Category Archives: Using Type

Whitespace and invisible characters

One thing I’ve been meaning to create as part of Using Type is a heightened visibility for the invisible, non-printing, and otherwise under-appreciated formatting characters that happen to not make any marks on the page, but do happen to contribute quite a lot to our reading experience.


Whitespace characters

Let’s start with space. A most frequently employed character, space has the largest key on the keyboard. Its width is set by the type designer to optimally divide words on a page. The dead giveaway in a novice-designed typeface: the space is almost always much too wide.

The em space is as wide as the type size is high (an em space in 12 pt Bodoni is 12 pt wide), quite a generous gap should you require it. Letterpress printers traditionally begin each line with an em space, called an em quad. The en space is half an em space in width, and from the em you divide the rest of the fractional space units such as third space, quarter space, etc. The hair space is the narrowest of the spaces, a size down from the thin space, and the two are commonly used hemming in either end of an em dash, or between the initials in a name such as E. B. White’s. Okay, technically there are spaces and similar characters narrower than the hair space, because they’re zero-width non-spacing spaces—very useful in languages that run all together without explicit word spaces (Have I ever even heard of one of these? I know I’ve heard its spoken english equivalent.) but until today these have remained pretty far off my radar.

For setting numbers the figure space can come in handy, its width the same as the zero character. Similarly the punctuation space is set to the width of the period or comma. Anyone know what this one’s traditionally used for?

The non-breaking space, or no-break space does more than push apart words, it also binds the words (or neighboring word-like elements) on either side of it together, so that if one word breaks to the next line, they both do. These are helpful when things like proper nouns or phone numbers flow in a column of text, and you don’t want the entity to be line broken. I mentioned this last week, but you may not have caught it. Applying a no break character style is another way of accomplishing this behavior. Just highlight some text, from the top right menu of the Character palette, select No Break, and then keeping that same text selected, create a new character style. Apply this style to another bit of copy, and now any spaces or hyphens in it will act as non-breaking spaces, or non-breaking hyphens.


Whitespace-1Paragraph break (hard return) is the most familiar of these. Paragraphs in InDesign are delineated by the single press of the return key. (There are no hard returns inside paragraphs.) Unless you’re being lazy on purpose, don’t insert multiple hard returns in a document as a means of adjusting vertical spacing. Just adjust the spacing.

The forced line break (soft return) is a good solution for arbitrarily kicking the remainder of a line down one without breaking the structure of the paragraph. If you have a paragraph style applied, soft returns, typed Shift + Return on the Mac or Shift + Enter on Windows, maintain the style over the multiple broken lines.

Column break also ends a paragraph, sending the text below it to the top of the next column. On the Mac, access this by striking Enter on the number keypad. Similarly, text frame break, page break, and some I wasn’t familiar with exist in InDesign, odd page break, and even page break send the text below it to the top of the next frame or page or whatever as is given in the name of each.

Format & Positioning

Center-aligned tabTabs are fantastic for organizing tabular information. (They’re not very helpful at all on the web, though the web has other means of handling similar requirements.) I’ve written a short piece on the proper use of tabs that I’ll refer you to since they’re pretty versatile.

Whitespace-2The indent to here character hardly gets the attention it deserves. See it above, just preceding the word built; at the top of the indent. I use it all the time in conjunction with the tab character to simplify formatting of short documents down to a few keystrokes. Try it out yourself. Just click in the middle of a text column in InDesign and type Command + Backslash. (Mac) or Control + Backslash (Windows). The technique can be used for ex-dented text, hanging punctuation, or plain old columnar formatting. For longer texts working across multiple paragraphs, I recommend achieving the same effect with first-line indent and paragraph indent paragraph styles, since they don’t require the insertion of special characters.
When used inside a paragraph whose alignment settings are specify to Justify all lines, flush space is a gaseous space that expands to take the shape of its container. If you only use one flush space on a line that contains several other normal spaces, the flush space will collapse the normal spaces and word spacing down to size, and occupy all the rest of the available space.

End nested style here is another one I didn’t know about until today’s looking around. It doesn’t force InDesign to stop using a nested style just by virtue of inserting it somewhere in the middle of a paragraph style that makes use of nested styles. It rather serves as a custom marker character that can be referenced by InDesign’s nested styles settings, in the same way you can reference a soft return (forced line break) or tab, or whatever. The difference is that the end nested style here character can fit anywhere, even in the middle of a word without disrupting the flow of things. That’s it. Thanks for reading, and thanks to Dan Reynolds’s Malabar for the illustrations. Using Type is a regular Thursday series.

End of story

Hyphen, En Dash, Em Dash, Minus

Hyphen-1I’m moving along to more lookalike punctuation today, since I’m eager to see what new things I can learn writing on these. On a high level note, let me say that what I’m sharing today is language- and culture-specific and therefore not universally applicable, and subject to change. I should also mention that this is a fuzzy area that tends to test the boundaries and overlaps between typography, language, and grammar.


Hyphen-2You probably know the most common uses of hyphens, the stubby, multipurpose half-dashes. They push apart and tie together suffixes, prefixes, words, and phrases. The often-derided mark, hated for its careless and prevalent misuse, has quite a few proper uses, hyphenation for one. Throughout this piece I’ve attempted to use hyphens in just about every way hyphens are commonly used. Maybe not E-V-E-R-Y S-I-N-G-L-E way, since some are kind of annoying. All the characters described below could potentially, and are frequently represented by hyphens.

