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Getting Started with FrameMaker's Character Formats

FrameMaker’s character formats add a dash of style to documents. You can apply character tags to selected text, or use them in other FrameMaker features such as variables, cross-references, generated lists, and index entries. This article shows you how to get the most out of your character formats.
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We often see a few characters, words, or phrases in paragraphs that look stylistically different from other text in the same paragraph. Formatting particular words or phrases within a paragraph provides a visual reference for those reading your document. It's customary to use character formatting such as italics, underline, or bold to emphasize the meaning of words or phrases for one reason or another.

FrameMaker provide us with the capability to change the appearance of any number of characters within a paragraph without affecting the rest of the paragraph text. We can even apply multiple formatting styles to a single character, word, or phrase. And if you find you don't like the way it looks, you can make global changes quickly and efficiently.

Without further ado, we explore FrameMaker's character formatting. You first learn how character formats work before you move on to the finer details of creating new character formats and integrating them into other FrameMaker features.

How Character Formats Work

Each new FrameMaker document supplies you with a few predefined character formats. You can add new character formats or modify existing character formats as required. Character formats are easily accessed via the Character Catalog.

Character formats are cleverly designed to change and override just one or multiple characteristics of the default font property found in the Paragraph Designer. Paragraph formats change the appearance of an entire paragraph, whereas character formats override and change the appearance of selected characters within that paragraph.

Let's go inside a character format, and find out exactly how this works. Let's say you have several paragraph formats in your document, which use two different font faces in a variety of sizes, ranging from 10 pt. through 24 pt. If you want to use italic to emphasize certain words or phrases in any paragraph, you can define an italic character format that changes and overrides just the Angle setting of the default paragraph font—leaving the remaining font settings intact. In this way, you can use the same character format in any text within a document, regardless of its default paragraph properties.

You may be wondering why we don't just use the Quick Access bar to change selected text to italic or bold. That's a good question with an even better answer. Let's suppose you have a 100-page document and decide to use italics to emphasize the meaning of certain words or phrases throughout the document. Using the Quick Access bar, you would select the text that you want to be italicized and then click the Italic button in the Quick Access bar or press Control + I. You can also use Format, Style, Italic.

Now, let's suppose you decide that italics are not working out too well for emphasizing the meaning of words or phrases, and you decide to use underline instead. How can you change each occurring italic formatted word or phrase to underline all at one time? You can't if you use the Quick Access bar for the Format menu. You would have to manually select each italic-styled word or phrase, and make the change (you can also use Find/Change in creative ways).

If you use a Character Format to apply italics to selected text, you can just display the Character Designer, make the required changes, and update all text tagged with the same format at one time.

How to Apply Character Formats to Text

Applying a character format to text is easy. Here's how:

  1. Select the text that you want to apply a character format to.

  2. Click one time on the Character Catalog symbol located on the top right of the document window (see Figure 1).

    The Character Catalog appears.

    Figure 1 Click on the Character Catalog symbol to display the catalog in a floating window.

  3. Click one time on the character tag name. If you used an italics character format, the selected text changes to italics, which leaves the remaining font properties (such as the font face and size) intact.


Do not select the end of paragraph symbol while selecting text and then applying a character tag. If you do, the paragraph default property changes for that paragraph and ends up with a format override.

You can view the character tag name of the selected text in the tag area of the status bar.

You have more then one method available to apply character tags to selected text. To use any method, first select the text that you plan to apply a character format to.

  • Select Format, Characters, Designer or press Ctrl+D to display the Character Designer. Select a tag name from the Character Tag name pull-down menu, and click Apply To.

  • Select Format, Characters and select a tag name from the cascading menu.

  • If you like using keyboard commands, press Ctrl+8 to select the tag area of the status bar; then type the first letter of the tag name you want to use or press the down arrow key to display the next tag name. Press the Enter key to apply the character tag to selected text.

  • To apply a character format using Copy/Paste commands, first select text that is already tagged with a character tag. Select Edit, Copy Special, Character Format. Select text that you want to apply the character format to and then choose Edit, Paste.


To learn more about converting character tags and changing text styled from the Quick Access bar, see my article, "Techniques for Converting Paragraph and Character Tags in FrameMaker 6.

How to Remove a Character Tag from Text

After you have applied character tags to text, you can remove the character format at any time using this method:

  1. Select text that is formatted with a character tag. The character tag name is displayed in the tag area of the status bar.

  2. Click one time on the Character Catalog symbol (refer to Figure 1), which is located on the top right of the document window. The Character Catalog appears.

  3. Click one time on Default Font. The tagged text is returned to the default font of the paragraph (corresponds to the Default Font property of the Paragraph Designer).

Create a New Character Tag

Before you get started with creating new Character tags, it's a good idea to plan ahead and work through a document's formatting requirements to establish formatting standards.

Take time to consider character tag names that you will use. Character tag names are not only displayed in the Character Catalog, but are also used with other FrameMaker features such as variables, cross-references, and generated files. We'll explore those related features later in this article. It makes good sense to keep character tag names short, consistent, and easy to understand.

You can use the Character Designer to create or modify character formats. The Character Designer window contains the same settings as the Paragraph Designer Default Font property.

The following steps teach you how to create a new character format. The character tag name is Bold, and it's used to apply a bold format style to any text, regardless of the default font or size.

  1. Select Format, Characters, Designer (or press Ctl+D). The Character Designer window is displayed.

  2. Click one time on the arrow next to Commands to display its pull-down menu. Select Set Window to As Is. Some settings in the window change to As Is, some settings remain blank, and the checkbox settings have a dimmed checkbox. These are all indications of an As Is state. As Is is the key that allows default font settings, except for those you set in the character designer, to remain intact after applying a character tag to selected text.

  3. Select Bold from the Weight pull-down menu. Bold is the only font setting that will change after this character tag is applied to text.

  4. Type the word Bold in the Character tag field. You do not need to use the pull-down menu at this time. Bold appears in the Character tag field, as seen in Figure 2.

    Figure 2 You can assign a character format to autonumbers in the Numbering Property of the Paragraph Designer.

  5. Click the Apply To Selection button. The New Format window appears. Make sure that Store in Catalog is checked, which adds the new character tag to the character catalog for future use. Check Apply to Selection if you want selected text to be bold (it's a great way to test out your new character tag too).

  6. Click the Create button. You are returned to the document window. Bold is added to the Character Catalog. Notice that the window no longer displays the As Is indicators. The settings now display the font settings of the selected text. You may be fooled into thinking that the settings of the newly created Bold character tag have taken on some other font settings. This is not so. You can apply the Bold character tag to Times 24 pt or Helvetica 12 pt text, and the only setting that changes for each of these is Bold. Test it out, and see for yourself.


You can view the Character Designer settings in their As Is state by clicking one time anywhere outside of the document text frame; select Format, Characters, Designer to display the Character Designer window. Select Bold from the Character Tag pull-down menu. The window shows you the original settings of this tag. Alternatively, hold down the Control key, and click on the tag name in the Character Catalog.

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