Word spacing is an important aspect of creating inviting, easy-to-read typography. This seemingly small detail plays a key role in establishing the color, texture and readability of a typographic communication.
Over-tight word spacing causes words to appear to run into each other, making it more difficult for the reader to distinguish one word from the next. Conversely, word spacing that is too open – the more common occurrence – creates oversized blocks of white space between words, forcing the reader to read individual words rather than phrases or blocks of copy. This dramatically slows down the reading process, reducing reader comprehension and increasing the risk of distraction.
How much word spacing is the right amount? Assigning appropriate space between words is more of an optical determination than an exact science, but certain factors have a definite influence. Word spacing will be affected by the proportions of a typestyle, letter fit, and point size of the setting. A basic guideline for text is for the word spacing to approximate the character width of the lowercase ‘n’ or ‘o’. Display settings should have narrower word spacing than text designs.
Additional points to take note of:
• A condensed type design requires less space between words than a regular or expanded typeface.
• A typeface with tight letter spacing needs less word space than a more openly fitting design.
• Setting type at larger sizes calls for slightly less word space than smaller sizes.
An easy way to help determine if there is too much word spacing is to turn the copy upside down. If you can very easily distinguish one word from another, there’s too much word spacing.
Although the word spacing of any given font is predetermined, it can be adjusted in most design and page layout software via the justification settings. Changing the “desired word spacing” setting is the best method for text. For headlines, the kerning feature is the better tool – and yes, you can kern a character to a space, and vice versa! (image)
Proper word spacing is not noticed by the reader, but is a major factor in creating text that appears even, inviting and easy to read; the copy should just flow.
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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.