Set Type on a Circle, a Square, an S-Curve, Whatever

For most of the documents we create in InDesign, type marches straight across the page. But sometimes you want or need to break ranks and make that type follow a circle, a polygon, an S-curve, or even a spiral. Here’s how.

Type on a Circle
Putting type on a path is easy. First, you need a path, and the most commonly used one is a circle. Let’s create one.

Right-click on the Rectangle tool on the Tools panel and mouse down to the Ellipse tool. On the page or pasteboard, click and drag while holding Shift to create a perfect circle.

Also hiding on the Tools panel is the Type on a Path tool, which you access through the normal Type tool. Select the Type on a Path Tool and click as close to the top-center of the circle as possible. A small plus sign appears next to the cursor when you’re in the correct position to click. Once you click, you’ll see a blinking I-beam cursor. Type something and watch it flow around the circle.

As with any other type in InDesign, you can change its font family and style, increase or decrease its point size, and spell check it. You can also change the alignment with the Align Left, Align Center, and other alignment buttons on the Paragraph panel or the Paragraph mode of the Control bar. If, however, you aren’t happy with the alignment of your text on the circle despite pressing every button on the Paragraph panel, you’ll need to manually reposition the text.

Selecting a type on a path object with the black arrow Selection tool reveals standard text object structures like in- and out-ports. You’ll also see, attached to the in- and out-ports, vertical lines, the start and end brackets, that describe the beginning and end of type on a path objects. On your circle you’ll find both the start and end brackets at the top of the circle, at the point where you initially clicked with the Type on a Path tool. More difficult to see is the center bracket, located in the middle of the text, precisely opposite the start and end brackets. You may have to zoom in to find the center bracket, though it has the annoying habit of not enlarging as you zoom in.

The center bracket defines the midpoint of type on a path. If your type isn’t where you want it on the circle, drag the center bracket around the circle. Your text — as well as the start and end brackets — will rotate in correspondence to the moving center bracket. You’ll know when the cursor is over the center point because the cursor will change to a black arrow with an inverted “T” in the corner.

If, while dragging the center bracket, your text outside the circle suddenly flips inside the circle, don’t panic. You’ve just discovered another feature of type on a path objects. Not only can you place along the outside of a path, you can also place it along the inside. Just drag the center bracket across the path to flip the text inside or out, outside or in.

And that segues nicely into…

Type on Both Sides of a Circle
Type on a circle is cool, but it all goes the same way, around the circle, and at some point — probably the bottom — some of your text will be upside down. Sometimes, that’s desired. Other times, you want text all the way around the circle, but readable without requiring the viewer to rotate the paper or her head. Here’s how to do that.

Create your first circle and add just the type you want to flow from the top. Style that type — typeface, size, etc. — until it’s as close as possible to the final design. Typeface and size are especially important because they’ll define the positioning of the lower text.

Select the circle with the black arrow, which will reveal a colored square (blue, if you’re working on Layer 1) in the center. This is the center point of the object. From the rulers, drag horizontal and vertical guides until they intersect the center of your circle.

With the Ellipse tool once again selected, align your cursor at the vertex of the guides you just created. If you aligned them properly, this will be the exact center point of your first circle. Now click and drag while holding Shift, to constrain proportions and create a perfect circle, and Option or Alt, which will draw the circle from the center outward. Keep dragging until the edge of this second circle is in alignment with the top of text on the first. When you release the mouse button you should have a second circle that perfectly describes the diameter of your first type on a path circle’s text. This circle will hold your lower text.

Type the second part of your message and center align it.

Using the Selection tool black arrow, drag the center bracket to the other side of the path so that the text is inside the circle. Because you used a circle as large as the text outside the first, the type on this new second circle, though inside, aligns perfectly to continue the diameter of the first. This two-circle technique is the trick to getting type on a circle that doesn’t appear upside down at the bottom. Reposition the center bracket if needed until the text aligns with the bottom.

Beyond Circles
Type on a path isn’t limited to ellipses or even to closed paths like ellipses, rectangles, and shapes created with the polygon tool. You can turn any vector path into a type on a path object just by clicking on it. Go ahead. Draw an S-curve with the Pen tool and put type on it.

And there’s more type on a path magic! Thus far you’ve created the default type on a path, text whose baseline sticks to a path wherever it goes. As cool as that is, sometimes you want your text to react differently to the direction of its path. That’s where Type on a Path Options come in.

