An Ideal Page: Line length, Leading, Margins, Page Size, Etc.

Miss Tiffany's picture

In his book The Elements of Typographic Style, Robert Bringhurst sets forth what he considers to the be the ideal for setting text. He states:

- 45 to 75 characters line length (measure); specifically 66 including spaces; Single Column
- 40 to 50 characters; multi-column
- 85 to 90 characters; discontinuous text; generous leading
- 40 characters (minimum); justified
- 12 to 15 characters; marginal notes; English

He also discusses the ideal page to great detail on pp. 171–176.

I'm hoping to find other authors who've written down their ideals. What have you found as you've read? Would you share your findings? Even just the books and page numbers would be helpful.

Thanks!

charles ellertson's picture

Miss Tiffany,

I don't much go in for prescriptive descriptions of interior design. I would recommend Rich Hendel's On Book Design. Or my favorite, The Art of the Printed Book, which shows solutions from over 400 years, encompassing varying fashions and notions of "ideal."

Small examples:

The largest set of problems an interior designer faces are problems occasioned by the text itself. If you say "See spot run" over and over, a number of ideal characters per line can be used. But the evenness of word spacing is controlled by the number of spaces in the line, not the number of characters.

Another small example is the sheet, if the book to be run on a sheet-fed press. Does a 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 trim cost the same as a 6x9? It does from several book printers, so the extra size of the sheet allows different margins. And that space can be used for a number of things.

I know. The response to the above could be, "Well, so what? Suppose everything works out" What's ideal?" But it is the same answer: the ideal is determined by the text, given the constraints of manufacturing. Were it otherwise, IBM could design a computer that not only won at Jeopardy!, but replaced book designers. Then where would we be?

Bendy's picture

Sorry! What is discontinuous text?

typerror's picture

Look at Zapf's original work in the late 70's for digital design. Way ahead of his time, even for those who hate Optima and Palatino.

Miss Tiffany's picture

Charles: I'm not using this information to design a page. I'm simply collecting what they have prescribed. Thank you for the information though!

Bendy: Texts, such as a bibliography or a list; anything that isn't continuous such as you find in a novel.

Michael: Did Zapf set forth his ideal measurements in those books?

Sye's picture

I really should get/read that book.

edit: I meant Elements.

Bendy's picture

I see: lines can afford to be longer if they're not intended to be read consecutively.

Charles: the evenness of word spacing is controlled by the number of spaces in the line, not the number of characters.

Interesting that the ideal number of characters would correlate to the evenness of word spacing. I rather thought the ideal line length would correspond to a comfortable number of words to parse in one go, i.e. cognition taking precedence over aesthetics.

charles ellertson's picture

Tiff,

Oh, I knew you weren't asking this information to design a book, you already know how.

Uncharitable of me, but I thought you were going to spring it on poor, unsuspecting students.

But to take a "the glass is really a little more than half full" flight of fancy, maybe you're going to write an article entitled "People who describe the ideal text page, and other useless endeavors."

If so, let me know and I'll buy a copy.

Sadly, I have no chapter and verse to contribute.

* * *

Bendy, try reading Wilfrid Sellars or Immanuel Kant. That'll put to rest the notion that comprehensibility rests on something like so many characters per line.

Miss Tiffany's picture

This isn't for students either. It is strictly research to gather data. I promise.

charles ellertson's picture

To try and make up a little for intemperate assumptions --

Book Typography: A Designer's Manual, by Michael Mitchell and Susan Wightman, Libanus Press.

Try pages 16-52. It's there, but all mixed in with other stuff.

William Berkson's picture

Charles knows way more about this than I do, but for what it's worth I am a believer in the "2 1/2 lower case alphabets" ideal for single column text. This is in Felici and amounts to the same thing as Bringhurst. I do find something that wide inviting for extended reading, and wider off-putting.

I am talking about printed books with extended text.

