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Find Spacing Problems by Displaying Spaces Instead of Text

Our friend and colleague Nigel French (author of the book InDesign Type) reminded us recently that sometimes you need to pay attention to the words on your page, and sometimes you need to pay attention to the spaces between the words. The problem, of course, is that it’s hard to see what isn’t there!

For example, look at this page… which stands out more, the words or the spaces between the words?

page of text

So here’s a quick method he devised to show the spaces, and hide the text.

The trick is to add two GREP styles to your paragraph style:

grep styles to show spaces

If that image is hard to read, here’s what it shows: One GREP style that sets a character style called “disappear” to [^\s] and a second GREP style that applies a character style called “colored bar” to \s

Here’s what those character styles look like:

disappear character style

colored bar character style

See how “disappear” sets the fill and stroke color of the text to None? That makes it disappear! And the colored bar applies a thick underline on the space. (Blue in this case, but you can choose whatever color you want, of course.)

When you apply these two grep styles to the body text paragraph style, here’s what you get:

showing spaces instead of text

What’s great about this is that you can quickly see the worst offenders in “rivers” (when space seems to trickle down from line to line) and also when there’s just too much space between words in the middle of a paragraph.

Here’s what the page looks like after I changed the Hyphenation and Justification settings in the paragraph style, to offer a bit more flexibility:

after adjusting H&Js

If you compare the two you can see that the second one is smoother… less radical shifts from big spaces to little ones.

Later, when you want to see the text again, just delete the GREP styles in the paragraph style… or edit them so that they point to “None” instead:

 

setting grep style to none

Here’s the final page:

page of text

In design, the negative space — the forms created by what’s in-between the words and lines — is important!

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 Lynda.com are among the most watched InDesign training in the world. You can find more about David at 63p.com.
David Blatner

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3 Comments on “Find Spacing Problems by Displaying Spaces Instead of Text

  1. Indents or blank lines between paragraphs please… I know the greeks didn’t even believe in word space… and the point was to focus on one problem but I’m damaged

  2. Instead of [^\s] you can use \S

    Remember the negative version of some of the GREP wildcards are in Caps.

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