How to Insert Tab in Gmail (Indent Text in Emails)

How to Insert Tab in Gmail

When you hit Tab, Gmail always jumps your cursor and focus around, never enters a tab character or spaces? Find out here how to insert tab in Gmail (or come very close at least) still.

First, a Carpenter Heads to Vienna

When Peter Mitterhofer embarked on the walk of some 370 miles (600 km) from Partschins in Tyrol to Vienna in 1866, he had two results of his carpentry, tinkering and independent spirit on his back heading to the capital of the Austrian Empire: a wooden carrying frame and, on it, a prototype of his typewriter, also made of wood.

It was a bit feebly and metal heads for the typebars were dearly needed (and, I understand, envisioned), but Mtterhofer’s invention had all the parts in the right and functioning places to let you type text without writing.

What you could not do, of course, is insert a tab—but you can with Gmail today, in a way (a tab character is dearly needed):

How to Insert Tab in Gmail (Indent in Email Body)

Using Indent in a Desktop Browser

Time needed: 2 minutes.

To indent text in a manner similar to inserting a tab in Gmail using a desktop browser:

  1. Press Ctrl] (Windows, Linux) or Command] (Mac).

    Mouse alternative: Click Format text, then click Indent more in the formatting toolbar.
    Plain text mode: In Gmail plain text mode, this method of adding a tab does not work; see below for alternatives.
    Repeat: You can indent more than once to increase the amount of indentation.
    Indent (insert a tab) in Gmail

  2. Now insert the indented text.

    No real TAB: Note that using this method of indentation is not a real tabulator, and you cannot enter text in columns this way.

  3. Press Ctrl[ (Windows, Linux) or Command[ (Mac) on a new line to outdent it.

Using Fixed-Width Text

The altarnative to using indentation is mimicking tabs using spaces and a proportional font.

To enter a tab in Gmail using whitespace:

  1. Position the text cursor where you want to start with the tab in a message you are writing in Gmail.
  2. Click Formatting options in a message.
  3. Open the font picker in the formatting toolbar.
  4. Select Fixed Width from the menu that has appeared.
    Choose "Fixed Width" to insert tabs in Gmail
  5. Enter 4–5 spaces to insert the first tab starting at the beginning of the line.
    More tabs: Add further tab stops at multiples of your chosen number of whitespace characters.
    Example: With 4 spaces for a tab, tab stops are at 4, 8, 12, 16, 20,… characters from the beginning of the line.
    Inserting a tab with fixed widht in Gmail

Alternative: Use PDF, an Image or a Word Processing Document

To insert text with all formatting ensured intact, you can, of course,

  • save the text to a PDF document (preferably)
  • or an image format such as PNG
  • and attach the PDF or insert the image inline in the message.

Using a Mobile Device

In the Gmail mobile browser interface and the Gmail apps for Android and iOS, you can

  • neither indent text
  • nor change the font to a fixed-width font.

So, to insert Tab in Gmail on a mobile device:

  1. Open full desktop Gmail in a mobile browser.
  2. Insert tab as above.

How to Insert Tab in Gmail: FAQ

Will fixed-width tabs display as tabs for every recipient?

No, but for almost all they will.

Gmail sends the email that include

  • both the formatted version that specifies the fixed-width font and
  • a plain text version that includes the tabs (as whitespace) but not the font.

The plain text version looks fine if it is viewed using a fixed-width font (such as Courier), but not using a serif or sans-serif font (such as Helvetica). The font is wholly up to the recipient and their email program.

Can I insert the Unicode Tab character (U+0009) in Gmail?

No. Adding the ASCII or Unicode tab characters (which do produce a tab indent) does, alas, not work with Gmail.

Can I insert tab in Basic HTML Gmail?

No, alas, no.

Basic HTML Gmail will send messages using plain-text email. So, on its composition screen, you

  • can insert spaces manually to concoct tabs (but not enforce a fixed-width font that makes them work) but you
  • cannot insert a tab character.

(How to insert tab in Gmail tested in a desktop browser; updated January 2022)

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