I heard Bill Hill at TypeCon saying that that width is ideal because more causes us to turn our heads, rather than just our eyes, so that we are more likely to lose the line. I don't know where Bill Hill got it, though.

In multi-column and lay-out with more white space there is more flexibility.

The other rule I have read that I believe is that sans, compared to good serifed text fonts, usually require shorter lines and more leading to be readable, for more than a few lines.

ps. I think that stating the rule in terms of "characters" can be misleading because the i and m are both characters, but one a lot wider than the other...

quadibloc's picture

Of course, one of the characteristics of the ideal book, or the book beautiful, is the point size of the type. And the typeface itself is a concern as well; thus, if one is going to use generous leading, one shouldn't use a typeface with ruthlessly shortened descenders.

One book I have, "A Composition Manual", published by the Printing Industries of America, gave, in the specific case of 10 point type, leaded 2 points, a list of recommendations from various authorities:

Readability tests by Lukiesh and Moss: 13 pica ems
Sherbow's type charts: 15 pica ems

The usual theory in printing at the time is cited as 1 1/2 alphabets, or 40 characters, which seems to be equivalent to 17 pica ems in the sample displayed.

A reader preference test is cited as yielding 19 pica ems.

A Dr. Javal and a Professor Huey advocate 21 pica ems (Dr. Javal as a maximum).

Two alphabets are then noted as the ideal of some other printers who dissent from the usual 1 1/2 alphabet rule of thumb. This appears to be about 22 1/2 pica ems.

Lessons in printing published by the International Typographical Union give 22 to 24 pica ems as the ideal.

Scientific studies conducted in Britain are cited as establishing the rule that the ideal line length should not be over 24 pica ems.

Someone checked the width of lines in typical textbooks, and found they range from 21 to 25 pica ems.

And finally, Professors Patterson and Tinker are cited as recommending the range of 14 to 31 pica ems.

So, at least at one time, collecting a lot of sources for this was considered reasonable.

quadibloc's picture

And, of course, if one wishes to see a paradigm of "The Ideal Book or Book Beautiful", which "is a composite thing made up of many parts"... Ecce Mundus: Industrial Ideals and The Book Beautiful by T. J. Cobden-Sanderson, published by the Hammersmith Publishing Society might serve.

Although the second essay therein was more definitively published by the Doves Press, if I recall correctly. Ah, yes.

But William Morris wrote an essay with a similar title, which began, "By the ideal book, I suppose we are to understand a book not limited by commercial exigencies of price"... but it continues on to say "I would therefore, put in a word for some form of gothic letter for use in our improved printed book. This may startle some of you;"... and I am indeed startled, although not truly surprised, as I am aware of his Troy and Chaucer types.

Té Rowan's picture

Are these line width recommendations for single or multiple columns?

quadibloc's picture

The recommendations are for one column, with the idea being that if you have to go over them, it's time to split the page up into more columns.

Incidentally, the book in question, because it was printed on 8 1/2 by 11 pages, was in a two-column format.

The book itself was set in 11 point Monotype Baskerville with 2 points leading. Each column was 20 pica ems in width (3 1/3 inches).

ncaleffi's picture

A book I highly recommend on the subject:

"Detail in typography" by Jost Hochuli, recently re-edited by Hyphen Press.

http://www.hyphenpress.co.uk/books/978-0-907259-34-3

It deals, among other things, also with line lenght and type spacing.

Everything written by Hochuli about typography/mise en page should be taken in serious consideration. I also suggest his "Designing books: practice and theory".

http://www.hyphenpress.co.uk/books/978-0-907259-23-7

Yotam's picture

Maybe not the most authoritative source, but worth a mention:

Indesign Type – Professional Typography with Adobe InDesign,
Chapter 14 – Pages, Margins, Columns, and Grids, p. 240

"As a rough guide, aim for 40 to 70 characters (including the spaces) per line.
That’s a big range, so there’s plenty of scope. More than 70 characters and
“doubling” can occur — the eye returns to the left column edge only to read
the same line again. If you are obligated to work with a measure that is too
wide, you can improve its readability by increasing the leading of your type."

