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3 Ways to Change the Default Font in InDesign (Don’t Edit [Basic Paragraph]!)

What should you do if you want to change the default font in InDesign? In just a minute I’ll tell you three ways, from easy to overkill, but first I want to make sure you don’t fall into the trap of changing the settings of the default paragraph style [Basic Paragraph]. It is not a good idea, and it can cost you dearly if you decide to change it. I’ve seen it happen!

The Problem with Editing [Basic Paragraph]

Here’s the problem with editing [Basic Paragraph]: at first, it all looks fine in your document. Drag out a text frame, start typing, and woo-hoo! you’re automatically using Lush Script or Museo Sans or whatever font you changed to from Minion Pro, the font called for by the default [Basic Paragraph] style.

But, if you copy and paste that text into a new document, you’ll see the problem. The type reverts back to the original [Basic Paragraph] definition. Yikes! Have you ever seen text change its typeface, or suddenly become “pinked” (unavailable) simply by cutting and pasting from one file to another? This is why. When you paste text, if the receiving file already has that style name, the attributes of the receiving document’s style “wins.” And every InDesign file has [Basic Paragraph].


Original file: The user decided to edit [Basic Paragraph] to be used for body copy, so they changed the font and first line indent.


New file, after copying/pasting the frames over: The original settings for [Basic Paragraph] reassert themselves, changing all the text formatting that uses that style.

Sometimes, as shown in the screenshots above, the difference is subtle, and in the rush of production, no one notices it (because no one suspects a simple copy/paste would somehow change the typeface), and the job gets printed and distributed.

Ah, but (I hear you saying) what if I make ALL my documents have the same modifications to [Basic Paragraph], by editing the style with no documents open in InDesign, so it becomes an application default? Still not a good idea, because that only applies to any new documents you create. The old ones still have the old definition. And if a colleague or freelancer needs to use some of your styled text (copy/paste, drag and drop, library items, snippets, etc.), they’ll have the same problem, and they’ll likely have no clue as to the cause.

It’s just not a smart InDesign practice.

Three ways to change the default font in InDesign

OK, so if you shouldn’t change [Basic Paragraph] but you still want to change your default font and text styling, what should you do?

Method 1: The simplest way is to choose the typeface you want from the Type menu. Make sure nothing is selected when you do so (choose Edit > Deselect All first, to make sure). Bam. Your new typeface is ready, sir. Drag out a text frame and start typing, it uses the typeface you selected.  If you want this to be the application default (for all new documents, remember), choose a face with no documents open, then restart InDesign.

However: while that is super easy, it comes at a cost. You’ll notice as you type that the [Basic Paragraph] style has a plus symbol next to it, indicating local formatting. Formatting overrides in the final file are not a best practice.

Method 2: The best practice is to create your own paragraph style and then make that the default style for your document, instead of [Basic Paragraph]. To do this, first just make a paragraph style (I’ll call mine “Body copy” for this example), and then select it in the Paragraph Styles panel with the Selection tool when nothing else is selected in the document. From then on, whenever you drag out a text frame, Body Copy is selected by default, and the content you type appears in the typeface you specified in the style.

With nothing else selected in the file, use the Selection tool to click on the Paragraph Style you want to be the default, such as Body Copy. Text copied and pasted from here into another layout will retain its formatting (assuming the receiving doc doesn’t have a Body Copy style already).

You can do this on a document-by-document basis if you want, likely choosing the Body Copy style you create for that layout to be the default. Or make it apply for all new documents you make by adding it to the Paragraph Styles panel when no other files are open.

Method 3: OK, I think this last method is kind of overkill, but if you’re really obsessive about styles, this is the way to go: create a custom Text Frame object style and have it apply the paragraph style for you. The key here is that you can include a default Paragraph Style for the object style (as shown in the screen shot below). So make a paragraph style, and then tell this object style to apply it automatically. Like the methods above, you can do this on a document-by-document basis, or do it with no files open so it becomes the default for all new files.

Create a new object style based on the default [Basic Text Frame] object style, and choose a Paragraph Style for it. Here, I’m naming my new style “Text Frame.”

The final step is to drag and drop the little text frame icon you’ll see in the Object Styles panel down to your new text frame object style. That tells InDesign “use this as the default for all text frames I create from now on” Since you’re not editing the default [Basic Text Frame] (another no-no for the same reasons as above), you don’t need to worry about changing any existing text frames in your files.




