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Mysteries of the Elliptical Overset Cell Symbol Revealed

[Kelly Vaughn  (a.k.a “Document Geek“) has over a decade of print and design experience. She has worked in a variety of print shops, from quick-print, to sheetfed litho, to large format. She specializes in writing and designing technical manuals, specifically for the water and marine industries.]

This article is will help you to better understand the shape and placement of the overset text symbol within table cells.

I recently encountered a problem while placing a Word document. The problematic portion of the Word doc turned out to be a table.

Try as I might, I could not get the text within the table to display… at least, not within the constraint of a normal page size. All I got were the red elliptical overset cell symbols. Now, there are two different type of overset symbols: one for text frames and another for table cells. On a text frame, the overset symbol is a little red square with a little red cross inside of it. But table cells are a special kind of text container, and they get their own special overset text symbol. Table cells get a little red ellipse in the lower right corner.

Until recently, I always thought that the overset symbol appeared in the lower right corner of the cell. Until I saw a table that looked like this:

Some of the ellipses were on the left, and some of them were at the top. What?!? It turns out that each cell had a different text rotation applied to it.

0 Degrees Rotation

90 Degrees Rotation

180 Degree Rotation

270 Degrees Rotation

When I opened up the cells large enough to display all the text, this is what I saw.

I had to enlarge the cells considerably in order to display all the cell contents. The reason for the overset text was text rotation. The cells had to be very wide to accommodate the horizontal text, and also very tall to accommodate the vertical text.

So as it turns out, I had misunderstood of the location of the overset symbol in table cells. I had previously thought the overset symbols were in the lower right corner of the cell, but as it turns out, the overset symbols are actually at the lower right corner of the text within the cell. So when the text is rotated within the table cell, the location of the overset symbol moves accordingly.

Another interesting thing about overset text symbols is that the shape of the overset symbol indicates the orientation of the text rotation. For both 0 and 180 degrees text rotation within a table cell, the overset symbol is a horizontal ellipse. For 90 and 270 degrees text rotation within a table cell, the overset symbol is a vertical ellipse (because the cell contents are rotated).

Horizontal Ellipses

Vertical Ellipses

Knowing why the symbols appear where they do will help you when you have to troubleshoot overset tables. If your table has vertical overset ellipses, you should start by expanding the height of the cells. And if your table has horizontal overset ellipses, you start by expanding the width of the cells.

Kelly Vaughn

Kelly Vaughn

Kelly Vaughn (a.k.a. "Document Geek") has over a decade of print and design experience. She holds Adobe Expert Certifications In InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop, and Acrobat, and specializes in writing and designing technical manuals for the marine industry. She is the chapter representative for the Raleigh, North Carolina, InDesign User Group. In her spare time, she enjoys knitting, dachshunds, and learning to garden.
Kelly Vaughn

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14 Comments on “Mysteries of the Elliptical Overset Cell Symbol Revealed

  1. When I first read this article I thought “Meh, I’ll never use that”, then on the first document I opened up this morning having that knowledge came in handy!

  2. This is a wonderful post! I remember this question about “red dots” text overflow came up at one of the meetings of the Print and ePublishing conference. Nobody knew why the dots weren’t perfectly circular, but now we know. Thanks, Kelly!

  3. This is helpful information. How do you prevent or avoid overset text from occurring in the first place? (I’m placing Excel charts, etc. into InDesign doc.) Thank you.

  4. @Brianna: I haven’t figured out a foolproof way to prevent overset text. The setup of the original excel sheet, in combination with the size of your InDesign Text frame (and if the text flows in with any paragraph/character styles that it shouldn’t), seems to determine if the text will be overset. Until I figure out a better way, I’ve resigned myself to fixing it all manually. If I come up with a way to avoid it in the first place, I will be sure to write a blog article about it!

  5. Overset text only occurs if the row height is set to an “Exactly” setting (like “Exactly 1 inch”) and there is too much text to fit. That’s not the default setting … the default is “At least” which means the row should increase in height as you add text.

  6. Thanks for the article. I’m having an issue where I reach a limit as to how far I can extend the height of the table. I have a 3 column table. Column 1 has the longest amount of text. I get the red dot on that one in the lower right. I began extending the table down but at a certain point it wouldn’t expand down any further. I’ve expanded the text box well beyond that height and there’s plenty of room on the page. How come it reaches a point where I can’t expand the height any further?

  7. Have you tried looking in the story editor to see what’s down there? Sometimes (especially if text is imported from Word) there are large anchored objects that interfere with expanding text frames.

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