How to Create Perfect Automated InDesign Captions

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.

Automatically-styled captions, using object styles.

Automatically-styled captions, using object styles.

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.

Set the width of the frame, if needed, and inset the text slightly to keep it apart from the image it will butt up against.

Set the width of the frame, if needed, and inset the text slightly to keep it apart from the image it will butt up against.

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.

Set the frame to auto-size the height, leaving the top of the frame where it sits.

Set the frame to auto-size the height, leaving the top of the frame where it sits.

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.

Create the new object style from the sample frame, then indicate which paragraph style the frame should automatically use.

Create the new object style from the sample frame, then indicate which paragraph style the frame should automatically 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.

To make "Caption Frame" the default text frame style, drag the little "T" icon next to its name.

To make “Caption Frame” the default text frame style, drag the little “T” icon next to its name.

 

When using automated captions, set the offset value to "0" and indicate which paragraph style to use.

When using automated captions, set the offset value to “0” and indicate which paragraph style to use.

Summary: Steps to Perfect Automated InDesign Captions

  1. Create a text frame.
  2. Add offset, auto-sizing, and width info, as needed.
  3. Create a new object style based on this frame.
  4. Assign a paragraph style to the object style.
  5. Set as the default object style.
  6. Optionally use the automatic caption feature.
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Posted on: August 13, 2015

Erica Gamet

Erica Gamet has been involved in the graphics industry for over 25 years. She is a speaker, writer, and trainer, focusing on Adobe InDesign and Illustrator, Apple Keynote and iBooks Author, and other print- and production-related topics. She is a regular contributor to InDesign Magazine, tech edited How To Do Everything with Adobe InDesign CS4, and served as leader of the Denver InDesign User Group. After living as a nomad for almost a year, she recently put down roots in El Paso, Texas, where she hikes and bikes every chance she gets. Check out ericagamet.com to see all of Erica's upcoming events, tips and tricks, and workbooks.

2 Comments on How to Create Perfect Automated InDesign Captions

  1. I have created a solution for the wrapping issue of live captions and also the alignment issue of caption box.
    More details on TruLive Captions can be found at https://github.com/Manan-Joshi/TruLive-Caption

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