When it comes to creating space between paragraphs in InDesign we generally use the Space Before and Space After options. These settings suffice for continuous text flow. However when I work on single-frame stories, there are times when I wish I had access to what I’d call ‘flexible paragraph spacing’ in InDesign.

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I use two workarounds to fake flexible paragraph spacing, and wanted to share these with you in two examples that require slightly different workarounds.

Example 1

You have a single text frame.The frame contains only two paragraphs.You want to be able to change the height of the text frame while aligning first paragraph to the top of the text frame and the second to the bottom.


Workaround: Use Vertical Justification and Paragraph Spacing Limit

The workaround for this is relatively easy, as long as your text frame only contains two paragraphs.

With the Selection tool, select the text frame.Choose Object > Text Frame Options to display the Text Frame Options dialog box.Click the General tab. In the Vertical Justification section, set Align to Justify.Next set Paragraph Spacing Limit to a large number. I use 150mm (5.9in) in this example, which far exceeds the height the frame will ever have.Click OK.


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When Align is set to Justified, InDesign will align text to the top and bottom of the text frame, inserting additional spacing between the lines of the paragraphs (increasing the leading) and space between the paragraphs. To make sure that space is only added between the paragraphs, set the Paragraph Spacing Limit to a number that is equal to or greater than the maximum height the frame will have. Once the Paragraph Spacing Limit is set, you can adjust the height of the text frame and the second paragraph will always align to the bottom of the frame.

Example 2

You have a single text frame.The text frame always has the same height.The text frame contains two or more paragraphs (I’m using three paragraphs in this example).The length of paragraphs one and two will vary.The last paragraph is a single-line paragraph, that must align to the bottom of the text frame.


Workaround: Use a Text Frame Baseline Grid

This workaround is a little more complex. But assuming the text frames in the layout are the same height, as in the ad-example I’m using, the workaround will do the trick.

There are two things we need to do:

Ensure that the paragraph at the bottom of the frame is aligned to baseline grid.Set the baseline grid at text frame level.Align to baseline grid

I’ve applied three different paragraph styles in the example: ad-title, ad-text, and ad-pricing.

In the Paragraph Styles panel, click the paragraph style name of the last paragraph in the text frame (ad-pricing in this example).Choose Style Options from the Paragraph Styles panel menu.Click Indents and Spacing in the left column.Set Align to Grid to First Line Only. (Since this example uses a single-line paragraph, selecting All Lines would work as well).Click OK.


Set baseline grid at text frame level

A baseline grid is more commonly used across a document, and generally aligns body text to a grid. When working with column-based layouts, where the text across columns must be aligned, a document-based baseline grid is a big help. Document baseline grid settings are set in Preferences > Grids. Text for which Align to Grid is enabled will snap to the grid.

In this example I set the baseline grid at text frame level, so that each text frame has its own baseline.

With the Selection tool, select the text frame.Choose Object > Text Frame Options to display the Text Frame Options dialog box.Click the Baseline Options tab. In the Baseline Grid section, select Use Custom Baseline Grid, and set Relative To to Top of Frame.Select Preview, and increase the Baseline Start value until the third paragraph is aligned properly.Click OK to apply the settings.


Automating the workarounds: Next Style and Object Styles

These workarounds might seem to take a lot of effort, but you can apply all the required formatting with a single click via object styles. An object style can apply text frame options like Vertical Justification and Baseline Options, and it can also automatically apply paragraph styles sequentially with the Next Style feature.

Enabling Next Styles

For each of the paragraph styles used to format the text, set the Next Style option in the General section of the Paragraph Style Options dialog box. The Next Style is the paragraph style you want to apply immediately after the style for which you select the options.

Right-click the paragraph style and choose Edit “style-name” to display the Paragraph Style Options dialog box.Select the General category on the left, and select the style name that you want to apply immediately after the current style from the Next Style menu.Click OK.


Creating an Object Style

The text frame specific settings (including the first paragraph style that is applied) can be applied with an object style.

To create an object style:

With the Selection tool, select a text frame with all the desired formatting (insets, vertical justifications etc.).From the Object Styles panel menu (Window > Styles > Object Styles) choose New Object Style to display the New Object Style dialog box.Name the style, and select Paragraph Styles in the left column.Select the first Paragraph Style you want to apply, and select the Next Style Option.Click OK.

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You can now apply all the desired formatting with a single click. Ta-daaaah!


My wish list

These are two relatively simple examples. I’m sure you’ve encountered other examples where you could benefit from flexible paragraph space settings—I know I have. If you have a favorite workaround, please share it in the comments.

On my wish list are the following:

The ability to set the Space Before for a paragraph to ‘Auto’. With this setting set to ‘Auto’, there would be no need to increase the Paragraph Spacing Limit. Instead, setting Vertical Justification Align to Justified would only add spacing above or below paragraphs with their spacing setting set to ‘Auto’.The ability to assign the first line of a paragraph to specific baseline number. In the second example, I’ve kept things simple by only aligning the last paragraph to a baseline. But what if you had ads with more than three paragraphs, and some of them included an additional paragraph that had to be positioned in a specific vertical position in the text frame? It would be nice to set Align to Grid to ‘First Line to Baseline One Only’ and for the next paragraph style, ‘First Line to Baseline Two Only’.Currently, baselines repeat themselves based on the Increment Every setting, so the distance between each baseline is identical. I am imagining a future where we can assign single baselines to top, middle and bottom vertical positions. A bit like how we can set paragraph rule above and below. Each would have it’s own settings. In that case, we could take my second wish list item a step further :)