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Making Custom Arrowheads

Stroke paletteInDesign offers several choices for stroke endings, such as arrowheads, tailfeathers, squares, and so on. However, many people want to create custom arrow heads or other shapes on the ends of their lines. Is that possible? Sure, with a little work.

  1. Draw the line you want to embellish.
  2. Create the artwork. Here, I’ve copied some vector artwork from Adobe Illustrator and pasted it into InDesign.
  3. Cut the artwork with the Selection tool, switch to the Text on a Path tool (Shift-T), click anywhere on the path, and paste.
  4. Select the line with the Direct Selection tool (A) and drag the start point of the text on a path (it looks like a line just to the “left” of the text on a path, perpendicular to the line itself) until the artwork sits more or less where you want it.
  5. Choose Type > Text on a Path > Options and set the Align popup menu to Center.
  6. Because this was pasted vector artwork from Illustrator, we can edit the points to make it even more interesting.
  7. And because it’s text on a path, it will always rotate appropriately with the path itself (though you may need to adjust it’s start point again if you make the path longer).

Is this a perfect solution to the problem? Certainly not! But until Adobe gives us true editable arrowheads, it’s at least a viable workaround. (No, there’s no way to save these as an object style. Instead, put them in a library and pull it out to edit it whenever you need one.)

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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  • - November 30, -0001
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15 Comments on “Making Custom Arrowheads

  1. Ooooh you clever man!

    I like the screen shots, it’s very Terry Gilliam meets InDesign.

    Note that Step 5 isn’t necessary, you can select the graphic with the Selection tool and move it up/down the baseline, as an anchored object.

    You can get all sorts of strange effects combining your tip with the Anchored Object alignments … unfortunately Custom is grayed out.

    But Inline Align to Spine does work, as long as you have text in there. You could fill the text with None and then see your arrowhead flip around as you drag the line from one side of a spread to the other.

  2. Yes, you can create a style David, don’t vectorise the finger, place it with the font aligned right in the Path on the text and use a Paragraph Style. See what I mean ? You can then change the Paragraph Style definition or Find what ? “this character that draws the finger with this font or with this Paragraph Style” – Replace by what ? “another character or another style”.

  3. I’m sorry, Branislav, but I don’t think that will work. Feel free to email me a sample file, though, and maybe I will change my mind. ;) Besides, when I say you can’t make an object style out of this, I mean that you cannot select any line and simply click on it to apply the arrow.

  4. Vectorized or not, a dingbat can be put in a frame and this frame pasted as Text on a Path. By using the Paragraph (horizontal alignment, left/right margins) and Character options (baseline shift) and thus PAR and CHAR styles, it is always possible to move the pasted frame left and right (paragraph options) and up and down (character options).

    And if it is a dingbat, you can do some FINDs/CHANGEs by typing the Unicode codes.

    Anyone who wants the file just email me, I do this stuff since ID 1.0 for complex master pages and complex position of objects relative to lines, objects, and so on…

  5. And if i repeat David’s steps, for me it’s OK until step 3. Step 4 is too complex. I will simply choose the Right Aligned option of the Paragraph options and also the right margin value. Because with David’s tricks, when there are 2000 arrows in the book, how does he modify all the arrowheads at once ? Impossible. With the Edit > Find/Change feature and playing with Paragraph/Character options, you can. And if you used styles, it’s even better.

  6. Branislav and I have battled it out cross-Atlantic via ichat and I have come to these conclusions:

    A. He is right that using the Left Indent is easier than dragging the Start point of the text on a path. Doing it this way also means you can automate part of the process by creating a paragraph style for the text on the path.

    B. Branislav has confused find/change with building an object style. I know he knows the difference, but his comments here only address the issue of having to change 2000 instances of the arrowhead, not applying them in the first place.

    C. There is no doubt that find/change would be a great method for changing some aspects of the style, but that’s not the point.

    D. Branislav is fixated on my using a pointing finger icon for my example. Obviously, in most cases, you wouldn’t be using something from a font; you’d use some graphic, like a fancy arrow. In that case, you would not be able to find/change because you cannot find/change non-text objects in CS2.

