Including subheads in running text is a great way to attract and hold your reader’s interest. Subheads serve to preview and highlight the content by dividing it into readable chunks, making the text more inviting to scan and peruse selectively, especially for the hurried or restless reader.
How you format subheads can accomplish two goals: giving your layout visual and typographic variety, as well as providing different levels of emphasis. Here are several techniques to apply individually or in combination:
Same Typeface, Different Weight
The simplest, most basic treatment for a subhead is to select a heavier weight of the text typeface in use. Keeping it “all in the family,” so to speak, creates an instantly noticeable emphasis while maintaining the typographic personality of the layout. Be sure to go heavy enough so the subhead is clearly apparent. However, the heaviest weights of some type families are intended for display, and therefore may not be as legible in text sizes.
Setting subheads in a contrasting typeface – such as using a bold sans serif subhead with serif text – can bring a bit more depth, pizzazz or prominence to the look of a piece. Make sure to format the subheads with enough contrast to the text. Consider varying the style, weight, color or case to ensure that subheads stand out enough to do their job.
When a more assertive treatment is desired, try setting subheads at a larger size than the text. Some projects, such as magazines and annual reports, may look best with subheads set just slightly larger than the text, while others – including menus, catalogs and brochures – may benefit from a more dramatic increase.
While subheads set flush left impart a clean, tailored look, centering them can add a sense of elegance and importance. When centering over flush left/rag right text, be sure to center subheads optically, which may require moving them slightly to the left.
Case (Caps vs. u&lc)
Subheads set in all caps carry even more impact and emphasis. This technique will amplify any of the above formatting options, creating a solid geometric line or block of text without the disruption of ascenders and descenders.
Adding extra space between subhead and text is a technique to be used sparingly and carefully. A small amount of extra space may help set off the subhead – especially if it is set in a decorative typeface such as a script or a handwriting – but too much space can disunite the two elements, as well as create visual gaps in the overall text. Keep in mind that unless a full (body text) line space is added, columns will not cross-align.
The addition of color is eye-catching for any subhead scenario. Color can help establish a visual map of the content, while picking up the palette and branding of a piece. However, too many instances of color sprinkled throughout can cause visual overkill and undermine the typographic hierarchy.
- 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.