Tips and Techniques for Adjusting Type in InDesign

Tactfully kerning letters to the appropriate places and ensuring that the lines of text are at the perfect leading size for easy legibility are tasks that we typography nerds revel in and get lost in. We obsess over the microscopic details of alignment and placement. Fortunately for us, InDesign has useful features to make the type adjustment process faster.

We grabbed this helpful snippet on adjusting type in InDesign from the HOW Design University and Sessions College course, Advanced Adobe InDesign.

If you use InDesign daily, I personally recommend looking at what this course has to offer as it delves into the fascinating world of InDesign’s functionality. I’m currently taking the lessons and in every lesson, I’m reliably surprised with the techniques to streamline my design process. Plus, you’ll get feedback from the instructor on your assignments that will give even more insight on how to use the software.

Read on for practical tips on adjusting type in Adobe InDesign.

Image provided by Pexels

Image provided by Pexels

Talking About Type and InDesign

Manual Kerning

Sometimes you will want to adjust the kerning yourself. This is very easily done. Simply place the cursor between the letters you want to adjust and use the keyboard shortcuts:Alt/Option + right arrow will add space and Option/Alt + left arrow will reduce the space.  If you left the Units at 20/1000 em, the movements will be very large, but if you set them to 2/1000 em, you will have very fine control.


Tracking is an adjustment made to multiple letters, words, or whole paragraphs.

Tracking adjusts spacing in groups of letters or words.

The adjustment is a matter of taste. The closer tracking kind of works if you need to fit a lot of text into a given area. But move back a little way, and you will see the text is considerably harder to read.

Often, tracking is used to fit type into a given space and to get rid of widows and orphans. If you do this in very small amounts to a whole paragraph, or even to a column, then it is hard to notice. Usually, if there is a word alone on the last line, first try slight kerning or tracking on shorter lines above it in the paragraph. If a value of -4 does not get the word up, try tracking the whole paragraph. If a small or moderate reduction of the tracking does not do the trick, then try expanding the settings, forcing one or more words onto the last line.



Automatic leading is 120 percent of the point size. When clarity is called for, increasing the leading (in the Character panel) will make type much more legible, especially with headlines or captions. It is not unusual to see whole books set with the leading at 130-140 percent leading. With poetry and other more “stylized” text, increase the leading. When using long indexes, it is not uncommon to set them at 110 percent, in which case a tab leader is useful to carry the eye from one side of the column to the other.

Baseline Shift

Although not directly related, Baseline Shift is something you should know about. It allows you to raise text above the baseline of the regular text setting. Although not often used, it is very useful when annotating illustrations and getting the text to fit exactly in place. This can be a positive or negative number. Alt/Option+up arrow will raise anything from a single letter to a whole paragraph. Baseline Shift can also be adjusted in the Character panel. Many people use it for chemical symbols, in conjunction with reducing the font size slightly, not liking the much smaller size of subscript. But as you know, subscript sizes can be set in Preferences.

Other Styles

The Character panel provides you with still more style options. You may need to double-click the Character panel tab to see them all. These include changing the shape of letters (in width and height) and their angle.

Take a little time and experiment with these options, but use them with caution. The type designer generally makes the type to look good in its original shape. Altering the shape and angle of the letters will often make them look rather distorted. Do this only in cases of extreme need.

To finish styling your paragraph of text, you can also set justification, or alignment, in the Paragraph panel: left, centered, right, or justified. You will notice there are several options here. These include justifying the last line of a paragraph so that it aligns with the left or right margin, or justifying all lines. The latter option is not always a good thing to do. If you have a short last line, the words will be stretched to fit across the whole line, forcing abnormal spacing between the words to make the line span the text block.

With double page spreads, you can also choose to align the text towards the spine. InDesign will automatically alter the alignment according to which side is the spine, or binding, of a book.

Text unframed and framed

Text unframed and framed

Once in a while there is text that lends itself to being within a frame. This is easy to do. Select the text frame with a Selection tool, and set a frame width and style from the Control panel at the top of the screen. If you set a frame, you may want to inset the text away from the frame, leaving a gap between the type and the border. To do this, right-click (Control-click a Mac with a one-button mouse) within the text frame and select Text Frame Options. This is a dialog you will probably use often, so remember the keyboard shortcut Command/Ctrl+B. Then add a value to Inset Spacing. This will move the type away from the border.

For more InDesign functionality tips and tricks, enroll in the Advanced Adobe InDesign course. Learn more about it here.