The Joy of

Handsetting Type

By Fred Williams, Publisher of Type & Press

Chapter three: Deciding Margins & Measures

Prior to the actual assembling of any typographical materials for text typesetting, number of questions should be answered, such as: What type design and size of type will exactly capture the spirit and feeling of the author's manuscript? What style of type setting should be employed? What inter-word spacing would be ideal for the set (width) of the face? The correct answers to such questions will prevent the need for much resetting.

As mentioned previously, several different styles of typesetting are utilized today–centered, justified, flush right, flush left and ragged right and left.

CENTERED–Not recommended for straight matter except for headings, sub heads, etc. Identical amounts of spacing are put at each end of the type line.

FLUSH RIGHT–(Quad right, random left, ragged left, rag left all mean the same) may be used for a few lines in captions or ad typography but should be avoided for straight matter. This format discourages reading.

FLUSH LEFT–(Quad left, random right, ragged right, rag right or free setting) Some believe this is the fastest and easiest method of composing lines of individual type.

This style is often referred to as unjustified. Actually, in handsetting there is no such a thing. Unjustified means a line that won't ‘lift’ or will pi [spill]!

JUSTIFIED–This style of type composition should not be confused with the same term which is applied to the action of tightening type lines so they will be ‘firm’ in the stick.

Instead of all spacing being placed on the right end as in rag setting, spaces will be added or withdrawn from the elements of the line until each one is spaced out to the full measure.

Typographers cannot come to a common agreement as to which of the last two styles is most readable. Adherents of random right and full justified lines, both claim superiority of their particular style and present convincing claims in defense of their choice.

Raggedy enders proclaim type so composed, avoids varying spacing between words in lines, prevalent in justified setting and as reducing excessive hyphenation of words. Space may be decreased after commas and periods, as well as between certain letter shapes. Random setting is quite popular today and can be seen in advertising typography and poetry.

Purists and typographers of fine books reject these claims, maintaining that an even margin on both sides of the printed page has been the tradition from the earliest days of the Black Art. The scribes fully justified their lines for esthetic reasons and to get more words on a page. It also has been suggested that probably they surmised that God liked it better that way!

They further contend that rag right is the lazy man’s way to set type–a throw back to the inferior work of the typewriter. Justifying is the very soul of type setting, they believe. Any printer who can't take the time to justify lines–has no time for printing, is their contention.

Justifiers have long theorized that the increased use of ragged margins is not for reasons of legibility. They hint it is due to the inability of the computer or typists to make rational end of the line decisions.

Traditionalists add that ragged right composition is not more readable and takes almost as much time to assemble as that in which all lines are set to the full measure. They pooh pooh any claims of it becoming obsolete.

End of line punctuation may be missed by the reader in rag settings. But justified text, with a straight right hand margin and white space above a comma, period or hyphen, will alert the reader of its presence.

There is no doubt that random right setting appears unfinished and lacks the neatness of a block of type composition in which all lines are spaced out to the full measure. Random settings will occupy more space than the justified variety. Short measure columns placed next to each other and separated only by a narrow gutter, will be difficult to read when set ragged right.

And so the controversy rages. Undoubtedly ragged and fully justified typesetting will be with us for a long, long time.

Typographers are not in complete agreement as to the ideal measure to set lines to enable them to be easily assimilated. But they do agree that the size of the type has some relationship to the length of the line. Studies have shown that taking into consideration the size of type being set, the measure should be about one and one-half times the length of the lower case alphabet being used–or about 39 characters and spaces per line.

An important factor in legibility is that for any line of type there is a certain measure that will fit the eye comfortably, enabling it to jump back easily from the end of one line to the first of the next one below, with a minimum of effort. Text matter, 10 or 12 pt. solid, with approximately 50-65 letters to the line, allows the eye to negotiate this leap with ease. A longer line may cause the eye to become perplexed and lose its place, but leading [spacing between lines] will increase legibility.

Book typographers insist for their composition, the line length should be at least twice the length of the lower case alphabet or about 62 letters.

Another oft quoted rule is to double the size of the type–then add two to four picas if the type is leaded two points. Example: eight point type would be set to a measure of 16 if solid (no leading) and 18 to 20 picas if inter line spacing is introduced.
The most important senses required for rapid and accurate typesetting are the touch and eyesight. Common sense will also be beneficial. A competent hand comp should be able to memorize a line or more of copy at a time and should look at his copy before he has set the last two words memorized from the previous glance. This will prevent ‘doublets’ and ‘outs.’
Although some hobby printers may find it more comfortable to set type from a sitting position, with the case flat on a table, most experienced type stickers, when setting a large amount of text matter, prefer to stand and set from a slanted case. This makes the boxes more accessible and eliminates much of the fatigue from excessive reaching.
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