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InDesign: How to Customize the Appearance of Numbered Lists

Since the first version of Adobe InDesign was introduced, several improvements have been made for creating numbered lists. The Bullets and Numbering dialog box lets you modify a numbered list and updates automatically when you add or remove paragraphs in the list. You can change the type of bullet, numbering style, character style, separator, font attribute and indent spacing.

Format the Numbered List

The simplest way to apply numbering to one or more selected paragraphs is to click Bullets and Numbering in the Control panel menu (when it’s in paragraph mode) or choose Apply Numbers from the Bullets and Numbering list submenu, under the Type menu. This gives you a basic numbered list.

gpi-indesign numbered lists-home

Change the Options in the Numbered List

You have multiple options for your numbered lists, like creating a multi-level list where list items are numbered in outline form and are indented to different degrees.

To modify the options of your numbered lists, open the Bullets and Numbering dialog box, then under Numbering Style, select the type of numbering you want to use from the Format menu.

By default, you have two expressions available:

  • Period (.)
  • Tab space (^t)

You can also construct a number expression of your own. To enter a number expression, delete the period after the number meta character (^#) and do one of the following:

  • Type a character (such as a closing parenthesis) or more than one character in place of the period.
  • Choose an item (such as Em Dash or Ellipses) from the Insert Special Character menu.
  • Type a word or character before the number meta character. For example, to number questions in a list, you can type the word “question”.

Then, choose a character style for the expression. The style you choose applies to the entire number expression, not just to the number.

Note: Here you have the option to play with different fonts and generate something distinctive with your design. There are many special fonts with really cool designs for numbers that you can use.

Lastly, specify any other options you many need and then click OK.


The Bullets and Numbering tool gives you many options that are worth taking into account when creating styles for your documents. Implementing them can give you a lot of flexibility and simplify your work when you have large documents with multiple pages.