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

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19 Comments on “3 Ways to Change the Default Font in InDesign (Don’t Edit [Basic Paragraph]!)

  1. One thing I wish Adobe would fix is the case sensitivity of the style names. I have clients that I have using a set of names for styling the text they submit. One style is “body copy” (all LC). They send me a file using the name “Body copy” (cap B”). Indesign adds an additional unless I map their style to mine. Pain in the butt.

  2. As I hinted with a tweet, I find strange the recommendation of not ever editing (therefore neither using at all) [Basic Paragraph], specially because, as you explain when giving the reason for why the text’s appearance changes when placing it into a different document, behavior which you consider unexpected and unwanted, this is not at all exclusive to [Basic Paragraph] but also applies to any other style that exists by name in both the source and the destination. Do not pretty much all your documents have styles with generic names like “body”, “heading”, etc? You must therefore be encountering this issue with pretty much any text using any genéricos named style. How does this apply then specifically to editing [Basic Paragraph] and not to using somewhat generic names for styles (i.e. most of the times)? Or am I missing something?

    Irrespective of the above, I actually think that having text from one document transparently accommodate its style into that of the destination (i.e. having body text from one document inheriting the looks of another document’s body text when brought into the latter), instead of stubbornly keep its “out-of-style” formatting is not undesirable but all the opposite. After all, I would assume that it is the document becoming final where I would be putting the effort in creating a style library that works well throughout the whole work. Imagine the other way around, a scenario where I bring text into a different document whose style for the base text (or heading or whatever) is only slightly different from that of the foreign text I am bringing in. It would be so easy to overlook that the new text is not honoring the formatting of the text that surrounds it and leave it as is. Yuck!

    If it is a matter of different opinions, each one to its own. But if I somehow misunderstood something or am wrong about some aspects of how InDesign works, please correct me.

    In a last point, I consider Method 1 to deserve a post of what not to do actually. Like you say at the very end of its explanation, overly using overrides is not good practice, and I would argue that one does not recommend bad practices.

  3. That’s true, Basic Paragraph is sometimes a real pain. I’ve been tired of guiding and explaining not to use it. And have seen experienced fellows using it as a default style in large documents. They call me when they got stuck with lot of pinks.

  4. I always just selected the font and size from the Type menu with nothing open and it defaults to what I chose every time I create a new document. You can even open the character and paragraph boxes through the Type menu and make choices there, too, for leading and other styling. It’s always stuck to whatever I’ve chosen.

  5. Some background: Many years ago, around CS2 or CS3 days, ID didn’t even have [Basic Paragraph], there was a “No Paragraph Style” instead (friends who remember, correct this style name if I’m wrong). There was a lot of discussion among prerelease users and InDesign engineers about it, and should the next version have a “Normal” style (a la QXP and Word), what should it be called, should it be editable, and so on. In the end, the product designers went with the decision to expose the existing set of default text attributes as an actual style called “[Basic Paragraph]”. “No Style” was removed but can still be seen if you choose Break Link to Style from the paragraph style panel menu.

    As I recall, they did not expect users to actually use [Basic Paragraph] as they would other styles. Of course, people do, especially because it’s editable. But that’s where you can get into trouble, as explained above.

    Jorge I see your point, and it’s a good one. But to your question, unlike web/CSS, it is not common, in my experience, for different layout projects to have the same-named styles, exactly (body copy, head, etc.). If you’re doing a series of textbooks, or separate chapters for a book, then yes. Otherwise, they’re often Body, body copy, text, Body_main, MainText, etc. lol

    Still, if you’re the only one who works on your files, and you know to expect that a modified Basic Paragraph is being used to format text, then I don’t see a problem with it. I don’t think there are any areas in InDesign that depend on it being unmodified or anything.

    I think you should write a post about your philosophy of style naming and inheritance etc. for InDesignSecrets! I’d love to see it … you definitely make a worthy argument.

  6. Thanks, Anne, for some wonderful advice. I have a question about the particular problem I find most troubling.

    It’s about Times Roman. It isn’t a font, it’s a font-like virus that contaminates everything it touches. Any time I import text from Word, some text ends up as in it.

