Get to Know InDesign's Glyphs Panel

Many people who use InDesign can’t precisely define the word “glyph.” While we may be more confortable with imagery than with words, it’s still good to understand the term and, most importantly, know how to use InDesign’s Glyphs panel.

Put simply, a glyph is the graphic representation of a character. Several glyphs can look very different but represent the same character. Take the example below. While all four letters represent the same character, the lowercase e, they each have a unique glyph shape.

These four glyphs have very different shapes, but all stand for the same character of a lowercase “e”:

Now that you understand the term, there’s nothing stopping you from using the Glyphs panel in InDesign. With it, you have access to a wealth of time-saving features.

View All Glyphs in a Font
Not all fonts contain the same number of glyphs. The utilitarian Futura has only one glyph for the lowercase character e, while Apple’s Zapfino has eight different glyphs for the same character. To see what glyphs are available in the fonts installed on your computer, open InDesign, then go to Type > Glyphs.

The single glyph for the lowercase character e in Futura:

The eight glyphs for the lowercase character e in Apple’s Zapfino font:

The Glyphs panel for Futura Condensed Medium:

The Glyphs panel for Zapfino Regular. Notice how there are several glyphs for each character. For instance, there are nine glyphs for the character “d”:

Use the Glyphs Panel Controls
When the Glyphs panel opens, it displays the currently selected font. You can change the font using the font controls at the bottom of the panel. You can adjust the size of the display by clicking the zoom in and zoom out controls on the right of the panel.

The controls at the bottom of the Glyphs panel to change the font and the size of the display of the glyphs:

You can also adjust the dimensions of the panel to display more glyphs and use the scroll controls to move through the glyphs.

Once you find the glyph that you want to use, simply double-click it to insert it into the text on your InDesign page.

Identify Each Glyph
If you hover your cursor over any one glyph in the panel, you’ll see a tool tip with information about that glyph, including its Unicode number and name.

Tool tips show information for each glyph in the panel:

The Unicode number comes from the Unicode standard encoding for all fonts, which ensures that the character assigned to one number in a font is the same character in another font. The Unicode number is the same for all the glyphs in a character. So, for instance, all the glyphs for the Latin Small Letter A have the same Unicode value of 0061.

The glyph name is simply a way of describing the glyph; for example, “Latin Small Letter A” for a lowercase a.

View Only Some of a Font’s Glyphs
What you won’t find in the Glyphs panel are the keystrokes for the glyphs. That’s because an OpenType font can have up to 35,000 glyphs — there just aren’t enough key and modifiers. However, there are ways to make it easier to insert particular glyphs into text.

First, look at the top of the Glyphs panel, where you’ll find the recently used glyphs for the font you’ve selected. You can click on these to insert them into your text.

The Recently Used series lets you insert those glyphs that were recently chosen in the Glyphs panel:

Below the recently used glyphs is the Show menu. Click it to choose which subset of the glyphs to display. For instances, if you want to see just the currency glyphs for a font, choose Currency from the menu. You can also filter by small capitals, ligatures, fractions, and other glyph sets from the menu.

Choose one of the sets from the Show menu to display only certain glyphs in a font:

The listings in the Show menu change depending on the font. For instance, Minion Pro has a listing for Discretionary Ligatures, while Myriad Pro does not.

Create Glyph Sets
Another way to show a subset of all the glyphs in a font is to create a glyph set. This is handy when you want quick access to just the glyphs you use most frequently. You might, for example, want a set of all the Yen symbols in various fonts.

Start by choosing New Glyph Set from the Glyphs panel menu. The New Glyph Set dialog box appears. You can name the set and choose the order in which the glyphs appear: at the front of the list, the back of the list, or by their Unicode values.

Choose New Glyph Set from the Glyphs panel menu:

The New Glyph Set dialog box lets you name the glyph set and choose the order that the glyphs appear:

The Insert Order menu lets you choose in what order the glyphs are inserted:

You add items to the set by selecting a glyph and then choosing Add to Glyph Set > [set name] from the Glyphs panel menu. Once you have created the glyph set, it appears at the top of the Show menu. This makes it easier to choose items from the glyph set.

You can also edit the contents of a glyph set. Simply choose Edit Glyph Set > [set name] from the Glyphs panel menu. The Edit Glyph Set dialog box appears.

The Edit Glyph Set dialog box:

The Edit Glyph set dialog box allows you to change the set name and insert order. It also lets you change how the glyph is inserted into the text. By default, InDesign formats an inserted glyph with the font you selected when you originally added the glyph to the set. But when you deselect Remember Font with Glyph, InDesign picks up font formatting from the text surrounding the newly inserted glyph.

Lastly, the Glyphs panel menu lets you view the glyph sets as well as delete them as part of general housekeeping chores.

Find and Change Glyphs
Let’s say you realize that all of the many dollar symbols in a long, complicated document should actually be Franc symbols. Don’t despair! You can search and replace these and many other glyphs using the Find/Change panel.

Go to File > Find/Change and click the Glyph tab. You can either search and replace for the specific font and Unicode or GID value, or you can click the Glyph control to open the Glyphs display and choose the glyph.

The Find/Change dialog box allows you to search and replace specific glyphs:

Posted on: November 16, 2011

Sandee Cohen

Sandee Cohen is a New York City-based instructor and corporate trainer in a wide variety of graphic programs, especially the Adobe products, including InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop, and Acrobat. She has been an instructor for New School University, Cooper Union, Pratt, and School of Visual Arts. She is a frequent speaker for various events. She has also been a speaker for Seybold Seminars, Macworld Expo, and PhotoPlus conferences. She is the author of many versions of the Visual Quickstart Guides for InDesign.

2 Comments on Get to Know InDesign's Glyphs Panel

  1. Great explanation of all the ins and outs of the Glyphs panel. Thanks, Sandee!

  2. Dear Sandee Cohen

    You wrote this topic briefly and so much helpful.
    Pls continue writing such helpful topics


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