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Graphic Design Fundamentals: Type

Lesson 3 of 5

Text-Setting Mechanics

Timothy Samara

Graphic Design Fundamentals: Type

Timothy Samara

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Lesson Info

3. Text-Setting Mechanics


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1 Typography: The Basics Duration:25:16
2 Style: Choosing & Mixing Duration:26:01
3 Text-Setting Mechanics Duration:15:41
5 Bringing it All Together Duration:03:17

Lesson Info

Text-Setting Mechanics

So all type is designed to read and so we have to talk about text setting. And something I have to look at which is a very intricate, very detailed, really wonkish, OCD, anally retentive kind of situation. You will find that most people who are really interested in type and who are really expert at using it are like total geeks. Like, I count myself among them. I don't think that's a bad thing. So when you're setting text one of the things that you have to look at first is you're trying to determine a certain kind of proportional relationships between things. You've gotta look at how many characters you're gonna fit on a line. From the beginning of the line to when the line ends and you're asking the reader to then travel back. And when the character count becomes too long, that is when you get past around 70 characters on a line, it gets really hard to remember what you were reading at the beginning of the line. So usually you wanna make sure that you have a character count roughly so...

mewhere between 55 and 75 characters, and that does a lot of good things for you. Yes? What about spacing between words? Do you count them as characters? Yes, you count the spaces and punctuation. As a character? And as well as the characters, yes, excellent question. Thank you. The character count for the same size of text will vary in every typeface because of the specific proportions of the letters. So it's always to be something to look at. So you always wanna do a quick kind of count and see what's happening. And then you also wanna sort of think about the spacing in between. So what you're really always interested in is what's called the interline space. That's the space between the baseline of a line of text above and the top of the lower case of the line below. Leading, which is the measurement from baseline to baseline, is essentially unimportant. You can pick a default leading. That's fine, and the default is usually the measure of the leading is 120% of the point size, so if your text is set in 10 points, your leading is 12 points. But it really depends on how close together the ascenders and descenders are getting, as well as the height of the lower case. If the X height is very, very large sometimes it feels like there's not enough space between and you get a very, very tight, very tense, almost sort of over-packed kind of a feeling in the text. And so you wanna sort of be thinking about looking at that space and typically, for a comfortable reading experience in general, you want that interlying space to be about the same height or the same depth or measure, or a little bit larger than the height of the lower case. Typically that is not a bad place to start and then you adjust based on whatever the specific typeface is doing. Type has a structure. It makes shapes. And there's only a few ways that you can set text when it's extensive. Anything more than, well I'll get to that in a minute. So there are different kinds of alignment logic. That is, how the lines relate to each other, left to right. So first off, the lines of a text can be centered over each other. Which we call centered axis. Or they can be justified. That is that they all line up on the left and they all line up on the right. Both of these are symmetrical text structures. The outer contour on both sides is identical. Then there are the asymmetrical text structures. This we would refer to as flush left or aligned left and ragged right. That is that the right hand edge of the text creates this irregular kind of organic, sort of fringe. And then, of course, you have the opposite of that which is flush right, ragged left. If you're ever setting more than ten or 15 words of text as a grouping, you only have two options for alignment logic. And those are justified or flush left. Anything beyond that, any more text than that, the shapes that are created and the reversed anchoring point interfere tremendously with legibility. With readability. That is the ability to navigate from line to line in the correct order and maintain the sequence of reading. You can mix alignment logics. This is a book layout in which you see a center axis configuration, which is a very classical, much older kind of compositional idea for text that comes from the Middle Ages. And an asymmetrical configuration that is the flush left, ragged right text with a little bit of mixture in between. So we get a repetition of the chapter titling here in the margin, and this text is also set asymmetrically on the page. The margins left and right are different from each other. You'll see that the caption, which is a small amount of information, is actually set flush right, ragged left so that it's rag form at the left edge does not try to create a hard vertical cut that will seem in conflict with the irregular organic quality of the centered type. And so that its right hand edge will seem very, very closely and cleanly set up against the vertical line element. When you're ragging text there's good and bad. It's complicated. So here are a couple of examples. This is a good rag. Constant, regular long and short. No weird shapes of space cutting in. No bulges. No long lines sticking out. And the column appears to be the same width from top to bottom. These are bad rags. Don't do this. If you ever see this happening in your text, it means you have to drop your cursor into a place, hit the return button, or at the beginning, hit the delete button and re-break and reflow your words from line to line. Don't rely on the hyphenation and justification settings that text setting software allows you to use because it won't do it correctly. It has to be by eye. It's a very organic, natural object. You must do it by hand. For every line, for every page, of the 300 page book that you're working on. Justified text also presents problems. Challenges. Specifically that you're trying to fit an uncontrollable variable into a fixed space. You've defined a width for the text but language is fluid and organic. It changes. You're trying to get words of different lengths and different numbers of words of different lengths to fit in the same measurement. So usually what happens is that you get some hellish spacing within the block that looks like this. Usually of two different kinds. First we have this situation, which is where there are not enough words on the line because of the words that are too long or too short or above or below. And you get these enormous words spaces. These holes. You see this in the newspaper all the time and no you can't set justified text on the web yet. Newspapers and magazines, where the column is too narrow, where there's some other thing going on. And you also tend to get a lot of hyphenation. So these word spaces are really dangerous because they begin to kind of line up over each other and you get these kind of rivers of white space that travel through