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Determining column width

From: InDesign Typography

Video: Determining column width

Now, I know we're in the middle of a chapter talking about alignment. I just want to take a little time out and talk about our column measure. How many characters we get on each of the lines in our column, and how do we determine how many characters is enough? Well firstly, I must say that it's going to vary according to the type of document that you're working in. A newspaper is going to require a different number--fewer most likely--than a work of literature would require. So, common sense should be a big factor here.

Determining column width

Now, I know we're in the middle of a chapter talking about alignment. I just want to take a little time out and talk about our column measure. How many characters we get on each of the lines in our column, and how do we determine how many characters is enough? Well firstly, I must say that it's going to vary according to the type of document that you're working in. A newspaper is going to require a different number--fewer most likely--than a work of literature would require. So, common sense should be a big factor here.

But we often have to work with less than optimal conditions. And the less than optimal condition here is that I'm working with the page size, and margins, and number of columns that are predetermined. These are big design decisions that have been made by somebody else. So, I need to figure out how many characters I can get for each line of my three columns and have the text be readable. So, to do that, I'm going to switch to my Type tool and create a single column of text which I will fill with placeholder text.

Incidentally, if you hold down your Command key or your Ctrl key when you do this in InDesign CS6 or above, you can choose the alphabet that you want to use for the Placeholder Text. I'm going to fill it with Roman text, and let's just see how that looks. So, this is our starting point and our starting point is the default font, Minion Pro Regular, 12 point, Auto Leading. And this is not going to give us enough characters per line, 12 points is too big for continuous reading in print, different rules apply on screen.

But in print, it's going to look big and clunky and rather inelegant. The Leading value is off as well. These are things that all relate to each other. Everything relates to everything else, and that's a point I can't make enough, so I'll be making that point repeatedly throughout this course, and that's certainly the case here when setting your Column Measure. Okay. So, how many characters do I have on the line? And we can use the Info panel to tell me this. If I come and choose my Info panel, part of my saved workspace, we can see that this line has 34 characters, and I just need to get a sort of average take on how many characters I have per line. Obviously, it's going to vary.

But we're seeing it's generally in the low to mid 30s. How many is enough? Well, different people have different standards and different standards apply to different types of document. One standard is take your Point Size, multiply it by 2 in Picas, and that gives you your optimum column width. So, let's see, my Type Size is 12 points, which means that my column width would need to be 24 picas, almost double what it currently is.

So, let's see what happens when I do that. If I come to the Width and type in 24, and that may be completely appropriate if we're designing a journal or if we are doing the layout of a novel. But we don't have the luxury of having so many characters per line in the kind of document that I am preparing here. So, that's not going to work. I'm just going to back up a bit. Another standard and one that's a bit more flexible is that we need to try and have two alphabets per line, 52 characters.

Obviously, we're still coming in way below that. So my own personal standard for a document such as this where we have narrow columns is that if we aim for somewhere between about 35 to 40 characters per line, then I think we're going to be in good shape. So long as we pay particular attention to all the other aspects that go into formatting the type, are we going to use hyphenation, what kind of alignment are we using, are we using indentations and paragraph spacing to clearly break up the chunks of information? So, I'm going to now come and select this type, and I'm going to change its size to 10 points, and I'm going to specify its Leading as being a fixed amount rather than an auto amount.

Now, let's go and revisit our Info panel, and we can see that we have somewhere between about high 30s to low 40s per line, and I think so long as we keep our text left aligned in this context, because I think if we were to try and justify the text, given a narrow column, we would likely incur ugly spaces between the words. But if we're working with left-aligned text, I think the column measure that we have here is going to work very well.

So, those are some considerations for how to determine the width of your column.