Using the Pen tool, draw a spiral, which is just a few curved path segments.

Add text to the spiral path.

Select the path with the black arrow Selection tool and choose Type > Type on a Path > Options.

The Type on a Path Options dialog contains a handful of controls. Setting aside the Effect dropdown menu for the moment, here are explanations of the rest of the controls.

Flip: The Flip checkbox flips type to the other side of the path, just like dragging the center bracket.

Align: By default, the baseline (the line on which type sits) aligns to the path. Thus, when you type, the bottom of characters such as x, m, and H align vertically to the path itself. You can change type’s vertical position with the Align field so that text is centered vertically on the path; aligns its highest point, ascenders like those that appear in characters such as j, K, and T, to the path; or aligns to the path the lowest points of type, descenders below the baseline, such as the lower parts of letters q, p, and y.

To Path:When creating type on a path objects, most designers set the original path to have no fill or stroke (using the None swatch). Sometimes, however, such as when you want to put color behind type on a path, you can give the path a stroke. It’s in those cases that the To Path dropdown box becomes useful. Do you want to align your type’s baseline, center, ascenders, or descenders to top, bottom, or middle of the path stroke?

Spacing: Spacing enables you to adjust, positively or negatively, the spacing between words in your type on a path object. As you experiment with different effects and alignments, Spacing (as well the letter-spacing Tracking control on the Character panel) can fix awkward crowding or overlap situations that often happen in type on a path objects.

Now let’s get back to that Effect menu. Type on a path comes in five different effects. Rainbow is the default, and in the Rainbow effect, each letter rotates so that its baseline aligns perfectly with the path.

Skew looks at a given path as a three-dimensional object, with front, back, and sides. Text stays on the baseline, as it does with Rainbow, but doesn’t necessarily stay in the same direction. Instead text can compress at tight turns or angles and even flip around backward.

3D Ribbon also treats a path as a three-dimensional object, compressing or inverting letters as need. The difference is that 3D Ribbon keeps the characters horizontal edges — either top or bottom — aligned with the path, even if that means squishing or rotating characters vertically.

Stair Step also focuses on the horizontal edges of characters, but it keeps them all at 0-degrees of rotation — every character is perfectly vertical and moves up or down as needed to maintain vertical alignment to the path.

Gravity is the final, perhaps wildest effect. The Gravity effect locates the path’s center point and aligns characters’ vertical axes to it. Their horizontal surfaces align to the path itself, but vertically characters are drawn toward the path’s center point. The result is vaguely three-dimensional and looks as if text is spinning into a black hole.

I hope this article answers the most common type on a path questions. I should also note that type on a path is not a new feature to InDesign CS4, the program I used to create these screenshots. It’s been with our friend for many years now, all the way back to InDesign 2.0, before there was even a Creative Suite.

Posted on: February 10, 2010

21 Comments on Set Type on a Circle, a Square, an S-Curve, Whatever

  1. What an article. Thanks again, Pariah! Yeow!!!!!!!!!!

    Software Maniac
    Seattle WA

  2. Great stuff, as always!
    But I gotta air a personal gripe: I still maintain that the “3D Ribbon” and “Skew” names should be swapped: the Skew effect looks like a flat ribbon in 3D, and the 3D Ribbon effect looks, well, skewed.
    There. I feel better 😉

  3. But why would a trained designer and typographer want to do this distortion of letterforms, kerning, etc.? Surely there are better and less cliché or repetitive solutions you can sketch and brainstorm for a typographic solution.
    Having type like this in your portfolio is a warning that the person doing it is a hack. Might as well use inch and foot marks for quotes, add two spaces after a period, and do a full return after a paragraph.

  4. There is an easier way to put type on both sides of a circle which has the added beneift of offering more control over spacing. In the example offered by the author, once you have created the type on the uppe part of the circle, select the type with the type tool and change the alingment to centered. Then select the type with the white selection arrow. You will notice three blue vertical lines bisecting the text, one at each end and one in the middle. Grab the center line and move it to align with the top center node on the circle (or wherever else you want the text). Then go to the Character Palette and use Baseline Shift to offset the type as much as you want. With the black arrow, select he whole object, copy it and use Paste in Place (Edit > Paste in Place) to paste the copy exactly over the original. Use the white arrow to select the type and drag the blue line to move the type to the bottom half of the circle (inside the circle). Then use Baseline Shift to negatively shift your type below the line. With this method, not only can you use different type sizes for each half of your message, you can also adjust sizes overall, spacing and offset from the baseline dynamically.