Bendy's picture

Charles, yes, as your example with Kant shows...the content clearly affects readability.

I'm not a scientist nor a book designer, and maybe I misused the word 'cognitive'. So having agreed that content is a primary factor, I'd want to also say that ideal readability involves physiological factors, such as the number of (eye) saccades and/or language units per line, as well as aesthetic factors, such as even spacing and typeface choice. Maybe I was hasty in giving preference to physical processes...all these factors are all interrelated of course.

Sorry, Tiffany, going off topic.

flooce's picture

I always wondered how the 70 character rule as a healthy maximum could possibly be implemented on the standardized paper sizes A4 and US-Letter. With standard margins of about 2.5cm – or one inch – and a bit plus/minus at top and bottom the character count is somewhere between 89 and 96 characters a line for A4 (12 point text size). Which advice do professionals give here to ensure a good reading experience? Thank you

William Berkson's picture

>character count is somewhere between 89 and 96 characters a line

One of my pet peeves also.

I suspect that the A4 and US letter-size are products of the typewriter age. And indeed if you use Courier, with say 1 inch margins, you get around 65 characters, if I remember rightly. But especially with Times New Roman, you get far more, as you say.

One solution is to use fairly large type, with a large left margin, and ample right margin. Wide type, like Century Schoolbook can also help fill up the measure without too many characters. If designing stationary with a letter head and information, you can make use of the left margin.

quadibloc's picture

The margins, the leading, the column width... all these things are under the control of the typographer.

As the typographer does not have the option to turn a treatise on general relativity or celestial mechanics into a detective story or a Western, the comprehensibility of the content (or even the language in which the text is written!), although indeed far outweighing the layout of the page in determining readability, is all that the typographer may control and can legitimately address.

So there is no fault in not lamenting what one cannot change.

dezcom's picture

Personally, I tend to hate long line lengths, where I have to turn my head to read. I have much less issue with short lines. This is surely affected by point size so character count and leading are not the only factors. I find that line length is determined mostly by other layout and fitting concerns. This is not true when doing a straight text novel but I have never done one of those. When reading a straight text book, I tend to like the way Unger's book "While You Were Reading" is set. I can read the text easily without getting whiplash and can hold the book at a nice comfortable distance.

I am not much for "magic" combinations of proportion, length, size, and leading but I do like a nice healthy margin to separate the text from the background clutter of the world. This is my opinion and is not science by any means. It seems there have been fashions of setting that have come, gone, and returned. There have also been technological reasons like newspaper fitting and simple things like physical galley dropping. It must be a bitch to carry around a galley of type that is 10 inches wide! In magazines and newspapers, you have the positioning of ads and graphics to consider so they tend to be multi column. Itis like cooking, the more ingredients you have, the more complicated the apportionment process.

RadioB's picture

Jan Tschichold's new typography might have something on that.
I know he said that the perfect page for a story book has the proportion of 2:3 and their is a mathematical way to find the perfect (in his opinion) text block for that page, I can't remember how exactly (divide the page into 9 equal horizontal columns...) but i know that the book "the fundamentals of typography" shows you how, its not next to me now so I cant tell you which page it is.

john.dilworth's picture

Ellen Lupton discusses the topic in her essay from 2003 (I found lots of references to this). The article has a bibliography with a few additional sources also. http://elupton.com/2009/10/science-of-typography/

Some research has also been done that may go against Bringhurst's suggestion for line length for online reading.

http://psychology.wichita.edu/surl/usabilitynews/72/pdf/Usability%20News...
"This study examined the effects of line length on reading speed, comprehension, and user satisfaction of online news articles."