    Yes, I can search for the beast and replace it with whatever font is used for body text in that document. But it’d be great if there were some universal anti-viral that’d keep it from ever entering a document. Any ideas?

  7. If you change the Basic Paragraph style when you have no documents open then all new documents will use that style.
    This is useful if you are an in-house designer and you always use the same typeface as part of a corporate style for example.

    • Darren, you will get the same convenience as an in-house designer, without any risk of unwanted surprises, if you *add* a new paragraph style (with no documents open), making sure it’s based on None, and call it something like “Body” or “Basic.” Then select that style name with the Selection tool, close the Paragraph Styles panel, and restart InDesign to write that into your new defaults.

      That way every new document will have that style as the default choice, using your corporate typeface and so on.

  8. What is really wonderful is when you have a document passed to you that has everything in Basic Paragraph and all the paragraph styling set in Character Styles. Hurrah! It’s like trying to unravel a pair of headphones that have been riding around in your pocket for a day.

  9. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with editing the basic styles for character, paragraphs, objects etc. Streamlined workflows can be achieved using this feature. All professional users should know how to use these basic style overides.

    Any news on external stylesheets for InDesign?

    • Hey there Sam! Not sure if you read the article. ;-)

      If you work in a completely self-contained world where no one needs to edit your InDesign files or copy/import anything from them, and this is the way you’ve been doing things since you began using InDesign so old, archived files as well as new ones have the same mods made to the defaults, and you’ve written down the mods so that whenever you need to rebuild preferences, you know how to rebuild the attributes of the default styles, and the bulk of your work is on one publication so every version/issue of that layout has the same modifications to the default styles, then you will likely not run into trouble, and it could be very streamlined, I agree.

  10. I usually change the Basic style to whatever my main document font is because I don’t want Minion swimming around in the soup when I eventually package the files and send them along to the client. I am a book designer working for multiple publishers.I generally do all the work on the file, but some publishers have in-house people do some of the corrections and they are not always totally well-versed in style sheets or such obsessive users of them as I am. I am always worried that Minion is going to end up somewhere in the middle of the document as a result. I don’t base any of my other styles on Basic though. I usually start with TXT (for a regular paragraph of text) and go from there, basing further styles on that as useful/necessary.

  11. @Trish

    A strategy I have used is to change Basic Paragraph in the document to something very noticeable like Trattello in a red colour. This way I catch any instances where custom styling has not been applied.

    The problem with “hiding” the Basic Style is there maybe other formatting niceties that you want applied to a paragraph, such custom tracking and hyphenation settings and you won’t notice that a paragraph never made the jump into the style you want it to have.

    The take away from Anne-Marie’s article is that when InDesign encounters text with a Style name the same as a document style it defers to the document Style settings. This happens with any Style. It just so happens that every InDesign has the Basic document style. If you tend to name your style consistently and you have different specifications for the styles in different documents, this can also lead to style mismatch, if you cut and paste text from one document to another for instance.

  12. One good feature that a [Basic Paragraph] style helps me when importing text is that the footnotes automatically assume some of the [Basic Paragraph] attributes (like the footnote numbers). When I need to apply a style to all footnotes, I can do a find-change for that [Basic Paragraph] attribute which doesn’t exist in the “Normal” Word imported text.

    What do you think of this idea – if Indesign could make paragraph styles part of individual workspaces – that way you could “add” “subtract” and change which paragraph styles you need to work with together with your workspace, all in one click?

  13. BTW, workflows involving Indesign ME (Middle Eastern version accessing Right to Left text settings) have no problem changing the [Basic Paragraph] settings, for the following reason. No one relies on the [Basic Paragraph] settings in the ME version. The defaults are almost always changed – Hindi digits to Arabic digits (until CC the Basic Paragraph had Hindi digits), the basic paragraph direction (RTL) always varies depending on the language of the text, and all new paragraphs are set to Based on: [No Paragraph Style]. So because all documents created in ME change the settings (digits or language) by neccessity, colleagues are on the lookout for any discrepancies.

  14. I’m trying to use method 2 & make Avenir LT Std (OTF) the default font but every time I try that I get the font between brackets [Avenir LT Std (OTF)]. This is a font I purchased recently not sure why InDesign CC2017 is not seeing the font. I’m using FontBook in High Sierra 0.13.3

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