Thanks for coming to, the world's #1 resource for all things InDesign!

Redefine Nested Style

On Adobe’s InDesign forum, a designer brought up an interesting shortcoming (as she saw it) in the program: There is no way to use the Redefine Style feature for a Character style that’s been applied via Nested Styles.

Redefine Style only works when a plus symbol appears after a highlighted style name in the relevant styles panel, indicating formatting overrides. Choosing the command modifies the style so it incorporates the overrides in its definition, updating other styled text in the layout to match the new specs.

Here’s a simple example. The bold and green character style “Grade” has been applied to each of the grade levels below. The cursor is in one of these instances, so the Character Styles panel highlights the style name:


Notice that there’s a plus symbol following the style name, indicating that the styled text surrounding my cursor has had some local formatting applied — in this case, I made the text italic.

If I decide I prefer the look of the italic text for the style, I don’t have to edit the style manually to change it. Instead I can choose Redefine Style from the panel menu:


Doing so prompts InDesign to incorporate my local overrides into the style definition. Immediately the plus symbol disappears and all other text styled with the Grade character style updates to reflect the new specs:


A handy feature, indeed — especially if you’ve done so much tweaking to the text that you can’t remember it all. It’s a feature that the designer relied upon all the time to help her apply final touches to her styles.

As she said, though, it breaks down when Character Styles have been applied via a Nested Style.

In the example below, I created a Paragraph style called “Description” and nested the Grade character style within it (Grade/Through/1/:). When I applied the Description style to the three paragraphs, the Grade character style was automatically applied.


Since nested character styles are identified differently than regular ones in the panel (their names appear at the bottom of the panel instead of getting highlighted), Redefine Style is grayed out when you apply local formatting. It thinks there’s nothing to redefine, because [None] is highlighted.

Bug or feature? Who knows. I’d call it an “unfortunate conflict.”

Happily, there’s a simple workaround: Apply the character style manually to an instance of the already-styled text. A double-hit of the style, in other words. Then when you start playing around with local overrides, InDesign obligingly adds a plus symbol after the highlighted character style name:


Now you can choose Redefine Style, and all the nested style instances update accordingly. When you’re done, you can choose the [None] style again for the selected text to keep things kosher:


Anne-Marie Concepcion

Anne-Marie Concepcion

Anne-Marie “Her Geekness” Concepción is the co-founder (with David Blatner) and CEO of Creative Publishing Network, which produces InDesignSecrets, InDesign Magazine, and other resources for creative professionals. Through her cross-media design studio, Seneca Design & Training, Anne-Marie develops ebooks and trains and consults with companies who want to master the tools and workflows of digital publishing. She has authored over 20 courses on on these topics and others. Keep up with Anne-Marie by subscribing to her ezine, HerGeekness Gazette, and contact her by email at or on Twitter @amarie
Anne-Marie Concepcion

Latest posts by Anne-Marie Concepcion (see all)

  • - November 30, -0001
Related Articles

8 Comments on “Redefine Nested Style

  1. Yes, a valid little gripe — for a truly great feature.

    But, but, but — and no doubt closely related to your posting — isn’t the creation method for making Nested Styles needlessly manual? For I can’t apply a series of CharStyles to the beginning words or whatever of a paragraph, then save that as ParStyle with the CharStyles being picked up as Nested Styles — no, I have to manually recreate the whole nesting inside the Nested Styles dialog. Surely a wishlist item for CS4! Yes, I realize that some Nesting stuff will always have to be done by the user in the dialog — like Repeat — but for the most part, it should be possible to code ID to auto-pick common Nesting attributes when creating a ParStyle?

  2. A very valid annoyance. Great post.

    I first realised this a while ago, that you can apply two character styles to the same instance of text, one through a selection of text and picking the character style and the other through applying the nested style.

    I was using both character styles to be picked up as variables for running heads, in a complicated book that needed this very feature, it was in fact the reason I got CS3.

    Although I wasn’t using the character styles to actually style any of the text, but rather just flag it for the variables, I didn’t realise that the issue exists.

  3. We were just discussing nested styles today, saying the same things about the hassle of editing character styles when they are nested in paragraph styles. We use nested styles a lot in catalogue and book designs and they are great – but they would be even better(!) if
    ? the nested character styles could be edited from the paragraph style (I’m thinking just even if you could double-click on the nested character style in the nested styles panel, then it would somehow open in another dialog box and you could change it etc) At the moment, you have to go into the para style, see the name of the character style, go to the character styles and update it there. It’s true you can edit the nested character style directly if you know what it is, but a lot of times I don’t know exactly what the name of the character style is, so need to go into the para style panel and check, so if you could change it from there, it would be good.
    ? it would be helpful if para styles that incorporate nested styles had some little ‘icon’ to alert the user that there are nested styles in that para style, just so that the user doesn’t spend fruitless minutes wondering why the type they are working on has suddenly changed formatting because they have removed a tab or something. Maybe nested styles already have some identifying feature in the para styles panel? I just haven’t noticed. Overall though, nested styles are fantastic, they make light work of repetitive formatting and are so efficient – especially on contents pages of a book for example; the only problem is you can get carried away with nesting too many styles in the one para, just because you can!

  4. thanks Tim, our art studio is now going to add a tilde to nested para style names (at the end, so they stay in alphabetical order). I find my para style names can get very unwieldy as well – any tips on naming conventions?

  5. Right – here’s a similar problem that I cant find a workaround for…

    How does one redfine ALL instances of a character style throughout a document? Without highlighting each instance manually?

    I’m puzzled to say the least….

  6. but if you change the text to italic in the character panel style and make sure the preview is cheked then you can previw the stlye in there, and – if you like it – simply save the character style, which will then be picked up by the nested styles in the paragraph style

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *