The Joy of

Handsetting Type

By Fred Williams, Publisher of Type & Press

Chapter six: Line Justification

According to most text books, the conventional method to justify type lines—that is to expand each line out to the full measure—is by adding or subtracting space within the line.

For example: if the line has been word spaced with 3-to-ems but isn't long enough to fill out the stick, the 3s will have to be replaced with, perhaps a 4-to and a 5-to-em. If this is still insufficient to fully space out the line, the 4s and 5s may have to replaced with ens.

Likewise, if the line is too long to fit, it will have to be spaced in and tested with 4s, 5s or thinner than 5s until the word or at least a syllable can be squeezed in.

With the wide variances in the set-widths of the different letters of the alphabet, one cannot often select the correct width of word spaces to use before setting the line. Possibly this could be done if the set of each character was fed into a computer. Then as each line was keyboarded, its total length could be ascertained. It's doubtful if typesetting would be speeded up when the extra time necessary for the keyboarding is added in.

While many hand-setters enjoy this ‘put and take’ operation, it can eat up a lot of time as well as becoming frustrating or boring to some. It's no wonder that this accepted method of justification can devour one-fifth of the time required for hand composition.

The secret of justifying lines quickly hinges on the ability to accurately estimate or measure the over or under set of a line and to break this figure down to the actual word spacing required to ‘tighten’ up the line.

This skill can be simplified, as previously mentioned, if the em is thought of as being 60 units in width. The en quad, only half the width of the em, will have 30 units. The 3-to, 4-to, 5-to and 6 to em spaces will therefore have unit values of 20, 15, 12 and 10.

While the remaining space at the line's end can be measured with a pica pole, it will be difficult to get an accurate reading in points. But with some practice, the eye can be trained to visually estimate the width of the gap at the end of the line in points quite accurately. Until the hand compositor becomes familiar with estimating space, an en or em quad can be used as a caliper at the end of the short line to obtain a point figure to compute just how much word spacing should be increased or decreased to spread the line out to the full measure.

Some type slingers compute the amount of space left at the end of the line by trial and error fitting of the same number of spaces of different thickness required in the line. For instance, if the line has six words in it and five 5 to-em spaces fit snugly in the remaining space, the comp can assume he has 60 units of space left in the line 5x12=60). A copper hair space or two, appropriately placed, will take up any slack remaining in the line.

For example: Say, after spacing out a six-word line using 3 to-ems, the comp finds he has a space gap at the end of the line similar to a square, an em, which will be computed at 60 units. By dividing 60 by 5 (the number of word spaces), he will get 12 units. Therefore, a 5-to-em space (12 units), when added between each word, should justify. For odd widths in between 10, 12, 15, and 20 units, various combinations of spaces can be used.

Space out so each word appears to be visually equally separated regardless of the actual width of the metal between words.

Another way is to set the line without word spaces, but remembering how many are needed. After as much of line is set as possible, pick up as many spaces as needed of a trial size, fitting them into the blank space at the end of the line until the proper thickness of spacers fills out the line. It is much quicker to try a number of spaces at the end gap than to try one between each word—by trial and error. If uncertain where to divide a word, check dictionary for correct syllabication. A syllable of one letter should never be separated from the rest of the word. In fine book composition, syllables of two or three letters are not normally separated. If possible, hyphens should not be used at the ends of three or more consecutive lines—except in narrow measure composition.

There is a tendency when the novice realizes that the 3-to word spacing he is using in a line, will be insufficient to fill out the line, he will finish it by word spacing with em quads. This will produce a broken-up, effect which will be displeasing and confusing to the reader.

The number of spaces between individual words should be held to as few as possible. For instance, instead of using two 4-to-em spaces between a word, use an en space. The novice and those who should know better, tend to over work the thin space box. A line with an exceptionally large number of thin spaces in it, will be apt to spring and cause the line to pi [spill] when it is transferred from the stick to a galley.

To test a line for justification, lean it slightly forward in the stick. If it remains snugly in position and does not fall—it is correctly spaced. If it has play, or shows evidence of falling—it should be tightened by adding a little additional space within the line until it holds firmly when tilted. Loose lines may get ‘off their feet,’ work up or be pulled out during the press run.

At its best, justification will be a compromise. While word spacing must be increased to expand line to full measure, it should not be excessive and create ‘cracks’ of white vertically in the column. Every last syllable of a word must be squeezed into the line but words should not be so close that the eye will have difficulty in recognizing them quickly.
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