    Obviously, there are many ways to achieve the same effect in InDesign — that is the beauty of the program. What’s important is not to argue about it, but rather to learn as much as we can about the program, and embrace all the various options.

  7. Actually, I respectfully disagree with your last post David.

    The point Branislav makes is that your method has no purpose for a layout. Sure there are 1000 different ways to attach a vector to a line as if it were a custom arrowhead. But you just point out one way of doing it, and a single way that is not replicable across a document of any reasonable complexity.

    Branislav’s approach is not much more repeatable because you have to create each of these 2000 line/things by hand initially. However, using his method of a dingbat, you could update all 2000 with a paragraph rule. Whereas with your methods, you would be screwed. That is his point as I see it.

  8. Andrew, thanks for your note about this. Here are my two problems with Branislav’s approach: First, most of the things I’d want to put on the end of a line are vector shapes, not something I have in a font. I suppose I could make a font out of the vector shape, but that’s too much trouble.

    Second, I don’t see any way to “hang” a character off the end of the line. That is, the Left Indent will not push a text character out beyond the end of the line. You can, however, do this with an anchored object. For the purpose of an “arrowhead” type object, you obviously don’t want it sitting on the line; you want it out beyond the line.

    Am I missing something? Do you or Branislav have a way to make a character sit out where an arrowhead would be?

  9. As you state, I cannot either figure out how to push a text object past a line as defined. I faked this by creating a custom dashed line that inserted a gap right before my inserted glyph. Then the glyph appeared to hang.You cannot unfortunately as I can figure out push an object past the line, as you note.

    You are right that you would have to create a custom glyph dingbat file if you wanted to use Branislav’s technique with custom art as you have defined. Clunky.

    This is what I take from this discussion currently. If you are making a flyer or a book and need custom arrowheads on a line, create the line and arrowhead in Illustrator and link that line arrowhead from Indesign.

    That way if you need to ever update the look of that custom arrowhead thing, just update the Illustrator file once. You wouldn’t be able customize the Illustrator file for line length but this thus far has been the best tradeoff I have seen in the proposals.

    Easy Cheesy. The Illustrator file can even be pasted within the Indesign text frames to flow correctly with copy.

    What do you think?

  10. Custom “Double” Arrowheads ID CS2 !!

    David / Andrew, as you probably now, if you add enought empty spaces before a character or object ( fancy arrow ) on a path and give them negative tracking, it will push it out ( for the left side of the path ).

    If I put 2 custom shape on a path (left / right custom arrow), one facing left and another facing right, separated by a “Right Indent Tab”, the right facing shape, using the same trick as before, will not push it out to the right.

    Andrew’s trick with “custom dashed line” is not easy to do for a “Custom Double Arrowheads” and difficult to edit.

    Well, a path can only have one “type on a path” after all. Joining two paths going different direction do not work either. Grouping them is a solution.

    In a path with multi-points, we should be able to select two points and make them behaves as we wish. Like adding a new start point and end point between any two points ( segment of a path ).

    Maybe for CS5.
    Full le Fun.

  11. You can get an arrowhead out of any other vector program. Make a pdf of the document with the arrowhead that you want to use. Open the pdf in Illustrator. Size to suit. Group the arrowhead. Copy and paste into Indesign from Illustrator. Rotate using free transform. You lengthen the line by selecting the line only. I made a file that had the arrowhead I needed in it for later use.

  12. indesign alters path when adding arrows. So, even if you have custom arrows you can’t have curved path as you draw it. This way you can have precise paths. Tnx for sharing this.

  13. You can hand an arrow as text by putting a space in front of it, then reducing the kerning. To put it on the right side, just flip the line. It becomes a bit irritating to select the line end not the character, but it’s a decent workaround. I’m surprised CS4 still doesn’t offer custom arrowheads.

  14. Pingback: Criando pontas de linha personalizada no InDesign | Clube do Design | Dicas para designers

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