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Creating a stylish Table of Contents in InDesign
David Smith on Tue, December 4th 0 comments
Creating a table of contents in Adobe InDesign need not be a chore... and the end result can look appealing too! David Smith shows how.

Tables of contents are a great feature in InDesign, really easy to set up and create, once you understand the workflow that is. In this article, I am going to create a table of contents for a document that I have already completed (don’t try and read it, it's all in placeholder text, but probably the most interesting thing I’ve ever written. Hey you were not supposed to agree with me there).

Ok so lets get started. 

Step 1 - Create 2 master pages

Here I have created an A-Master page that will work as a standard page in the document, nothing too exciting, just a 2 column text box.

Master Pages.

I have also created a B-master page that will work as the first page of each new Chapter. To save time, I based it on the A-Master (and then unlocked the text frame, very important) and then modified it a little to include the Chapters Heading and its Title.

Step 2 - Create Paragraph Styles

Tables of Contents won't work if you don’t use Paragraph styles in a very disciplined way. 


Here I created 4 styles for my document:

  1. Chapter Title, to use on the name of each chapter.
  2. Chapter Heading, to use on the subject of each chapter.
  3. Body Text, to use on all the standard text on every page.
  4. First Page Body Text which is exactly the same as Body text except that I have used a 3 line Drop Cap on the first letter. 

Now we can apply the styles where they are needed.

Step 3 - Apply The Styles Correctly

On the B-Master, apply the Chapter Title style only to the text on that page that is the title of the chapter. It is vital that you don’t use this Paragraph style on any other parts of the document. 

Style applied.

Do the same with the Chapter Heading text, making sure that this is the only place that style is used. (TIP: If you need to use the same style somewhere else for another purpose then duplicate the style and rename it, and use that one elsewhere instead).

Finally apply the First Page Body Text style to the opening paragraph of the B-Master. You should also apply Body Text to the text frame on the A-Master. 

Step 4 - Create a long document

Start adding new pages in the pages panel Shift-Command-P. I have created (for no particular reason) 11 in total, 4 of which are B-Master templates. 

Changed titles.

On each B-Master page, unlock the text frames Shift-Command-Click and change the names on the Chapter Titles “Part 1”, “Part 2” etc. Also change the text of the Chapter Headings “The Long Walk Home” or “Catching a Lucky Bus” for example. This will ensure that your ToC will have different chapters listed. 

Step 5 - Add some ToC Paragraph Styles

When you make a ToC, it is possible to use the same styles on the text there as you did in the document. However, it’s probably not very desirable as the text in the document (as it is with this example) may be a little over styled for a ToC. 

New styles.

Add a new style named ToC Title (use the small o, you will see why soon enough). I’ve based mine on Chapter Heading, to retain consistency. However I also modified the size, color and alignment so that it's Smaller, Blue and Aligned Left.

Add another style named ToC Chapter Title, base it on ToC Title and make it 2 points smaller and color it black. 

Finally, Add the last style named ToC Chapter Heading and base that on ToC Chapter Title, this time adjusting the color tint to 70% (giving you a grey shade). 

These are all very similar, but different enough to stand apart in the ToC. 

Step 6 - Create a page number Character Style for the ToC

The ToC also utilizes Character styles on the Page number and also if you wish, on the gap between the text and the page number. Open the Character Style Panel and create a new Character Style named ToC Number Entry. You can feel free to apply whatever creative bones you might possess to create a style for your ToC number, just bare in mind that people need to be able to read it. Here is mine.

ToC number.

Step 7 - Create a Dot Leader

ToC’s often work better if there is some kind of line or mark that helps visually align the contents with the page number for the reader. Often little dots are used to serve this purpose. 

Create another Character Style and name it ToC Dot Leader. In its options, go to Underline Options and turn the underline on. Set the weight to 1 pt, the type to Dotted and the color to Black. 

Dot Leader.

Step 8 - Create a new blank page

Open the Pages panel and drag the (None) Master page down to the document so it is inserted before the current first page.

Blank Page.

Now at last you are ready to generate your Table of Contents.

Step 9 - Generate a Table of Contents

Go to the Layout menu and choose Layout > Table of Contents.

ToC panel.

A window opens asking you to define the ToC you are creating

Step 10 - Add a ToC Title

In the Title field, type “What's Inside”. This will be the title of the ToC and choose the Paragraph Style ToC Title (note there is a default style called TOC Title, hence our little o).

ToC Title.

Step 11 - Add the Chapter Title to the Contents

Using the menu called other styles, select the paragraph style named Chapter Title and click the add button, the style jumps over to the section named Include Paragraph Styles.

ToC Chapter Heading.

The ToC will now contain references to each occasion that the Paragraph style named Chapter Title appears, as well as what the text says. 

Step 12 - Stylize the ToC entry

In the Style section, use the Entry Style menu to select a paragraph style for the text that will appear in the ToC. Select the style you made earlier named ToC Chapter Title.

Select the ToC Chapter Title style.

Also decide where the page number will appear. Convention would suggest you chose “after entry”, and this is where to apply the character style you created named ToC Number Entry. 

Finally, decide what should happen between the entry and the number. The default is a Tab Character, however to make the ToC a lot neater and easier to view, remove the ^t text and replace it with a Right Indent Tab, or type ^y. Apply the style named Dot Leader to the Right Indent and watch what happens later on.

Step 13 - Add the Chapter Heading

Repeat the actions of step 12, only this time select the paragraph style named Chapter Heading and click Add. The style will be added to the Include Paragraph Style menu, and will be indented under the style added earlier named Chapter Title.

Second ToC entry.

This indicates the structure of your ToC, in that the Titles will appear before the Headings of each chapter sequentially. 

Step 14 - Stylize the Chapter Heading entry

Use the same options as with the Chapter Title, such as Entry Style (only set it to ToC Chapter Heading). Set the Page Number to After Entry and between them use a Right Indent Tab with the Dot Leader style etc. So it ends up looking like this. 

Second Entry Styled.

Step 15 - Place the ToC

Once the ToC settings are done, click OK or press Return. The ToC settings window closes and the ToC is created and now fills the cursor in InDesign.

ToC placed.

Place the cursor in-line with the top left corner of the page margin and click to create a text frame filled with the ToC that is the same size as the page margin. 

Voila! The Table of Contents appears, with all your styles applied. Check out the dot leader style, adding dots to the gap between the titles and the page number. What's really nice about this is that if the ToC isn’t quite what you want, just edit the styles that start ToC in the Character and Paragraph styles panels. Try a few different combinations. 

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