When instructed to do so, layout software may insert hyphens, according to a hyphenation dictionary, when a word’s length suggests that it break from one line to the next. Non-breaking hyphens, useful in things like phone numbers or hyphenated proper nouns, ensure that these elements won’t be line-broken by hyphenation algorithms should they too closely approach the edge of the text column. Be particularly wary of hyphenation when it can critically alter the meaning of some unique identifier, such as a URL, e-mail address, etc.. There are other ways of keeping this hyphenation-prone info unbroken, such as by applying a ‘no break’ character style (or on the web, specifying white-space: nowrap; to the element’s style).

Hyphen-3Discretionary hyphens serve as a kind of override to InDesign’s hyphenation system. The easiest way to see how they work is to find a word that’s been hyphenated and insert a discretionary hyphen nearer the beginning of the word. The cursor above (fourth line, near the end) inserts a discretionary hyphen giving the below result. You can do this in InDesign via Type > Insert Special Character > Hyphens and Dashes > Discretionary Hyphen, or keyboard shortcut: Command + Shift + hyphen (Mac), or Ctrl+Shift+hyphen (Windows). These are ‘soft’ hyphens by the way, meaning that unless the word is sufficiently close to the edge, you won’t see any difference in behavior. (With hidden characters visible, you’ll be able to see it.)

Hyphen-4And lastly, you can use two hyphens in place of an em dash—if, say, it’s set in a monospaced font.

En dash

Hyphen-10The en dash is longer and generally not as heavy a stroke as a hyphen and suggests a range between two specified points. We’re open 7–11, Mon–Fri, etc. How you typeset your en dashes, whether flush or with a hair space between its neighbors, is up to you or the applicable style guide you may be required to follow for a given job.

Em dash

Hyphen-9“Let’s just forget about the em dash and leave it to Victorian literature,” or something like that is what I recall being the thrust of Robert Bringhurst’s feelings on the subject. The em dash is the longest of the dashes, used primarily to preserve in time one thought—while momentarily breaking off into a different direction—before returning. Or not. I think Bringhurst’s main quarrel with the mark is that it’s too disruptive, because it’s too long. Some suggest that we just replace it with a suspended en dash – a fine alternative. Another just as good alternative? Provided your em dash is a simple rectangle, you can scale it to whatever length necessary, set up a character style, and apply it to all em dashes in your document.

And a general note to people who use a hyphen with no spaces around it to signify an em dash—you are headed for a misunderstanding. The general layperson workaround is to type two hyphens in succession. I’ve also seen this handwritten far too many times.


Hyphen-8For typesetting math, use the minus sign as an operator, or for specifying negative numbers. Often, typographers will use an en dash if there’s no minus sign in the character set of a given font, or if they’re too lazy to go looking for it, but not lazy enough to use—well, you know.

That’s it. Thanks to Tobias Frere-Jones’s Griffith Gothic for setting today’s examples. Using Type continues Thursday.

Wedding Typography: Sending the Files off to the Printer


Getting everything to your printer so that he or she can create the invitations begins with checking your output. Last time we talked about saving to, exporting, or printing to PDF (from a number of non-design apps). If you’re a designer, you know this is the norm when working with printers. We’ll now take the PDF you produced, give it a quick review and note a couple of common problems to watch out for.


File size

If your PDF file contains just text on a white background, the resulting file should be relatively small, a few hundred KB maximum. (If it includes, say, a large photo, it should be ~a few MB.) But if it doesn’t have any photos, it should definitely be below a MB in size.

Verify resolution


Open up that PDF and zoom way in. Above, I’ve made a side-by-side comparison to show what it shouldn’t look like, and what it should. On the left, the type is rasterized—turned into pixels at a fixed level of zoom. On the right, the type is made of vector shapes—so now matter how far you zoom in, the contours remain crisp and solid. If you’re getting the problem on the left in your PDF, you’re probably using photo-editing software such as Photoshop to save your PDF. Instead, use either a professional layout program such as InDesign, or a non-design program that’s capable of delivering similar results.

One final check


Just to make sure the fonts were properly embedded into the final PDF, it’s helpful to view it on a computer that doesn’t have those fonts installed. If when you check, the type shows up in a default font, such as Times New Roman instead of the desired ones, it means the fonts you specified didn’t embed properly. What now? It may be easiest to try the process in a different program, or call in a graphic designer who can likely help you resolve the problem with minimal effort.

Nice to have

After sending off the PDF, if at all possible have the printer send you a physical proof before production begins. This used to be the norm but now it’s more rare due to distance between printers and their customers.

Thanks Ramiro Espinoza’s Medusa for illustrating today’s post. Using Type continues here Thursday.

Wedding Typography: Designing in Non-design Programs


For most of these Wedding Month posts I’ve made the assumption that I’m talking to designers who are well outfitted to create layouts using the latest design software, but I realize that with this subject I’m sure to get a number of readers interested in typography who don’t necessarily know their way around or have access to common design programs such as Adobe Illustrator or InDesign. This one is for you.

Begin with the end in mind

If you’re outsourcing the printing, (instead of printing at home), your printer will need a high-quality file from which to produce the final piece. PDF is generally preferred. Let’s do a quick test. Open up your word processor of choice, write the word ‘test’ and save or export a PDF of the test file. Word/TextEdit/Publisher/Pages all do this, but depending on the operating system and version of your software, you may be required to install an additional piece of software that allows you to create PDF files by ‘printing to PDF.’

Having to come up with some workaround PDF creator is more likely for Windows users, since Mac has had native support for it for the last ten or so years. If you’ve tried to save to, export to, or print to PDF with no luck, search the web for a PDF printer such as CutePDF or BullZip PDF (just to name a couple popular ones). These install like normal software, but when you need to export a PDF, instead of finding it in your export settings, instead you go as you would to print the file to a locally connected printer, and select this service, CutePDF or whatever, instead. A dialog guides you through the process of where the PDF is to be saved. If Adobe Acrobat Pro has ever been installed on your system, you’ll find you already have a PDF printer (called Adobe PDF), and in fact, the ability to save to PDF from nearly all your programs. Adobe Acrobat Reader (the limited, read-only version) is not Adobe Acrobat Pro.

