InDesign Justification Classics

Mustafa G.'s picture

Hello dear Typophiles,
This is my first post, after sneaking around for a long time , I think it is finally my turn to ask.

I am working on a magazine project, whatever I did, I couldn't come up with a nice charming justification setting. I've inspected other magazine designs online and on press, and I've realized that designer has to sacrifice a part while saving other parts in justification, like to keep the letter spacing and glyph scaling on reasonable levels (or not using at all), usually word space is sacrificed excessively.
I've spent nearly two of my weeks just measuring many possibilities. Before I go nuts, I've decided to consult you people out there about some things.

About my design, here are the key points of my design that I've learnt here what affects justification:
Column width is 156.882pt
Font is Minion Pro (10pt) / -10 Tracking
Type of magazine is Economy (long words are common)
Justification settings: Word S.:80/133, Letter S.:-3/+3 , glyph scaling: 98/102, Adobe Paragraph Composer

What I want to do is to keep minimum word space on reasonable levels on a real basis of between 90% and 100%, as I don't want too close words one near another, loose lines would be okay to make a sacrifice for now. Also I don't know if I can explain but when I look at a column, I want to be able to pick words when I look at a column, when I seek my eyes across columns I want them to be pick-able, noticeable, I don't want them to get lost in column crowd, I don't know how you guys call this phenomena.

So when I alter the settings, for example between 80% and 99%, there is not really a big difference at all, til I make it 100%, then it gives me what I want. There's a huge difference between 99% and 100%, 99% is not "99%" at all. I also realized that letter spacing and glyph scaling changes the word spacing, regardless of word spacing preferences, not even mentioning hyphenation settings now, so everything is messed up for me. I have really started to doubt about the practicability of indesign's justification algorithm, sometimes it is just so out of proportions.

I really would love some example justification settings as start that I can stay sane with Minion Pro I guess.Thanks already for your kind responses.

Screenshot of some too close word spacing I work on (justification settings are same as above) : http://tinyurl.com/83ny64l

Mustafa G.'s picture

Oh god my post is too long. I won't wonder if no one answers. =)

JamesM's picture

Those columns are fairly narrow, and fewer words per line means more problems with justification. Have you considered making it rag right?

kentlew's picture

The justification engine in InDesign is a complex beast and the relationship between the values in the Justification settings and the results is far from obvious.

The numbers that are entered in the Justification settings of InDesign are parameters. These parameters are then used to establish a “scoring” system that the algorithm uses to evaluate the various possibilities of adding or removing space to justify a line. This is typically used in conjunction with an evaluation of all reasonable hyphenation points as well (according to the parameters set in the Hyphenation Settings), so it is all quite interconnected.

At the end of which, InDesign applies the solution with the least-bad score. If you selected the Single-line Composer, then it will move on and not look back.

If you have selected the Adobe Paragraph Composer, then it will look forward and backward through all the lines in the paragraph (and all their possible scores) and adjust them to achieve the best *average* least-bad scores over the range, which may or may not yield an optimum score for any given line.

Setting Optimum word spacing to 99% only yields 99% of the font’s nominal wordspace value on the last, unjustified line of a paragraph. For all other lines, it just resets the reference point from which the algorithm calculates the score.

In many, many cases, there are only a few reasonable break points for justifying a given line of text within the constraints of a setting (e.g., the content, the font, the size, the line-length). So, minor twiddling of the optimum value may not change the results at all.

The Minimum Word Spacing value establishes the smallest word space that the algorithm will allow in its calculations of possible justification settings for a line. InDesign’s engine will calculate using only word spacing until it reaches that minimum, after which it will then start applying negative letter-spacing down to the minimum value set for that parameter. After which is will continue by reducing glyph width, down to the minimum value set for that parameter.

Take note that decreasing letter-spacing (and glyph scaling, to some extent) will have a continued effect on the perceived word space. I don’t know if letter-spacing continues to operate directly on the word space itself (I’m pretty sure it does when applying manual tracking, for instance), but at the very least, it reduces the space on either side of the word space because of the reduced sidebearings on the adjacent letters.

In a quick test I just did, it looks like -3% letter-spacing for Minion yields a word space that looks roughly equivalent to 94%.

