12 Rules of Good Typesetting

12:34:00 AM

Through my career as a graphic designer,  I focus on perfecting typography along with my overall craft. When it comes to typesetting there are rules just like everything else.

1. Never stack words. It is very common. A word stack occurs when two or more lines have the same word directly above or below. However, stacking can also occur inside the column. It causes visual flaws that draw the eye and distract from the typesetting and legibility.

2. Never stack hyphens. A stacked hyphen occurs when two or more lines have hyphens at the end of the lines. These cause visual flaws, also called "pig bristles," that must be eliminated.

3. Avoid rivers or loose lines. Rivers, or rivers of white, are visually unattractive gaps appearing to run down a paragraph of text, due to an accidental alignment of spaces. I am guilty of doing this myself. I have to always check these constantly because sometimes I type too fast and this mistake can be easily overlooked. This causes that line to stand out (like white acne). Tight lines have too little space between words and can both cause uneven text color and disrupt the overall harmony of the text.

4. Use a minimum of three lines in a paragraph at the end and beginning of columns. You should always use a minimum of three lines to end or begin a column of text. Having fewer than three lines will cause a poor visual look to the columns that will feel incomplete to the eye.

5. Set body text in sans serif between 7–10 pt, in serif between 8–11 pt. Body text should be around 7–11 pt, depending on the x-height of the typeface. Sans serifs tend to have bigger x-heights than serifs, so they should be at the lower end of that range—from 7–10 pt—while serifs should be slightly bigger, ranging from 8–11 pt. Text that is too large appears "horsey" and unsophisticated. Text that is too small is hard to read.

6. Avoid two-letter hyphens at the end or beginning of a line. Always set at least three or more letters before or after a hyphen. Hyphenated words with two letters before or after are hard to read and create odd shapes that distract from the overall harmony of the typesetting.

7. Avoid widows or orphans. A widow or orphan is a very short line—usually one word—at the end of a paragraph or column. Regardless of the length of the word, avoid setting a single word at the end of a paragraph. I am also guilty of doing this as well.

8. Always set a good undulating rag for unjustified typesetting. The ideal rag is a subtle zigzag or undulating pattern, with lines weaving in and out, alternating between short and long lines. You want to avoid lines with a sloping alignment—consecutive lines that progressively grow or shrink in length, creating diagonal shapes. Balance is ideal and if there is no balance then you have a poor rag. You can actually tell when you have bad rag.

9. Always make sure your punctuation marks are the correct format. Use smart (curly) quotes in quotation marks or apostrophes—not prime marks (straight inches or feet marks). Use Option+Colon for ellipsis, instead of typing three periods. En-dashes (Option+Hyphen) are used for duration—use them where you can substitute the word "to" or "through." Em-dashes (Option+Shift+Hyphen) are for a credit line or for a break in thought in a sentence. These three marks are not interchangeable. Using them correctly is a mark of professionalism.

10. Use a minimum of +4 for leading. Use enough leading to achieve a clear vertical separation between the lines—avoid ascenders and descenders that touch each other. A minimum amount of leading for body copy is +4 of the type size.

11. Never set less than 5 words per line, and no more than 15 words per line. If your lines are too short or too long, the information becomes hard to read. Line lengths of over 15 words are hard to follow and your eyes get lost finding the next line. Line lengths that are under 5 words are annoying to read for any large amount of text, as your eyes must shift constantly from line to line. You want your audience to read your type.

12. A word following a period at the end of a line must be at least three characters or more. Words shorter than three letters at the end of a line and following a period act similar to two-letter hyphens and they usually appear to be hanging and disjointed. Avoid starting with a short word at the end of a line. It is very important.

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