Introducing the Bad Kerning & Signage Awa rds. If written language is a cornerstone of civilization, type abuse constitutes a crime against enlightenment. These blemishes on the cultural landscape disappear all too easily in the sea of flashing messages, electronic billboards, and shop windows—but once you start looking for them, you’ll see them everywhere. Weak letter spacing, tacky font choice, stretched and distorted text, and generally poor craftsmanship pollute our public spaces.
It’s time to protest! I’ll be collecting and posting examples of some of the worst transgressions on this page. Feel free to submit any particularly heinous examples you’d like to share.
This one wins a Bad Kerning & Signage Awa rd—plus it deserves special honors for exposed wiring, additional irrelevant signage (“EQUAL”) on the electrical box, and for putting that box on top of an attractive cinder block. I almost overlooked the collision in the word “C enter” between the n and the t and the clogged up blob at the top of the r because the spacing after the capital letters was so distracting. The horizontally stretched type on the sign beneath S klu C enter (“We have the THERMAGE”) is the perfect accent.
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Once you have your book cover design looking spirited and professional on your computer screen, how can you ensure that your masterpiece will translate accurately to the printing press? Ink on paper is an entirely different medium from pixels on a monitor. Understanding how to adjust your book cover images to your printer’s specifications will make the difference between a cover that sings and a cover that barks. Using the correct color space and controlling ink density are key factors.
I created a sample, low-resolution book cover design for this exercise. The imagery contains saturated colors, photographs, and dark areas that contain subtle details—all potential stumbling blocks for publishers who don’t understand the printing process.
Figure 1. Example Cover Design in RGB Mode
I set some body text on my original design so I could visualize my final result, but for purposes of adjusting color, I’ll strip it out. Adobe Photoshop is a remarkable image editor, but it lacks sophisticated typesetting tools. If this was an actual cover, I’d leave the back cover text and the bar code out while I adjusted the images, and then add them later with a page layout program like Adobe Indesign or Quark. Please don’t set body text with Photoshop—ever.Continue reading →
This article explores page layout strategies for books based on the Rule of Thirds. A grid system based on traditional guidelines ensures harmonious proportions and placement of objects on a page.
Page layout for books is governed by a range of factors. Trade publishers shipping 30,000 copies of a title realize significant savings by using smaller type, tighter leading (line spacing), and narrower margins. For them, aesthetic sacrifices are smart business. But indie publishers printing short runs are free from the business realities of mass production (POD publishers often order single books made to order). Classic page layout strategies offer an easy way for the small publisher to gain an aesthetic edge over the trade.
I discuss page layout in-depth in an earlier post, and Wikipedia’s Canons of Page Construction is an excellent resource, but though these articles present layouts based on page divisions of 1/9, readers are left wondering, why not 15ths or 8ths? Where did the idea of dividing a page into a 9×9 grid come from? The answer is found in a classic formula: the rule of thirds. Continue reading →
Digital typography offers capabilities that printers working with hot lead type and wood type could only dream of. Digital type can be stretched and resized infinitely, justified within unusual boundaries, or wrapped around almost any shape. And yet, traditional letterpress and wood type specialty shops continue to marry ink and paper. Their work offers a special, organic warmth that digital type lacks. This article explores the differences between digital and traditional type, and suggests techniques for simulating the appearance of traditional print. Though it ultimately fails to reveal a magic formula for turning pixels into authentic printer’s ink, it offers insights into why that goal is so difficult to achieve.
The best source for historical information is old books. Reading about traditional typography is nowhere near as valuable as looking at it. Observe the interaction between ink, paper, and time. I find old design books on eBay that typically cost half of what contemporary books do. My collection goes back to the 1830s. Two of my favorites: The Art & Practice of Typography by Edmund Gress, (1917), and The Manual of Linotype Typography by William Dana Orcutt and Edward Bartlett (1923) are available for online viewing (click their titles in this sentence). These books offer insights into evolving language as much as they do into evolving typography. Above all, they inspire one question: Why doesn’t my type look like that?
The Oxford comma, or serial comma is a subject of constant debate among writers. Do we need that comma before the last item on a list? Even without a list, the comma is an important determiner of meaning.
