Forms in InDesign — The Right Way

I’m not talking about PDF forms here — something InDesign CS6 does just fine on it’s own, thank you very much.. No, I’m talking about good ol’ “‘print your name and address here” forms on regular real life paper.

You know, one of these:

A Good Old Printed Form

… you know, on “paper”

I’ve seen several hundred different ways to go about this, with everything from lines drawn with the line tool, to using an insane amount of underscores, etc.

Here’s the thing. It’s actually super simple.

Tabs and Underlines

They key is to use tabs and underlines.

Here’s the same form with hidden characters shown.

Tabs, Right-Indent Tabs, M-Spaces and Underlines

For those of you unfamiliar with any of these hidden characters,  we’re using tabs, right-indent tabs, em spaces and underlines.

Here’s What You Do

Let’s practice with the same form I have above:

  1. On the first line, type “First Name,” insert a tab, then an em space, then type “Last Name” and then insert a right-indent tab.
  2. Type in the other lines. Tabs are used between items, an em space is used to add some padding, and right-indent tabs are used everywhere else.
  3. Open the tabs panel, and adjust the tab stops as you see fit. (Need help with tabs?)
  4. Select the tab after “First Name” — you will see that the whole “empty” space will be selected — and then apply an underline. Select the right-indent tab after “Last Name” and apply an underline. Repeat.


This method has its’ advantages:

  • Minimum number of  characters you need to create the effect (you don’t need a bunch of underscores)
  • Is much easier than the tab-leader method (which requires far too much fiddling with the tabs box)
  • Is flexible. Right-indent tab will expand or contract as your text frame does.
  • It’s neater. You don’t have to fiddle with lines that don’t always match up and unlike other method (namely underscores and tab leaders) the right edge of the lines will match up evenly, which makes for cleaner alignment.)
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InDesign Chutzpah!

I got this posted on InDesign

Original Post here:

Daniel T. wrote us to report a creative use for InDesign:

My current contract had used Quark for a long time; they recently purchased CS3 with the intent to switch over to InDesign, but because no one really knew InDesign, they were slow to get started.

I was stuck revising a pretty long text document in Quark—about 32 pages worth of exhibitor listings. I started out by assigning keyboard shortcuts to my Quark Style Sheets, and manually applying these to each paragraph. This was going to take FOREVER! I wanted to quit! I longed for InDesign’s “Apply xx Style then Next Style” command.

But alas.

Then, I had a bright idea.

I imported the unformatted text into InDesign and quickly set up paragraph styles. Then, using ID’s Apply Style then Next feature, I styled the whole 32 pages in one mouse click. (Woo-hoo!)

Then I exported the text as RTF, and then imported it into QuarkXPress, selecting the option to “Keep Style Sheets.” The text flowed in with all the style sheets intact! I needed to redefine the colors, as RTF doesn’t really keep them well, and tweak a few other things in the Quark version of the style sheets: but hours and hours and hours of endless clicking and arrow-downing evaporated into about 45 minutes.

Thank you, InDesign!

Daniel wins this weeks official InDesignSecrets chutzpah award for a great use of InDesign in the face of adversity! Plus, bonus points if you can write an AppleScript to merge the QX and ID workflow automatically.

To that I add: Excellent.

Set Finder-Labels via Butler

I’m one of those “keep my hand on the keyboard at all times” sort of guys. So I was annoyed recently when I discovered that there was no keyboard shortcut to set an item’s color label in the Finder. While I don’t always use the Finder’s color labels, I often find them invaluable when working on projects with complex file and folder structures, indicating which files are “done” and which files are “pending.” Using Butler’s outstanding ability to execute any AppleScript code via a key combination, I set up the following script:

tell application “Finder”
set thisItem to selection as alias
if label index of thisItem = 0 then
set the label index of thisItem to 2 — 2 = red
set label index of thisItem to 0 — 0 = no label
end if
end tell

I then set it to run with the arbitrary key-combination of Option-Command-Control-L. This code will toggle on and off the Red label only. However, using Butler and modifying the AppleScript, one could set a combo to toggle all the different labels on and off — perhaps using one to six on your keyboard, with appropriate modifier keys.

Using Butler to Key-Command URL

One of my favorite productivity apps is Butler. While the “Which launcher app is better?” debate will rage interminably, I especially like Butler’s ability to perform web searches simply via a keyboard shortcut activated pop-up bezel interface. All I have do to is hit Command-Option-Control-G, and a bezel box opens, allowing me to perform a Google search no matter what app I’m in. Ditto for -M and Google maps, -V and Version Tracker, etc.

