REPRINTED FROM TYPE & PRESS / COURTESY OF APA

The Joy of

Handsetting Type


By Fred Williams, Publisher of Type & Press

Chapter five: Spaces & Spacing

One master typographer said of his romantic 30-year affair with metal typeforms: ‘As I painstakingly hand-set type, creatively space, aesthetically mortise and justify, I make love to each line–each letter and word becomes as exciting as hurtling 2,000 miles an hour in a space shuttle.’

The ability to instantly recognize the different thicknesses of the various spaces is a must before attempting to set, justify or distribute type composition.

The differences in the thickness of the 4-to-em, 5-to-em and 6-to-em spaces is very slight and care should be made that they are not mixed up. To distinguish between these space bodies, place two, side by side on a flat surface with the nicks facing left. The difference in widths will be readily discernible by gently rubbing the ball of the forefinger over both of them. Because of this slight difference, it’s best to make the difference more apparent.

Color coding of these ‘thins’ with food coloring or felt pen marks along the nicks in different colors will result in instant recognition.

Or these ‘look-alike’ spaces can be tightened in a stick and tops and bottoms inked with a brayer using a contrasting color for each thickness.

Other printers solve this problem by using 3-to-em and 5-to-em spaces from a typefoundry and 4s that have been cast on a Monotype. The difference in the nicks will identify the widths. The dissimilarity between the 3s and 6s is obvious.

As an aid to justification, some typographers cut their interline spacing material one or two points short, allowing type to squeeze up without binding on the leads during lockup.

Between each word, place a space of a thickness that is compatible with the set of the type–a 3-to-em for wide or expanded designs, a 4-to-em for close-fitting faces, reducing to a 5-to between some words.

When line is about full, but before it is justified, it should be read over to detect any typos–words misspelled, letters upside down, wrong fonts, broken letters, outs, doubles, etc., so corrections can be made prior to justifying.

At the conclusion of setting a line that is to be fully justified, one of three different things will present itself:
(1) The line will fit exactly; (2) the line will be too short; (3) the line will be too long.

Unfortunately, the first happens infrequently, but when so, no further manipulations will be required to justify the line.

If the line is considerably short but not enough space remains for the next word, after spacing in (reducing space between each word), perhaps the word can be divided by placing a syllable or two on the line followed by a hyphen and the balance of the word on the next line. In departing from normal spacing, thin is preferable to wide spacing.

If the line is too short, (less than one-em of space remaining) it should be spaced out by increasing the amount of space evenly between each word.

The fact that the typesetting is to be amply leaded, is no reason to use excessive word spacing which creates ugly lines that are difficult to read due to the rivers of white–streaks of wide space that extend laterally up the columns of reading matter.

To check type composition for good spacing hold a proof of it upside down so as not to be influenced by the sense of the text. If the spacing appears compact from this position, one can be certain the page is competently spaced.

The conventional method for spreading all lines out to a common measure, is to do so by increasing or decreasing the word spacing. This simple procedure will justify lines but often will result in undesirable wide word spacing in some lines.

To overcome this problem, printers who endeavor to compose elegant typography, that's easy to read, employ ‘creative spacing,’ that will eliminate extra wide spaced lines which make reading a bore and a chore.

As the compositor assembles type he will be cognizant of the wide variance in the open areas between the various characters due to the peculiar formations of the letterforms and many symbols that make up our alphabet.

The letters may be square, triangular, round, half round, oval, angular, rectangular, horizontal, vertical, etc. or a combination of these shapes. Consequently, when they are placed side by side, they may hug each other like lovers or remain distantly aloof as if deadly enemies.

Unsightly gaps between some letters will impede the eye as it must stop to sift out the word groups from the horizontal strips of symbols.

‘Creative spacing’ is the art of placing more or less spacing between individual characters and groups of letters so each one will appear to be equally spaced. The placing of space between irregularly spaced elements of the line will bring about more legible typesetting.

Various ‘tricks’ have been devised to appraise just how much ‘put and take’ will be necessary to create unvarying elements in the line that will produce type ‘ribbons’ that are a delight to read.

The skill of making them all appear to be equally spaced will present a real challenge. It is here that we separate the boy printers from the master typographers.

Some typographers see these open spaces between individual letters as filled with water. They add or subtract spaces until the cavity between each will hold exactly the same volume of liquid.

To avoid wide word spacing in filling out lines that run short and to improve legibility, there are many places where space can be modified, as follows:

Additional spacing should be added between any elements that appear to be closer together than others in that line. The design and set of the face will determine just where additional ‘air’ [space] is needed. In some fonts, double letters such as: ss, oo, ee and others may appear ‘crabbed’ and a copper or brass between them will improve legibility.

