Follow these text layout tips to improve your typographic treatment in headlines. Plus, get familiar with the Character panel in Adobe InDesign.

Headlines and level-one text are the first thing a viewer notices when glancing at a marketing design or advertisement. They are the first impression, shaping the viewer’s attitude toward the design and the messaging. This means you can’t simply type out your headline text and move on. In fact, the best practice for setting typography is to treat each letterform as a piece of art.

Keep reading to learn about the tools used for typography in InDesign, as well as expert text layout tips to substantially improve your treatment of headlines.


How to Do Typography in InDesign

If you’re wondering how to do typography in InDesign, the first step is to familiarize yourself with the app’s type panels for Character, Paragraph, and Glyphs. With these panels, you can peruse through endless fonts and font weights, adjust font spacing and alignment, and choose font alternates and symbols.

Let’s go over the functionalities of these three type panels found in InDesign.

Character Panel

You can activate the Character menu with Command + T or from the Type > Character dropdown. This essential panel lets you format individual letters or words within your design. Here you’ll find default fonts and any downloaded fonts. There are numerous sites available to find free fonts to download and use in InDesign, such as Google Fonts, Adobe Typekit, and Font Squirrel.

In addition to scrolling through various fonts in the font menu dropdown, you can alter a font’s appearance with various font weights or styles, ranging from italic to heavy bold. These styles vary based on the font that’s selected; some fonts include only italics or bold, while others include condensed or heavy bold styles. The font size menu lets you increase or decrease the size of your font. Note that you can quickly increase or decrease with Shift + Command + < or >.

Adobe InDesign Character Panel

Kerning, tracking, and leading all affect the spacing between letters and strings of words. Kerning refers to the space between two letters or characters. To adjust the kerning, place the cursor in between two letters then increase or decrease with the Character menu; you can also hold down the Option key + left arrow to decrease or use the right arrow on your keyboard.

Tracking is similar to kerning in that it adjusts the spacing between letters, but it focuses on the spacing between all characters instead of two letters. Select multiple letters or words, then hit Option key + left arrow to decrease tracking or right arrow to increase.

Finally, leading is the vertical spacing between lines of contiguous text, typically concerning long lines of body text. You can quickly adjust leading within paragraphs by selecting the text and hitting Option key + left arrow to decrease or right arrow to increase the leading.

Paragraph Panel

You can find the handy Paragraph panel in the Type > Paragraph dropdown, or quickly activate it with Option + Command + T. This menu deals with the alignment and justification of lines of text and copy. Typically, you will utilize the Align Left for long lines of text, or Align Center for short bits of text and headlines.

Adobe InDesign Paragraph panel with justified and align options highlighted

Justify strings of text with caution; when used for copy, justification can interrupt the rhythm of text with unnecessary rivers and gaps.

Adobe InDesign Paragraph panel features

The indent options alter the indentation of long lines of copy and can create consistency and flow within multiple paragraphs. Drop caps provide visual interest and flair to the first letter in a standard paragraph. Drop Cap Number of Lines affects the size of your drop cap, while the Drop Cap One or More Characters brings in more characters to the drop cap. Most drop caps utilize only one character to avoid breaking up the lines of copy.

Glyphs Palette

Glyphs consists of graphic symbols and characters often used in writing. The Glyphs palette (Type > Glyphs) contains both alphabetic and numeric alternates in addition to accented characters seen across various languages.

Adobe InDesign Glyph panel

Specific fonts include font alternates, providing different variations of the same letter, along with font ligatures. Ligatures occur when two or more characters form to become one single glyph. A common glyph is fi where the dot of the combines with the terminal of the f. Alternates and ligatures can change a font’s look and feel with subtle modifications.

Find more keyboard shortcuts to improve your design workflow with this simple cheat sheet. 


Now that we’ve covered the essential typography tools in InDesign, here are five expert tips to help you with text layout, especially when it comes to setting headlines and display text.

1. Watch the Negative Space Between Letterforms

Negative space is the “blank” area that surrounds the subject within a design or image. This space can often form unique shapes and silhouettes that contribute to the design’s message – or distract from it.

Negative space shown on sample display text

A popular example is the hidden arrow in the FedEx logo, which contributes perfectly to its core message. The key to mastering negative space is to see how subjects, or letterforms, interact with each other within the composition. Too much negative space can overwhelm the subject, but too little negative space can lead to crowding and legibility issues.


2. Use Tight Setting for Bolder Typefaces

Generally speaking, as type increases, the space in-between letters increases along with it. Enlarged text comes with excessive spacing and leading between letterforms, especially when the font is originally designed for body copy. The best way to counter unnecessary spacing is to tighten up the negative space between letterforms with tracking and kerning.

Analyze that negative space; it’s even more crucial to scrutinize the interaction between neighboring letterforms. If that spacing is too loose compared to the rest, tighten it up and don’t fear some overlap. Below, I decreased the kerning between and to tone down the negative space.

Tight setting typography trick shown on sample text

Using Gill Sans Font. Textures from 50 Free Distressed Textures Pack

When tightening up your headlines, think of the context of your design. A bold face with tight spacing will not work well with an airy, elegant design. Think of your font’s characteristics; a script font creates different meaning than a heavy sans serif.


3. Space It Out When Using Flowy Scripts or Isolated Titles

The opposite of tight setting is a more relaxed spacing between letterforms. This added spacing allows the reader to slow down and linger on the heading or subheading. Each letterform is taken into consideration and savored, rather than being rushed. This technique works well for powerful titles, such as those in publications, movie posters, or in modern architecture signs.

Extreme spacing used for effect on sample text

Background image via Standret. Using Ailerons Font via Adilson Gonzales.

As always, the amount of spacing used in the headline or subheadline is context-sensitive. Use panoramic spacing intentionally, for words you want your viewer to ponder and contemplate.


4. Pair Typefaces with Contrasting Font Styles and Appearances

When working with two or three fonts, it’s important to acknowledge how each font pairs with others. The key to successful font pairing is playing with contrasting styles; heavy sans serifs work well with light, airy scripts. When working with overly similar typefaces, the styles can clash and compete for the spotlight.

Type pairing shown on sample text

Background image via Artem Shadrin. Using Montserrat and Baskerville.

Think of how the headlines and subheadlines will be read. Is there an emphasis on any words? Which words need to stand out and which need to stand back? With this in mind, work with varying font weights, such as Montserrat Extra Bold and Semi Bold above, to extend your range of font styles.

When finding font pairs for your design, always create several variations of the headline and play around with differing font styles. Work with pairs you might not think of originally, and consider the mood each style brings to the composition.


5. Take Advantage of Font Alternates and Glyphs

Various fonts contain language alternates and font alternates within the Glyphs palette. Font alternates can range from letterforms with added swashes, different variations of the same letter, or decorative ornaments.

Glyphs shown on sample text

Using Banthers Free Font via Agga Swistblnk.

These font alternates spice up a headline or logo with added visual interest. But, like with anything in typography, use decorative glyphs in moderation. In general, using a swash on every letter within your headline can look amateur. Instead, look for areas of unnecessary negative space and fill the void with intentional glyphs.


Interested in improving your typography knowledge? Look into these essential articles.

Cover image via marekuliasz.