Set Type on a Circle, a Square, an S-Curve, Whatever

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For most of the documents we create in InDesign, type marches straight across the page. But sometimes you want or need to break ranks and make that type follow a circle, a polygon, an S-curve, or even a spiral. Here's how.

Type on a Circle
Putting type on a path is easy. First, you need a path, and the most commonly used one is a circle. Let’s create one.

Right-click on the Rectangle tool on the Tools panel and mouse down to the Ellipse tool. On the page or pasteboard, click and drag while holding Shift to create a perfect circle.

Also hiding on the Tools panel is the Type on a Path tool, which you access through the normal Type tool. Select the Type on a Path Tool and click as close to the top-center of the circle as possible. A small plus sign appears next to the cursor when you’re in the correct position to click. Once you click, you'll see a blinking I-beam cursor. Type something and watch it flow around the circle.

As with any other type in InDesign, you can change its font family and style, increase or decrease its point size, and spell check it. You can also change the alignment with the Align Left, Align Center, and other alignment buttons on the Paragraph panel or the Paragraph mode of the Control bar. If, however, you aren’t happy with the alignment of your text on the circle despite pressing every button on the Paragraph panel, you’ll need to manually reposition the text.

Selecting a type on a path object with the black arrow Selection tool reveals standard text object structures like in- and out-ports. You’ll also see, attached to the in- and out-ports, vertical lines, the start and end brackets, that describe the beginning and end of type on a path objects. On your circle you’ll find both the start and end brackets at the top of the circle, at the point where you initially clicked with the Type on a Path tool. More difficult to see is the center bracket, located in the middle of the text, precisely opposite the start and end brackets. You may have to zoom in to find the center bracket, though it has the annoying habit of not enlarging as you zoom in.

The center bracket defines the midpoint of type on a path. If your type isn’t where you want it on the circle, drag the center bracket around the circle. Your text -- as well as the start and end brackets -- will rotate in correspondence to the moving center bracket. You’ll know when the cursor is over the center point because the cursor will change to a black arrow with an inverted “T” in the corner.

If, while dragging the center bracket, your text outside the circle suddenly flips inside the circle, don’t panic. You’ve just discovered another feature of type on a path objects. Not only can you place along the outside of a path, you can also place it along the inside. Just drag the center bracket across the path to flip the text inside or out, outside or in.

And that segues nicely into…

Type on Both Sides of a Circle
Type on a circle is cool, but it all goes the same way, around the circle, and at some point -- probably the bottom -- some of your text will be upside down. Sometimes, that’s desired. Other times, you want text all the way around the circle, but readable without requiring the viewer to rotate the paper or her head. Here’s how to do that.

Create your first circle and add just the type you want to flow from the top. Style that type -- typeface, size, etc. -- until it’s as close as possible to the final design. Typeface and size are especially important because they’ll define the positioning of the lower text.

Select the circle with the black arrow, which will reveal a colored square (blue, if you’re working on Layer 1) in the center. This is the center point of the object. From the rulers, drag horizontal and vertical guides until they intersect the center of your circle.

With the Ellipse tool once again selected, align your cursor at the vertex of the guides you just created. If you aligned them properly, this will be the exact center point of your first circle. Now click and drag while holding Shift, to constrain proportions and create a perfect circle, and Option or Alt, which will draw the circle from the center outward. Keep dragging until the edge of this second circle is in alignment with the top of text on the first. When you release the mouse button you should have a second circle that perfectly describes the diameter of your first type on a path circle’s text. This circle will hold your lower text.

Type the second part of your message and center align it.

Using the Selection tool black arrow, drag the center bracket to the other side of the path so that the text is inside the circle. Because you used a circle as large as the text outside the first, the type on this new second circle, though inside, aligns perfectly to continue the diameter of the first. This two-circle technique is the trick to getting type on a circle that doesn’t appear upside down at the bottom. Reposition the center bracket if needed until the text aligns with the bottom.

Beyond Circles
Type on a path isn’t limited to ellipses or even to closed paths like ellipses, rectangles, and shapes created with the polygon tool. You can turn any vector path into a type on a path object just by clicking on it. Go ahead. Draw an S-curve with the Pen tool and put type on it.

And there’s more type on a path magic! Thus far you’ve created the default type on a path, text whose baseline sticks to a path wherever it goes. As cool as that is, sometimes you want your text to react differently to the direction of its path. That’s where Type on a Path Options come in.

Using the Pen tool, draw a spiral, which is just a few curved path segments.

Add text to the spiral path.

Select the path with the black arrow Selection tool and choose Type > Type on a Path > Options.

The Type on a Path Options dialog contains a handful of controls. Setting aside the Effect dropdown menu for the moment, here are explanations of the rest of the controls.

Flip: The Flip checkbox flips type to the other side of the path, just like dragging the center bracket.

Align: By default, the baseline (the line on which type sits) aligns to the path. Thus, when you type, the bottom of characters such as x, m, and H align vertically to the path itself. You can change type’s vertical position with the Align field so that text is centered vertically on the path; aligns its highest point, ascenders like those that appear in characters such as j, K, and T, to the path; or aligns to the path the lowest points of type, descenders below the baseline, such as the lower parts of letters q, p, and y.

To Path:When creating type on a path objects, most designers set the original path to have no fill or stroke (using the None swatch). Sometimes, however, such as when you want to put color behind type on a path, you can give the path a stroke. It’s in those cases that the To Path dropdown box becomes useful. Do you want to align your type’s baseline, center, ascenders, or descenders to top, bottom, or middle of the path stroke?

Spacing: Spacing enables you to adjust, positively or negatively, the spacing between words in your type on a path object. As you experiment with different effects and alignments, Spacing (as well the letter-spacing Tracking control on the Character panel) can fix awkward crowding or overlap situations that often happen in type on a path objects.

Now let’s get back to that Effect menu. Type on a path comes in five different effects. Rainbow is the default, and in the Rainbow effect, each letter rotates so that its baseline aligns perfectly with the path.

Skew looks at a given path as a three-dimensional object, with front, back, and sides. Text stays on the baseline, as it does with Rainbow, but doesn’t necessarily stay in the same direction. Instead text can compress at tight turns or angles and even flip around backward.

3D Ribbon also treats a path as a three-dimensional object, compressing or inverting letters as need. The difference is that 3D Ribbon keeps the characters horizontal edges -- either top or bottom -- aligned with the path, even if that means squishing or rotating characters vertically.

Stair Step also focuses on the horizontal edges of characters, but it keeps them all at 0-degrees of rotation -- every character is perfectly vertical and moves up or down as needed to maintain vertical alignment to the path.

Gravity is the final, perhaps wildest effect. The Gravity effect locates the path’s center point and aligns characters’ vertical axes to it. Their horizontal surfaces align to the path itself, but vertically characters are drawn toward the path’s center point. The result is vaguely three-dimensional and looks as if text is spinning into a black hole.

I hope this article answers the most common type on a path questions. I should also note that type on a path is not a new feature to InDesign CS4, the program I used to create these screenshots. It’s been with our friend for many years now, all the way back to InDesign 2.0, before there was even a Creative Suite.

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