Time to eat children.
A comma after “eat” will better support your petition for unsupervised visitation.
Proponents of the Oxford comma (which include MLA, CMOS, and Strunk & White) regard the comma as a logical grouping device.
The teams wore jerseys colored red, blue, green, black and orange.
Four color schemes or five?
The teams wore jerseys colored red, blue, green, black, and orange.
Discussions of English Language pet peeves provide an entertaining forum for the expression of ire. In fact, if a “pet” is something we cherish, and a “peeve” is something that annoys us, “pet peeves” are what we love to hate. Here’s a collection of common English solecisms—guaranteed not to literally blow your mind:
English Pet Peeves: Logic Problems
“I could care less.” – If you’re expressing disinterest, you couldn’t care less.
Every time I hear Paul McCartney sing, “But if this ever-changing world in which we live in…” I cringe. Correct usage is “… in which we live.”
“The reason why this happened is because…” – use either “why” or “because,” but not both.
The reason this happened is because …
The reason why this happened is …
To be picky, we can do away with “The reason” if we precede the cause with “because.”
Page layout programs like Adobe Indesign and Quark, allow typographers to exert fine control over justified text to remove gaps and “rivers.” The default settings produce “pretty good” results—better than a word processor—but a few small tweaks will dramatically improve the spacing of your text. This article explains how to balance hyphenation settings with word spacing, letter spacing, and glyph scaling to optimize the appearance of justified text.
My last “Book Design Basics” post discussed the importance of hyphenation settings. These should be adjusted to suit the line width and the purpose of the text. A long legal disclaimer in small print in a narrow box can often be set without regard to how many hyphens are required to produce consistent spacing. Body text is likely to be a compromise based mostly on one group of settings. A short blurb on the back of a book cover should be poked and prodded until spacing and hyphenation are ideal. This article explains how to combine hyphenation and justification settings to achieve optimal results.
Disclosure: If you’re reading this article, you’re probably working on your own next book and don’t care about mine (selling books to writers is like selling boxed lunches at a chef’s convention). At the risk of appearing self-promotional, I’m using the blurb from my new book’s back cover as the example text. It offers a perfect, real-world, one-paragraph example of how adjusting hyphenation and justification settings can turn so-so text into a harmoniously spaced, easy-to-read message, but if you feel I’m “slipping an ad into your drink,” you can bail out here.
Still with me? Good. Let’s look at the text in its “pure” left-aligned form:
The spacing is ideal for the font (Adobe Garamond Pro) as it’s unaffected by justification settings; the spacing you see is the spacing designed into the typeface. Many people prefer left-aligned (ragged right) text for this reason, but others prefer justified text because of the neat, tidy way it fills its box. Continue reading →
Dave Bricker—award-winning author, book coach, designer, and creator of the PubML™ eBook platform—will offer two September workshops in Miami, Florida.
The free “All About Publishing” workshop on Tuesday, September 2nd covers writing, editing, book design, and how to distribute your book on popular retail sites. Learn about copyright, print on demand, ISBN numbers, and how to avoid publishing scams—everything you need to publish an excellent book. Continue reading →
I was contacted by a not-so-articulate person who requested my services as an editor for an article. I looked at his document and found a ten-page paragraph that needed plenty of help. I wrote a polite response explaining that this piece would be time-consuming and expensive to edit, but the author seemed intent on having me rewrite it. He readily agreed to my price, explained his 30-day deadline and told me he’d send a check.
If this doesn’t sound suspicious to you, it should.
Hyphens are an important contributor to elegant, easy-to-read typography, especially when text is fully justified as is the convention in book typography. This article explains how justified text works, and how proper hyphenation improves the legibility of your type.
Text justification works by expanding the spaces between words on each line until the evenly spaced words precisely fill the width of the text field. Some typographers hate justified text; they prefer the natural spacing of the type to the artificially expanded spacing, and they don’t mind the uneven right edge. A compelling argument can be made that ragged-right (left-aligned) text is the most legible, but a beautifully proportioned rectangle of text set inside the rectangle of the page is likewise an engaging aesthetic experience. Designers must balance page layout considerations against the need to format text that’s inviting and comfortable to read. Continue reading →