by Ilene Strizver
We’ve all seen newspapers, books, magazine articles and ads which use justified type; that is, type that is flush on both the left and right margins. Used well, justified type can look clean and classy. When it’s carelessly set, however, justified type can make your text look distorted and hard to read. Proper justification is a tricky technique to master, but it’s well worth the effort if high quality, professional-looking typography is your goal.
When type is justified, space is inserted between words and letters to expand a short line so that both margins align; conversely, in longer lines the space between words and characters is reduced to make them fit the margins. Some page layout applications have settings that will actually compress or expand the individual characters; don’t use these settings to justify text! This is the ultimate typographic taboo.
Too much additional space can create gaping holes between words, as well as rivers of white space flowing down your text. Too much compression makes type look cramped and squished, especially when compared to adjacent, generously spaced lines. All of this manipulation can severely degrade the color, texture and readability of your type.
With so many potential pitfalls, the wise designer will refrain from using justified type unless there’s a compelling reason to do so, and only when he or she has the time and flexibility to fine-tune the text.
Here are some tips for achieving smooth, readable justification:
– The more words that fit on a line, the fewer problems you’ll have. Achieve this by making the line length a bit longer, or by reducing the point size of your type, even if only by a fraction.
– If necessary, edit the text itself to fix lines that are too open or too tight. Try to reduce the number of lines with hyphenated endings, particularly if there are more than two in a row. It’s always possible to substitute short words for longer ones or trim convoluted sentences–your copywriter may welcome the chance to improve the writing, as well as the design!
– Become familiar with your software’s hyphenation and justification (H&J) settings. You can usually adjust the word and character spacing parameters, as well as hyphenation preferences.
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- 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, 4th edition, published by Wiley & Sons, Inc. This article was commissioned and approved by Monotype Imaging Inc.