The Secret to Perfect Type

It would be almost entirely impossible to fully reveal the secret to the perfect type in just one blog post as the subject is practically endless. However, one of the first things I discovered was how important it is to understand the basics of type before embarking upon any design whatsoever.

A website or brochure can have the most beautifully designed elements, but if the type isn’t up to scratch, the other elements become entirely irrelevant. Behind all perfectly aligned and spaced type, there are mathematical formulae and carefully considered concepts. When reading any type, the brain is tasked with interpreting the content within a split second and if the type doesn’t allow this easy legibility, the type simply doesn’t work. What must initially be considered is line length, spacing between lines (leading), distance between each letter (kerning) and spacing throughout the whole word (tracking). These elements are crucial in terms of aiding legibility and also play a role in the overall aesthetics of the type.

In terms of line length, it is important to consider how easy it is for your eye to trace the line and then return to the next line without losing its place. If the line is too long, the reader will struggle to focus and keep their place but if the line is too short, the reader may miss important words as it forces a quicker pace of reading. Generally speaking, the optimal line length is between around 50 and 70 characters long as this allows for the brain to easily interpret the content whilst maintaining focus. Of course, the rule of thumb never applies to all circumstances, but we always think this is a good starting point.

Considering line length would be useless if the leading wasn’t also carefully contemplated. The magic leading value is around 120% of the point size, but what does this actually mean? Well, if your text size is 10pt, then the leading should be roughly 12pt as this allows for the eye to easily transport between each line without losing its place. Again, this is a rough guide and, often, we will use our own eye to see what spacing works best – the most effective way to find out if the leading is good to go is to print it out to scale and see how legible it is because different typefaces and weights will impact upon the leading required.

Kerning and tracking can be a tricky one… The kerning is usually already set by the typeface to the optimal value, but it is always worth manually adjusting the value to improve the overall look and feel of the typeface. There isn’t really a hard and fast rule for this one, but if the letters are too close, they will be especially difficult to read and equally, if they are too far apart, the copy just won’t feel cohesive.

This by no means explores the full extent to typesetting but, as a beginner, these were the underpinning concepts I felt I should already have known. Why not see if you can find any anomalies to our basic rules of thumb and let us know?