And another one looking at online reading:
http://www.humanfactors.com/downloads/feb03.asp

I'm always skeptical of these kinds of scientific studies on typography. They don't take into account the qualitative and subtle artistic requirements of typography, which are just as important, and likely have as much impact (or more) on how "readable" something is. that said, I think looking at all sides of the issue is valuable.

William Berkson's picture

I just checked Hochuli, Detail in Typography. He has "between 60 and 70" characters for English, a little longer for German. (p. 34 English edition) Checking Felici, Complete Manual of Typography, he mentions (p. 120) three "more commonly proposed guidelines":

"1. Optimal line length is between one and a half and two and a half times the length of the lower case alphabet.
2. Optimal line is nine or ten words (figure 5 1/2 characters per word.
3. 27 characters is the minimum line length, 40 the optimum, and 70 the maximum."

He also mentions an outer limit, too long most of the time of "a measure (in picas) three times the size of type (in points)."

Bringhurst (p. 26 second edition Elements of Typographic Style) says "Anything from 45 to 75 characters is widely regarded as a satisfactory length of line for a single-column page set in a serifed text face in a text size. The 66 character line (counting both letters and spaces) is widely regarded as ideal. For multiple column work, a better average is 40-50 characters."

It seems that the most experienced book designers, like Charles and Mitchel & Wightman, don't want to give numbers, noting the many variables.

kentlew's picture

Isn’t “optimal” a superlative?

> 1. Optimal line length is between one and a half and two and a half times the length of the lower case alphabet.

Taking Miller Text, 11 pt (just as a random example), that would yield anywhere between 17p7.68 and 29p4.8 (or between 2.94 and 4.9 inches) — almost a 2-inch difference in line length. That’s quite a wide range for something that’s supposed to be a superlative.

Ain’t rules and numbers fun?

quadibloc's picture

If one is going to eschew ragged-right setting as an option, too many hyphens are distracting. So if a guideline for column width is only going to be used as a rule for deciding when to split the page into two columns, as the size of type is out of the control of the typographer (it being, presumably, the minimum one can get away with), then a broad range, like 1 1/4 alphabets to 2 1/2 alphabets, which encompasses a factor of two, makes sense.

Let us then take, not 1 3/4, not 1 1/4, but... 1 5/8 alphabets as the optimum line length. 2 is a bit long, 1 1/2 is a bit short, but the shorter one is closer to the optimum. 1 1/4 to 2 1/2 are the acceptable range.

So, as the part of the page left after the margins gradually widens, we know what to do.

When that width passes 2 1/2 alphabets, we split the page into two columns at 1 1/4 alphabets.

When it reaches 4 1/2 alphabets, that leaves us with two columns at 2 1/4 alphabets which we can split into three columns at 1 1/2 alphabets. But perhaps the point at which we should go from two columns to three is a bit earlier than this.

When it reaches 6 alphabets, we pass from three columns at 2 alphabets to four columns at 1 1/2 alphabets.

To conserve our forest resources, margins are also unlikely to be as generous as they ideally should be. Personally, I tend to think of anything over 3/4 inch as ostentation, but there is a time and place to wallow in that. A short book of fairy-tales for children, for example, should be made to look like William Morris or someone of similar tastes had printed it.

While I am partial to crystal goblets, I also think there are exceptions, and not every book should fit this pattern. There are times when it is entirely appropriate for a book to have a noticeable and distinctive look that fits its contents, and yet does not obstruct reading.

William Berkson's picture

Of those I quoted, my own feeling is that Hochli has it best for a single book column: between 60 and 70, with 65 or 6 being ideal, as Bringhurst has it. This assumes adequate leading. A character is defined as about 1/26 of the lower case alphabet.

Renaissance Man's picture

The Non-designer's Type Book, Robin Williams, p 38. ISBN 0201353679

The Complete Manual of Typography, James Felici, 115-120. ISBN 0321127307

inPrint, Alex Brown, p 68; 82. ISBN 0823025446

page numbers are for line length/measure. There is more on Leading, Margins, Page Size, etc.

