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Follow the (Typesetting) Rules



There are many details of print design that separate the professional from the amateur. Understanding the rules of type is one of them. While headings, graphics, and logos can push the boundaries, body copy should follow some basic rules. Let’s look at five of them.


Eliminate widows and orphans.

Widows and orphans are when small words or parts of words fall by themselves on their own line. These should be eliminated through editing or tracking.

Fix floating lines.

Every paragraph should have at least three lines. If a column or page break divides a paragraph so that only one or two lines fall on the next column or page, adjust the spacing.

Don’t stack words or hyphens.

Sometimes strange things happen in paragraphs. Hyphen will occasionally fall at the end of the line, and even more occasionally, this will happen on two lines in a row. The result is visually uncomfortable. (Designers often call this “pig bristles.”) A similar thing can occur when two identical words fall at the end of a line right above and below one another. When these anomalies happen, tweak the spacing to shift things around.

Fix rivers and loose lines.

Justified spacing works well in most cases, but occasionally, it creates giant gaps and awkward spaces in the middle of lines. “Rivers” are visual gaps that run down a paragraph of text as a result of these gaps. “Loose lines” are individual lines containing poorly spaced elements.

Pretty up the rags.

When you have left aligned text, the right-hand margin of the paragraph will have uneven line spacing that can either be visually attractive or highly unappealing. You want the rag pattern to be attractive to the eye, but not with giant differences between line lengths, sloping alignment of lines, or with rags that create diagonal shapes.

These typography no-nos can be fixed using simple tracking, light editing, or resizing of elements. When you take the extra time and effort, it can make the difference between a piece that looks professional and one that doesn’t.