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When InDesign Ignores Your Leading Values

We’ve received two emails this week regarding leading — or, more specifically, InDesign apparently ignoring or changing the leading values of paragraphs.

For example, G. wrote:

…The problem arises when we copy and then paste a text frame into a new document — some of the text blocks (not all) change their leading. But this is the thing: when highlighted, the text blocks display exactly the same leading as the original… same font, size, leading — but on the page they look like the space between the lines has been doubled… what’s going on!?

As Insp. Poirot would say, “Ah, we must use the little gray cells, I think.” (I always like to think of David Suchet at times like these) The clue to this mystery is that the leading value (what’s listed in the Control panel) doesn’t match the reality on the page. This can happen for at least two reasons. (I can actually only think of two right now, but I’m hedging my bets by saying “at least”.)

  • Vertical Justification. The first instance in which InDesign can ignore leading is when the Align pop-up menu in the Vertical Justification section of the Text Frame Options dialog box (Command/Ctrl-B) is set to Justify. Vertical justification typically overrides your leading values. You can return to normal leading values by increasing the Paragraph Spacing Limit in the same area, which lets InDesign add space between paragraphs instead of between each line.
  • Align to Grid. InDesign also throws your leading values out the window when the paragraphs have Align to Baseline Grid turned on (in the Control panel or the Paragraph panel). Align to Baseline Grid is a powerful force of nature, but as we have said in the past, it is not to be used lightly or by the faint of heart. This is the Number One source of “what the heck is InDesign doing to me now!?” comments by users worldwide, I’m convinced. When align to baseline grid is on, your leading is off. Period. Bye-bye leading values. It’s “snap to the grid or talk to the hand” time. The grid can, of course, be managed in the Grids pane of the Preferences dialog box, or the Baseline Options tab of the Text Frames Options dialog box.

Now here’s the problem: Sometimes align to grid is turned on for a paragraph style (say, for instance, the Basic Paragraph Style, if someone has been so foolish as to edit that style definition) in one document, but not in another. In that case, when someone copies text from document A to document B, the leading goes haywire!

Why Won’t My Text Move Up?

Here’s a bonus corollary to the leading value issue. A prominent and bright industry presenter asked me recently why some text would simply not move any further up on the page. He sent me the file, and it was true: You could drag the text frame all the way to the top of the page, but the first line of text — a headline — would not move any higher than about 2 inches from the top of the page. My little gray cells were baffling. But then it came to me: Yes! Align to baseline grid. The fiend. The menace. Yes, it was true, when I turned That Feature off, the text could move anywhere.

Why was it stopping so low on the page? Because the Start field of the Baseline Grid was set to 14p! The Start field determines where the first baseline grid appears. And if something is locked to one of those infernal baseline grids, then it ain’t moving higher!

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 are among the most watched InDesign training in the world. You can find more about David at
David Blatner

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35 Comments on “When InDesign Ignores Your Leading Values

  1. Wa, you bring up a good point: Some people (notably ex-QX users) apply leading when the text cursor is flashing in a paragraph and nothing happens! (Because leading is a character attribute in ID, of course.) But when you turn on that preference you mentioned, then ID applies the leading to all the characters in the paragraph. I almost always turn that pref on while no docs are open so it applies to all new docs I create.

  2. Yes, that is frustrating isn’t it. Another thing is when there is a character style applied to the whole paragraph, because both character style and paragraph styles can have leading, different settings.

    It’s the leading in the character style that will have control, not the paragraph styles leading. So I always leave the leading in the character style blank, where applicable.

  3. Ooops, not so much that it ignores it, just that most people would look at their paragraph style and see it’s set to 12pt and don’t know why it’s so big, but if the character style is applied and leading that is 60pt or something, then some people might be confused as to why.

  4. Talking about cells and tables: when you apply a paragraphstyle to text in a cell in a table, and that paragraphstyle has align to baselingrid on you sometimes get an unwanted effect: say you have set your text to center in the ceel (vertical, so beteeen upper and lower), baselinegrid will take over and your text may not be centered anymore!

  5. Wa, that happens in text boxes too, where you have vertical alignment switched on, but align to baseline grid switched on too. Should it come with a warning that they are conflicting? We get a warning that something “May Contain Binary EPS” why don’t we get a warning saying “Listen, you can’t have align vertically AND align to baseline grid turned on, it’s one or the other”.

  6. The warning should be in our own minds ;-)
    I had to resolve this one time for a client: they had pasted a image in a cell, the inset was 0 all around – but the image did not align. Cause: as the image is pasted as inline in a tablecell it was ‘text’ formatting that had Align to Baselingrid on.
    Just saying: if this happens your own warning signal should go of!

  7. I have also seen the align to grid demon frag the leading when copying into a new document because the original document had adusted the grid to a reasonable every 6pts (half font size) as compaired to the default value of every 12pts (full font size).

  8. George, I get that sometimes when the leading is set to auto but the paragraph return is sized different to the text. Good point.

