Fine Spacing Is Prerequisite to Good Typography

  • Simple attention to details of good spacing may result in lower costs
  • Mechanical spacing of typesetting machines likely to cause carelessness
  • Methods of hand compositor and machine operator very considerably

Any typographer who has studied the best works of the recognized masters of the craft, from Gutenberg to Rogers, realizes that, regardless of typographic period or style, the one characteristic common to all of their work is excellent spacing.

In this phase of design, there is no barrier of language or national style. The basic contribution to the function of the printed word: to be read.

Neither is good spacing necessarily restricted to so-called limited editions or the product of the private press. Actually, it can even be a factor in making day-to-day printing more economical.

Many printers will be surprised to know that simple attention to the details of good spacing may result in lower costs, even in straightline production. This will be evident if some of the factors of careful examined.

No doubt, we have permitted the mechanical spacing offered by composing machines to make us careless. We cannot blame this carelessness on the equipment. Instead, we must blame the modern idea that “faster” means “better.”

Compositor Better Judge of Spacing

In general, the compositor is a better judge of good spacing than the machine operator. The hand compositor has a problem to face and solve with every line he sets. His conception, of course, is governed by his training in by his inclinations. Any discussion of the subject should start, therefore, with the compositors viewpoint.

Most compositors today learned to space lower-case with a 3-em space. The California job case makes this almost inevitable, because the dominant space box in the lower-case section is set aside for the spacing unit.

The common practice is to use the 3-em space between words in a line, changing only when necessary. At the end of the line, the compositor must decide whether to fill out a short line or bring up another word or part of a word. The lazy comp will space the line out, without further thought, and will probably use coppers are brasses, or even cards.

Whether 10-spacing material is effective depends upon the size of type being set. If the size is 12-point or smaller, it would be better to forget the coppers and use the spaces in the case. This is particularly true if the compositor lacks judgment to determine how much additional spacing will be needed to justify the line. This extra spacing may also be done by adding space to each word.

The careful printer will analyze the problem quickly. He will understand that reduced spacing will be more satisfactory, and then will try to gain another word in the line. He will perform this task with care and select the words between which he will reduce spacing.

Because lower-case letters appear at the start and end of words, space appears to vary between words, although spacing is even. The craftsman recognizes this point and makes changes accordingly.

When the spacing is necessary, the first space to be changed should be one next to a comma or period, although many shop styles call for an extra space at the end of a sentence. On slut machines, unmet quad is ropped into the line. This practice runs counter to the principles of good spacing, because extra space tends to make a page of type look spotty.

If the capital beginning the new sentence happens to be T, B, W, or Y, the extra shoulder space will increase the area of white space.

If there is no comma or period in the line, then it’s best to reduce space between words which, by a combination of ending and beginning letters, give the appearance of a greater space area. Such instances should be obvious to any reader. The reduction of spacing will permit a tighter line and minimize the possibility of rivers of white space. This point is illustrated in most books on typesetting.

The emphasis in type areas always should be horizontal. The reader can span only a given number of words at a time. If the spacing is tight, more words can be seen at a glance in reading speed therefore is increased.

An argument against the use of narrow spacing is that the words run together. This is not objectionable except in material for children or learning to read. Adults have learned to recognize words his pictures, as severe as the face of a friend in a crowd.

If all lines in the page or column have tight spacing, there is no one wanted vertical emphasis to interfere with speed and ease of reading.

Spacing Varies With Type Face

Careful printers sometimes substitute 4-em spaces for the 3-em spaces. This practice decreases the possibility of wide spacing. Condensed type will take less spacing than standard set-with faces. Types of greater than standard character count, such as the currently popular wide gothic and square serifs, require wider spacing. The printer must decide what is necessary to change the standard space, for his decision is governed by his experience and good judgment.

Many printers agree the hand compositor has an opportunity to “play around” with spacing, but they shrugged their shoulders when it comes to machine composition. Mechanical considerations must govern good judgment here.

The slug-machine operator soon learns to depend upon the spaceband to do the spacing automatically. Standard practice is to look at the remaining space and make a quick count of the bands to see if the line will cast. A further hindrance to careful spacing is the operator’s desire to fill the stick and pile up along row galleys.

Spacebands are available in several thicknesses. Most shops use only two, standard and extra-thick or jumbo bands. Display composition usually requires a wide band, but smaller sizes are set with bands of standard thickness. The standard spaceband has a minimum measurement of .0375 and a maximum of .1035, or from three points to eight points. Such variations may result in haphazard spacing.

In 10-point type, the 5-em space is two points thick and the en quad is five points that. The regular band at its thinnest will be wider than a 5-em space by about 50 per cent. At full justification, it becomes 60 per cent greater than the en quad. With a point size as small as eight or six, is easy to understand why slut-machine spacing may be poor.

When the thinnest band is utilized, the spacing range decreases. Excellent results are possible if the operator is careful to fill the line with mats rather than to depend upon the action of the wedge. It is necessary, then, the spacebands along with magazines and molds.

In single-type machines, the unit system allows a good range of spacing, but the keyboard operator must learn to take full advantage of his equipment.

In composition by hand or machine, the compositor has at his command the equipment and materials for careful spacing, but too often he fails to learn correct application.

Good spacing is difficult to achieve under some circumstances; for example, in newspaper compositions in which the deadline dominates. Other considerations, such as speed of operation and narrow measures, also combined to restrict the printer who would like to exercise care and good judgment. The growing tendency, except in typographic shops and a few others, is to let spacing be mechanical.

(Next month, Mr. Lawson will discuss other factors that affect spacing. He will suggest how attention to these factors can boost production, increase legibility, and improve appearance of the printed word.)

This article first appeared in “The Composing Room” column of the March 1955 issue of The Inland Printer.

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