Ragging...I'm Getting Better But Could Use Some Advice

wysong's picture

Rags are something i've been having mixed luck with as I try to master them. Ideally I would like to turn my "luck" into a useable skill.

Problems i'm having...As i'm sure you already know since some of you are probably veterans. So bare with me, please.

1. When i try to manually rag, the rythmn is a real mess. I've tried tracking +-20. Is there a visual limit to how far you can track before it becomes really noticeable? Perhaps there's a rule, perhaps it's by individual font.

2. Are there any other "tricks" that you can share?

3. Some will say there's a rule, i'm sure, but can you use a hyphen when ragging?

4. Does anyone have suggestions for things to look for when ragging. I need to gain some ground here in order to be pleased.

Anxiously awaiting your thoughts!

wysong's picture

-_- Marty

Ricardo Cordoba's picture

Gasp! Tracking???

wysong's picture

Hehe. Any constructive suggestions?

Ricardo Cordoba's picture

Sorry about that, Marty... I couldn't help that reaction.

I don't know what computer program you are using to do your typesetting, but usually tracking is not a good idea for this. Depending on the program you are using, there are other options.

As for your question about using hyphens, it depends on whether you want a tight or loose rag. Some people are okay with hyphens, some aren't. Even when you do allow hyphenation, there is a limit to how many hyphenated lines in a row look good (i.e., pleasing to the eye).

I recommend getting a good book on typesetting -- plenty out there, but here's three of them:

The Elements of Typographic Style, by Robert Bringhurst
The Thames and Hudson Manual of Typography, by Ruari McLean
Thinking with Type, by Ellen Lupton

I hope this helps!

wysong's picture

Thanks for the suggestions.

I own the Elements of Typographic Style, actually. I've tried to understand the chart but I can't actually put it into practice. I think it's a case of "let's make the chart pretty" versus giving the reader a solid example of usage. Anyway, another day, perhaps.

is the column width a big factor when you're doing a rag? I know the right width is pretty important with force justified columns.

Ricardo Cordoba's picture

Column width is always an important factor, in combination with point size, as these will affect how many words you get per line.

The best thing I can recommend to you is to experiment: try different column widths, print out samples of each, examine the samples, and see what your own eyes are comfortable with.

jselig's picture

It also depends on the software you're using for layout. Quark is not as forgiving as InDesign is with the amount of tweaking. Or perhaps it's more accurate to say InDesign uses a different setting for autospacing and kerning. Some magazines have a standard that they will allow type to be kerned to; my experience is, in Quark don't go past -4 in body copy, and InDesign it seems that a -20/25 is the general threshold.

Some clients don't mind hyphens in their copy, some make you turn hyphenation off. In my old job, we did a lot of government work and we were not allowed to use hyphens especially in bilingual material, each translator wanted to break words at different parts so they put a kibosh on hyphenation.

You want to make sure you watch out for widows/orphans and it's ok to use line breaks to knock down a word to balance out the rag a bit more.

pattyfab's picture

A trick I use - in Quark at least, I don't know Indy - is to work with H&Js. I have three settings: tight, normal, and loose. Since H&Js work more with word spacing than tracking it is usually less noticeable. Sometimes just changing from normal to tight can either fix a bad rag or pull up a widow. I also have a "no hyphenation" H&J where that's required (some clients do specify that, but it can be problematic at times).

It is always OK to use a hard return to bring down a pesky word, such as a "to" that is hanging off an edge visually. But you need to be extra careful about those hard returns if the text is edited later on so you don't end up with short lines.

Also you want to avoid creating "shapes" in the rag, unsightly bulges or indentations that are too smooth - a good rag will have a visual rhythm that doesn't attract attention to itself.

Re hyphens: preferably no more than 2 in a row, never more than 3. I try to avoid them in ragged text but sometimes it can't be helped. They should not stick out too far. Also set your H&Js so that there is a minimum of 3 characters either before or after a hyphen.

For tracking I try not to go to more than -2 or +2 except in more forgiving fonts. But I always try to adjust the H&J before I track.

