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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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9 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.

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