the text. It's very distracting. First of all because you want an overall, even gray texture because reading is difficult and people are lazy and their eyes and brains will look for any kind of distraction to help them stop reading. The other thing that happens is that as you are reading if the word spaces create these kind of little lines between, you'll suddenly start to jump in your reading from line to line instead of going across horizontally the way you're supposed to. You might start reading down like- The type setting device, whether it happens, functions, describe evenly as designed to, of letters. What? And that's something that just can't happen. The other thing that happens is what's going on down here is that you get the opposite. So much text crammed into that space that there's almost no word space between the words and even where the letters are starting to crash into each other. And then you get a kind of a dark spot or a really light spot, and there goes your even gray value again. When you're setting justified text, because really the reason to set justified text is to get rid of the uncontrolled, sort of, fluffiness of the rag and have a very clean, strict, austere, and elegant appearance. So that means that you have to go in and detail everything along the aligned edges. At the beginning of the text, well first of all, when you've got columns of text or different things next to each other, as everything is lining up this way you also wanna make sure that lines of text that are directly opposite each other are also lining up. So you need to make sure that baselines of different positions of text are somehow corresponding to the things that are to the left or right of them. Which means a lot of detail kind of shifting up and down. Zooming in a lot. And the other thing is punctuation. On a left edge in particular, you have characters like quotation marks that, because they're there, they indent the first letter of whatever's following. Or you may have something like a parenthesis. And what happens there is that the clean line that you've got suddenly has these little bites taken out of it, like a tiny insect has come along, or a mouse, and nibbled at the edges of your beautiful alignment. So what you wanna do there is to actually flush all the text and hang the punctuation outside. That freaks some people out. Like some editors will just argue with you for weeks about it. I fight it as much as possible and then eventually sometimes I have to give up. Or I make my case. Depending. So all of these kind of variables have to come together to result in what I like to call the ultimate paragraph. Or the optimal text setting experience. And this sequence that you're going to see is a series of steps first setting a kind of default. Just choosing a size and choosing a leading and choosing a width, choosing a character count just kind of willy nilly. So picking a pretty big size and just flowing it in. I've chosen this width and you (mumble) can see some things that are happening. It seems overall a little dense. And in addition to being kind of dense and a little bit heavy, you see that things like the tittle of the lower case I and the decender of the P. Descender of P and ascender of L are crashing into each other. So that's already bad. You'll see that within this text there are already two hyphens and you always want to ensure that your hyphens are under control. That you're not getting more than one hyphen every ten to 15 lines or so. And never, ever two in a row. Or three in a row, which is called the hyphen stack. Or the ladder. And then the rag is kind of nothing to speak of. This is kind of bulgy. There's a kind of a lineup of two lines so it's not even really ragged here. The paragraph seems to be kind of leaning out a little bit. It's bad. Or it's not desirable. No one will die, but they might vomit. So a change. Shrinking the size of the type and keeping the same leading we get a little more of a kind of a decisive and soft rag shape. We still got a couple of hyphens but at least we've cleared out this issue with the ascenders and descenders. But now it looks like the interlying space is a little bit too much. It's beginning to become kind of self conscious. Where you can really see at a glance that there are these black stripes of text and then this white space in between. And again what you're after is really a kind of undifferentiated gray value. So the graphical linearity of the text is starting to show up. Shrinking the leading a little bit and changing the character count slightly. Widening- Did I widen or narrow? Oh, narrowing the column just a tiny bit and tightening up the overall spacing has produced a little bit softer, more regular rag and we're down to one hyphen. No issues in the ascenders and descenders but still a little bit loose. And then blowing up the point size a little bit more. Which takes care of some of the leading if the leading feels comfortable but now we have, again, two hyphens and a really horrifyingly bad rag where the bottom few lines don't even look like they're ragging. They look like they're justified. And then if we make one last change and just narrow the column a little bit more so that we're in that optimal character count range of between 55 and 70 characters, everything becomes perfect. Beautiful long, short, long, short alternation consistently, top to bottom. No hyphens. That's an M dash which separates this part of the sentence from that part of the sentence. No interaction between ascenders and descenders. The leading seems comfortable relative to the mass or presence of the type. We get an overall gray value. It's lovely. This is what you're after. If all that stuff is not happening in your text, your text is crappy. Fix it. It wants to be beautiful. The author and the ideas contained in what the author has written want to be beautiful visually as well as informationally. So there are a lot of decorative things that you can do with the separation between paragraphs. This is just a little laundry list of- you've got a column of text and you've got a paragraph break. What do you do with that? Well, there's like 20 of 500,000 things that you could do with the paragraphs. You can be inventive, very inventive with paragraph divisions. Introducing lines or really deep indents or graphical elements without really a separation or just a line separation. Or you can hang the first line out a little bit. It can be a lot of fun.

Class Description

Well-organized typography is an integral part of good graphic design. Learn how to do it right in Graphic Design: Type with Timothy Samara.

Timothy will teach you how to work with type so it accurately and beautifully conveys information. You’ll learn about:

  • The mechanics of text
  • Choosing and mixing styles
  • Typographic color
  • Establishing hierarchy

You’ll get all the basics for working with type and get helpful insights on developing layouts, improving legibility, and adding details.

Every designer works with type – learn the rules for getting it right in Graphic Design: Type with Timothy Samara.  


athina k.

Great class! The lecturer was so detail...and at the same time so relaxed and funny. I loved him and understood better things that i' ve heard before, but never cared that much to paid attention to...!


Really knowledgeable and useful. I learned loads.....and love the dry humour - chuckle!