The space between two adjacent words ending and starting with a round or low letter (a, c, e, m, n, o, r, s, u, v, w, x, z) can stand less space between them than ‘high’ characters.

Depending on the set of the face, readability may be improved by placing a hair space in front of a period, comma, semi, colon, hyphen, question mark; interrogation and exclamation points; closing quotes, dollar signs and other characters.

Thin-set opening and closing quotes look better with a slight amount of air between them. Cap letters (unless they have built-in space already (A, C, G, J, O Q) at the beginning of a sentence, will look better separated by a hair-space between the letter and the opening quotation.

A hair-space may be placed on either or both sides of an em dash depending on how tight the adjacent letters are.

Words in all caps may be open spaced for visual effect by using hair spaces. Account must be allowed for the built-in space of letters such as: A, L, O, T, V, W, X and Y so that spacing will appear equal between each of the caps. En spaces are often used for word spacing all caps.

Small caps will appear more pleasing and legible if they are letterspaced with a copper or a brass except for combinations such as: TA, AT, PA, VA, WA, YA, etc. The side space will allow these pairs to be set tight.

A small amount of extra space may be added on both sides of one or two letter words without being noticeable.

If the line is still short after ‘creative’ juggling the previous line can be reset with slightly wider word spacing, allowing a syllable to be brought down to the problem line.

If the line is too long to fit there are a number of instances where spacing can be reduced to enable the line to fit.

For tight spacing, ligatures and kerned characters are a must. Their use, will eliminate ugly, unequal spacing between certain combinations of letters.

To space in a line, start with the 3-to-em spaces between sentences and after all commas, substituting 4s for them, before reducing regular spaces in the line. Because periods and commas occupy such a small space on the body, less space is needed after them than other words in the line.

Words ending with a letter having an ascender or descender on the right followed by a word beginning with a descender/ascender on the left should be separated by more space than other words in the line that begin and end with ‘low’ letters.

If the line is too long to hold the last word, space in to allow the word or a syllable to fit. Or consider editing the copy.

If a period at the end of a sentence is followed by a word beginning with a cap A, C, G, O, T, V, W or Y, usually a thin space will be sufficient between the final point and the left side of the cap.

The use of a sign or short form that can be substituted for a word probably will save enough space to allow justifying a long line. Examples: per cent (%), number (#), one-eighth (1/8), inches ("), etc.

In setting larger sizes of type, it may be possible to mortise certain characters and punctuation points to obtain a closer fit between certain pairs of characters. Mortising is the cutting away of certain areas of the type shoulder to enable two letters to be interlocked tightly to one another.

If all efforts fail to squeeze a line into the measure, a syllable or short word will have to be run over to the next line.

When possible, quads should be used to fill out lines at ends of paragraphs. Thin spaces, when required, should be put directly next to the closing period to discourage them from dropping off.

After all units in the line have been equally spaced, the line will be ready for justification.

This trial and error part of justification can be frustrating and time consuming. But as one gains experience and learns a few short cuts, the process will be speeded up and will be a real challenge.

In justifying lines it is imperative that equal amounts of space shall appear between each group of characters. Although the word spacing may be identical, when printed, they may appear irregular because of the built-in space on some letter bodies that was discussed earlier.

By combining various spaces the hand compositor will be able to justify any line of type easily. The following table lists 22 different thicknesses under one em, not including hair-spaces, possible by using combinations of the 3-, 4-, 5-to-em spaces and the en quad.

UNITS/Spaces UNITS/Spaces
12 / 5-to-em 42 / en & 5-to
15 / 1 4-to-em 44 / 3-to & 2 5s
20 / 1 3-to-em 45 / en & 4-to
24 / 2 5-to-em 47 / 3 & 4 & 5
27 / 4-to & 5-to 48 / 4 5-to
30 / en quad 50 / en & 3-to
32 / 3-to & 5-to 51 / 4-to & 3 5s
35 / 3-to & 4-to 52/ 2 3s & 1 4-to
36 / 3 5-to 55/ 2 3s &1 4-to
39 / 1 4-to & 2 5s 57 / en & 4 & 5
40 / 2 3-to ems 59/3 to & 4&2 5s

Only a limited amount of this range will be necessary in justifying text matter, but it will prove handy in spacing smaller sizes of type and justifying of short and centered lines which must be exactly spaced on either side.

If spacing in a line must be increased or reduced, substitute the new space by using it to push the old one forward in the line. Then the replacement can be put into place as the offending one is removed with the right hand.

The ability to accurately estimate the amount of space remaining at the end of a set line will assist greatly in justification.

If copy is typed line for line, it will greatly assist in estimating the right thickness of word spacing required, before the line is composed.

Next: Line Justification>>