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Dueling Styles: InCopy vs. InDesign

Recently I’ve received a number of e-mails from InCopy users with questions about creating paragraph and character styles (such as, “Why can’t I” and “How do I”). It was a surprise to me, since I thought editors didn’t want to have to bother with formatting text, only writing it and correcting it. At least that’s what their managing editors have told me.

Following the maxim that if one client sends you a question, there are a hundred others who have the same question but didn’t have time to write, I thought I’d spell it all out for you here. (Of course if you’re not one of those hundred, feel free to skip to the next story.)

You see, in most InCopy/InDesign workflows, editors only open InCopy’s Paragraph Styles or Character Styles panels to apply an existing style that came with the layout — ones like Body Text, Caption, AHead — to some text in a story they checked out. They’re not mucking around in there to modify the styles, delete them, or create new ones.

In fact, even if they wanted to, they couldn’t. When an InCopy user opens a layout or assignment and checks out a story, virtually all of the Styles commands (from their panel menus) are grayed out and inaccessible. If an editor needs a new text style (“Caption-small”), or wants to modify an existing one, they have to contact the designer and request it. The designer adds the new style to the InDesign layout and saves the document. Then the editor can choose Update Design from the File menu, and the new style appears in their panel.

If the designer’s not available or for whatever reason, can’t make the requested change, all the InCopy user can do is to apply the desired formatting manually, from commands in the Paragraph or Character panels.

The only time that an InCopy user can create their own styles, import them, or modify existing ones is when they’re working in standalone mode; that is, when they’ve opened a native InCopy .incx document (as opposed to an .inca or .indd file). In that way, it works just like Microsoft Word.

But assuming that standalone .incx file will appear in an InDesign layout at some point as a managed workflow story, what happens when the twains meet? Will InDesign ignore the custom InCopy styles, leaving an editor gnashing his teeth at all the wasted time?

Answer: It depends.

New Styles

Part 1 of the rule is this: Any new paragraph or character styles that the InCopy user managed to add to the story are added to the InDesign document (when the story is brought in or updated) and become available for anyone working on that layout or its workflow stories.

So if an editor creates a new InCopy document, or opens an existing one (the .incx file itself) they can create new text styles in the document. When the designer places the .incx file into an InDesign layout, any new paragraph or character styles it contains are immediately added to the InDesign layout file. As soon as the designer saves changes, anyone else working on checked-out stories from that layout can update their design and thus see and use the new styles too.

This is true regardless if the .incx file the editor opened is part of an existing layout or not. So if the editor had bypassed a story’s “parent” layout or assignment, and instead went straight to the Content folder on the server and opened one of the linked .incx files, they can add styles to that story as well. After they save their changes, anyone else working on the layout or assignment will see the new styles appear as soon as they choose Update Content for that editor’s story.

Of course, the designer could always delete the added style. That counts as a change in the layout design, so as soon as the InCopy users update their designs, the style is gone. Any text that had been formatted with that deleted style retains its formatting, but it’s now all local overrides (manual formatting), unless the designer had chosen a different style to replace it at the prompt.

Modified Styles

Part 2 of the rule is this: Any changes to a managed story’s existing styles (for example, editing the Body Text style so it uses a different typeface) that the InCopy user applied by opening it in standalone mode, are ignored in the InDesign layout file or assignment file that links to it. It’s like they never happened; and the original specifications that came from the designer remain applied to the text.

I hear all you designers going, “whew!” ;-)

Interestingly, “ignored” is not the same as “reset” or “deleted” … if the editor opens that .incx file again as a standalone document, even after the designer updated its content in InDesign, they’ll still see their InCopy modifications to the styles … their body text will still use the new typeface, for example. (Another good reason not to open the .incx files directly — not only can’t you see the layout, but the formatting itself might not be accurate. Rare, but possible.)

The reason that your style changes are ignored, editors, is because whenever there are conflicting styles (style names are exactly the same but their specs are different) in an incoming text document and the receiving InDesign layout, the InDesign definition trumps the text document’s definition. It’s the default behavior for Word documents (though the designer has some leeway with those); and it’s the only allowed behavior with InCopy documents.

Otherwise, your style modifications might completely throw off the copyfitting for all the other stories in the layout that are formatted with that style. Chaos would reign, heads would roll, etc.

Deleted Styles

Finally, Part 3 of the rule: If an editor opens an .incx file and decides, gosh darn, there are just too many style in this document, I’m going to delete some, InCopy will let them. Nothing chaotic happens, even when the story is updated in the layout or assignment, because as with modified styles, deleted styles are ignored. The styles remain in the designer’s layout and are available in every story when checked out from an assignment or the layout.

However, unlike what happens with modified styles, when an editor deletes a style that’s in use, ensuing formatting changes to the story’s text (the text that used to be formatted with the deleted style) are honored by InDesign and assignments.

That’s because when you delete a style that’s being used in the current document, both InDesign and InCopy will prompt you to choose a different style to apply to the affected text. You can choose one of the document’s other styles from a drop-down list or you can choose “No Style” with the option to retain the (old) formatting as local formatting. Either way, that’s the way the text will look from now on, even after the designer updates your changes in InDesign.

If you change your mind (“Oh, why did I ever delete the Subhead style? Where was my head?”) you’ll have to open the layout or assignment in InCopy, where the original style still exists. Then check out the story and re-apply the style.

And thus endeth the lesson. The moral of the story is, if you need a new style and the designer’s too busy, you can create it on your own in InCopy by opening the story directly in standalone mode. (And a good idea is to add your initials to the style name so the designer will know whose wrath they incurred by ignoring your polite request). But don’t bother deleting or modifying any styles that you didn’t create yourself, since those changes will be ignored by InDesign.

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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One Comment on “Dueling Styles: InCopy vs. InDesign

  1. Hi,

    Here’s a question or two for you in this vein:

    1. Why doesn’t “Show Import Options” work when importing an InCopy file?
    2. There’s no alert/color/warning that indicates that a style came from the InCopy file into InDesign. No little “disk” icon like we get if a style doesn’t exist in InDesign but came from the Word document.

    We’re using RSuite now and it generates .icml files from the raw XML. We can import these into InDesign, but as I mentioned above, if any of the styles from the InCopy document don’t exist in the InDesign document, there’s no quick way to see that. They just plop themselves in and it’s up to us to be lucky enough to spot a strange element in the text.




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