So, I might guess that in the particular example that you cited, where changing minimum word spacing value below 99% did not yield appreciable difference, what was likely happening is that you were just exchanging letter-spacing for word spacing.

If you had a setting where the solution arrived at by the algorithm involved word space values in the 94% range, and then you changed the minimum limit to greater than 95%, the engine would start applying letter-spacing instead and would likely arrive at a similar solution which used something like -2.5% letterspacing and yielded word spaces that were very close to where you started from — no appreciable difference.

The more word spaces there are in a given line, the more likely this reciprocal exchange of letter space for word space.

kentlew's picture

Ha! I just realized InDesign calls it’s middle value “Desired,” not Optimum.

You rarely get exactly what you desire in justified text.

Bert Vanderveen's picture

Nice write up of the process, Kent.

IMO Americans mishandle workspaces and the standard settings in InDesign reflect this — way too wide. Wordspaces should be in the range of the widths of /i/ to /n/ for serif type and in the range of 'up to' or 'around' the width of /n/ for sans.

A good way to define the settings is to start with the Letter space and Character scaling locked to 100% and begin with just the Word space settings (I start with something like 75/90/100), playing around with that and choosing an optimum for the desired effect.
Then you’d add some latitude for Character scaling (just a few percents both way).
You should forget about Letter space — that’s just plain bad and ugly.

kentlew's picture

Just to clarify: Setting the Maximum word space to 100 does not prevent the justification engine from using word spaces much larger than that. I think this is a common misunderstanding. (Not necessarily you, Bert; you probably know what you’re doing.)

The Maximum word space value establishes the upper bound when calculating possible justification schemes for a line. But if the justification engine cannot find a way to justify a line within the given parameters, then as a last resort it will only add extra space to justify.

That is to say: if the constraints in the H&Js are too limiting, then it’s entirely possible to get lines that are very loose, where the justification engine was unable to find an acceptable solution and had to throw up its hands and just space out the line.

It’s counterintuitive, but setting your parameters too narrowly can sometimes yield more loose and gappy lines.

Mustafa G.'s picture

@James, I think I will stay with justification, because whether I try to widen the columns or not, in 3 column outline I guess I won't get to a result that satisfies me soon.

@riccard0, thanks, I didn't know we could do google search on Typophile, the one it has not really functioning properly if you ask me.

@kentlew, thank you for the long explanation! that was really helpful. Now I realize whatever I do won't help me to achieve such effect because so many variations are interconnected to each other, I think I can only come out with something "agreeable". Also your last post made me "illuminated" once again because that is what I was talking about at first, algorithm of InDesign doesn't let us go straight with the numbers but does it's own way. So I was trying to make minimum space 100%, or maximum space 100%, realized both doesn't let me stay in the exact amounts, only on average "100%"s. I guess the only way would be to find something average and rewrite the lines, which is not practical at all.

@Bert Vanderveen as in the screenshots below I've tried according to your suggestions and Kentlew's, and some other adjustments visible. If you open the images in new tab there are h&j settings on the right of the images.

As in this picture, letter spacing downed to 0.

These are my current settings, as you can see f and t letters are nearly being a ligature, I may be exaggerating. But as you can see at the second and last line on the image, the word spacing is pretty tight.

On this last image, I put down all values to 0 more or less, but now indesign highlighted all of my two pages nearly, and it is right because the minimum word spacing is likely preserved, but now I'm afraid of big gaps everywhere even leading to something worse: rivers

I thought I might have come to something satisfactory with using -20 tracking (these images are in -10 tracking), then I realized I will be sacrificing less glyph scaling, and less of letter spacing (used nearly none of both). Word spaces were mildy improved. But then I am not sure how Minion Pro would look with -20 tracking , I haven't tested it yet that way.

I also would like to ask, how much should one care about indesign's h&j violations? Because when I change the letter spacings to 0 and glyph scaling also to 0 (while adjusting other settings mildly), there is not even line changes on most of the page. Only glyphs move on nanometric levels, some letter spacing, but not even a word moves to next line.The only difference between -3 letter spacing and 0 spacing is just indesign's making it "highlighted" sometimes.

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