Microsoft Office users since Office 2007 have had the ability to export to PDF (I think). Microsoft’s page on how to do this covers Word, Publisher, and others.

Google Documents can be a nice option, since the ability to produce PDFs is built in. The one major hangup is that you’re limited to Google’s catalog of fonts, which may or may not coincide with what you’ve got installed on your own system. If the one you want to use is installed on your computer, but not in Google’s, you can’t use it. There are however a number of very good typefaces to choose from, like Juan Pablo del Peral’s Alegreya, along with plenty of so-sos.


Produce it

After you’ve successfully exported a PDF and opened it to make sure it works, you’re ready to start on the real invitation. The great thing about formal invitations is that most of the designing has already been done. Set the dimensions of the cards you’ll print on, follow the guidelines in my previous post on working with scripts, export your PDF, send it off to your printer, and you’re done. Just to reiterate, the guidelines in brief are these: Use a single size. Set the line height to a generous increment. Center all text. Make sure the fine lines in the type are of sufficient weight. Particularly designing in Windows, I recommend following Mayene’s recommendations on choosing script faces with limited character palettes. Or if you decide to go with an engravers face such as Sweet Sans, make sure to choose the simplified non-pro version for access to the small caps.

You’re not alone.

Give us a call or e-mail us if you have any questions about which of our fonts will work in which programs. It’s of course not our line of work to teach you how to use your computer or manage your relationship with a printer, but for anything font-support-related we’re here to help. Special thanks to Cyrus Highsmith’s Novia for setting the samples. Using Type continues here Thursday.

Nontraditional Invitations

Very briefly today, I’d like to draw a big distinction where some may see very little. That is in recognizing that type (specifically printed type) is a relative newcomer to the world of stationery, and therefore alien, nontraditional, unnatural, generally perceived as lowbrow, etc. when used in the medium of wedding announcements. One who was in the market for a set of wedding invitations in, say, 1913, would generally go to a stationer rather than a printer. Stationers are traditionally engravers or calligraphers. Contrast this with job printers, who occupy the lowest wrung of the graphic arts. (Letterpress printing did not carry the cachet it now enjoys.) Therefore, even though the below samples are typeset essentially identically in what I would consider a traditional composition, their use of types that depart from the engraving and calligraphic traditions make them nontraditional. That’s not to say that nontraditional invitations can’t be successful – to the contrary – here are a few that succeed and perhaps even outshine their more traditionally true counterparts.


Below, my favorite Caslon, Williams Caslon, sets the standard invitation text. Swashes are activated via OpenType.



Above, the tasty Avebury fills the traditional role of blackletter in the making of formal announcements. Below for contrast are two typefaces designed to represent the traditional medium. Poetica captures the steady hand of the calligrapher, and Mariage, the templated blackletter taken from samples of hand-engraved stationery.



I think my parents’ invitation was printed in a metal version of the above, a sensible, no frills blackletter, in gold ink. Using Type picks back up here on Thursday.

Wedding Typography: Working with Scripts

This is a basic overview of working with script faces. To the experienced typographer reading this, I may not cover anything you don’t already know. To the young designer or non-designer, listen up. This is for you.


Script faces, particularly the highly stylized engraving- and calligraphy-inspired faces common to wedding typography generally flow in a connected fashion. In order for each character to appropriately connect to its neighbor, script faces make use of a number of contrivances, often involving the use of ligatures (two or more characters combined) and alternate characters (the same character, drawn differently to fit different contexts). Below, the top line shows alternate characters for both f and o.


Above, the bottom line shows how fl fits together too tightly, but instead of solving the problem with alternate characters, a ligature is automatically put in place of the two letters.

Make it so contextual alternates and ligatures work by default

Screen Shot 2013-06-06 at 7.26.05 PM

In InDesign or Illustrator, which I’d say are the current top two design programs for doing professional typesetting, it’s pretty easy to turn these features on by default. Here’s how in InDesign: Open InDesign, without any documents open. From the top right corner menu of the Character panel, make sure there’s a check mark next to Ligatures, and also OpenType > Contextual Alternates, just like in the image above. These are now your defaults.

In Illustrator, follow a similar method except in the OpenType panel. If you can’t find the OpenType panel, select Window > Type > OpenType from the top menu. If contextual alternates and ligatures are checked, you’re all done. Otherwise, make sure some document is open, change the settings, and they should stick. The screenshot below shows Illustrator’s OpenType panel with the proper settings in place.

Screen Shot 2013-06-06 at 7.36.51 PM

Keep in mind that not all script typefaces have contextual alternates or ligatures, but just about all the good ones do. I keep a list of these kinds of scripts on hand to help designers find the ones they’re looking for. The one in the examples is Cyrus Highsmith’s Novia, a face designed originally for Martha Stewart.

In addition to contextual alternates and ligatures, a number of other OpenType options to try may exist in the font you’re using. Discretionary ligatures offer additional ways of connecting two or more characters into one. If the font contains many of these, sometimes their strokes collide and should therefore be used sparingly and with restraint. Stylistic alternates (in InDesign arranged into Stylistic Sets) and Swash alternates are designed to give more options controlling the look of certain characters, sometimes functional, sometimes more as a matter of taste. You’ll find these OpenType settings next to the ones just touched on above. By the way, if you’re wondering what OpenType is, it’s a set of features specific to certain kinds of fonts (OpenType fonts) that allow them to do the things described in this article, and others, such as include small caps, and multiple sets of figures (like oldstyle and superscript numerals) into a single font file.

