Los Angeles InDesign User Group

So You Think You Know How to Set Type

Thursday, November 19, 2015

dots SPACE, 113 N. San Vicente Blvd., 2nd Floor, Beverly Hills, California 90211

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By Alvin Takamori


On November 19, at the dots SPACE in Beverly Hills there was a meeting of the Los Angeles InDesign User Group. The theme of the presentation that night was, “So You Think You Know Type?” Although, we use type all the time, there are many subtle details to good typesetting that many people aren’t aware of. But if there is one person who knows these details, it’s Andrew Keith Strauss. That evening, we were privileged to have him share some of his knowledge with us.


Andrew was one of the founding members of the Los Angeles InDesign User Group and he’s an Adobe Certified Training Provider. He consults and provides training and support on publishing to major corporations and marketing agencies.


During his presentation, one of the first things Andrew pointed out was something many of us know intuitively, but never question. Mathematically, one inch is equal to 72 points. However, if you select 72-point type and place it in a one-inch high space, the letters will not fill the space. Not only that, but the height of the 72-point letters change from font to font. If you compare 10-point Perpetua, a font with long ascenders and descenders,  (the long parts of letters like b and y) to 10 point Meridian, which has short ascenders and descenders, the Meridian type looks noticeably larger. So in the font world, point sizes seem meaningless. This is a throwback to the age of printing with blocks of metal type. The point size of fonts doesn’t indicate the size of the letters. It indicates the size of the block that the letter fits inside. That’s why a font with long ascenders and descenders has to be smaller to fit inside a 10-point high block.


Another issue involving ascenders occurs when type is centered inside a text frame. The default setting centers type based on the cap height of letters. That’s to prevent letters aligned to the top of a text box from extending above the box. However, if you’re trying to center text vertically, centering based on cap height is okay if the type is all caps, but if you have lower case letters, visually it doesn’t look centered because lower case letters create more mass toward the lower half of the letters. To correct for this you can change the Baseline Options and select centering based on x-height.


Another detail of typography that Andrew brought to our attention is the changes in legibility that occurs as font size changes. Smaller sizes need bolder strokes and wider spacing to maintain legibility, while larger sizes can have thinner strokes with tighter spacing. A well-designed font family takes this into account and offers different sets of letterforms such as caption size, subhead size, display size, etc. So a font family with optical sizes can have hundreds of characters.


Font letterforms are not static. Their design is always evolving. Andrew provided a history lesson in something as basic as Helvetica. It began as Neue Haas Grotesk in 1957, which was based on Akzidenz-Grotesk from the 19th century. It became Helvetica Neue in 1983. A year later Helvetica Digital was introduced, which was less bold and more condensed.


Adobe purchased Typekit and their collection of fonts is available when you subscribe to Creative Cloud. However, you lose access to those fonts if your subscription lapses. You can subscribe directly to Typekit as an alternative. You can also go directly to different type foundries and purchase individual font families for specific uses, like print or web. Just look on the foundry website for the End User License Agreement. It’s also good to check foundry websites for special offers.


When designing something with lots of copy like a book, the legibility of the text is an important consideration. There is actually a guideline to optimize blocks of text for easy readability called Standard Measure. It is about 8 to 12 words per line of type with leading, the space between lines set at twice the x-height of the font being used. San serif fonts might need a little more space.


As Andrew addressed earlier, fonts have a consistency issue when it comes to determining the size of the letters. If saying a letter is 10 points tall is meaningless because the size changes from font to font, how do you design layouts where controlling the size is critical. Andrew has a solution. It’s not simple because it requires that you obtain measurements for each font and maintain a record of those measurements. But until font sizes are measured by a standard that reflects the digital age, it might be the best system to use. Want the details of this system? You should have been at the meeting. If you know someone who attended, maybe they’ll be nice and explain it to you.

Another detail you want to check when working with lots of copy, especially justified type, is the spacing between words. You don’t want to create long rivers of white. Those rivers become walls that stop the eye when you are reading.


As Andrew illustrated in his presentation, there are a lot of details to typesetting that you need to pay attention to. Controlling those features can be an important aspect of creating good designs.


As usual, after the presentation we had the raffle drawing. As you look through the list of prize winners you might notice several people winning multiple prizes. It’s no coincidence that those people bought a lot of tickets. Thank you to the sponsors for providing all the prizes and thank you to everyone who has attended our meetings and supported our group. Happy New Year!



Farthest Attendee Prize Winner


InDesign Magazine. 6 month subscription—Laurie Miller



Raffle Prize Winners


eDocker CREATE! 6 month subscription—Christopher Sullivan

Stock Layouts. Full access to Stock Layout template library—Joanne Abensour

Markzware. PDF2DTP. 12 month subscription—Grace Ramos

Expo Creative Asset Manager for Mac from Insider Software—Joanne Abensour

Font Agent Pro 6 from Insider Software—Yulia Zhukovska

InMotion Hosting. Web hosting and free domain—Rebecca Hillquist

DTP Tools Cloud for InDesign. 6 month subscription—Joanne Abensour

Fotolia. 3 month subscription. 5 images per month—Yulia Zhukovsha

O'Reilly Media. Ebook—Heatherlynn Pittman

TypeDNA. Font management software—Christopher Sullivan

PDFStickies from Kerntiff Publishing Systems—Rebecca Hillquist

SpellProof ID from Kerntiff Publishing Systems—Heatherlynn Pittman

Digital-Tutors. 1 month subscription— Joanne Abensour, Christopher Sullivan

LA Web Professionals Group meeting tickets—Joanne Abensour, Rebecca Hillquist, Christopher Sullivan


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