Some basic typesetting principles

Posted by Graeme McKinstry on 7 December 2011 | 0 Comments

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Having typeset many books in my professional life, and having taught courses on word processing and typesetting (not necessarily related), I have realized that there are some basic principles that are often overlooked. The first of these is the most important.

Line length

This would be the most important thing to get right and is almost always made too wide if you don’t get some advice.

The eyes should be able to scan a whole line in one sweep without moving your head. Lines which are too long are tiring to read. 

This means, in practical terms, that a line should be no wider than 70 characters wide. For 10pt type this will equate to around 12cm.

The initial complaint will be that for many documents the type block looks too small for the large paper size (A4 or US letter). However, this principle is so important that you should increase your margins and “just go with it.” White space is an important aid to readability. 

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