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Measuring Up

narrow_example

This column width is too narrow,
based on the typeface and size.



normal_width
This column width is correct, albeit
a little small for screen reading.









leading1
This one is set solid, 35/35.
This represents the point size
and the leading and is read as
“35 over 35.”



leading2
This is set 28/32.
And, now that we set type digitally
(and this was also possible with phototypesetting), we can have
lines of type that overlap into
another line’s space:



leading3
This one is set 28/25.

Line lengths for typesetting are measured in picas. Typographers have to take care in deciding line lengths for body text. If your column of type is too narrow, words may be hyphenated more frequently than you want, or readers’ eyes may grow tired from darting back and forth more times than normal.

Conversely, if your line length is too wide, readers may stumble to the next line while they read—the extra distance makes it hard to know which one is the next line.

So, how do you decide how wide to make your columns? There are many opinions on this. But, here is Peatah’s rule that works well and doesn’t require a ruler:

Set a line of type using the typeface and point size you want. Make it the 26 alphabet letters (lowercase) twice:

abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyzabcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz

Your column width should fall somewhere one-and-a-half to two times the width of the lowercase alphabet.

(Note: You may notice some of the line lengths on the other pages may be a little longer than this one. Although correctly followed on this page, consider the rules above applicable to print. On the other pages of this site, Peatah is factoring in the normal preference for less vertical scrolling plus the variables of browser settings, their impact on html text, and screen readability.)

Okay, let’s get to that “leading” explanation ...

metal_type

Here’s an image of metal type. If you look closely at the four lines of type in this composing stick, you can see the individual type blocks for each character. You can also see that the four lines are directly placed against each other. This would be called setting the type “solid.” If the typographer wants to have the lines of type spaced further apart, actual strips of lead are inserted between these lines of type. The wider the strips of lead, the more space between lines. This is appropriately called leading. Word processing programs today may refer to this as line spacing; but page layout programs still refer to this as leading.

Look at the examples at the left for variations on leading.
By the way, these are all actual newspaper headlines.

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