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InDesign Tip: Optical Margin Alignment

How it works and when not to use it By Dave Nagel
Optical Margin Alignment is a little-known feature of Adobe InDesign 2. While it can allow you to do some nifty typesetting tricks quickly and easily, it might also cause problems in certain situations. And, when it does, it's often the last thing you might suspect as the culprit. Today we'll take a quick look at what it can do and when it should not be used.

How it works
Optical Margin Alignment allows you, essentially, to overhang special characters and portions of certain regular characters over the normal margins of your text box, including the text frame and individual column gutters. This can be especially useful for creating hanging quotes over callouts (pull quotes) or for other decorative treatments. To use it, choose Type > Story to call up the Story palette. Optical Margin Alignment should be on by default, assuming you haven't previously disabled it.

But just because it's on doesn't mean it's set correctly. Here's an example of a pull quote using the default settings on mixed type (18-point and 8-point).

It just doesn't look right. First of all, there's not reason to have a comma overhanging the margin, and, second, the whole thing just isn't lining up properly. So adjust the point setting to match the size of the text that will be doing the overhanging (in this case 18 points), and voila!

Note: Never use double quotes on a callout. I'm only doing it here so that it's easier for you to see what's going on.

Read on for information on when not to use Optical Margin Alignment.

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