Nick Shinn's picture

The 1923 Manual of Linotype Typography is remarkably prescriptive (or should that be descriptive?) in showing specimen pages from books of various sizes, made up with type. The page trim dimensions are listed, as are the type specs, and the various margins are clear to see. At the front of the manual are comprehensive specs for book make-up.

I'm struck by how tall and thin many of the formats are.

This is a gorgeous book and very inexpensive to acquire, compared with the famous ATF Big Red.

Miss Tiffany's picture

Thanks everyone! All very helpful.

John Nolan's picture

"This is a gorgeous book and very inexpensive to acquire, compared with the famous ATF Big Red."

Yes, very nice.

My public library here in Ottawa used to have a copy, and I'd take it out every few months, but some drip stole it...grrr.

quadibloc's picture

Just as the 1923 Big Red made headlines when it was available in a digitized form on the Internet Archive (the 1912 book, and its 1917 supplement, are there too, and in quality scans), that book is also available there. It is well scanned, but it's only available in DJVU format, which is a trifle inconvenient.

While I agree there are no "magic combinations", one could, even if unseriously, give a specific set of measurements as a starting point. However, one of the most fundamental attributes of a typeface can't properly be specified for the purpose.

If I were to say that the ideal book were set in 11 point type with 3 points leading, I would also have to specify the typeface. Because, of course, the crucial variable isn't the size of the type in points, but its x-height.

In metal type, it might be 11 point Caslon 540 with 3 points leading... or 13 point Jenson with 1 point leading, because some typefaces have very short and stubby descenders, and others have long ones - and extra leading takes the place of the missing descenders.

Incidentally, I have the answer now: the ideal column width is 1 3/4 alphabets. I can say this, because I have looked upon the ideal book, and measured its column width - by retyping its text in a similar typeface under two alphabets of that typeface.

Of course, this is unserious, as it just represents one opinion about the matter, but at least it shows what 1 3/4 alphabets looks like.

quadibloc's picture

Checking more carefully, though, and going back to the source, I find that what is possibly a better candidate for the honor of being the very prototype of the ideal book plumps for 1 1/2 alphabets:

charles ellertson's picture

John (Quadiblock),

If you are a user of type and practice what you write, I'd hazard a guess you only work on fine-print books.

What's wrong with fine-print books? Well, nothing, except that finishing them is a more a matter of exhaustion on the part of the humans involved than satisfying some predetermined notion of "perfect typography."

Look at any "fine print" book. I'll bet you can find things that could be done better. Why are they still there?

quadibloc's picture

It's not so much that I only work on fine-print books, but that I would assume that they do represent the ideal, even if it is an ideal that is seldom considered worth the effort.

William Morris noted that one wouldn't typeset a scientific treatise in the manner of a fine-print book. I would suggest that there is still at least one place for fine-print books, even today, however. Large type, generous margins, and a typeface as gentle on the eyes as possible, with some suggestion of antique character, would seem entirely appropriate to a children's book about dragons and castles and the like. Since books for small children are usually short, and they are usually set in large type in any event, designing them to fine-print standards ought not to affect their affordability.

So I can't claim to practice what I preach. But as musical texts on harmony and counterpoint are wont to reiterate, one must first know the rules well before one is equipped to break them without disaster; and, so, while knowing that 1 1/2 alphabets is an ideal, whether of beauty or legibility, may be small comfort to the typesetter of a textbook on quantum mechanics who must make do with three, at least he will thereby know enough to split his page into two columns rather than to force his reader to endure lines that are five alphabets in length.

