Using InDesign’s Span and Split Columns

Though introduced several versions back, InDesign’s Span and Split Columns features are often neglected and forgotten, even by fans like myself. Maybe it’s because we’re just used to performing its duties manually, like we’ve always done. Or maybe it’s because both features are found on one dialog box called Span Columns, which gives no indication to its hidden talent of splitting columns as well. Whatever the reason, let’s take a closer look at this time-saving type feature.

Using Span and Split Columns

With your cursor in the paragraph you want to work with, go to the Paragraph panel menu and choose Span Columns…then choose a Paragraph Layout from the pull-down menu.

Single Column. This is the default setting and is just the normal behavior of text in a column. The text spans the width of the given column with using the information entered in the Text Frame Options dialog box.

Span Columns. This is the setting that made this feature such a welcome addition to our type toolbox when it debuted. The fact that we could actually have a headline span across multiple columns in a multi-column text frame was like manna from heaven. Up until that time, we were either stuck with creating a separate header text frame, or having to make a one-celled table to contain the header. Not fun.
InDesign span and split columns dialog box
From the Span pull-down menu, choose how many columns your text should span. If you don’t see the exact amount in the menu, simply type in the number of columns. The next two value boxes let you add some space before and after the spanned paragraph and give your text some breathing room. If your paragraph already has space before or after applied, it’ll be added to the amount you set here.

Split Columns. This setting splits selected paragraphs into sub-columns, and flows the text along those sub-columns. This is super handy for items that appear in list format, especially if the list items contain little text. Instead of a long list with a lot of white space at the right of the column, the items can be listed in order and flowed through the sub-columns.
InDesign span and split columns dialog box
Choose how many sub-columns you want from the pull-down menu, or type in an exact number. Enter values for the amount of space before and/or after the split to offset the text from the surrounding paragraphs. Indicate an amount for the inside gutter between each of the sub-columns if you want an amount other than the default. Visually offset the paragraph even more by entering an outside gutter, which will bring in the outer columns’ right and left margins.

After setting paragraphs with text that spans across columns—or breaks into sub-columns—be sure to save the settings within paragraph styles for easy and consistent use.

Posted on: July 11, 2016

Erica Gamet

Erica Gamet has been involved in the graphics industry for an unbelievable 30 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 presence at CreativePro Week’s PePcon and InDesign Conferences, and has spoken at ebookcraft in Canada and Making Design in Norway. You can find Erica’s online tutorials at CreativeLive and through her YouTube channel. When she isn’t at her computer, she can be found exploring her new homebase of Seattle and the greater Pacific Northwest.

5 Comments on Using InDesign’s Span and Split Columns

  1. I use span/split all the time, and I shudder to remember the hassle it used to be to have loads of separate text boxes. Now I can span/split on the fly, testing different layouts with much greater ease. Many thanks to the team at Adobe for coding this bit of genius.

  2. Over the past three years I’ve done a LOT of short-term contract jobs at many companies…bit and small…and am constantly amazed how many don’t use InDesign properly. Its saddening to say the least.

    Chris Powers

  3. Lindsey Thomas Martin

    July 28, 2016 at 2:00 pm

    I would use split columns much more often if footnotes could be set to span across all columns and, when the paragraph in which they are anchored spans the columns, stay at the bottom of the page.

  4. Is there any way to change the default for gutter measurements? I know I can change it in the menu, but would like to not have to change it each time.

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