  5. LOL Thanks very much, Software Maniac!


  6. I see your point. Tell Adobe–they might actually change it, or at least provide a justification for the names.

  7. Like any other effect or technique, it should be used in moderation, and only where appropriate. Setting type on a circle is the most common, as evidenced in logos, “sale” or “guarantee” seals, and so on. I’ve also seen quite a few professional treatments of type on a gently curving path. It all depends on how the technique is used.

    Indeed, it’s so rarely used that, first, can really make a design standout from the pack, and, two, it prompted me to write this tutorial. I’ve been getting quite a few questions about type on a path lately from my followers on Twitter (@iamPariah) and Blellow (@iamPariah).

    “Having type like this in your portfolio is a warning that the person doing it is a hack. Might as well use inch and foot marks for quotes, add two spaces after a period, and do a full return after a paragraph.”

    Two points there I’d like to address. First, take a look at this picture (, the InDesign 2.0 box, for a professional and elegant use of type on a path. Second, I’m in 100% agreement about inch and foot marks, double spaces after the end of a sentenct, and the double return after a paragraph instead of using paragraph spacing controls.


  8. Another good technique! Thanks for sharing.

  9. In case anyone’s curious: The text you see in the spiral (and partially in other figures) is my variation on the theme to “Golden Girls” TV show. Here it is, in its entirety.

    Thank you for being InDesign.
    Travel down the press and back again.
    Your art is true, you’re a pal and a colab’rator.
    And if you threw a party,
    invited each user you knew.
    You would see the best design would be by me
    and the metadata would say,
    thank you for being InDesign.


  10. I seriously miss how type on a circle used to be done in Freehand (you remember, the app Adobe bought out and promptly killed?). To get the bottom line of text orientated the right way up you only needed to put in a return. So much easier than trying to get two circles lining up. I hate having to jump through hoops to do something that was soooooooooo easy in Freehand.

  11. Thanks again. Very nice tutorial with huge info relayed in clean and very understandable language.


  12. This is FAR more complicated than it needs to be, both in InDesign and in Illustrator. As a FreeHand user who only uses Illustrator because Adobe decided to buy up ALL competition, I have little good to say about ID (Quark is more elegant) or AI.

    When I want to do this in FreeHand, I create the circle, type the text for the top, hit ‘Enter’, the insert point moves to bottom center, and I type the rest of the text, which appears right-reading without need for all these silly little workarounds. Adobe COULD have incorporated this into Illustrator (and maybe ID as well), but they don’t really care about the USER experience – for them, it’s all about the revnue stream and the user be damned. I’ll stay with FreeHand until I can’t install it in OS X anymore.

  13. Great stuff, as always!
    But I gotta air a personal gripe: I still maintain that the “3D Ribbon” and “Skew” names should be swapped: the Skew effect looks like a flat ribbon in 3D, and the 3D Ribbon effect looks, well, skewed.
    There. I feel better 😉

    video conference

  14. Great stuff, as always!
    But I gotta air a personal gripe: I still maintain that the “3D Ribbon” and “Skew” names should be swapped: the Skew effect looks like a flat ribbon in 3D, and the 3D Ribbon effect looks, well, skewed.
    There. I feel better ;-

    ameublement chambre

  15. Wouldn’t you think that when Adobe bought Freehand, that they would have at least incorporated their type on circle thing where if you wanted type on both sides of a circle in the correct orientation so you didn’t have to change the way you were looking at it, all you had to do was type a return and voila! it was split in exactly the same way as the above Estelle Getty thing. I think Adobe’s type on a circle is clumsy, clumsy, clumsy. I miss Freehand some days!

  16. I see I’m not the only one thinking Freehand’s approach was easier!

  17. This is great, straight forward…even for a beginner! Can you do this in Adobe Illustrator, would love a demo for doing this there.

  18. Very useful article – but …………

    I only want to use the text around a circle function. InDesign is very expensive software just to get this functionality. Do you know of any other (cheaper) software that will do the same job please?

  19. As a non-pro, I have to admit, this was exactly what I needed to help design a very basic logo using AI with an imported vector image. Very clear instructions, easy to follow and free of jargon. I will recommend your site. Thanks, have a good day!

  20. Thanks!

  21. Taking my first typography class this semester, and I used to do every one of those! I’m so embarrased! Thank you for this article. We are using type to paint pictures of tree bark and this makes it much easier.

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