Join Jill Butler for an in-depth discussion in this video 07 Set printed body text from 9 to 11 points, part of The 33 Laws of Typography.
- Law Seven, Set Printed Body Text at Nine to 11 Points. When you're creating a document that's meant to be read, you want to make sure that the text is legible, and legible text is simply text that is clear and easy to read. An important aspect of legibility is type size, so choosing the right type size is an important part of document design. First, let's talk about how type is measured, and we'll go over a few important terms that you may or may not be familiar with.
The x-Height of a typeface is the height of a lowercase x in that typeface. X-Heights are going to change from one typeface to another. You may have one typeface that has a really large x-Height and another typeface at the same size that has a smaller x-Height. The baseline is the imaginary line that letters sit on. It's sort of like the lines on a ruled sheet of paper. Ascenders are the parts of lowercase letters that extend above the x-Height as seen in the lowercase h or a lowercase b.
Descenders are the parts of lowercase letters that extend below the baseline. You can see some descenders here in this lowercase g, in this lowercase y. If you're dealing with print documents and presentation software, type is measured in points, and you'll hear designers talk about type on a page or in a document, and you'll hear them talk about 11-point type or 12-point type, 48-point type, and there are 72 points in one inch, so on a printed page, 36-point type would be half an inch tall.
The way type is measured is it's measured from the top of the ascenders to the bottom of the descenders in a typeface. Here we have some 36-point type, and here we have 36-point type, and you can see that one typeface set at 36 points can look really different from another typeface that's set at the same size, and this is because of the different x-Heights in these typefaces and also the different heights of the ascenders and descenders.
If you're a web designer, type size works a little differently. Users can actually change the size of the text on a webpage in their browser by changing their browser settings. Online type's also measured a little differently, and you can specify it in a few different ways. You can specify type sizes in absolute terms like this or you can use relative terms like this. It's important to properly size the body text in your documents because body text makes up the bulk of multipage documents.
It's the text that you're going to want people to be able to focus on and read. If body text isn't legible, then your document is not legible. In a print document, you want to size your body text at nine to 11 points for maximum legibility. Body text that is smaller than nine points can be difficult to read for long passages, and body text larger than 11 points often looks pretty large on the page, and it appears heavy and clumsy.
If you're creating a document that's going to be printed, it's really important that you print that document to review the type sizes. A lot of times text on the screen may look great, but when it's printed, I often find that it looks too big and needs to be made smaller. For websites, body copy is usually sized at 12 pixels to 16 pixels. Any specific needs that your audience may have would outweigh these conventions, so, for example, older and younger audiences usually benefit from larger-than-normal type sizes, so keep that in mind if you're designing for a specific audience.
Let's summarize. To make your documents as legible as possible, choosing the right type size is a really important decision. Type that's too large can look heavy on the page or on the screen, and type that's too small can be difficult and straining to read. When you're choosing type sizes, it's really important to review your documents in the environment in which it's going to be finally used. Print documents should be printed, and presentations should be projected on a wall. Websites should be coded up and reviewed in a web browser.
That's Law Seven, Set Printed Body Text at Nine to 11 Points.
- Maintaining a visual hierarchy
- Avoiding bad paragraph breaks and line-breaking hyphens
- Staying away from all caps and underlined text
- Using proper punctuation
- Choosing the right typeface