Back to working with scripts now; just a few pointers.

Give the script adequate linespacing and margins.


Don’t be afraid of all the space. Embrace the spacial requirements of the script face you’re working in, and tailor your message to the medium. Linespacing or leading should be set loosely. Don’t hit return multiple times between lines. A single return and uniform linespacing will ensure a consistent vertical increment down the page.

Work in a single size


Make test prints with a range of sizes and pick the best one. Depending on the final method of printing, the type’s hairlines should be no finer than .25 pt or so for engraving, or .33 pt for offset lithography. For letterpress printing, depending on how carefully the plates are made, you’ll likely be fine anywhere inside that range. Put reference strokes on your test print, and use a monochromatic laser printer or something of similar quality for testing. If you’re printing the final pieces at home on an inkjet printer, make sure to run the tests on the same paper as the final piece, and let your eyes be the judge.


After finding the best size to use, just set everything in that size, unless the typeface comes with graded optical sizes with finer lines for larger settings, which for example Novia does. In that case, take the lighter of the two up in size until the weights of the hairlines more or less match.

Don’t adjust the tracking


Unless you’ve set the type on a curve or something, adjustments made to its tracking (or letterspacing) will break its connections or disrupt its rhythm. Just don’t do it. Depending on the face however, kerning (setting the space between a specific pair of letters) may be necessary.

Don’t set words or phrases in all caps


Spell out completely or use alternate abbreviations for states, other than their all-capital two-letter postal codes. Put periods in between and if necessary kern apart caps in acronyms, if not avoid them completely. Scripts are simply not flattering in all caps settings. I can think of one particularly good solution to this.

That’s it. Following these guidelines and trusting your eyes should help you make your announcements, invitations, dance cards, etc. function beautifully, using only lovely, understated typography. This article is part of a weekly series written by me, David Sudweeks, on using type. For June, all editions of Using Type will focus on wedding typography – some higher level concepts, but mostly practical hands-on advice around designing traditional and non-traditional invitations, working in design programs (and non-design programs), and getting the proper files to the printer. The series continues here Thursday.

Common Pitfalls with Apostrophes, Quotes, Foot and Inch Marks, etc.

If you haven’t yet, I’d read last week’s quick discussion on the terminology and proper use of several lookalike punctuation marks. Let’s get going.



Comma,-Apostrophe-4 Comma,-Apostrophe-3

Since there’s no separate key for open or close single quote, the apostrophe key often serves the function of indicating where the appropriate punctuation mark should go, and leaves it to software to either guess what to put in its place, or ignore the mark (leaving the dumb quote unchanged).


Unless explicitly specified, word processors will in many cases render your apostrophe as a single open quote. This commonly happens when apostrophes begin a word or line, or as in the example above, appear right after a hyperlink. An often-overlooked case is the abbreviated year, e.g. ’45 for 1945.

How to specify: On the Mac, type Shift+Option+]. In Windows, hold Alt while typing 0146 on the 9-key number pad. In HTML, the entity is ’.


Software tends to get these right nearly every time. The one thing that throws it off occasionally is an apostrophe confusion (described above). InDesign gives us the option to not process dumb quotes and leave them as is. By default, they’re enabled under the type preferences setting ‘Use Typographer’s Quotes,’ a misnomer if you ask me, since curly quotes should not belong solely to the typographer. For the web, the HTML entities are ‘ and ’ for left and right single quotes, “ and ” for double. Mac users can type these with Option+] and Shift+Option+] (single), and Option+[ and Shift+Option+[ (double) quotes. In Windows, it’s what you probably expect, more codes to type in while holding Alt. Respectively they are 0145 & 0146, 0147 & 0148.

‘Okina & similar characters


Since at present a relative few fonts designed for print support this glottal stop character, I recommend using a left single quote (for print or at display sizes on the web). But if you’re working on the web at text sizes, and have a reliable fallback font that doesn’t distract too much, I’d use the appropriate HTML value: ʻ. One last thing to consider: though the ʻokina may look like a punctuation mark, in the Hawaiian language it’s a letter.



Similar business with primes, the marks used for feet′ and inches″ don’t exist as such in many fonts for print, but do exist in the fonts with extensive character sets for web. Prime and double prime have the following HTML entities: ′ and ″. If they exist in a typeface, they should be mapped to this and subsequent Unicode addresses: U+2032. What to use instead then? I often italicize dumb quotes and kern them in place as a stand-in for primes. No need for that in the sample above, mind you, Aften Screen has you covered.



Just one note on the comma. Type designers go to some trouble to make an italic comma that works with the rest of the italic characters. If you’re emphasizing a single word using italics that’s followed by a comma, italicize the comma (and maybe even the space after the comma) as well. Same goes for any surrounding quotation marks, unless you’re prepared to kern it yourself.

That’s all. Using Type continues here Thursday. Special thanks to Frode Helland’s Aften Screen for the illustrations.

Comma, Apostrophe, Quote, Grave, Prime, Foot and Inch

Let’s focus on a few character-specific type basics this week – lookalikes. What they are, how they’re used, brief, to the point.




The comma is a punctuation mark that indicates a short pause. It hangs off the baseline, spiraling outward from its interior in a clockwise fashion. You already know this.



An apostrophe is a floated comma that usually hangs somewhere in the air between the ascender and x-height lines. Its precise purpose is that of a stand-in character for parts left out in a contraction or otherwise abbreviated word (it is becomes it’s, international becomes int’l, 1975 becomes ’75), and also in possessives (Shays’s Rebellion or Black’s Law). Ah yes, and some confused people commonly use apostrophes in pluralizing acronyms. In typefaces, apostrophes are commonly drawn with some optical variation from the comma.

