Line Spacing For Text
The amount of vertical space between lines of type is referred to as line spacing or leading. The latter term dates back to the days of metal type, when lead strips of varying thicknesses were inserted between lines of type to create space.
Without this leading, type was (and still is) described as being set solid. In today’s digital world, the adjustment of line spacing is made much more easily – with the click of a mouse.
Line spacing is measured from baseline to baseline. In print, it is traditionally measured in points (or as normal, double and triple in some word processing programs).
But for the web and digital devices, it is commonly referred to as line height, and can be expressed in pixels, points or centimeters (px, pt or cm), or as a percentage of the type size (120% or 1.2). Other accepted terminology includes normal, small and big.
Regardless of media or output – print or digital, line spacing remains an extremely important aspect of setting inviting, readable text. In most instances, generous line spacing helps the eye and brain to more easily decipher the character shapes, words and word groupings, which is how we read.
The smaller the type size, the greater the line spacing needed, proportionally speaking, to offset the reduced readability of small settings. Other factors affecting line spacing are the x-height of a typeface, as well as the cap height at a given point or pixel size, which can vary from typeface to typeface. The taller the x-height (and, correspondingly, the shorter the ascenders and descenders), the more line spacing is needed to maintain good readability and prevent the setting from looking cramped.
Most design software programs include a default line spacing setting that is typically 120% of the type size (although it is possible to change the default setting). While the default formula can be a useful time-saver when experimenting with setting text at various sizes, the best end result will be achieved by deciding on a fixed value selected for the size of type ultimately used in the specific layout.
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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.