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Starting Chapter Text at a Fixed Position on the Page

Here are two chapter opening pages. The title on the left is a single line and the other is three lines, yet the lead paragraph begins in the same place on both pages. An InDesign user asked me if there is a way to automate this so that, no matter how long the title, that lead paragraph will always start at a fixed distance from the top of the page. There is. Each of these pages has only one text frame, there are no blank lines or other hidden characters, and the paragraph styles are identical.

Title pages showing text starting at fixed position

No, this isn’t another InDesign Secrets Mystery Challenge. There are no prizes for finding the right answer, because (spoiler alert!) that’s what I’m about to get into.

We want to start the main text in a fixed position on the page, no matter how many lines in the title. There’s no single combination of “Space Before” and “Space After” that will do it. We would need a Paragraph Style for a one-line title, another for two lines, and so on, with different “Space After.” The Invisible Rule Above trick (more about this later) won’t work either, because that affects only the first paragraph in a frame.

You could put the chapter title in its own text frame, threaded into the main copy frame, but that’s an awkward workaround. If a chapter title were to change (not that your authors, paragons that they are, would ever do such a thing), you’d probably have to adjust the frame. This is not what you’d call “efficient.” Unless you’re being paid by the hour, and handsomely, “inefficient” soon morphs into “tedious” en route to “thoroughly annoying.”

The better way (you knew there was a Better Way)

Use a Primary Text Frame that fixes the text starting point, independent of the Chapter Title.

In the Text Frame Options dialog (Ctrl/Command+B), go to the “Baseline Options” tab. Set the Offset to “Leading” and turn on “Use Custom Baseline…” The value you enter for “Start” is the distance from the top of the frame to your first paragraph. If your document uses a baseline grid, enter the same leading value for “Increment Every:”; if not, you can leave it at its default.

The custom baseline settings for the lead text paragraph

Setting the Paragraph Styles

Next, edit the Paragraph Style of your lead paragraph (mine is “Lead Para”) so that it aligns with the new custom baseline grid. On the “Indents and Spacing” panel of the Paragraph Style dialog, change “Align to Grid” to “All lines,” if it isn’t already. If you aren’t using a baseline grid in the document as a whole, set this to “First line only” (unless you like seeing paragraphs explode).

Main text starts with Lead Para style aligned to the custom baseline gridNext is the Chapter Number paragraph style, which must also start at a fixed distance from the top of the page. You could simply lower the top of the text frame. If the position of the chapter number paragraph ever needs to change, you change the height of the frame. But the Lead Para first baseline position is relative to the top of the frame, so you’ll have to change that, too. Too tedious. Use the “Rule Above” trick outlined in this post instead. This allows you to set the position of the chapter number and title without affecting the lead paragraph. Here are the settings in the example I’m using:

Paragraph style for Chapter Number textNow that the chapter number and the first text paragraph are in their correct positions, put the final polish on it with “Next Style.” Set Chapter Number’s Next Style to “Chapter Title,” Chapter Title’s to “Lead Para,” and Lead Para’s to your body text style. This isn’t strictly necessary if you aren’t importing raw text into your document, but it’s just the Right Thing to Do.

Here is how the chapter opener page lays out with all those settings in place, showing how the first baseline setting makes this work.

Text starts at a fixed baseline, regardless of how many lines are in the chapter title

This Can Really Save You Time

Perhaps, like me, you’re the kind of designer who likes to experiment on the way to a final design, or you need to give the client several variations to choose from. This setup will allow you to change not only the number of lines in the chapter title (and chapter number), but also the typeface, point size and leading, all independent of the body copy.


Alan Gilbertson

Alan Gilbertson

Owner/Creative DIrector at G&G Creative
Alan Gilbertson is an independent (Scots by birth, independence is in the blood) creative director and designer living in Los Angeles, on the left coast of the U.S. Specialties are visual branding, identity programs and large format (indoor, outdoor and illuminated), across all media. His first love is book design, which he never gets tired of, closely followed by Creative Suite workflow efficiency, with which he is mildly obsessed. Besides InDesign Secrets, you can find him on , Behance,, various Adobe forums and a sprinkling of social media sites such as LinkedIn, Twitter (@gngcreative) and Google+ (+AlanGilbertson), sharing hard-won experience with Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator and other apps in the Adobe Creative Suite, most of which he uses (although InDesign is still his favorite).
Alan Gilbertson

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23 Comments on “Starting Chapter Text at a Fixed Position on the Page

  1. Thanks so much! I’ve used both these functions but not in conjunction with each other, not quite this way or for this purpose and, as a book designer, this is a trick I can really use! Thanks for posting!

