Back to Basics, Text

10 steps to better legibility for body copy

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Newspaper typefaces require a higher legibility then typefaces used for other printed products. Newspaper are printed on a paper of lesser quality under high speed.

1. Great newspaper body copy typeface.
Serif typeface is easier to read then sans serif font.

2. The right size.
Don’t go under 9 pt. As a basic rule this is not far off, but more important is the visual impact. A smaller type size can work for you if you use a typeface with bigger x-height. For example, typeface Gulliver by Gerard Unger looks big, even when printed in small sizes.

3. The leading.
The leading, or distance between the lines, depends on the characteristics of a specific typeface. Especially its x-heigh. Large ascender height and a small x-height calls for less leading, while a small ascender height, combined with a high x-height, needs more space between the lines. Most layout software suggest 20% of the type size. This is a relative number and should be avoided, since it does not take into account the individual design of the typeface. And…ascenders and descenders should not touch each other.

4. Column width.
Since most body copy is set justified, the ideal column width is the one that does not create unnecessary hyphenations and unwanted word spacing. A good number to look for is around 35 characters per line.

5. Hyphenation.
Hyphenation is an important tool for a legible body copy. Words with less then six characters should not be separated. In many languages it is sensible to choose two letters to separate the first syllable. Also, the last word in a paragraph should not be hyphenated.

6. Individual change of typefaces.
In addition to the settings for hyphenation routines and justification, the variations in the scaling of fonts, and kerning of text type, belong to the most serious dangers to the legibility of the text. Some sumptuously transitional typefaces can be kerned up to plus/minus 3%, but they are the exceptions.

Baseline grid, left side – OK, right side – wrong

7. Baseline grid
All the lines that are set on one baseline give a clean look while text that is not set this way tend to give the impression of dancing lines.

8. Change of type styles.
All you need is bold and italic to put a highlight in your text. Bold is strong, italic is silent.

9. Color
Colored typefaces slow down the reading process, no matter how attractive they seem to be. Use the color if you don’t have any other solutions to attract readers eye.

10. Column alignment.

Under the terms of legibility there are only two possible ways of body copy alignment: Justified and flush left alignment.

About Zoran Opalic

Professional in design and publishing industry. Conceptualize and orchestrate designs and redesigns that effectively reinforce and build brand images. Proven ability to drive record-high campaign in increasing publication sales and execute successful product launches...


One thought on “10 steps to better legibility for body copy

  1. It’s really a nice and helpful piece of information. I’m glad that you shared this helpful info with us. Please keep us informed like this. Thank you for sharing.

    Posted by Jerlene Archacki | February 7, 2012, 10:06 pm

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