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Adding Space Between Paragraphs, Not Lines

Michael wrote:

I’m using the Baseline Grid to keep the lines aligned between verso/recto pages, but with my keep options turned off I get orphaned/widowed lines every once in a while. Turning on Keep Options (1 line in front, 2 at end) fixes the orphan/widow problem, but makes it so that every once in a while I get one page one or two lines shorter than than the one next to it. While the orphans & widows are typographically annoying, I think the uneven page endings look careless and unprofessional (especially when the difference is two lines).

There’s a third option that I tried: If I set the master text frames to be “vertically justified”, the top and bottom lines always line up, and I can set the keep options to get rid of widows and orphans. The problem with this is that it ignores the leading and gives uneven baselines across the spread, which looks odd when printed out.

So my question is this: What do I do?

Well, you know that great old one-liner: “Fast, good, or cheap: pick any two”? It’s kind of like that. While there is no great answer to Getting It All, there is at least one thing you should look at: The Paragraph Spacing Limit field in the Text Frame Options dialog box (Object > Text Frame Options, or press Command/Ctrl-B).

When Paragraph Spacing Limit is set to zero, and you have the Vertical Justification alignment set to Justified, InDesign adds the same amount of space between each line of text in the frame in order to “bottom it out.” That is, the vertical justification completely ignores all your leading values. But when you increase this value, you’re telling InDesign that you can add some extra space between each paragraph, which makes changing the leading less necessary.

I almost always increase this value to an inch or more, so that InDesign puts all its effort into adding space between paragraphs and doesn’t change my leading at all.

But as you can probably guess, this still doesn’t do anything for aligning your baselines across the spread. So what do you do? I suggest rewriting a few lines to make it fit better, or just delete all the verbs and see if that helps. ;) No, seriously, if there is a better answer, I don’t know of it and I’ll be curious to see what solutions readers propose below.

Ultimately, it would be cool if Adobe InDesign implemented a “make it all bottom out” feature, which might use a smarter form of the Paragraph Composer to figure out the proper spacing across one or more pages. Or perhaps a smarter vertical justification that would add space more cleverly between paragraphs. (Brad Walrod has long been a proponent of someone writing an InDesign equivalent of the old ProVJ XTension. I’ve talked with some plug-in developers and I hope we’ll see something like this before too long.)

David Blatner

David Blatner

David Blatner is the co-founder of the Creative Publishing Network, InDesign Magazine, and the author or co-author of 15 books, including Real World InDesign. His InDesign videos at are among the most watched InDesign training in the world. You can find more about David at
David Blatner

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14 Comments on “Adding Space Between Paragraphs, Not Lines

  1. It’s another case of “there aint no free lunch” I’m afraid.

    I am so much calmer now that I gave up worrying that my lines do not align between columns or whether each column ends on the very last allocated line at the bottom of each column. I tried various tools and tricks in InDesign and it just never worked consistently.

    If I don’t think about it, I find that I don’t notice a problem with the page, nor do my readers, apparently.

    Sacreligious, yes…but pragmatic. I can now concentrate on other aspects, like getting the thing out on time.

  2. Hey all,

    Here’s the thing: yes, all spreads have to align at the bottom. But, they do not all have to align at the same point. All publishers that I worked with at a certain typesetting company allowed for a spread to run one line short or long. For mass market titles they were usually allowed to run short. You can’t have more than 3 short spreads in a row, and you can’t have short and long in the same book. If the spread is uneven, kick a line onto the next page by manually manipulating the text box. Also, you can generally card (add extra space) above headers. You can consider manually feathering pages with a slight bit more lead. Editing your sentence should be a last resort. Also, aligning spreads should be the last thing you do before print. Hope this helps!

  3. One major issue with vertical justification is that it’s not available if any object with text wrap applied intersects with the text frame that you’d like to vertically justify.

  4. Different publishers have different standards for balancing pages, but it can substantial time commitment.

    While paginating the book make only take 30 minutes, balancing the spreads could take hours… Teacup Software’s TypeFitter was developed to help reduce the pain of this very manual task, but even with TypeFitter it is still very much a manual process (albeit faster).

    That being said (I have to be careful here, NDA’s and all), I have worked on an automated column balancing solution (full disclosure: I work for Typefi Systems as a solutions consultant) that is an add-on to the Typefi Publish automated publishing platform (built on InDesign/InDesign Server). There are still some edge cases where an editor needs to make changes to the text to get the spreads to fully balance, but it largely eliminates the manual process of balancing pages and, coupled with our automated layout, dramatically reduces production time for complex titles (from weeks to a matter of hours).

  5. I must say, having created many many books in InDesign, and having worked on hundreds at my old job, aligning the spreads manually shouldn’t take more than an hour of my time in the worst case scenario. Only occasionally will I need to change a sentence, and that is usually to avoid an orphan. I am also guilty of occasionally kerning a paragraph 5/1000s of an em, which was taboo at my old job. Unless there is a lot of short dialogue I really find that it isn’t too much of a pain.

  6. Absolutely right, Caleb! That’s the most annoying thing about it. If any object with a text wrap applied just “touches” the text box, the justified text goes to hell.
    I keep hoping in CS3, though…

  7. The text wrap / justification issue doesn’t occur in all object interact with text frame scenarios…

    Try this:
    Create a text frame with 3 columns, fill with placeholder text and set vertical justification to “justified”.

    Next add object with textwrap, but… set the text wrap option to “Jump Object”. As long as the object interacts with the top or bottom edge of the frame and doesn’t sit somewhere in the middle, your text columns are nicely justified :-)

  8. Hi, I read things here and often find useful tips. Here’s a first for me, a suggestion!:) I will usualy go back a pge or so and scan for lines that can hadle a soft return on last word/words and allow them to build into a cascade of new line ends until I have what I need. It does’nt take long and is normally a good reader focused solution. Soft returns are my favourite keystrokes in DTP. For what it’s worth:)

  9. Hi, I read things here and often find useful tips. Here’s a first for me, a suggestion!:) I will usualy go back a page or so and scan for lines that can handle a soft return on last word/words and allow them to build into a cascade of new line ends until I have what I need. It doesn’t take long and is normally a good ‘reader-focused’ solution. Soft returns are my favourite keystrokes in DTP. For what it’s worth:)

  10. I usually try to edit a paragraph (or get it edited) with just one or two words in its last line. If for some reason the author or I can’t rewrite them, I try adjusting tracking (not lower than -10) or horizontal scale (not lower than 98%). If it doesn’t work either, then I must arrange better the objects on the page. Maybe a text wrap a few milimeters to the right/left will do it.

  11. Rather than spend time putting lots of soft returns in manually, I prefer to find a likely-looking word or phrase and take it over or back using ‘No Break’. Sometimes I need a couple of goes before I find one that pans out nicely with the automatic wrap, but it seems to work well. This is, however, a last resort; I normally prefer to run a spread short or long, or, if there are illustrations in the text, increase the spacing above or beneath them.

  12. I’m not sure how this fell through the cracks, but…

    Almost a year ago one of the “developers” (read: “me” ;) ) released such a plugin.

    We call it Proper VJ, and actually Brad Walrod had a lot to do with the development. (Thanks Brad!) You can read about it here.

    A heads up for existing users: We just updated the plugin, and the new version has a HUGE performance boost for longer stories…

  13. Yes, as I said in the post, Brad talked to me literally for years about how vertical justification should work. So I was so pleased when Proper VJ came out (after this blog post was originally written). Thanks, Harbs!

  14. Excellent way of describing, and nice article to get information about my presentation subject, which i am going to convey in institution of higher

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