  2. Neat trick, I will be using. Though it doesn’t work for e-books. I do use the invisible rule above and build in space above that does translate to the e-book (not the rules but the space above).

    Does anyone on know of a way to use percentages rather than specific amounts of space above or below, from within InD? That would be excellent if we could, because then it would do a better job of supporting multiple-sized devices without tweaking code.

  3. Please note: This trick will not work, when you chose »Fixed Height« as First Baseline option in the Text Frame Options dialog.

  4. This works perfectly when I edit the text frame options on a live page but I can’t figure out how to perform this edit on the primary text frame of a master page. There is no frame to select or options to edit on the master page. What am I missing?

  5. Tried several times … not working … The Chapter number moves into the correct place … Can’t get the lead paragraph to do anything. No chapter title.

    Also, plain text styles … what happens if I add special font or size to the chapter number? Will that mess everything up?

  6. All the spacing occurs with the Chapter number … the “Lead paragraph” just moves up and down with it …nothing fixed about the location.

  7. Rich, maybe this is your point: Chapter number and chapter title must not be aligned to baseline grid – only body text.

    There is only one text frame for all stuff.

    Alan, couldn’t you provide a .idml example of the whole thing? I think, it would be easier to understand, if one can download and examine it for themselfes.

  8. The IMHO only drawback of this workaround: I have to manually change the text frame. In my daily work on text books of various kinds, I have a good chance, that the (page) position of a chapter changes within the correction phase. If this happens, I have to check all pages after the change and correct the object style or change the master page (if one prefers).

    So (IMHO!) I can’t see a great improvement vs. having multiple chapter title paragraph styles – one for each additional line of chapter title text with a different setting of margin bottom – and apply them in one run before page break (sorry, if this is the wrong terminology – I’ve grown up with German terms). A guide rule on the master page then helps to have the body text at the fixed position.

    (In my eyes, one of the basic rules in typesetting of long text books is: Try to never touch the text frame.)

  9. One of the areas that’s confusing me is: “Now that the chapter number and the first text paragraph are in their correct positions, put the final polish on it with ‘Next Style.’ Set Chapter Number’s Next Style to ‘Chapter Title …'”

    Alan walks us through the specs for “Lead paragraph” and “Chapter Number” … but where do the specs for “Chapter Title” come from? Are we copying the “Chapter Number” style and renaming it?

  10. Thanks, Tobias, but I can’t open it. I only have Adobe CS3 — could that be part of the problem?

    I have stood my ground for a few years, but I’m coming to the grim realization I may have to cough up money and upgrade, at least to CS4.

  11. Yes, that’s definitely the problem. CS3 is lightyears away from nowadays InDesign: CS3, CS4, CS5, CS5.5, CS6, CC, CC2014, CC2015, CC2017, and now it’s CC2018.

  12. Thanks Tobias, for providing the sample docs. The chapter opener text frame wasn’t set up in the master, but I was able to get this to work, to test for production purposes. I copied the Chapter opener frames (with the text and all the settings for the frames) to a new master—called chapter opener. Then I cut the text from the master. I created another master for the full pages of text. I flowed text for the opener on to new pages set with the new master (including the special text frames) and then linked them to new pages set with the master for full pages of text. Works perfectly.

    If your document is set up without Primary Text Frame you cannot change it retroactively, but you can load masters from another document that have them (docs must be same size with same baseline grid, etc.). However it may be easier to set up a new document with all the parameters perfected with masters that have the special text frames—then flow the text into the new docs. I would work with a chapter text to get the text frame, and styles all working together—then copy that into the master to proceed to production—then never touch the master again. Voila!

    I’ve copied this new document into my file: InD DesignTemplates and How To’s. It’s handy for when I’ve forgotten how to do something like this!

  13. By the Way on a related topic. I almost always use one master for the chapter opener and another master for the full pages of text. When text reflows this can be a pain to re-assign the correct master to the page.

    However, I use the Mastermatic script, by ID Extras. This is a paid script that will automatically update the master pages based on what paragraph styles appear on the page (and with multiple options for intended blanks etc. Also object styles!) This script was WELL WORTH the $50 it costs. I recommend it!

    I have no connection to ID Extras, I just love that it works and saved me time and headaches. They have a bunch of other scripts too, but this is the only one I have used, so far.

  14. I’m compiling a book of poetry for the state poetry association and I want to FIX my position for the heading which will change almost each page. This will be the poet’s name for the poem on that page. I want to learn how to use your suggestions, but wow, this is straining my 73 year old brain. I can do it, but is there a primer that starts out a bit more simplistic that I can study and play with as a prototype before I tackle the real book format?

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