NHS Designs

the quality of being readable or distinguishable by the eye.


Graphic Design Typography

Styling & Formatting

Good typography, especially within body copy, often passes unnoticed as the information leaps from the page quickly and cleanly. However, this does not mean that your efforts are wasted; the reader's ease of reading demonstrates that you have done your job well.

Conversely, bad typography is memorable and intrusive. You will over time develop your own typographic preferences, but your choices need to be founded on a clear understanding of underlying principles.


Type Size

Body copy forms the main bulk of any text. Its primary function is to deliver information, so legibility is the most crucial consideration. A point (pt) is the usual measurement for type and is equal to 1/72 of an inch. Type that is smaller than 7pt is difficult to read and type that is smaller than 3pt is utterly illegible. The size range for body copy in a book or magazine article should be between 8pt and 14pt. In general, 9pt and 10pt are the most practical choices.


Serif or Sans Serif?

A serif font is easier to read over long passages (blocks of text) than a sans serif font. It is therefore often chosen for designs incorporating high quantities of body copy, such as novels and newspapers. However, a sans serif font is frequently perceived as being more modern.

Body copy should always be set in upper- and lower-case because the irregular shapes are rich with cues that improve legibility. Upper case (capital) letters are uniform in height and lack diversity of form, which impairs reading. upper-case text also consumes about a third more space than the equivalent in lower-case.

upper and lower-case



Leading is the vertical space separating baselines in text and is traditionally measured in points. The term is derived from the days of setting type in hot metal, when strips of lead were used to add space between lines.

Where leading is set to the same point size of the copy, it is referred to as "set solid." Although text set solid is often entirely legible, large blocks of copy set solid are tiring to read. Where possible, you should add at least 2 points of leading to your body copy. For example, for 9pt type choose 11pt leading. Leading of more than this amount is often aesthetically pleasing if your design can accommodate it.

If leading is set below the type size, ascenders and descenders crash, which looks unsightly and affects legibility.

leading 1
Font size: 14pt; leading: 12pt.

leading 2
Font size: 14pt; leading: 14pt (set solid).

leading 3
Font size: 14pt; leading: 16pt.

leading 4
Font size: 14pt; leading: 18pt.



Measure means t he width of the text column. It is also a critical factor in the legibility of type. A wide measure can be tiring to read because the eye cannot easily scan from the end of one line to the start of the next.

A short measure can also disrupt readability and can lead to unsightly line breaks. The optimum line length for body copy is 60-70 characters.

Click image for a larger version.



Alignment refers to the arrangement of lines of text in relation to the page margins. There are four dominant styles illustrated below.

Ranged left (ragged right), in which the text is aligned to the left-hand margin, is most common, legible and aesthetically pleasing. The majority of your text should be aligned left unless you have a sound reason to do otherwise.

leading 3

Ranged right (ragged left) is hard to read at speed because the eye struggles to find the start of each new line. However, it can be stylish for short blocks of text.

ranged right

Centered text, in which text is centered on each line, should be used sparingly. While appropriate for display type and headings, it should not be used for body copy.

ranged center

Justified text, ranging to both left and right margins, can be a neat solution. However, it can create excessive spaces between words and may require hyphenation.



Paragraph Formatting

Text styles are not simply defined by font and weight; paragraph styling or "formatting" also has a part to play. For example, you will also have to decide whether to include a line space before each new paragraph or whether to simply indent the first line of each.

Some other formatting considerations are color, shade, space above and/or below paragraph headings and the use of graphic elements within the typographic structure.


Heading Hierarchies

Any text-heavy design project, such as a book or annual report, requires a sound and consistent typographic scheme to be successful. When you approach a new project, read the given text carefully to understand the differing types of information that it contains.

Even if your copy is supplied totally unformatted you can still see that the data (whatever it might be) breaks down into parts on a recognizable scale of importance. for example, section titles, title that begin paragraphs, subtitles within paragraphs, and body copy.

Editors and designers often give a specific name or letter to each varying style of information within a given document. For example, you might have chapter titles, A heads, B heads, C heads and D heads in descending order of impact throughout your design.

Click image for a larger version.

The titles and headings are your display text and you may elect to treat them entirely different from body text, although all headings within a piece should belong to a single type family, with depth and contrast arising from changes in size and weight.


Take Quiz 6: Typography 3

Source: Graphic Design Foundation Course by Curtis Tappenden, Luke Jefford and Stells Farris

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