Justification Rules

richard_a's picture

I am stuck with a narrow column to lay
my text, I usually prefer left aligned
text, but I think in a narrow column,
justified text would look better.

Can people please share their experiences
with justification. When does one justify,
and when not.

And while justifying, what are the settings
for minimum, desired and maximum wordspace
percentages that people use.

.00's picture

It all depends on the type you are using. Also, as size changes wordsapce values will change as well.

blank's picture

I find justified text looks worst in narrow columns, because those are the ones most likely to generate rivers. My rule of thumb is to not justify any column less than 44 characters wide.

Gary Long's picture

On a narrow column a ragged right edge always looks better than justified text full of big gaps, rivers, and too many hyphens. James' rule of thumb for the cut-off point is good.

My standard settings (in InDesign) for word spacing in justified text are 85/100/130, but I will set the minimum to 80 in narrower settings if necessary. Some typesetters will go to a minimum of 75: to some extent that depends on the tightness a particular typeface will tolerate. Hyphenation settings can also vary depending on the width: on narrow columns, I may set it to 3 in a row from my normal 2 allowed. I usually check the "hyphenate capitalized words" option, but this is a necessity on narrow columns.

A slightly condensed typeface of course will help on a narrow setting if you have to justify. But don't artificially squish a regular face.

richard_a's picture

My column is around 40 characters wide,
can you suggest a some oldstyle serif
typefaces,that would be suitable for
narrow columns.

copper's picture

I also try to keep narrow columns right ragged, as it keeps the number of hypens down a bit, and personally prefer right ragged anytime (did a whole magazine all left justified:).
My standard settings in InDesign is about 67-75/90-100/100-120, depending on type and language (Finnish is a horrible language with all tooooo long words). This also depends how much the style is kerned from the beginning as well.

charles ellertson's picture

Much depends on your situation. As a *commercial* typesetter -- always books -- the comps in our company usually have no say over whether or not the type is to be set justified or ragged. The design is supplied along with the copy.

When you have more of a free hand -- you are the designer -- I would pay attention to who the intended audience is. Frequently, typophiles have different preferences than the reading public. For example, in a slightly less than normal text measure, a typophile may suggest setting ragged, because they just cannot stand the variance in word spacing that will likely result. But the reading public tends to be more comfortable with justified copy (in a book & usually a magazine), for the simple reason that a justified setting is what is most common. When you vary from what is common, you call attention to what you have done, for good or ill. Newspapers and brochures often have a ragged setting, so if your printed piece is one of these, you can rely on different audience expectations.

As to generalities: you will just have to accept more variance in word space with a narrower column (measure).

How to find the values:

Set at least a page ragged right, with the min-ideal-max spaceband values all set the same. You might as well start with 100% -- the type designer's thinking. But if this is too loose or tight for your eye, change the values up or down until the spacing is what you want. With some fonts, I've gone as low as 90% & it wouldn't surprise me to come across some where I'd go lower.

BTW ALWAYS PRINT OUT THE PAGE. The screen display will fool you.

Now go for the minimum value. Change the setting to justified, use your newly determined "ideal" value where 100% is now, and set the minimum, to, say, 75%. Set (& print out) a couple of pages -- that would be around 80 lines & at least six paragraphs in my type of work. See if the tightest line is going too tight. If so, change the 75% to a higher value. If not, keep dropping it down.

I don't see the upper value changing much in the final setting. Unlike some layout programs (e.g., TeX) InDesign (& PageMaker & Quark) will violate (exceed) the "maximum" value. What will change is the number & severity of the *violations* if you toggle that display on. But I've set my two pages as above with a 133% and then changed it to 500% maximum & not one line break changed. I suppose under some situations, it might.

This is a bit or work -- 15 to 20 minutes -- to go through with a typeface, & should be good for a reasonable range of sizes and measures -- say 22 to 27 pica measure, 9-10-11 point type. If you change the size or measure too much, you need to go through the test again to confirm things.

I also allow plus & minus 0.1% variation in letterspacing and scaling. It isn't much, but it can help, and with values that small, no, you cannot see it. But I've watched a hyphen block go away when using that small amount of letterspacing/scaling.

If I've given the impression that you cannot just use someone else's typeface preference or values, that was on purpose. Using type well depends on a certain familiarity & understanding of it's behavior. You cannot borrow either familiarity or understanding.


kentlew's picture

Charles -- Good advice. I have used similar methods in evaluating typefaces and H&J settings/parameters.

One thing I might add. In addition to the evaluation to determine the optimum spaceband (which, as Charles points out is not always 100%, depending upon the font/designer/foundry), I do a similar, unjustified pass to identify what percentage minimum I deem to be an acceptable lower end.

In the second step that Charles describes, with a justified setting, you can't be certain that the tightest line you are evaluating is equivalent to your min setting, nor that the full effect of your min setting has been applied anywhere. So, I introduce this intermediate evaluation.

That is to say, I keep the setting as fl/rr and adjust the optimum (or ideal) downward. (In fl/rr setting, this middle setting is the only value that has any effect.) This way I can see the direct result of the spacing value. Once I determine an acceptable minimum, then I apply it to the Min value in the manner Charles suggests (reverting the Optimum to my ideal and setting justified) and see how it plays out in text.

-- K.

charles ellertson's picture

Yes, Kent's method gives a certain kind of information. I have tired it, and it doesn't work as well for me, because at several levels, "too tight" is a relative notion. There is absolutely "too tight," and also "too tight in this context," where "this context" is the other spacing values at play.

The moral is there is no right or wrong way, it depends on your eye & the various ways you can fool yourself.

As to not needing to make the three values the same for ragged settings -- I'm real new to InDesign, but it seems to me that under some conditions, you can set ragged & have the wordspace value change. This is actually a plus -- With TeX, I use to allow a small variation -- say 20/1000ths of an em -- to help with ragged settings.


William Berkson's picture

Thanks to Charles and Kent. This should go into the TypoWiki.

See also this thread, which argues the merits of justified vs ragged right text.

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