Why are style sheets important?

Consistency is key when designing — style sheets help keep this throughout documents, whether you are creating a magazine, a flier or anything you want to have a unified look.

Indesign, Illustrator and even Photoshop are capable of creating style sheets, though inDesign is the most frequent program designers use. There are three basic styles that are helpful, can save time and provide a consistent format for paragraph styles, character styles and object styles within your document. 

Here is a brief explanation of each:

Paragraph styles

Paragraph styles apply formatting to the entire text of a paragraph. This includes font, size, color, tracking, leading, hyphenation and alignment. There are many other options you can control with paragraph styles. To see all options, go to the main menu of InDesign under “Window” and go down the column where you will see “Paragraph Styles.” Click it, and the paragraph styles window will open. From there, you go to the pull-out menu at the top right corner of the window and click on “New Paragraph Style.” Here is where you will see a list of all the options you can customize for your paragraphs.

It is typically easier to format your text first, highlight your selection and then click on the “create new style” icon at the bottom of the window (box with a plus sign). This will define that particular paragraph style format. You can simply double-click on the default name “Paragraph Style 1” and rename it—heading, subhead, body or anything descriptive. This will make it easy to identify your style. To quickly apply this style to other parts of your document, select a paragraph or place your cursor within that paragraph and click on the style name.

Character styles

Character styles apply formatting to a particular word or phrase within that paragraph, such as changing a color or font style (bold, italic). You can create this by using the Character Styles window, similar to the paragraph styles. There are a lot fewer options.

Object styles

An object style lets you apply formatting to selected objects—graphic frames or text frames—defining the fill and stroke color, drop shadows, transparency and text wraps to name a few (you can click on the object styles window panel pull-out menu at the top and go to “Style Options…” to see more).

With all styles, if you see a (+) plus sign next to your style name, this indicates something has been modified to your style. You can see where this is applied by clicking the “Style Override Highlighter” [a+] icon at the top of your style window. This will highlight anything that does not follow your custom styles. You can undo this by selecting the highlighted area and clicking on the “Clear override in this selection” icon at the bottom. 

One of the benefits of having your styles defined is if you decide to make an edit to a particular style (perhaps a headline you want to increase the font size of), all you have to do is highlight the text you modified and go from your paragraph styles window to the pull-out menu and click “Redefine Style.” This will be reflected everywhere the style was used.

Without style sheets, if you wanted to change a certain feature throughout your document, you would have to manually format or remember to change these features in the rest of your document, wasting a lot of time or perhaps missing an instance.

It is also helpful to know that you can load styles from other documents you or someone else on your team created for a particular client. This will then keep all your files looking the same and keep everything on brand for the client.