Single Quotes, Double Quotes, Open & Close


Quotes, in brief: Quotation marks are for quoting, repeating an utterance exactly as it was said. Use double quotes for this, and single quotes for quotations within quotations. Quote marks point in opposite directions to indicate an opening and closing of the quote. A single open quote is a single close quote more or less rotated in place by 180°. A single close quote is visually indistinguishable from an apostrophe. Now, all that’s true when typesetting English, but depending on the language, quotes may be placed in different positions or face in directions different than those in the familiar usage illustrated above. They may also not be shaped like the quotes above, like for example, «these».

Oh! Also – mirrored open quotes, or grocer’s quotes, are generally seen as endearing relics by English-speaking audiences, though they do have their own unicode addresses, and are the default in some fonts, including some non-display fonts such as Verdana, though not in the latest release of Verdana.

Dumb quotes


Dumb quotes exist because of typewriters. Apostrophes, open and close single and double quotes were reduced to two straightened characters out of pure economy. I can’t fault the inventors. Their machines were never intended for professional typesetting. I could however fault most of the assumptions made since about the necessity of and methods for accessing these ‘extra characters.’ Note how I use single quotes in that last sentence to mark what’s essentially a paraphrased term? If I can’t cite who said it, I feel like double quotes are a bit much. Of course, that’s definitely my own made-up convention.



Meanwhile, the grave accent character can be accessed all alone with a single keystroke. There it is at the top left of your keyboard, just below the escape key. This character is almost good for nothing on its own. Some truly well-meaning people have attempted to give this character something to do, such as indicate a glottal stop, or to make up for the lack of open single and double quotes. Fact is, it’s a combining character, not one to use on its own in professional typsetting unless it itself is the subject of discussion. Use key combinations to put the grave above other characters, such as the e above.

‘Okina, & similar characters


Speaking of glottal stop, the ʻokina above is represented by an open single quote, though it has its own character in Unicode called MODIFIER LETTER TURNED COMMA at this address: U+02BB. ‘Okina is a Hawaiian character, but its representation in Unicode is used by other languages who have other names for it.



Lastly, primes are by contrast quite multi-use characters. In math, primes mark sequential varations of variables. You’ve also seen them marking coordinates on a map, arcminutes (one sixtieth of a degree) with a single prime, arcseconds (one sixtieth of one arcminute) with a double prime. The fractional units of arcsecond, milliarcsecond and microarcsecond, are not represented with triple prime ( ‴ ) and quadruple prime ( ⁗ ), just in case you were wondering. Prime and double prime can also be applied to minutes and seconds as measures of time. Above, in their most common role, they indicate feet and inches. What you see above are in fact italicized straight quotes, same as dumb quotes above, kerned. It turns out that primes aren’t so common in typefaces designed for professional typesetting, so it’s good to know where one has to make do.

Anyway, this is the introduction. Next week, we’ll wrap this up with some tips on how to use all these similar and easily-confusable characters, and what common pitfalls to look out for. Special thanks to Mark van Bronkhorst’s Verdigris for setting all the samples. Till Thursday, I’m David Sudweeks and this is Using Type.

Using Hierarchy


This is the second half of last week’s piece on hierarchy. After giving this topic a week’s worth of thought, I realize that I’m not going to teach much of anything in this article. The subject is too broad. There are too many caveats to keep the end result down to a concise read. If you’d like to learn more about hierarchy, teach yourself something by trying things with hierarchical structure you’ve never tried before, which may or may not be illustrated and narrated below. The type in this piece comes from a previous Great Pair featuring Sindre Bremnes’s Telefon with Robert Slimbach’s Minion.


Above illustrates a couple of common approaches to hierarchical ordering. Breaking content down into logical groupings, and presenting them in an accessible order is what an effective hierarchy does. Beside obvious or common ways of accomplishing this (mostly reliant upon a header’s type size or numbered systems), there are other and better ways.


As mentioned in the piece before, a difference in scale can be measured by the negative space surrounding the element in question. Above I waste a spread in order to create a rhythmic disruption in the book at each chapter break. Below, I use the same content to create a different set of elements. The introductory text is set at the same size as its header (presumably in contrast to the type size in subsequent pages).



If it makes sense to do it, a change of layout can serve as a hierarchical device. Rather than use all your space for a main column of content, keep some space free for important notes of various kinds. Also, I recommend the common-sense stuff such as keeping all body text the same size, adhering to a baseline grid, and setting up styles properly.


Make use of sequential imagery, whether graphic, photographic or by using simple blocks of color, or colored type, or a device as simple as a progress bar. There are boundless intelligent ways of establishing and getting the most out of a clear, useful hierarchy, and if there’s one thing you take from this, I hope it’s that your education in this regard will be self-led, and fun if you remember to set fun rules to play by. Using Type continues here Thursday.

Understanding Visual Hierarchy

Now that we’ve got the scale of text type talked about, however successfully, (I think I’ll end up completely revisiting that subject later, when I’ve got a better approach worked out) we can move on to the relationships created by scale.


Visual hierarchy – whether used in a magazine, book or other long text, or on a single page or slip of paper, or a sign or system of signs, or in the presentation of a single piece of data in relation to a larger data set – serves to draw a clear relationship between the one thing, and the whole thing. Hierarchy obviously exists beyond the visual. There are levels, real, imagined, and imposed, in and upon any medium. The organizing principles are essentially the same at whatever scale. And we should take into account things like hierarchy in non-visual media, but this is already beginning to get deep, and that’s probably a full discussion to have some other time. I’ll put it on my list, and keep the rest pretty light and practical.


