Confession: I am a fraud. I go around speaking about InDesign, telling everyone to use styles all the time. But I have a secret. I often forget to use object styles. That is, at least, until I’m manually applying formatting to a frame for the twelfth time in a document and my own advice rings loudly in my ears. One place I can’t live without object styles—even if I implement them a little late in my workflow—is when I’m making caption frames. Whether I’m writing up a how-to for a session I’m giving, or putting names under each board officer in an annual report, I need a consistent look for captions—and the frames they sit in—throughout my document. Here’s a look at the process I use.
The first thing to do is to draw out a sample text frame, so you can style the frame, then force all that styling automatically into your object style. Make sure Snap to Guides and Smart Guides are turned on for precision placement of the caption frames in relation to your images. Create your sample text frame to sit butted up right against your image, for instance along the bottom edge. Open the Text Frame Options dialog box from the Object menu and click on the first (General) tab. You probably don’t want the text itself sitting right along the image border, so add a little bit of an offset under Inset Spacing. First, make sure the “make all settings the same” icon—it looks like a little chain link if it’s activated or a squashed bug when it’s not—is turned off. Now enter a small amount of offset in the “Top” value field, say .125˝ to keep your text a nice distance from the image.
If we’re lucky, we know how wide our images are going to be and we can set the width of the caption frames to match. In the Columns section, choose Fixed Width from the pull-down menu and assign a value in the Width field. If your document will have headshot images that will all be one size and product shots at another size you can always set up an Object Style for each type of caption frame needed.
Next, let’s go into the Auto-Size tab of the Text Frame Options dialog box. This lets our frame re-size when text is added or deleted. Choose Height Only from the Auto-Sizing pull-down menu and select the icon arrow in the top center square of the little grid below. Now when our captions are really long, the frame will continue to grow to accommodate the text.
Now that we have our sample frame, let’s make our Object Style. With the frame selected, open the Object Style panel (Window > Styles > Object Styles) and Option/Alt-click the page icon at the bottom of the panel to create a new style. Give it a name and you’re good to go, since all the information from our sample frame is already filled out.
One thing we can do at this point is to also tell the object style to always use a specific paragraph style. You’ll need to click the checkbox in the Basic Attributes section next to Paragraph Styles so it changes from a dash to a check mark, then click the Paragraph Styles name to bring up options to indicate which paragraph style to use.
We can even use our captions object style in conjunction with the automatic caption features in InDesign. When setting the caption options (Object > Captions > Caption Setup), you’ll need to be sure to set the Offset value to “0” so it will use the offset value from our object style. In addition, you’ll need to enter the paragraph style again here in the Caption Setup dialog box. Before generating automatic captions, assign the caption object style to be the default style by dragging the text frame icon next to the caption style in the Object Styles panel. Run the automatic captions on your images and the style is automatically applied.
Note that due to how live captions are created, updates to the object style aren’t passed through to the caption frames. You’ll have to convert the live captions to static captions if you want that functionality.
Summary: Steps to Perfect Automated InDesign Captions
- Create a text frame.
- Add offset, auto-sizing, and width info, as needed.
- Create a new object style based on this frame.
- Assign a paragraph style to the object style.
- Set as the default object style.
- Optionally use the automatic caption feature.