Many Methods Available to Achieve Good Spacing

  • You may be surprised how “quality composition” methods and cut costs
  • Standardizing style can mean better work, less composing room confusion
  • Check these methods expert typographers used to produce quality work

Besides following standardized procedures of good spacing, careful typographers have traditionally used numerous devices for getting out of trouble in a tight situation. Going back to the Venetians, fine printers have substituted the ampersand (&) for the conjunction, for example, to save the space of one character in the line. This practice usually has been limited to books, it has been followed by some of our outstanding printers, such as Updike, Rogers, Goudy, John Henry Nash, and others. However, it can be extended easily to commercial printing, especially since the ampersand is commonly accepted in firm names.

Undercutting Caps Is Common

Less controversial is the practice of undercutting such capital letters as T, W, V, and Y when followed by a lower-case letter without ascender. This method improves the appearance of the composition, and James necessary space. The composing machine firms have logotypes for all the standard couplings, and their use is increasing. Similarly, the compositor can undercut such lowercase letters as y, v, and w when followed by a period or a comma.

Anyway, quotes have long since been reduced to a single unit (‛),(’). If a quote with quote becomes necessary, the double mark is used. This practice serves the twin purpose of reducing unsightly gaps of space and reducing keyboard strokes. Furthermore, the English printers do not use the. After common abbreviations, such as Dr, Mr, Co, St, etc., a style which certainly could be adopted here, particularly after printers in self-defense during the “alphabetic ’30s” left off the abbreviations of many government agencies.

Printing schools have always taught that more than two consecutive word breaks in straight matter composition constitutes sloppy practice. This view needs reëxamination. For example, when an operator or compositor arrives at a third hyphen he must space the line widely to avoid three broken words in a row. I believe that readers are so adjusted to taking broken words and stride that the wide spacing becomes the greater distraction.

The same argument holds for the use of the two-letter syllable beginning a line after a break. At spacing slows down reading speed much more than the reader’s ability to grasp broken words in any form.

The important thing to remember is that the words must be broken correctly, following a consistent style, whether it be that of a particular printing office or of a dictionary. Writers who can’t seem to keep the relatively few word-breaking rules, I suggest the use of correct pronunciation as a guide. The word is of course broken incorrectly if its pronunciation changes.

Aside from newspaper practice for the all-important deadline is the limiting factor, letterspacing, if considered at all, must be properly done. In sizes up to11-point or 12-point, when the measure is over 20 picas, it is seldom necessary to letterspace. The workspaces are sufficient to take up the slack. Some authorities refuse to consider letterspacing at all, consigning the practice to the hellbox. While there is something to say for this purity of attitude, the ordinary printer must occasionally “lower” his standards. This can be best done by letterspacing the entire line rather than a few words. The ligatures will have to be left out, but the over-all effect will be smoother.

Another rule which has a number of interpretations concerns the amount of invention for paragraphs. Because no possible role can be written for all sizes, weights, and variations of type faces, a rule of thumb is most frequently used, adding to the difficulties of customers and apprentices who vainly look for standards. An examination of the centuries-old use of the invention may give a clue to a reasonable answer.

When pictures first took over from the manuscript writers during the 15th century, they employed illuminators to draw initial letters at the start of each paragraph. Spaces left in the page for this purpose. Eventually, printers and illuminators had disagreements, and cast initials were developed. These in turn were followed by the sign of the paragraph (¶). Gradually, even this was left out, the mere space indicating a new paragraph.

Costs Always Were a Plague

Then, as now, printers were plagued with hour costs. As the present-day invention denotes the omission of a paragraph mark, slightly less than an em in width, it would seem that an em quad would be sufficient for any measure. However, many shot styles call for one and half ems when the measure is over 20 picas, and certainly this is not excessive. One practice, constantly becoming more popular, is to eliminate the indention in the first paragraph of copy under heads and subheads, because this is so obviously a paragraph beginning.

The busy printer today apparently is not interested in what he terms “ivory tower habits,” but he may be surprised that the effect that a consistent style will have on his costs. Most of the methods used by quality printers have much to recommend themselves to the ordinary commercial shop. Actually, the proper way to do a job usually proves, in the final analysis, to be the most economical.

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

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