Using type to create hierarchy is more than setting headers and subheads at different type sizes; but can incorporate several principles of design, such as scale, composition or arrangement, pattern, and pacing, contrast (above all), and probably more if you care to go looking for examples. Even if all the type on a page is the same size, such as in a resume, we can still draw conclusions about the related nature and relative importance of each piece just by looking at what it’s grouped with, whether it’s set near the top of the page or the bottom, whether it aligns the same or differently from elements around it, and how much negative space it requires above or beneath it, or to one side. The following are a few bits of advice, which we’ll get into with more depth next week.

Separate the content from its navigation.

Just as a policeman is capable of policing in large part because of what he wears, the navigational elements of a document should set themselves apart from the content in order to be in its service. This can be made to work simply by setting the navigational type in a complementary voice (using a different typeface or contrasting style within the same face), or by using any number of techniques to break up and separate the two.

Understand the complexity of the piece you’re working on, and get rid of as much of it as you can.

If you’ve got seven main levels of hierarchy, but only really use four of them regularly, then condense, adapt, rearrange, erase, etc. (to the extent you can) to get it down to four. When I’ve had to do this in the past, the client has been generally happy that I take interest in the content’s accessibility and readability, not just its appearance.

Make sure the hierarchical steps are well-defined.

A header with a lower-level header set just below it should appear as such. The audience should not be left to wonder why these two appear so similar to one another, nor should they wonder if there’s room for a step in between. Find a way to differentiate, so that each step down can occupy and own its place in the hierarchy.


Switch up your approach.

If you’re laying out a numbered-item proposal, or some very sequential piece of technical writing, such as product documentation, you’ll soon find that additional left indent accompanying each level of hierarchy will lead to some ungainly narrow columns, high page counts, and odd margins. Create systems that reset themselves periodically, using all the ways you can think of to diversify the content within each level.

That’s all for now. Using Type looks more closely into visual hierarchy on Thursday. A special thanks to Octavio Pardo’s Sutturah, featured here in a small way (outside its use in the title graphic). Its period character used at different sizes illustrates the points above.

A Sense for Typographic Scale, continued

I didn’t really get at what I was hoping to convey with the last piece on developing a sense for appropriate typographic scale. Which is a real shame considering how fundamental it is. It’s true that if one does the exercises I prescribe, the result is likely a furthering of the development of this sense that’s both difficult to describe and impossible to confer. After giving it a couple weeks’ thought, I now see that what’s really missing from all this talk is an ultimatum, and more bad examples.


I’m calling this a sense, because if it were only a series of techniques, they would be easily acquired. Like a little child’s sense of balance, or a motorist’s sense for the road, one is not born with an eye for typographic scale. It develops and refines over time and with experience. This ability to feel and not merely see type, is the indispensable characteristic of typographers who know what they’re doing.

Here’s the ultimatum. Great and mediocre designers diverge on this point: having developed senses specific to typography. Your demonstrated ability in this precise area – that of scale – is impossible to hide. It will be one of the first signs of the quality of your work. So you had better learn this. Here are some examples of what not to do. For similar examples with properly used type, refer to my previous post. Seems like I wrote this out of order.


Above: Notice how the type, Fry’s Baskerville, is too light and spindly on the page. A closer look below reveals that its fine details and tight fit make it suited to display settings of, say, 20 pt and up.

Below is Tony Stan’s ITC Garamond, deceptively given the weight name of ‘Book.’ But, don’t be fooled; this is more of the same. A type style drawn for display, but unlike the above, it’s additionally been poorly adapted to function as text. The letter spacing is tight and the contrast of the letterforms is overpronounced in all the wrong ways. If you’re going for a late ’70s – early ’80s vibe, this will get you there.

Which could cause one to think that lowering the contrast is all that’s required. Below,  Jos Buivenga’s Museo shows it isn’t so. Because Museo is designed to work as a display face, it limits its ability to function well at text sizes. Notice how similar a feeling ITC Garamond and Museo give off when setting text. And you can achieve this with nearly any display face.


Lastly, Cyrus Highsmith’s Novia is a set of two size-specific script faces. Be careful not to do what I do above, which is ignore that the design is size-specific. Since the style is inspired by the engraving discipline, the fine hairlines above should match in weight. How? Either by keeping the size consistent, or by using the Light weight at an appropriate scale. Similarly, it would be inappropriate to use both the Regular and Light weight at the same size, unless it’s for the purpose of showing the difference.

That’s it. Again, the previous piece on type scale should make a lot more sense now. Thanks for reading. Using Type is a regular Thursday deal.

Stylizing digital sheet music with music fonts

For composers, songwriters, and those who dabble in transcribing music for fun, digitized sheet music is often found left with their default fonts in tact. Music notation software such as Finale™ or Sibelius™ automatically loads music fonts on the user’s computer upon install — Finale uses a music font labeled as “Maestro” by default while Sibelius typically uses “Opus Std” for music notation. On top of these music font settings, Times New Roman is usually paired with these music fonts by default, though in Sibelius the default font depends on what type of score or instruments you’ll be writing music for.


Plantin Std paired with Opus Std in Sibelius for the default piano score template

The majority of digitized sheet music may look similar to the transcription above, but if you feel like stylizing your sheet music, it’s quite easy to change font settings in Sibelius. With the addition of Urtext Music Fonts type foundry, we’re happy to give composers and arrangers options to make music look better.

If you’ve already started composing or transcribing your song in Sibelius, you can edit your font selection and apply it to your existing notation.


Main Text Font — By changing this font, you’ll change the text that shows the composer and part names (as in the music example above, where “Piano” and “Muzio Clementi” are noted). You can choose any (non-music) font you have installed on your computer.