  9. I have noticed paragraph styling getting dumped with pastes. These paragraphs might have the styling label (turns blue) listed but are not “true”. Some text was saved with a paragraph style that had no “+” or modified note added so that it seemed “clean”. The copied and pasted text, dumped some strange things even the font. The styling window can say it is in a particular paragraph style but is not.

  10. Deborah, might this have something to do with Edit>Preferences>Clipboard Handling> When Pasting Text and Tables from Other Applications?

    You can choose to paste all the information, or just the text, therefore stripping the format.

    Also, I noticed when placing text from say Word, that when you have nothing selected, just with the Selection tool active, that if you have your Paragraph Style set to something, and or, your character style, then it applies those styles to imported text. Best thing to do is make sure the Character Style is set to None and the Paragraph Style is set to Basic Pargraph before you place the text insertion point. This is true even when mapping the styles from a .rtf. It’s very frustrating and I spent about 6 months figuring out why my text was imporitng with my latest created Character or Paragraph style, even though I was mapping the styles on import.

  11. Yes, the Clipboard handling helped and I did bother to look at this when the squirrely handling happened, (usually from my ignorance) but the other stuff will probably help as mapping the styles I haven’t done, thanks!

  12. I am having an issue with leading. I think there is some document setting that I am unsure how to fix. My text justifies which is fine but I am unable to manipulate the leading. I can messing with the leading but it adjusts in huge increments. I have the leading set 8 over 8 but it looks like 8 over 18+. If I pull my text box out to the paste board it works fine but as soon as I move the text box back onto the doc page it justifies it. Can anyone help me resolve this? I am working in Indesign CS3. Thanks in advance.

  13. @Wa Veghel, thank you!!

    I’m totally OCD about formatting and was about to pull my hair out when the leading just wouldn’t budge

  14. Ah Ha! I used this post to help with a slightly different issue.

    I knew my leading was changing due to the text frame being vertically justified. What I didn’t know was what Paragraph Spacing Limit meant. I’d never used it or even thought about what it might be.

    Thanks to this post I am now able to keep my leading between lines within a single paragraph constant while still filling the frame vertically with text! (I was hoping there was a way to do this).

  15. I believe I have tried everything. I can not reduce the leading in my table. This really should not be this hard.
    I have changed all settings that I can find by hand and still no change.

    Please help.

  16. Does this Align to Grid have a keysub that might accidentally activate it, unbeknownst to the user?

  17. I have the align to grid set for the whole document. Can I have only one table (separate text box) ignore this setting? As is the table wants to align to grid as the rest of the doc and I can’t vertically center the text in each table cell. Annoying. Can anyone help? Thank you.

  18. If you’re having trouble aligning text in tables to your baseline grid properly, like it should and does in normal text frames…, try this… just figured it out, drove me nuts for ages:

    Per default base line aligned text in tables seems to align really weird… to the top of the base lines instead of the bottom. I read this is a bug, not sure if this is true. CS5 here.

    You can ‘correct’ this by going to the ‘custom base line grid’ settings of your table and set leading to the exact same value as the base line grid you want it to align to.

  19. This really helped me out – specifically Align to Grid. I compared two documents: doc A has copies of pages from doc B. Copied pages in doc A show lots of line space wherein the same pge in doc B shows minimal.

    Styles are exact in every paragraph style option pane. But when I try setting Align to Grid in doc A copied pages to “none”, they look just like the original doc B pages (even though doc B has Align to Grid set to “all lines.”


  20. I been struggling with a bad case of “snap to the grid or talk to the hand”, thanks to your article those dramas are behind me now. Snap to grid: off

  21. david … wanna’ thank you for the above article … enlightening and succinct. i also wish to graciously thank wa-veghel for his notation regarding indd/prefs/type: “apply leading to entire paragraphs”. for myself, this was a killer tip … and a godsend.

    my leading just wouldn’t “apply” lower than 6pt. true to form, i had already troubleshot vertical-j and align-g and styles as david had suggested above … wa pulled through with the smoking gunshot … finally, the incongruent 3pt leading snapped into view … “bam”!

    guess my query now is why adobe has this option disabled by default? i’ve opened cs3 thru cc1 … they all have it “disabled” by default.

    once again … thanks for this post … for me, truly a game-changer.

  22. Wish to add something about this bug.
    Sometimes, just changing the Vertical Justification Alignment to something else, apply then return it to previous setting fix the problem. It seems that, sometimes, InDesign saves the values of leading as forced (like if it’s set to justify) even if it’s set to Top, Bottom or Center. This often happens when you copy a page onto a new one (by dragging the page to be copied onto the new page button).

  23. Thank you thank you thank you. I have been staring at large spaces on my last page of a project scratching my head for about three hours. Finally solved the issue!

  24. Thank you for the help. I received a file with only one Paragraph Style “[Basic Paragraph]” (go figure!), but was having this trouble. The text I was working with had “None” applied to the Align to Grid. However, I had to turn Align to Grid to All Lines, then back to None before it would allow me to adjust leading precisely. Wasn’t a large document so I was able to get by.

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