What and Where is Distribute Spacing?
In my recent Distribute to Margins in CS3 tip, some of the post’s comments were about the lone Distribute feature which does not appear in the Control panel, Distribute Spacing.
I get asked this lot … what’s Distribute Spacing for? When would you use it instead of the “normal” Distribute Objects? What’s the difference between the two?
The technical answer is that Distribute Objects equalizes the distance between reference points; while Distribute Spacing equalizes the distance between bounding boxes.
The practical answer is that you’ll probably want to use Distribute Spacing when the objects you want to distribute have different widths and/or heights; or when you’re primarily concerned with the amount of space in between the objects.
Let me show you with a few screen shots … first, though, you need to reveal the Distribute Spacing controls by choosing Show Options from the Align panel menu, as I’ve done so below:
The Align panel fly-out menu only has one item, Show Options. Why not just show the option — Distribute Spacing — all the time and get rid of the fly-out menu? A question for the ages.
Reference Points vs. Bounding Boxes
You’ll notice in that screen shot that the Distribute Objects icons all have reference points: Left Edges, Top Edges, and so on; while the Distribute Spacing icons don’t. There are only two icons here, each showing two lines in between the sample objects. The first icon indicates “vertical space between” and the second one, “horizontal space between.”
So, if you have a selection of differently-shaped objects (with differently-sized bounding boxes, the rectangle that appears when an object is selected), like this:
… and you want them spaced evenly, Distribute Objects icons won’t work. Here I’ve clicked on the fifth Distribute Objects icon, Distribute Horizontal Centers:
You can see from the guides I drew that the horizontal centers are evenly spaced, but the objects themselves are not. (If the objects were exactly the same size, then it would’ve worked.)
So I undo and try again, this time clicking on the second Distribute Spacing icon, Distribute Horizontal Space:
Now we have the same amount of space in between each object. Each object’s bounding box, to be exact.
When to use “Use Spacing”
The “Use Spacing” checkbox (see panel screen shot above or below) is unchecked by default. That tells InDesign to come up with the spacing on its own by averaging a distance — between reference points for Distribute Objects, or the total amount of in-between space for Distribute Spacing.
In either case, note that the first and last object in the selection don’t move, only the ones in between them. You can see that happening in the screen shots above.
For more control over the spacing, turn on Use Spacing, enter a measure in the field, then click the Distribute Objects or Distribute Spacing command you want. The first object should remain in place, but the other ones, including the last object, will move.
In the screen shot below I’ve selected the items and forced them all to be spaced exactly 2p from each other (Distribute Horizontal Spacing with Use Spacing enabled, measure set to 2p):
The Use Spacing/Distribute Spacing technique is useful in tons of situations, even if the objects all have the same width, as below:
When I set the Use Spacing measure to 0p and click the Distribute Horizontal Spacing icon, I get this:
Cool, eh? Long live Distribute Spacing!