Main Music Font — This selection will change all common music symbols, such as  key and time signatures, notes (both noteheads and flags are affected), and rests.

Music Text Font — Any additional expressive or articulation markings will be affected by this font selection. This includes dynamic markings (such as the bold “pp”s for pianissimo and “ff”s for fortissimo) as well as fermatas and trill markings, which are briefly explained below.

Here are some examples of dynamics and technical markings in Urtext Music FontsKapellmeister OT (in purple):


Once you’ve decided which font you’ll use for text and which font(s) you’ll use for the music notation, hit OK and watch your sheet music be transformed. In the example below, Plantin has been switched out for P22 Morris Golden and Opus Std has been switched out for Clementi OT, giving the excerpt from Muzio Clementi’s Piano Sonatina a more appropriate feeling:


In a side-by-side comparison, the following excerpt starts with the default music font (Opus Std), and where noted by the asterisk, changes to Clementi OT:


Other major differences are usually noticed at the beginning of the music, with the key signature (in this piece, the sharp “♯” sign) and time signature (the “fraction” 2/4). You’ll also see a difference of style in the way clefs (here, what precedes the “♯” sign) are drawn between music fonts:


To those unfamiliar with music notation, you can see also differences in the music fonts by comparing the design of the notes — the shape and weight of the notehead (the round part of the note) may differ as well as its flags (the part that waves itself off note stems on eighth notes, sixteenth notes, and any other note that has flags). This is better seen than explained; below is a comparison of eighth notes (again, in purple) in the Urtext Music Fonts available at FontShop:


You’ll notice that some noteheads are more elliptical (like that of Brumaire) while others are more round. Also, some flags are straight and angular while others are curved. With tastes and styles in music so varied, why should sheet music all look the same?

While Urtext’s range of music fonts address traditional styles, capturing the feeling of hand-engraved music from the Baroque and Classical periods, these music fonts are still fit to be used for any modern-day composer.

A Sense for Typographic Scale

Before I can really get to hierarchy, which is the next subject of our study, there’s one thing that needs covering on its own. The typographer (that’s you) needs to develop a sense for typographic scale. Unlike the five senses, this is a learned sense, an elementary principle of typography and one that easily and commonly goes unmastered. Experienced designers and the typographically immature tend to differ here most noticeably. So in this brief piece I’ll do my best to give a specific definition of the question and share a few exercises that may open the eyes of the young typographer. It will be difficult however to properly demonstrate, since for many the principle can feel quite nebulous, and also since this is being conveyed over the web – where you’re viewing it at who knows what size or at what distance. (It’s not safe for me to assume you’re seeing it at 96ppi like I am.)


Or more like 114ppi on my notebook computer. If you’re looking at this site on a mid-2011 Macbook Pro or similar model, the image above should be about actual size.


Just checking.


Okay. To start, We’ll focus on body text, though the principle extends to all settings, all media. Though digital fonts (or any vector-based artwork) are size-independent, text type is pretty size-specific. Ever read a book where the text is set just a little too small? It’s a pain to look at it. Too large and it loses its firmness. It’s no fun to read. Somewhere in between there, provided the measure and line-height are cooperating, the natural rhythm of the text begins to resonate with the larger composition’s own physical properties.

To get there

A starting point is to reduce the type size until its stems take on a linear quality. This is admittedly a bit subjective of a criterion, but after testing a tight range of text sizes for a given piece, I think the more successful options will speak up quite clearly. Insofar as you can, the tests should be in as near the final medium and process as possible. For example, if it’s a print piece, print out your initial explorations and plan several trips to the printer for tests. Below are a couple of explorations of scale set in Nick Shinn’s Scotch Modern Regular, less and more successfully fitting the dimensions of the medium.



Note that Scotch Modern comes in a range of optical sizes from Micro to Display for setting type at specific sizes. Micro is designed to work below conventional text sizes. Display is for larger settings. One easy way to test whether these various cuts are being sized properly is to compare the hairline strokes. All should be close to equal in weight. And if you use any borders or rules in the composition, the stroke weight of each should be conscious of the weight of the hairlines. Below: three optical sizes of Scotch Modern.


Other faces, such as FF Clifford by Akira Kobayashi, specify exactly at what size each cut is intended to be reproduced. Below is FF Clifford Eighteen, Nine, and Six.

FF Clifford optical sizes

Because all media is different, I’d recommend even further testing to see if 8.75 pt or 9.125 pt or somewhere in between works any better. Use similar fractional-unit testing with your line-height/baseline grid settings to make sure the body is optimally holding together. Through all the tests, and through using your eyes, I’m pretty confident your sense for scale will develop.

Lastly, remember to keep in mind the distance from which your work will be viewed. Even though a display cut sounds like just what you might need for a billboard-sized piece, if it’s going to be viewed from the road, the same principles of scale for text apply. Use a text cut.

That’s it for now. Let me know if this came out clear or hazy, and what questions I left you with. Thanks for reading. Using Type picks back up on Thursday.

What’s the Best Font for Resumes?

We’re designers, you and I. And when family or friends come to us with their awful resumes, we strip them down to their essentials, fit them to the allotted space, give them some decent margins and properly tension the page. They get the interview; they get the job. Why? Maybe it’s because they had the added confidence of a professionally composed resume. Or maybe their new employer just thought something felt right. Maybe their resume worked.


So what’s the best font for resumes?

When I’m asked this question by designers, my response is usually, “The best font for a resume that does what?” “Oh,” they say, “Well what I’ve got’s not working. I need one that looks better and represents who I am.” “And who are you?”