I found myself wanting the ability to assign a simple keyboard shortcut, get a dialog box, and open any URL I wanted — no reaching for my browser. While Butler contains a way to do this, it generally requires a step or two more than I’d like, and I wanted a more direct solution. Using one of Butler’s most powerful features — the ability to execute any AppleScript code with only a keyboard shortcut — I implemented the following code:

display dialog “URL?” default answer “” buttons {“.net”, “.org”, “.com”} default button 3
set {text returned:theURL, button returned:theDomain} to result

if theURL is “” then error number -128 — cancel

if (offset of “.” in theURL) is 0 then
— This works for other domains, as long as no subdomains are entered
set theURL to theURL & theDomain
end if

if theURL starts with “www.” then
set theURL to “http://” & theURL
else if theURL does not start with “http://www.” then
set theURL to “http://www.” & theURL
end if

tell application “Safari”
open location theURL
end tell

(With a little revision from our friends at

I’ve assigned this to the key combination Command-Option-Control-U, and now I can open a URL no matter what application I’m in or what I’m doing — and with almost no attention necessary to the prefix or suffix.

iPod Nano

Here’s an interesting iPod feature that I’ve not seen mentioned elsewhere:

(This applies to a 1st generation nano and likely other models from the same time frame.)

If you’re playing a song, and you disconnect your headphones, your iPod automatically pauses.

Plug in your phone, hit play – you’re right where you left off.

Kinda nifty!


Sad, But True

Sad, but true.

Here’s an interesting piece:

Internet use cutting into TV viewing and Socializing.

I personally watch about 15 hours of TV every 6 months. That’s when I go home to Pennsylvania where my family has (limited) cable.

I will go to see movies in the theatre, but this is at least a social activity to some degree as I go with someone when I go to the movies.

From the article:

A 2000 study by the researchers that reported increasing physical isolation among Internet users created a controversy and drew angry complaints from some users who insisted that time they spent online did not detract from their social relationship

There is some truth to this: I spend far too much time on the Internet at is is. And certainly there is a degree of blocking out face to face relationships while you’re sitting in front of a computer screen.

However, there is another side to this and this is the fact of opening communication channels.

My collection of friends, from around the world really, has increased 5 fold since I started using the Internet more heavily about 4 months ago.

At that time, I set out, actually, to FIND new people, friends and pen pals and the ilk.

And so far it has been quite a success. I talk to several of my friends on the phone regularly, I’ve met quite a few from my local area, and I have friends from California who want to meet me when I go out there to visit in the middle of January.

So there is a trade off; is it worth it?

Like anything in life, balance is keynote.

I would be first to admit that I spend too much time on the internet. There is a certain discipline that one must use, as with anything else.

I’ve – as a “new years resolution”, one might say – decided that I will spend less time on the internet and more time out and about and doing things.

But I still won’t watch any TV.



Okay, so I admit it – I’m now a blogger. What the hell.

Like many current tech crazes, I’ve probably tried many things once – especially when they were in beta (or “early development” for those of you who aren’t in the gen.)

I was on AOL back at version 2.0 – way, way back. And I was even on eWorld for a while. (Don’t remember eWorld? Well, neither does anyone else but check it out here: )

So point being, I’ve “had a blog” for nearly a year now – yes, back when we were all just hearing about blogs and they were becoming something new and exciting.

But, I never put anything to them. Never actually blogged.

Hah! So what was the point?

Well, I recently acquired a digital camera. (Read: I got one for xmas.)

And there are quite a few of my friends who have requested to see my photos and I like to oblige them in things like this.

Now, stepping backwards for a moment here, I should mention that I’ve also had a website for while, and explored several different ways of keeping it updated and keeping my photos and graphics online for friends et al. to see.

But it drove me crazy as I had no good web tools with which to publish something regularly into my doled-out earthlink domain space.

So I figured, what the hell – I know I have a blog space, and I know that I can subscribe to a photo-blog site as well.

And so there you have it; my current foray into blogging.

I’ve two of them, and a “photo-blog.”

There is this one: “A Month of Sundays.” (Which is an idiom, by the way, which means a long time or indefinitely long time.)

And “My Sometimes Air-Conditioned Life” which is sort of a catch-all of things.

And my Flickr account is here. (Flicker is a neat photo sharing service; check it out.)

I know they’ll define themselves and sort them selves out a little more as I go along, but there you have it – enjoy.