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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