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Real World Adobe InDesign CS4: Tables

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InDesign can create and edit tables, or import tables from Word, Excel, or XML. This feature isn’t perfect, but it’s more than good enough to alleviate most of the pain of working with tables in a layout.

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Ole sees tables everywhere. This quirk is probably due to the time he spent typesetting a magazine devoted to horse racing (and its infamous “stud listing”), but he can be forgiven—tables really are everywhere.

Tables are everywhere because they’re a great way to present information that falls naturally into a set sequence of categories. If tables are so useful, why are they universally hated and despised by desktop publishing users? Since the dawn of the page layout era, creating tables has been a bother—programs that supported tables (Microsoft Word, FrameMaker, and Ventura Publisher, for example) didn’t have the typesetting and color management features graphic arts professionals expect; popular page layout programs (such as PageMaker and QuarkXPress) lacked tools for tabular composition. Plug-ins and stand-alone table-editing programs attempted to provide the feature, but, frankly, never worked very well.

The desktop publishing field has been waiting for someone to “do tables right” in a page layout program.

InDesign can create and edit tables, or import tables from Word, Excel, or XML. This feature isn’t perfect, but it’s more than good enough to alleviate most of the pain of working with tables in a layout.

Table Anatomy

Tables are a matrix; a grid made up of rows (horizontal subdivisions) and columns (vertical subdivisions). The area defined by the intersection of a given row and column is called a cell. InDesign has a complete vocabulary of terms for the various parts of rows, columns, and cells, which we’ve attempted to explain in Figure 6-5.

Figure 6.5 What’s That Called?

Understanding InDesign Tables

Now that we’ve got the terminology out of the way, but before we dive into the details of working with tables in InDesign, there are a few conceptual points we’d like to make, as follows.

  • Tables exist inside text frames. There is no “Table tool”—you create a text frame and then add a table to it, or convert text in the text frame to a table.
  • A table acts like a single character (albeit a potentially very large one). Another way to look at a table is to think of it as a special type of inline frame. Like a character, a table changes position as you add or delete text preceding it in its parent story; like an inline frame, you can’t apply character formatting (point size, font, or leading) to the character containing the table.
  • Like text, tables can flow from column to column, text frame to text frame, and from page to page. Table header and footer rows can automatically repeat when the table breaks across multiple text objects. An individual table row cannot be broken from one text frame to another or from one column to another.
  • Table cells are something akin to text frames: they can contain text, which can contain inline graphics, text frames, or tables. Any and all of InDesign’s typesetting features can be used on the text in a table cell, including character and paragraph styles, indents, tab stops, and character formatting.
  • Table cells can automatically expand (vertically) to display their content.
  • Tables are not only for formatting tabular data—they’re useful for a number of other things. Want to put a box around a paragraph? Convert the paragraph to a single-cell table. Want to compose paragraphs “side by side”? Use a two-column table. The number of possible uses are, as the cliché goes, “limited only by your imagination” and/or good sense/taste. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, as usual.
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