fit in the running title text frame, you would have to go for the section marker solution, to be able to shorten the titles.

Some would create different parent pages for each chapter, but then you would have to manually apply the parent pages to the page range of each chapter, and in case you need to add more pages, you would have to re-apply them. I will illustrate both solutions here, start of by drawing the running title text frame on the right page, as in Step 2.

Step 3.1 - Using Text Variables

Double-click the newly created text frame and open the text variable window (Type > Text Variables > Define).

Text variables give you many choices of creating auto-generated content, but in this tutorial we will only take a look at one of them. Click the New button and change the type to Running Header (Paragraph Style). Change the style to Chapter heading, which is the paragraph style applied to the chapter headings in the book.

Use First On Page, which will find the first occurring text with the given paragraph style - this isn't important in this case, since the chapter headings only occur once on the page. If there is no occurrence of the given paragraph style on a page, InDesign will look backwards on the previous pages, and use the first match it finds.

You are also given the possibility to add text before and after the variable, as well as changing the case or deleting end punctuation. In this case, leave them unmarked.

Now click OK, select the newly created variable and click Insert. Finish by applying the "Running title" paragraph style, as in Step 2. Go to a page in the middle of the book to see an example of the running title in action

Step 3.2 - Using Section Markers

Double-click the newly created text frame and insert a section marker (Type > Insert Special Character > Markers > Section Marker). Select it and apply the "Running title" paragraph style, as in Step 2.

Go to a the first page with a chapter heading and open Numbering and Section Options (Layout > Numbering > Section Options). Write the title in the Section Marker text input, as you want it shown in the footer.

Repeat this step for each chapter. By changing the section marker text you begin a new section of pages - this ends whenever a new section begins.


You have been introduced to text variables, now try to experiment with other variables. Try changing the paragraph style in the variable to "Subheading" and "Last on Page," and notice how often the running title is changing throughout the book - as it is now a result of a more occurring paragraph style. Also, start experimenting with the other text markers - page numbers, etc.

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