Typography in ten minutes

This is a bold claim, but I stand be­hind it: if you learn and fol­low these five ty­pog­ra­phy rules, you will be a bet­ter ty­pog­ra­ph­er than 95% of pro­fes­sion­al writ­ers and 70% of pro­fes­sion­al de­sign­ers. (The rest of this book will raise you to the 99th per­centile in both categories.)

All it takes is ten min­utes—five min­utes to read these rules once, then five min­utes to read them again.

Note to new vis­i­tors: This book isn’t sup­port­ed by ban­ner ads. It’s sup­port­ed by read­ers like you. If you find this tu­to­r­i­al valu­able, see how to pay for this book. And of course, don’t over­look the oth­er ma­te­r­i­al—see the ta­ble of con­tents.

Ready? Go.

  1. The ty­po­graph­ic qual­i­ty of your doc­u­ment is de­ter­mined large­ly by how the body text looks. Why? Be­cause there’s more body text than any­thing else. So start every project by mak­ing the body text look good, then wor­ry about the rest.

    In turn, the ap­pear­ance of the body text is de­ter­mined pri­mar­i­ly by these four ty­po­graph­ic choices:

  2. Point size is the size of the let­ters. In print, the most com­fort­able range for body text is 10–12 point. On the web, the range is 15–25 pix­els. Not every font ap­pears equal­ly large at a giv­en point size, so be pre­pared to ad­just as necessary.

  3. Line spac­ing is the ver­ti­cal dis­tance be­tween lines. It should be 120–145% of the point size. In word proces­sors, use the “Ex­act” line-spac­ing op­tion to achieve this. The de­fault sin­gle-line op­tion is too tight; the 1½-line op­tion is too loose. In CSS, use line-height.

  4. line length is the hor­i­zon­tal width of the text block. Line length should be an av­er­age of 45–90 char­ac­ters per line (use your word-count func­tion) or 2–3 low­er­case al­pha­bets, like so:

    abcde­fghijklmnopqrstu­vwxyz­abcde­fghijklmnopqrstu­vwxyz­abcd

    In a print­ed doc­u­ment, this usu­al­ly means page mar­gins larg­er than the tra­di­tion­al one inch. On a web page, it usu­al­ly means not al­low­ing the text to flow to the edges of the brows­er window.

  5. And fi­nal­ly, font choice. The fastest, eas­i­est, and most vis­i­ble im­prove­ment you can make to your ty­pog­ra­phy is to ig­nore the fonts that came free with your com­put­er (known as sys­tem fonts) and buy a pro­fes­sion­al font (like my fonts Eq­ui­ty and Con­course, or oth­ers found in font rec­om­men­da­tions). A pro­fes­sion­al font gives you the ben­e­fit of a pro­fes­sion­al de­sign­er’s skills with­out hav­ing to hire one.

    If that’s im­pos­si­ble, you can still make good ty­pog­ra­phy with sys­tem fonts. But choose wise­ly. And nev­er choose Times New Ro­man or Ar­i­al, as those fonts are fa­vored only by the ap­a­thet­ic and slop­py. Not by ty­pog­ra­phers. Not by you.

That’s it. As you put these five rules to work, you’ll no­tice your doc­u­ments start­ing to look more like pro­fes­sion­al­ly pub­lished material.

Then, if you’re ready for a lit­tle more, try the sum­ma­ry of key rules.

If you’re ready for a lot more, start at the fore­word and keep reading.