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Put Lines to Left and Right of a Heading

Heading with lines on both sides in InDesign

Ann wrote:

I’ve hunted and hunted for a way to make … a centered heading with a line on either side.

There are two ways to create this effect: the traditional, easy way (which works in limited situations); and a slightly more difficult method (which works in almost all situations).

Headinglines1

The Easy Way to Put Lines on Both Sides of a Heading

The easy, traditional method is to apply two paragraph rules to the text (typically as part of the paragraph style):

  • a thin rule above with a slight offset to center it vertically on the line
  • a thicker rule below set to the background color (normally Paper white), that “knocks out” part of the line above. To do this, you need a negative offset, a negative left and right indent, and the width set to Text

See the examples below:

Headinglines3

Headinglines4

This method is fast and easy, but it has one negative result: it only works over a solid background the same color as the “knock out” rule… when it’s over another color, or an image, the knock-out just leaves a white or colored gap:

Headinglines2

The Harder but More Flexible Way to Put Lines on Both Sides of a Heading

Fortunately, there’s another way. This time, we’re going to set up the paragraph style to be flush left, rather than centered:

Headinglines5

Now, to center the heading, and add a little space between it and the line, we’ll add some text. In this case, I’ll use the Find/Change dialog box (GREP tab) to find everything in the heading paragraph style, and replace it with the same text, but with a tab and en space before it, and an en space and a right-align tab after it.

The code for “everything” is .+ and the code for the replacement is \t~>$0~>~y so it looks like this:

Headinglines6

Notice that in the image above, I have used Find Format to limit the scope to just my heading paragraph styles.

Next, I need to change my heading paragraph style by adding a center-aligned tab stop in the middle of the column width:

Headinglines7

And I add a Nested Style that applies a “strikethrough” character style to the tab characters:

Headinglines8

I could have used a GREP Style instead of Nested Styles, but my general philosophy is that if you can do it with nested styles, try that first.

The result is a tab with a thick strike-through, followed by a blank en space, then the heading, then another en space, then another struck-out tab to the end of the line:

Headinglines9

There are, of course, many other solutions to this problem: You could anchor lines into the text; you could use underscores instead of strikethrough; you could use scripting; you could add custom strokes with a huge gap and convert each heading into a table cell… but I think these two options are the simplest options. But let me know below if you can think of others!

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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10 Comments on “Put Lines to Left and Right of a Heading

  1. No knock out problems if you use rule below and above and give either a massive indent, depending on the size of the text box. been using it for years..ish

    • Paul: Interesting… but don’t you have to adjust the left and right offsets individually for each heading to account for the different lengths of text?

  2. Force Justify combined with the Flush Space character can work. I would say a GREP style for each Flush Space (e.g. the open “^~f” and close “~f$”). You would need a distinct GREP for each, since Flush Spaces don’t perfectly center the line (which is weak, but what can you do). So the first Flush Space would need to be tracked back to compensate for the centering. This is basically a variation on what you have here, but without being tied to a specific frame size or tab. Then the gap between the flush space is easily managed with empty-fill characters (not spaces, sadly) tied to their own distinct character style.

    • Hello Ben, I like your solution! You could change the width of the Flush Spaces to 1% in the strike-through-character style, that will center the text perfectly.

      • 1% width on the flush spaces is excellent and eliminates the need for a different style for each flush space. Why does that even work?! InDesign magical thinking. So to sum up… flexible line lengths that grow with your text, no need for a fixed width text frame, and only two character styles — one for the flush spaces and one for the gap character. Thanks Godfried.

  3. Honestly, David, what would I ever do without you and Anne-Marie. The other good thing about this solution is that it works in CS6 (and Mavericks!). Thank you so much, I’m most grateful.

  4. I absolutely love this kind of article. I’ve recently used a part of the second method to have left aligned text with a line on the right, but the center-aligned tab stop thing is very clever !

  5. Any thoughts on accessibility? It seems like the first solution would be compliant but the second one wouldn’t.

  6. Could the knock out problems you refer to not be removed by changing the text frame’s blend mode to multiply in effects? Or does that have some adverse effect?

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