Five Typography Rules
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 the four ty­po­graphic choices below.
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.

Point Size in Print

  • Nearly every book, news­pa­per, and mag­a­zine is set smaller than 12 point. (One ma­jor rea­son is cost: big­ger point sizes re­quire more paper)

  • There are 72 points to an inch. Word lets you spec­ify point sizes in half-point in­cre­ments. Pages al­lows finer in­cre­ments of one-tenth of a point. CSS al­lows any size, but browsers will typ­i­cally round to the near­est whole point.

  • If you’re not re­quired to use 12 point, don’t. Try sizes down to 10 point, in­clud­ing in­ter­me­di­ate sizes like 10.5 and 11.5 point—half-point dif­fer­ences are mean­ing­ful at this scale.

  • But I can’t guar­an­tee 12 point will al­ways look too big. That’s be­cause the point-size sys­tem is not ab­solute—dif­fer­ent fonts set at the same point size won’t nec­es­sar­ily ap­pear the same on the page.

  • So you need to let your eyes be the judge. Don’t just rely on the point size. For in­stance, the three fonts be­low—Sabon, Times New Roman, and Arno—are set at 12 point, but they’re not the same size visually.





You can match the length of two fonts by set­ting a block of text twice: once in the old font and once in the new font, both at the same point size. Ad­just the point size of the new font un­til each line of text breaks in roughly the same place. (You won’t be able to match them ex­actly.) Be­low, the point sizes of Sabon and Arno have been ad­justed so they oc­cupy the same space as Times New Roman.





  • The point size can be even smaller in pro­fes­sion­ally type­set ma­te­ri­als like pub­li­ca­tions and sta­tionery. Text on business cards is of­ten only seven or eight points. All Caps text is of­ten just as leg­i­ble as reg­u­lar low­er­case text at these sizes.

  • It’s fine to em­pha­size text with a larger point size (or de-em­pha­size it with a smaller point size). But com­pared to bold or italic , or ALL CAPS , point size of­fers a sub­tle range of ad­just­ments. So use the sub­tlety. In print, if your text is set at 11 point, you don’t need to go all the way to 14 point for em­pha­sis. Start with a small in­crease—say, half a point—and move up in half-point in­cre­ments un­til you get the em­pha­sis you need. It’ll be less than you think.



Point Size on the Web



Point Size in Print Nearly every book, news­pa­per, and mag­a­zine...
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.
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)


Line length is the dis­tance be­tween the left and right edges of a text block. Overly long lines are a very com­mon prob­lem. But they’re easy to cor­rect. Shorter lines will make a big dif­fer­ence in the leg­i­bil­ity and pro­fes­sion­al­ism of your layout.

The most use­ful way to mea­sure line length is by av­er­age char­ac­ters per line. Mea­sur­ing in inches or cen­time­ters is less use­ful be­cause the point size of the font af­fects the num­ber of char­ac­ters per inch. Av­er­age char­ac­ters per line works in­de­pen­dently of point size.

Shorter lines are more com­fort­able to read than longer lines. As line length in­creases, your eye has to travel far­ther from the end of one line to the be­gin­ning of the next, mak­ing it harder to track your progress vertically.

Aim for an av­er­age line length of 45–90 char­ac­ters, in­clud­ing spaces. You can check line length us­ing word count.

How to Use Word Count

WORD 2007 & 2010 | Review → Proofing panel → Word Count (icon looks like “ABC” above “123”)

WORD 2011 | Tools → Word Count

PAGES '09  |  Edit → Writing Tools → Show Statistics. If text is se­lected in the doc­u­ment, the Range popup menu lets you tog­gle be­tween word counts for the se­lec­tion and for the wholedocument.

Al­ter­na­tively, use the al­pha­bet test to set line length. You should be able to fit be­tween two and three al­pha­bets on your line, like so:

= 2.31 alphabets

This is es­pe­cially use­ful when you don’t have easy ac­cess to word counts, for in­stance in a web layout.




  Line length is the dis­tance be­tween the left and...
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.


  1. The four most im­por­tant ty­po­graphic choices you make in any doc­u­ment are point size, line spacing, line length, and font, be­cause those choices de­ter­mine how the body text looks.

  2. Point size should be 10–12 points in printed doc­u­ments, 15-25 pix­els on the web.

  3. Line spacing should be 120–145% of the point size.

  4. The av­er­age line length should be 45–90 char­ac­ters (in­clud­ing spaces).

  5. The eas­i­est and most vis­i­ble im­prove­ment you can make to your ty­pog­ra­phy is to use a pro­fes­sional font, like those found in font recommendations.

  6. Avoid goofy fonts, monospaced fonts, and systm fonts, es­pe­cially Times New Roman and Arial.

  7. Use curly quo­ta­tion marks, not straight ones.

  8. Put only one space between sentences.

  9. Don’t use mul­ti­ple word spaces or other white-space characters in a row.

  10. Never use underlining, un­less it’s a hyperlink.

  11. Use centered text sparingly.

  12. Use bold and italic as lit­tle as possible.

  13. All caps are fine for less than one line of text.

  14. If you don’t have real small caps, don’t use them at all.

  15. Use 5–12% ex­tra letterspacing with all caps and small caps.

  16. Kerning should al­ways be turned on.

  17. Use first-line indents that are one to four times the point size of the text, or use 4–10 points of space be­tween para­graphs. But don’t use both.

  18. If you use justified text, also turn on hyphenation.

  19. Don’t con­fuse hyphens and dashes, and don’t use mul­ti­ple hy­phens as a dash.

  20. Use ampersands spar­ingly, un­less in­cluded in a proper name.

  21. In a doc­u­ment longer than three pages, one ex­cla­ma­tion point is plenty.

  22. Use proper trademark and copyright symbols—not al­pha­betic approximations.

  23. Put a non-breaking space af­ter paragrah and section marks.

  24. Make ellipses us­ing the proper char­ac­ter, not pe­ri­ods and spaces.

  25. Make sure apostrophes point downward.

  26. Make sure foot and inch marks are straight, not curly.




  The four most im­por­tant ty­po­graphic choices you make in...
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