Paragraph Styles and Character Styles in Indesign

Paragraph styles and character styles serve very specific needs for layout and type styling to any designer in a design agency. If you are not sure which to use when; this explanation will be useful. If you have learned to use mostly character styles, you MUST READ this post.

Paragraph Style

When to use paragraph styles:

In general, paragraph styles are THE best practice for Indesign text formatting because they promotes consistency and ease of editing. They are applied when your cursor is located in the paragraph you want to edit.
  1. Style your text the way you want it and then select “new paragraph style” to give it a name so you can use it over and over again.
  2. With a paragraph style, you can change leading, font size, font, kerning and all character related elements for the paragraph.
  3. You can create a hanging indent and specify bullets and numbering 
  4. You can specify margins, space below and space above
  5. Add rules above or below…and specify the weight and length of those rules
  6. Pretty much everything and it applies to the whole paragraph

Paragraph Style


With paragraph styles, you can create other styles for different sections of a project where you want something similar but perhaps, slightly different. Change the name after you have tweaked the style. An example would be smaller bullets for a specific product section that you call “Bullets-project.” Most designers in a design company probably recognize this need. 🙂

Also, as a graphic designer, you may spend a few hours working and then decide to print a few sample pages. If you find that your body text is too large, you can revise it in 3 seconds if you have correctly applied paragraph styles.

When to use Character Styles:

A character style is used to create exceptions to the rule, aka, the paragraph style!
  1. Use it to make 1-2 words bold or italic
  2. To create a superscript or subscript.
  3. To change the color of a specific area of text

Character Style

To apply a character style, you have to select the characters you want to revise. A character style will never control margins, tabs, bullets, spacing, etc. They are only there to create an override for special characters. So while you can go bananas with paragraph styles, (organized, well-named bananas) be spare and choiceful with the use of character styles. Amen.