Thanks for coming to, the world's #1 resource for all things InDesign!

Setting up Numbered Lists that Jump Frames in CS3

Most people, I think, can figure out the basics of InDesign’s Numbered Lists feature; it works the same as Microsoft Word’s. Select a range of paragraphs and click the Numbered Lists icon in the Control panel, and the paragraphs are numbered sequentially. If you have CS2, that’s about 90% of what you can do with the feature.

In CS3, responding to the cries of lament from many long document producers, Adobe sicced a team of software engineers on Numbered Lists to beef it up. And boy, did they! You can see the results if you open up CS3’s Bullets and Numbering dialog box. It bristles with new fields and dropdown menus and hieroglyphics that appear to mean something.

I’m sure it’s all quite comprehensible by other software engineers. But not so much by designers. In fact, I defy any InDesign CS3 user, new to the feature but not to InDesign, to get one of my favorite new features to work without looking at the Help file. (And looking at it again and again, because it’s not the clearest explanation.)

The feature I’m talking about is the ability to continue an auto-numbered list across unthreaded frames — frame to frame, page to page, even document to document, if you collect them all in a Book. It’s ideal for auto-numbering captions, for example (“Figure 17: Blah blah blah;” then three pages later, under another chart, “Figure 18: Blah blah.”).

Here’s what we want, in its most basic state:


How do we get it?

You Must Create a Custom List

If you apply auto-numbering to a paragraph as described in the intro, and then look at the Bullets and Numbering dialog box (Option- or Alt-click on the Numbered Lists icon to open it, or choose Bullets and Numbering from the Control panel menu in text editing mode), you’ll see that the List is called “[Default]” as shown here in this screen shot of the top portion of the dialog box:


But to get numbering to work across unthreaded frames, you can’t use the [Default] list. You have to create a new, named list, and apply that specific list to the paragraphs you want to sequentially number.

It’s simple to do, and there’s two places to do it. The first place is that Bullets and Numbering dialog box you opened. Press on the dropdown menu next to “List:” and choose New. Or, go to the Type menu, and from the Bulleted & Numbered Lists fly-out menu, choose Define Lists, and click the New button there. From either of these locations you’ll end up with the same New List dialog box, mercifully simple:


You can see that the two checkboxes that allow numbering to continue across frames or documents are here — in fact, this New List dialog box is the only place you’ll find them — and they’re turned on by default. Enter a name for the list, then click the OK button. From now on that list will be one of the options in the “List:” dropdown menu.

Now it’s just a matter of being sure to apply that named list to paragraphs you want to auto-number across frames. It would be nice if the Type menu’s Bulleted & Numbered Lists fly-out menu displayed all your named lists so you could choose the one you want, but it doesn’t. Instead, you’ll need to open the Bullets and Numbering dialog box (again, Option/Alt-clicking on the icon is fastest), choose Numbers from the List Type menu, choose your named list from the List menu, and click OK.

Use a Style

Your best bet, though, is to create a distinct paragraph style for these auto-numbered paragraphs. You can specify a particular named list within a style, or create a new one on the fly:


Applying that paragraph style to text automatically formats the paragraph(s) with your “jump across frames” auto numbering.

If you make a mistake and want to delete a custom list, or even just rename it, the only place you can do so is from Type > Bulleted & Numbered Lists > Define Lists > Edit.

It drives me bonkers, though, that if you want to actually edit a named list’s options or settings (like the number alignment), you can’t do so from Define Lists > Edit. Instead, you have to open the Bullets and Numbering dialog box, or the Bullets and Numbering panel of the paragraph style’s options.

And neither of these locations, of course, allows you to delete or rename a list — you have to go back to the Type menu’s Bulleted & Numbered Lists > Define Lists > Edit dialog box. Geez.

More Tips and Gotchas

To keep things manageable I’m going to continue this topic in an upcoming post sometime this week. There’s more to write about, such as changing how the auto-numbers appear, and how to force InDesign to number the text within multiple frames in a particular order. (Oy, do we need a “Tab Order” feature!)

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

Latest posts by Anne-Marie Concepcion (see all)

  • - November 30, -0001
Related Articles

58 Comments on “Setting up Numbered Lists that Jump Frames in CS3

  1. Thank a lot Mister !!

    You saved my week…

    Impossible to found this information because my keywords was always sending me to numbering page topics :'(

    Thanks again,
    take care


  2. I have used numbered list in frames, but numbers restart if I anchor one of the frames. For this I have to either anchor all or none. Any solution to this please.

  3. I have successfully numbered my figures – but once they turn to double digits I get this wide space between the Figure # and the descriptive text. I’ve tried adjusting alignment, indent, and tab – but those don’t seem to make any difference at all. Help please!


    • I had this same issue and after hours of trial and error finally got it fixed….only the next time I encountered the issue (months later) I forgot how I fixed it!!!! So a primer on this problem would be MOST appreciated. Thanks.

  4. Thank you!!. I encountered this last night when I was really tired (and anxiety level was high due to a deadline) and I was banging my head on the desk to try to solve this. The Anne-Marie/David team comes through again!

    thanks again

  5. This is great!! But can what happens if you need to add one in the middle say you have 99 items and need to add one after the 50th? When there are only a few you can adjust it by copying and pasting but how does that work over multiple pages?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *