by Ilene Strizver
The difference between “just okay” typography and professional-level typography is usually in the details – like hyphenation. Often overlooked, proper hyphenation is essential for optimum readability and getting your message across.
Hyphenated words are sometimes considered a necessary evil in typography, but proper hyphenation allows for a better-looking, tighter *rag – or, in the case of justified type, a more natural, even text color. Hyphenation also allows more words to be fit in a line, which saves space.
Most page layout programs allow you to customize the hyphenation and justification (H&J) preferences to your liking. You shouldn’t rely on default settings, which usually need to be adjusted to get the most professional results. It’s essential that you familiarize yourself with the H&J function in order to get your type to look the way you want it to.
Some people prefer to turn off hyphenation entirely, but unless you’re setting extremely wide line lengths, no hyphenation is likely to result in a very loose rag with lots of distracting white space.
Here are some “rules of thumb” to use when checking the hyphenation of typeset copy:
- Don’t have more than two hyphenations in a row.
- Don’t have too many hyphenated line endings in a single paragraph, even if they’re not in successive rows. Too many broken words reduces readability.
- Check the “rag” (the right edge of the text) for any glaring holes, long sloping edges or words that “stick out” unattractively. The ideal rag is a gentle wave that makes slight in-and-out adjustments as the eye travels down the text.
- In justified text, check that the text looks natural, with an even, readable color and texture. Avoid spacing that looks squeezed or stretched.
If tweaking your H&J settings doesn’t generate the results you want, try manually re-breaking the troublesome lines. If necessary, edit your copy (or have your editor do this) to achieve a better flow. If your layout allows, sometimes adjusting the width of the column ever so slightly will result in fewer breaks.
* See fy(t)i “Rags, Widows & Orphans” for more on “rag”.
- Editor’s Note: Ilene Strizver, founder of The Type Studio, is a typographic consultant, designer and writer specializing in all aspects of typographic communication. She conducts Gourmet Typography workshops internationally. Read more about typography in her latest literary effort, Type Rules! The designer's guide to professional typography, 3rd edition, published by Wiley & Sons, Inc. This article was commissioned and approved by Monotype Imaging Inc.