For the uninitiated, typography can seem like a foreign language. Learning a few simple phrases and tricks can aid communication and result in better design. Here are my six quick tips to keeping type readable and visually pleasing.
- Learn to Kern
Kerning is the manual adjustment of the space between two letters. When words are properly kerned, the space between each letter is uniform, which increases the readability.
- Use Ligatures
Some letters create awkward shapes when they are next to each other, such as f and i or f and l. Most typefaces have special Ligature characters to replace these letters and make the word more readable.
Leading is the space between lines of text. If this space is too small or too large, legibility issues can occur. Typically the leading is set at the font size x 20%. So for 10 pt type, leading is automatically 12. However, some typefaces require more or less leading to be easily read.
- Optical Alignment
Sometimes text doesn’t visually line up. Letters with serifs, or rounded edges, can make a paragraph look jagged vertically. A good rule of thumb is to manually align the stem of the letters so they line up visually.
Smart quotes (typically have a curl) are used for quotations. Prime marks (straight) are used for inches or feet. Prime marks should ONLY be used for measurements. Quotation marks often cause the first line to appear indented and disturb the flow of the text. It is important to make sure quotation marks hang on the outside of a paragraph to create optical alignment.
- Orphans and Widows
Words like to be by their friends. A widow is a word or two words at the end of a paragraph that is about 1/3 or less of the width of the paragraph. An orphan is a line or two of a paragraph that get separated from the rest of the paragraph, typically into a different column. Widows and orphans create awkward spaces and readability issues. You can avoid widows and orphans by changing the paragraph’s width, or slightly tracking the paragraph in or out.