This often leads to a discussion about what the field and position is, who the applicant is, and of what whom needs convincing. Why so many questions? Can’t I just name a font? I could, but as it turns out, this is precisely the sort of question I get from people who are in no position to receive an answer. Imagine me entering a hardware store and asking where the best nuts for bicycles are kept. “A nut for what size bolt, sir?” the clerk responds. “Uh, one on my bike. I’m not sure.” The clerk tries to be helpful, “Do you know if it’s metric or customary? How about the thread?” Me: “Ooh. I could try something flashy; got anything chrome plated?” One would think that because I ride my bike everyday, I might take more interest in these little details. In my example however, the reverse is true. I don’t even own a set of wrenches—I’ve never picked one up in my life. I don’t know the difference between a crescent wrench and an allen wrench. Luckily for me, bicycle shops exist.

To the professionals now reading this who do not consider themselves designers (we get mostly designers here), hello. I presume you come with the same question. Let’s stop for a moment and answer it. The best font for resumes is Palatino. You can get it here but check your word processor’s font menu first. It’s likely already waiting for you. Moving on.

You see, fonts don’t fix your resume’s inability to accomplish its basic tasks. That’s the job of design. A designer can with a single text face create many successful compositions, pursuing varied and nuanced qualities or styles just by the way the type is arranged. It’s at this point, after a designer has developed a sense for and command of his or her type, that he or she is in a position to benefit from having the “best” font for the job. And the questions these designers ask me are much more descriptive. “Could you suggest a good warm sans with an American feel, but that doesn’t look too dated?” Yes. I can, in fact.

Hey non-designers, still with us? Forget that Palatino thing. That was just—well—when people phrase the question that way, “What’s the best font for …” they’re usually out for a simple and inexpensive answer. If I suggested that the best font for their resume would cost them $125, they’d probably rephrase the question in a hurry, “I meant the best one out of the options already on my computer.” This is generally what I read the initial question to mean. If however, you’re still willing to put money on this, let me suggest the best place to spend it: hire a designer. Your designer will be able to see the problems you can’t, and has the tools and experience to create for you what you need. Okay, but what if you’ve got no budget for design? It’s rare, but it happens. I would then look to my circle of friends to ask if there’s someone they know who could spare an hour.


Opening it back up to a general audience, let’s return to the question of who you are, because I think here’s where we’ll find the best clues on how to design this resume and which typefaces will work with the composition. Think descriptive thoughts, and write down descriptive words. Professionally speaking, who are you, and who do you want to become, and what kind of work will get you there? If that doesn’t give you enough to work with, consider your influences. Describe the music you listen to, the writing style of an author whose books you read, the city or country you live in, the way your parents or siblings talk, or walk, the sound of the musical instrument you play. Finding some descriptors that work? Now use type in an understated way that fits the description. Different faces will perform differently in this role, so I suggest using something fairly versatile starting out. Robert Slimbach’s Minion is a popular one. I’d also recommend Thomas Gabriel’s Premiéra which I’ve come to know well. As your ability to create and control context becomes more refined, you’ll be able to identify and incorporate the characteristics of different typefaces into your compositions.

A few last bits of advice: Work with the text in a single size. Use placement and typographic features such as italic or bold, as well as advanced features like small caps, to create a clear hierarchy. The colors used should offer sufficient contrast as well. I recommend black on white. And here are a number of other considerations from last week’s piece on the same subject. Good luck. This feels more like a homework assignment than a how-to, but maybe that’s best. Typography is a discipline that’s learned by some study, but mainly by practice. Using Type continues here Thursday.

A Designer’s Resume

We see plenty of designers’ resumes here, and thanks to a recent opening at FontShop, have seen and continue to see plenty more. So after a brief discussion with the editorial board yesterday, we decided it would be apropos to spend a couple articles in this series on resumes. Specifically, our own resumes. Ones that can and must stand up to the scrutiny of designers and art directors who are in a position to hire us. I’ll share typography-specific insights as they come up, but for the most part we’ll be sticking with general design principles.


After the cover letter, the designer’s book, or portfolio, is likely the first thing seen by a design studio or agency. If the work is good, the resume generally determines who gets called in for an interview. If the work’s no good, no one looks at the resume. When a resume crosses my desk, it’s a similar process. I see the overall composition first, and then if there’s a demonstrated ability to practice the principles of typographic design, I see the content.

Both the design and content of your resume should exist to serve its audience. Start with the content. Include your name and how you may be contacted, pertinent work and education information, etc. and exclude the rest. Fit it on a single page.

Now you can give appropriate form to your content. (And obviously since you’re the author, editor, and designer, your content can be trimmed or extended as needed to fit the form you give it.) Just to make a quick point, this managing the give and take of form and content happens to be what design is. For all the time we spend styling content and calling ourselves designers because of it, let’s not forget what designers must do in order to be designers.

A few general guidelines and you can take it from here. Create a clear visual hierarchy. Adhere to a baseline grid. Use adequate margins. Demonstrate proper use of typographic scale. Use figures, punctuation and symbols properly. Have a second set of eyes you trust check your work, including final design, spelling, and grammar. Here’s a rough sketch I did.



It’s rare that I’ll give specific instruction on what not to do, but in this case, yes, here are some clear don’ts.

Don’t be too clever with the medium. If the final version is on a nonstandard paper size, make a standard version that will e-mail and print properly without your supervision.

Don’t include the icons of Adobe’s Creative Suite for the purpose of demonstrating the depth of your experience with design software. If you designed these icons for Adobe, you may put them in your portfolio.

In fact, I don’t generally think it’s helpful to list all the software titles you use, ever.

Don’t feel you have to brand yourself. Remember that you’re a person, not a commodity.

That’s all. I’ll go into a bit more depth next week, and maybe touch on the burning question, “What’s the best font for a resume?”


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