Hanging (or hung) punctuation refers to the practice of extending certain punctuation marks into the margin of a flush edge of text, to give the appearance of a more uniform vertical alignment. Punctuation marks that are typically hung include periods, commas, hyphens, dashes, quotation marks and asterisks. These, and any other mark that does not have a continuous vertical mass, can cause a visual “hole” or indentation in the flush edge. Hung punctuation is commonly used for body text, but should also be applied to headings, subheads, pull quotes in fact, to any block of text intended to have a flush edge, whether flush left, flush right, or justified.
Hanging punctuation is generally considered a sophisticated typographic technique. Prior to digital typography, this practice was frequently applied by experienced typographers whose sole job was to set type. In early days of the digital age and desktop typesetting, hung punctuation became less standard, as it had to be created manually. This was a tedious undertaking, because design software was relatively unsophisticated with regard to hanging punctuation.
Today, tremendous advances in the typographic capabilities of design software offer an effect similar to hung punctuation, by visually aligning the margins of flush text. Enabling and applying the Optical Margin Alignment feature will not only hang the appropriate punctuation outside the text frame, but also adjust other characters that can disturb alignment, including A, T, V, W, Y, and in some instances the numeral 1. This feature is adjustable in most design software, allowing fine control of the amount of overhang from punctuation being completely extended into the margin, like traditional hung punctuation, down to any lesser degree of overhang.
For typography to have a clean, uniform appearance, consider the alignment of your text margins. Hanging punctuation and other problematic characters is widely viewed as the “gold standard” in well-set typography, allowing any body of text to appear balanced, inviting and unfettered by visual distractions.
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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.