Home > Adobe, InDesign > Problems with InDesign Bullets: Indented Unordered Lists and Text Wraps

Problems with InDesign Bullets: Indented Unordered Lists and Text Wraps

Bullet and Numbered lists became a feature in InDesign relatively late in the scene, and yet never seem to work quite right. It is really bad at accommodating text re-flows and reformatting. This is the problem I had recently.

  • I wanted to make an unordered list (bullets) where there are indents.
  • Bullet lists don’t allow levels, but that’s okay. I just define a 2nd list with a bigger indent. (FIGURE I)
  • Now, I want to put in a picture of an orange. The orange is square because we can see what goes wrong with our text better (FIGURE II).
    • My list loses the indenting! My “types of berries” is lined up to the same place as my “berry category”
    • Also, WTF happened to the space between my bullet and where my text starts? There is a giant gap!
    • And when the text is long, such as “Blueberries”, my second line indent is also messed up.
  • This is why it’s screwing up.
    • By default, InDesign offsets the bullets using the Indent spacing (Left Indent, First Line Left Indent), which starts measuring from the edge of the text box. When the text is displaced by a text wrap, it’s no longer in the area where the Indent spacing can affect it.
    • By default, InDesign adds a [tab] character to after the bullet character. The tab start measuring (you guessed it) from the edge of the text box. When the text is displaced, it grabs the next available tab, which may be really far away.
    • The second line of my indented bullet list suffers from the same problem. The setting for the indent offset by the text wrap and doesn’t work.
  • Let’s start by fixing a few things. This are things I would do to ALL bullet and numbering lists. (FIGURE III)
    • change the [Text After] from a tab to an [em space] or an [en space]. The spaces work much better as part of the text flow than the [tab]. Also, if your text becomes extremely large, or extremely tiny, the em/en space will grow/shrink along with your text, where as a hard set tab won’t.
    • Add an [indent to here] character to the beginning of each list. This will take care of the 2nd line indent.
    • This are looking much better already!
  • What about the indent? Well, I’m glad you made it this far, cuz I’m actually pretty proud of this one. (Figure IV)
    • Fist, drop the bullet list and change it to a numbered list. Numbered lists have many more options to play with.
    • In the Bullets and Numbering Options Dialog Box, change the [number:] format and add an em space as the first character. This is now your indent!
    • Then, instead of inserting a number, cut and paste a bullet [^B] character into the field.
    • Then, add another em space.
    • Instead of being a numbered list, you’ve effectively changed this into a bullet list.
    • The format is [em space_bullet_em space]
  • As you can see from Figure IV, “clementine” still fell by the wayside a bit. So you still have to keep an eye on your lists. In this case, i would extend the bottom portion f the text wrap offset to move that list in.


Here is a side by side comparison of the options available for a bullet list and a numbered list: the ^m^B^> is what I used to create my offset.

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  1. 2011/09/11 at 5:13 pm

    Very helpful. Thank you!

    • Canvai
      2013/10/17 at 7:16 am

      It should. The post is a bit long, but did you put a [indent to here] character for the bullets that run over 2 lines?

      Add an [indent to here] character to the beginning of each list. This will take care of the 2nd line indent.

  2. s
    2013/10/16 at 7:41 pm

    nice, but 2nd line of bullet text does not indent properly

  3. s
    2013/10/17 at 5:43 pm

    manually adding an ‘indent to here’ [ctrl \] at the start of each bullet DOES work but does require editing the text manually. is there a way to automatically include this in the bullet’s paragraph style?

    • Canvai
      2013/10/21 at 4:46 pm

      Sorry, not that I know of. The [indent to here] character cant be placed as part of the character string after the bullet. What I often do is to manually set bullets (Or convert bullets to text) and then do a global find/change. Find [bullet+em space], change to [bullet+en space+Indent to here]

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