Thus, in my example of Morris, above, I showed where his note on the founding of the Kelmscott Press was set with a width of 1 1/2 alphabets. But he also countenanced 1 3/4 alphabets, as in his "The Story of the Glittering Plain":

However, one can also get quite far from fine-print books to the domain of computer manuals, and we will find that when a large company like IBM feels that enough copies of a manual will be printed that actual typesetting is justified, even then the same rules of legibility will be heeded; and so, two columns were used, but with a width of 1 7/8 alphabets each, in the first edition of System/360 Principles of Operation:

charles ellertson's picture

It's not so much that I only work on fine-print books, but that I would assume that they do represent the ideal, even if it is an ideal that is seldom considered worth the effort.

And that it is an ideal which is far from fixed. Not only does any tenuous consensus about "what is right" change over time, the consensus breaks down within a time period whenever examples are brought out.

By the way, I knew a designer who went from designing university press books to designing childrens books. She was terribly unhappy, because what she had learned to be "good typography" could not be done in childrens books.

john.dilworth's picture

A few more sources:

Eric Gill's Essay on Typography (page 88/89) "Practiced readers do not read letter by letter or even word by word, but phrase by phrase. It seems that consensus of opinion favors an average of 10-12 words per line"
Spiekerman's Stop Stealing Sheep and Learn how Type works (page 129) "The lines should be long enough to get thoughts in"

I like both of these quotes, because the real principle is not about some mathematical formula or rule for line length, it is about allowing the reader to read phrase by phrase, or thought by thought with as few interruptions as possible. An interesting idea that the typographic line length becomes almost an element of punctuation, and affects the way a document is read, just like a line break in poetry or a punctuation mark at the end of a sentence.

lindenhayn's picture

another source:
an essay by Jan Tschichold in his collected »Schriften« (two vols., Brinkmann & Bose, early 1990s). From what I remember, he addresses the relationship between measure and paragraph breaking. He argues that while it's obviously easier to get a decent-looking paragraph (fewer holes, less hyphenation) using, say, an 18-pica measure as opposed to a 9-pica measure, there are cases where (for a given font), say, a 12-pica measure will yield a better paragraph breaking than a 13-pica one. He lists a couple of examples, along the lines of: »for a 9pt Monotype Baskerville, use a 15-pica measure rather than a 16-pica one« etc. In case I find a copy at the libraray, I'll scan a couple of his illustrations; maybe someone's interested...

quadibloc's picture

It certainly is true that narrow columns require the ability to hyphenate. Since, at least for a time, word processing software or typesetting equipment could not include a hyphenation dictionary, if it was desired to enter body copy for which the size of the type or the width of the column might be altered (or even where the text might be edited), it was necessary to use a column wide enough so that, at need, one could achieve acceptable results even without hyphenation.

Having shown examples of famous works with narrow column sizes, now I want to show some with wider columns. Telling the student that the rule is 1 3/4 alphabets, but it is not to be taken too seriously, is not really enough. Some guidance as to line length is needed to give an explicit scale to the printed line; one can't rely on every student having an instinctive feel for the matter. But just saying this isn't a strict rule leaves ambiguity. Instead, the next step is to investigate what is the acceptable range for line widths.

This famous example of a "fine-print" document is 2 1/4 alphabets wide, and yet is held to be one of the finest specimens of printing (this is not an image of the original, I have merely retyped the text in a similar font, preserving the line breaks, and without justification, to determine the width in alphabets):

Here is some text from Hansard's Typographia: An Historical Sketch, which also measures at 2 1/4 alphabets, although it is intended to be merely good but plain printing:

And now here is an example of something that I thought might be seen as too wide, although, at 2 3/4 alphabets, it turns out that this is not true by much, if at all: the famous Frankford Arsenal Handbook of Optics, MIL-HDBK-141:

So now, at least, it becomes possible to give some practical guidance: anything from 1 1/2 to 2 1/4 alphabets is excellent, and after about 2 1/2 alphabets, it's time to begin thinking about alternatives. After about 3 alphabets, one is starting to get into trouble.