Ricardo Cordoba's picture

A trick I use - in Quark at least, I don’t know Indy - is to work with H&Js.

Me too -- this is what I meant earlier by "Depending on the program you are using, there are other options."

It is always OK to use a hard return to bring down a pesky word, such as a “to” that is hanging off an edge visually. But you need to be extra careful about those hard returns if the text is edited later on so you don’t end up with short lines.

Isn't it better to use a soft return for this? Hard returns can add space before or after a paragraph, if you happen to have a paragraph's style set up that way. You still have to be careful with later editing with soft returns, but they are more forgiving with things like formatting. :-)

pattyfab's picture

You're right - I meant soft return - my bad!

That H&J trick is something I learned relatively recently and wish I'd known how to work with earlier on.

jselig's picture

Also another thing to note, after pattyfab posted about repeating hyphens is to try and prevent the same word ending or beginning 2 (or more) lines in a row.

i.e. if you have two "to's" ending a sentence, knock one down hope the other "to" doesn't fall down creating the same problem at the beginning of the lines.

pattyfab's picture

Good point - that's called a "ladder" and should be avoided.

Ricardo Cordoba's picture

That H&J trick is something I learned relatively recently and wish I’d known how to work with earlier on.

Yeah, I know what you mean -- I recently learned that you can modify the width of the space character in that same H&J dialog box... I couldn't believe it!

dave bailey's picture

Soft returns are the same in InD. I just looked it up.

pica pusher's picture

Another good trick in InDesign is the "Nonbreaking Space" (usually command-option-x); it looks like a word space but InDesign will treat the words on either side of it as one word. The nonbreaking space is better than a line break for killing widows, because if your type is ever re-flowed it won't create havoc.

In terms of bringing up lines, I'd say to kern wordspaces first, even to -80 (indd units, not quark) depending on the characters around them, then apply tracking, usually not more than -5 (again, indd units). It sounds like Patty's method with H&Js is a smarter, more automated way of applying this idea...

pattyfab's picture

Similar to pica pusher's suggestion about nbsp, in Quark you can also manually hyphenate using command+hyphen which tells the word where to hyphenate rather than inserting a hyphen that will need to be removed (again manually) if the text is edited or reflowed.

NiceTry's picture

Word Spacing in H&J is the key. My default setting in Illustrator and InDesign is:
Minimum: 65%
Desired: 85%
Maximum: 100%

And I adjust it from there, usually lower, sometimes to 50/60/70. Better too close than too far apart. Always hyphenating if I can get away with it. Never adjust letterspacing, unless there is a visible kerning problem. An even rag obviously works better with space-saving fonts like Adobe Garamond or Minion. Tweak out the edge of the textblock a little too, as long as it doesn't make a noticeable difference but fixes the rag. I also switch between the Adobe Single-Line Composer and Every-Line Composer in the CS programs, sometimes one works better than the other.

Another trick I have used is to set the spaces between sentences in a different character style which has a different horizontal scaling than the rest of the paragraph. Then you can adjust the spaces all at once. This is a real pain to use, so I would recommend it only for situations that call for a paragraph of perfect type in a large size, where the character count is much shorter than normally desired.

kris's picture

I think that a lot of the rules to do with hyphenation are bunk. I have read my way through many books, and "more than three" hyphens have never bothered me, never hindered my reading or comprehension. It seems to be an easy target for people looking at typesetting to comment on.

If you have pretty tight copy that is near the final edit, you can do many things. I always try my darndest to honour consistent word & letterspacing. However, to re-jig paragraphs to eliminate widows (another bunk style issue) I will adjust tracking +5 to -5 (InDesign). My word spacing settings differ depending on context, but I try to limit it to about 20% from minimum to maximum. As others have also admitted to, I will also allow minute horizontal scaling, depending on the typeface (totally un-noticeable if done properly). Another neat little trick is to subtlely adjust the width of your text boxes. This does absolute wonders for errant bits & bobs that need adjusting. This is also un-noticeable if done properly.

It all seems like a pain in the ass for people demanding justified text, but necessary to keep clients happy. Have fun!

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