Typesetting Rules-of-Thumb

Typesetting Rules-of-Thumb

August 30, 2009

I'm blogging some fundamental typesetting rules. This is off the top of my head and are rules you need to memorize to utilize as you are setting type. As with all rules, they can be broken if you have a valid reason.

  • Serif type faces are easier to read in large blocks of copy than Sans Serif.

  • Use no more than three different typefaces in a design.

  • Serif and Sans Serif typefaces can be intermingled in a design.

  • Never use display typefaces in copy blocks. Use only in Headers

  • Avoid orphans and widows in copy blocks.

  • Avoid bold-facing large blocks of copy. It is more difficult to read than the regular face.

  • Reversed copy (white type on a colored or black background) is more difficult to read than black type on white.

  • Avoid setting text in yellow – it is difficult to read.

  • For readability, you should set the type color in the strongest contrasting color from the background.

  • Never reverse copy that is smaller than 8 point (sans serif) or 9 point (serif).

  • Avoid using all caps in large blocks of copy – it is more difficult to read.

  • Avoid letter spacing lower-case words – it is more difficult to read.

  • Ragged right text alignment is the easier to read than Justified, Centered or Ragged left aligned.

  • When using justified alignment in large copy blocks, avoid large spacing gaps (rivers of white)

  • When using ragged right (flush left) alignment, watch and keep line breaks relatively even, but not justified.

  • Avoid ending a line in a copy block with a single letter word. Example: I or a. This can also be applied to two letter words too. Example: to, of, is at, etc…

  • Text columns when used two or three up on a page should have a gutter between the columns of only 1/8 of an inch or 1 pica.

  • Always set your tabs – do not use default tabs – make a decision.

  • Always specify the leading in the Character control pallet. Do not use the "auto" default

  • Do not vertically stack letters in a word  – rotate it instead – like on the spine of a book.

  • Avoid setting different letters in a word/headline in a range of different colors

  •  Avoid setting type in a photograph or illustration that has a large contrast range. You will be tempted to set part of the word in white and the other in black.

  • Avoid using photography of an image behind large copy blocks, unless there is a neutral space in the photograph to arrange the copy.

  • Use drop caps in only the first paragraph of a story – drop caps increase reader interest and invites the reader into the copy.

  • Do not double space after a period. Only one space. Double spacing is a hold-over from typewriters. Professional typesetting does not use double spacing.

  • Never use the underline option on text. Use italics instead. This too is a hold-over from typewriters.

  • The leading of a block of copy is typically two point sizes larger than the point size of the type. Example: 10 point size/12 point leading.

  • Avoid blocks of copy that are wider than they are deep. Wide, short blocks are more difficult to read.

  • Do not allow an over use of hyphenation in typesetting – no more than one or two in each paragraph. Never let two exist on in lines of copy one line after another.

  • Avoid text columns that are narrower in width in picas than the point size of the text. You will start having difficulty with hyphenations the closer the pica width is to the point size of the copy.

  • Instead of using quote marks for book and magazine titles, use italics. Quote marks are only for quotes.

  • Avoid two typeface modifiers together. Example: Bold and Italic, or Italic and Caps. Bold, Caps, Italics and Underlining are all means of distinguish type from the whole of the body. To use more than one together is paramount to yelling/screaming. Use one and let it do it's job.
  • When indicating morning or afternoon with AM or PM… The cap version uses no periods, the lower case uses periods. Example AM / PM or a.m. /  p.m.

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