And another example of something on the long side is also 2 3/4 alphabets wide, Simon Newcomb's account of his theory of the motions of Neptune:

Thus, it's even hard to find actual historical examples that go beyond 2 3/4 alphabets, which can be considered indicative.

quadibloc's picture

Here is an actual historical example, but still an artificial one, due to how it was chosen, as I will explain below, of a line with a width of 4 alphabets.

This is from Williams' Syllabic Dictionary of the Chinese Language. For the most part, where there is textual matter, the page is split into two columns. This includes the Introduction to the work, but not the Preface, which extends in a single column across the page.

The Preface is, therefore, set in a larger type. The text in the example, however, is from an extended quotation from within the Preface, which is thus in a smaller type than the surrounding text.

Thus, those who typeset the book were under no illusions that a line width equivalent to 4 alphabets was desirable, but it was considered tolerable for a short bit, and preferable to disturbing the over-all layout of the book and the page.

Miss Tiffany's picture

Nils, I would be very interested to see anything you wish to scan/share.

Miss Tiffany's picture

One thing I find frustrating—strictly because it really doesn't help what I'm researching—is that these people mention characters per line OR line lengths. Very few mention both and include point size.

quadibloc's picture

@Miss Tiffany:
these people mention characters per line OR line lengths. Very few mention both and include point size.

Well, I was puzzled by the standard applied in the reference I cited. It cited several authorities that only mentioned one, but they were able to show a comparison chart and equivalence line lengths to characters per line. They had assumed a specific point size, 10 points, and I suppose that helped them, but I have to suspect they may have been guessing in some cases.

But, as I noted, while something like point size is needed if you want to convert between "alphabets" and "pica ems" (A Composition Manual actually just said picas, but other references always use the term "pica em" for a pica as a horizontal distance; I don't know if that's more correct or archaic, though), point size itself just doesn't cut it.

Some faces are condensed. Some faces have a larger x-height than others.

Now, it could be that there are two independent constraints on line width - one relating to the amount of text in a line, the one I've been investigating, coming to the conclusion that the range 1 1/2 to 2 3/4 alphabets is appropriate - and another relating to the absolute width of a line.

After all, if one assumes that a book is held at some standard distance from the eyes, it's the absolute width of the column that determines how much eye movement is necessary.

dezcom's picture

You are quite right, Tiffany, even 60 characters of 18 point makes my head spin like in The Exorcist.

dezcom's picture

In the old days, every type book, most assuredly the Haberule missive, gave "Characters per pica" of all the known typefaces. There were not so many then ;-) It was assumed a person could easily figure from pica length alone.

quadibloc's picture

I figured I would have to look at Typographical Printing-Surfaces by Legros and Grant to get sufficiently detailed information.

That book notes an absolute physical limit on line length of four inches, to limit the amount of accomodation the eye must make between focusing on letters in the center and at the ends of the line. That applies to type 10 points and above, and would be reduced for smaller sizes.

quadibloc's picture

@charles_e:
By the way, I knew a designer who went from designing university press books to designing childrens books. She was terribly unhappy, because what she had learned to be "good typography" could not be done in childrens books.

When I saw the title page of this book I had thought that I had a counterexample for you, but the rest of the book did not continue in the typographical vein I had expected.

This book is an example of an old children's book with reasonably good, if plain, typography.

William Berkson's picture

>if one assumes that a book is held at some standard distance from the eyes

That raises an interesting question: do we instinctively change the distance of the book from our eyes when there is larger or smaller type? I don't know, but I would guess that we do. I suspect that there is a narrow comfort range for the visual angle of a word, and we instinctively adjust for that. Given that we hold books pretty close, a few inches one way or another will change the visual angle a lot.

This ought to be pretty easy to test, by giving people reading material, not telling them what is tested--or tell them to focus on content--and check how far they hold books with differently sized type.

Nick Shinn's picture

It depends which glasses (or none) I'm wearing, and how far down my nose they are!

quadibloc's picture

I know that in my childhood, we were cautioned not to let a book get closer to our eyes than 14 inches!

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