I love Dropbox Paper. Some people have tons of complaints about it, but I’m not one of those people. It’s one of my favorite tools and I use it for all kinds of work and home documents.

Limitless adoration aside, where I work, we use Google Docs (insert sad trombone sound). I have two main issues with Google Docs:

  • I simply don’t like the default type styles. I think they’re ugly and difficult to read. That’s 100 percent my subjective opinion, but there it is.
  • I hate that I’m forced into this weird printed page metaphor. This is great if you’re writing compare and contrast essays for Mr. Smith’s English 101 class and he requires you to print your work like it’s 1985, but I am not doing that. No one I work with is printing Google Docs. Ever. And yet all the documentation we create is awkwardly forced into a standard print format.

The bottom line is, I have to use this tool. No choice. So I set out to make it more like my beloved Paper. If you want to do the same, here are some tips to get you started.

All screenshots: Josh Johnson

Type Styles

First up, type styles. I find Dropbox Paper’s type to be great for long-form reading and writing. It’s a good size with enough line height that it doesn’t make my eyes bleed. On the flip side, I have a pretty difficult time trying to read long documents in the Google Docs default styles, which seem squished and awkward by comparison (also, Arial font…).

Dropbox Paper versus Google Docs default versus my custom Google Docs styles

Dropbox Paper uses Atlas Grotesk, which unfortunately is not available in Google Docs. But Open Sans is an option in Google, and I find it perfectly pleasant so I went with that. Here’s a breakdown of how I set up my type:

Settings are just a suggestion. You can do whatever you like.

The heading sizes are 25, 16, and 12, with the paragraph at 11 (not pictured: my titles are 30 pt). This doesn’t match perfectly with Dropbox Paper, but it’s pretty close. And I wanted to add some distinction between the second and third level headings. For line height, I went with 1.5 for paragraphs and 1.15 for everything else.

Making These Styles Your Default

To make these styles your default, create a test doc and fill it with text matching the specs above. Next, select a chunk of text, then click on the little arrow next to the style you want to change in the type style dropdown. From there, click “Update…” to override the default Google Doc style. Repeat this for all your styles.

Overriding the Heading 1 default style

I took this step and thought I was good! Nope. Open up a new doc and you’re back to square one with the old type styles. What gives?

It turns out, you have to go to Format > Paragraph Styles > Options > Save as my default styles. This will make all future docs you create adopt these new styles automatically. Huzzah!

Overriding your default styles permanently

Page Styles

Next up is that pesky document setup. Here’s what Google Docs looks like by default. It’s no doubt meant to make Microsoft-Word-using folks feel right at home, but I hate it. Dropbox Paper is a nice, clean slate, completely distraction-free. Google Docs brings back the anxiety of college term papers.

I loathe those big, ugly page break gaps

Ditching the Page Break

My single biggest complaint with Google Docs: page breaks! Lots of people need them, I totally get that, but I work for an internet company doing internet things for other people using the internet. For this type of work, page breaks are ugly, unnecessary, and totally wreck the document’s flow.

Fortunately, I recently learned that you can turn them off! Praise be. Just go to View and uncheck Print layout.

Uncheck print layout to kill the page break gaps

Google is old-school though. They aren’t going to let you just completely turn off page breaks. They still stick a line right through your content where the break happens in print view.

Print layout disabled

As far as I know, you’re stuck with that line. Sorry. Also, print view is a personal account preference that almost no one knows you can turn off. This means that when anyone else views your docs, they’ll still be wrecked by old school print breaks.

Down With 8.5x11

Okay, page breaks are fixed… kinda. Now, what can we do about this skeuomorphic paper vibe Google has going on? Can’t we make it all one big solid white background like on Paper? Nope. You can’t. Again, Google is super into printed pages, and you’re just not going to win that fight.

As far as I can tell, here’s the best you can do: If they won’t let you skip the printed page layout, just make a big ol’ page. Here are the settings I went with.

You may have to play around with the margins to get something that feels right for you

Landscape orientation, tabloid size, 0.5, 2, 4, 4*, on the margins. Be sure to fiddle with whatever looks good for you and click “Set as default” before applying.

Creating a big page is the closest you can get to the infinite canvas feel of Paper

Note: In the screenshot, it shows 10 as the right margin. That’s what worked on my test doc but 4 works fine on new docs. I have no clue how to fix it. Just do whatever looks best.

Writing in Full-Screen View

The last step in making your Google Docs setup mirror Dropbox Paper is to ditch the toolbar at the top. Fortunately, this is super easy. Just click “Full screen” under the View menu.

Full-screen view hides the MS Word-style toolbar

The key to writing in full-screen view is learning the keyboard shortcuts. I don’t do a ton of custom formatting in my docs so this is about all I need:

Keyboard Shortcuts

  • Apply heading style [1–6]: ⌘ + Option + [1–6]
  • Apply normal text style: ⌘ + Option + 0
  • Bulleted List: ⌘ + Shift + 8 (use 7 instead for numbered lists)
  • Create a link: ⌘ + K

Note that any time you need to access an advanced feature, you can simply hit “Escape” to bring the toolbar back.

Final result after following the steps above

Tip: For lists, you can skip the keyboard shortcut altogether and simply type a bullet or a number. Auto-formatting kicks in and does the rest from there.

Enjoy Your Bad Paper Clone

Voila. Now we have Paper-like type styles and a big, blank canvas background to help you focus on your writing.

It’s certainly no Dropbox Paper, but it’ll do in a pinch. Let me know if you figure out a better way to do this. I want to hear it!