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This video is part of

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InDesign Typography

125 video lessons · 22050 viewers

Nigel French
Author

 
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  1. 4m 4s
    1. Welcome
      55s
    2. Using the exercise files
      51s
    3. Customizing the workspace for type
      2m 18s
  2. 9m 25s
    1. What is Typekit? (CC 2014.1) NEW
      1m 56s
    2. Choosing and syncing fonts (CC 2014.1) NEW
      3m 6s
    3. Syncing problems (CC 2014.1) NEW
      1m 43s
    4. Typekit resources (CC 2014.1) NEW
      1m 5s
    5. Using the Font menu (CC 2014.1) NEW
      1m 35s
  3. 55m 41s
    1. Working with text frames
      8m 26s
    2. Using a primary text frame (CS6 and later)
      3m 59s
    3. Understanding text flow methods
      6m 25s
    4. Understanding text threads
      3m 40s
    5. Understanding Smart Text Reflow
      2m 27s
    6. Mocking up pages with placeholder text
      5m 47s
    7. Placing multiple text files
      3m 50s
    8. Using Auto-Size text frames (CS6 and later)
      4m 1s
    9. Copying and pasting vs. placing
      2m 25s
    10. Cleaning up text with Find/Change
      5m 46s
    11. Using the Story Editor
      3m 41s
    12. Spanning columns
      5m 14s
  4. 48m 34s
    1. Choosing your type
      6m 46s
    2. Understanding text essentials
      6m 37s
    3. Scaling type
      2m 27s
    4. Using italic and oblique type
      4m 33s
    5. Working with condensed and extended type
      4m 26s
    6. Setting type in all caps
      3m 46s
    7. Setting type in small caps
      4m 21s
    8. Underlining type
      4m 11s
    9. Using superscript and subscript
      4m 35s
    10. Applying baseline shift
      4m 8s
    11. Combining typefaces (CC 2014.1) NEW
      2m 44s
  5. 16m 6s
    1. Understanding type anatomy
      3m 25s
    2. Exploring serif and sans serif
      2m 48s
    3. Comparing points, picas, and ems
      8m 34s
    4. What's in a name?
      1m 19s
  6. 16m 27s
    1. Setting leading
      4m 56s
    2. Avoiding auto-leading
      4m 12s
    3. Leading shortcuts and preferences
      4m 7s
    4. Using autoleading with inline graphics
      3m 12s
  7. 21m 25s
    1. Defining kerning and tracking
      2m 5s
    2. Understanding kerning methods
      5m 10s
    3. When and how to kern
      5m 53s
    4. When and how to track
      8m 17s
  8. 48m 42s
    1. Working with quotes, primes, and apostrophes
      8m 16s
    2. Using dashes
      5m 24s
    3. Using ellipses
      2m 56s
    4. Working with accents and special characters
      4m 1s
    5. Using space characters
      4m 15s
    6. Working with ligatures
      4m 29s
    7. Setting fractions
      3m 56s
    8. Using lining and proportional numerals
      2m 49s
    9. Using alternates, swashes, and ornaments
      5m 2s
    10. Working with optical sizes
      4m 40s
    11. Stylistic sets (CC 2014.1) NEW
      2m 54s
  9. 57m 20s
    1. Understanding alignment
      3m 47s
    2. Working with left-aligned type
      3m 24s
    3. Working with justified type
      7m 5s
    4. Using Optical Margin Alignment
      3m 39s
    5. Determining column width
      4m 53s
    6. Working with center alignment
      5m 36s
    7. Working with right alignment
      1m 22s
    8. Aligning to or away from the spine
      1m 50s
    9. Understanding the Paragraph Composer and Single-line Composer
      3m 44s
    10. Combining alignments
      9m 20s
    11. Using hanging punctuation
      2m 13s
    12. Working with vertical alignment
      10m 27s
  10. 14m 9s
    1. Using first-line indents
      2m 26s
    2. Using indent alternatives
      2m 3s
    3. Working with left and right indents
      4m 0s
    4. Using last-line indents and outdents
      1m 26s
    5. Using paragraph spacing
      4m 14s
  11. 23m 19s
    1. Setting hyphenation
      6m 14s
    2. Working with line breaks and discretionary hyphens
      4m 48s
    3. Balancing ragged lines
      1m 36s
    4. Using the No Break feature and non-breaking characters
      2m 52s
    5. Using frame, column, and page breaks
      3m 42s
    6. Defining Keep Options
      4m 7s
  12. 37m 53s
    1. Understanding tabs
      8m 58s
    2. Considerations for table text
      3m 55s
    3. Table tips and tricks
      11m 55s
    4. Creating a bulleted list
      6m 50s
    5. Creating a numbered list
      3m 46s
    6. Creating a multi-level numbered list
      2m 29s
  13. 23m 12s
    1. Understanding drop caps
      11m 3s
    2. Navigating tricky drop caps
      5m 14s
    3. Using a nested character style with a drop cap
      3m 59s
    4. Other uses of drop caps
      2m 56s
  14. 1h 11m
    1. Understanding paragraph and character styles
      7m 13s
    2. Creating, applying, and editing styles
      7m 3s
    3. Removing overrides
      4m 58s
    4. Creating and applying character styles
      5m 4s
    5. Creating and applying nested styles
      12m 30s
    6. Using GREP styles (regular expressions)
      4m 8s
    7. Creating and applying sequential styles
      6m 19s
    8. Using paragraph rules creatively
      11m 48s
    9. Mapping Word styles
      6m 12s
    10. Working with anchored objects and object styles
      6m 24s
  15. 25m 30s
    1. Applying a text wrap
      6m 7s
    2. Making items ignore a text wrap
      1m 46s
    3. Using text wraps for flexible layouts
      3m 2s
    4. Working with difficult text wraps
      8m 39s
    5. Inverting text wraps
      2m 7s
    6. Setting text wrap preferences
      3m 49s
  16. 29m 33s
    1. Choosing a page size and setting margins
      6m 33s
    2. Setting up columns
      2m 53s
    3. Dividing a page into rows
      3m 27s
    4. Setting up a baseline grid
      5m 40s
    5. Handling baseline grid problems
      3m 37s
    6. Baseline grid tricks
      7m 23s
  17. 44m 26s
    1. Working with type outlines (CC 2014.1) NEW
      6m 50s
    2. Creating an interlocking effect (CC 2014.1) NEW
      3m 31s
    3. Fusing letterforms (CC 2014.1) NEW
      7m 15s
    4. Type and gradients (CC 2014.1) NEW
      4m 57s
    5. Type and transparency (CC 2014.1) NEW
      1m 50s
    6. Type on a path: Circles (CC 2014.1) NEW
      4m 48s
    7. Type on a path: Calligram (CC 2014.1) NEW
      6m 16s
    8. Vertical type (CC 2014.1) NEW
      2m 58s
    9. Type and image: Gradient (CC 2014.1) NEW
      1m 38s
    10. Type and image: "See-through" type (CC 2014.1) NEW
      1m 8s
    11. Type and image: "Disappearing" type (CC 2014.1) NEW
      3m 15s
  18. 12m 19s
    1. Looking at screen documents
      4m 2s
    2. Setting size, leading, and line length onscreen
      3m 13s
    3. Exploring typefaces designed for the screen
      3m 36s
    4. Accessibility: Contrast and color
      1m 28s
  19. 28s
    1. Goodbye
      28s

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