Join John McWade for an in-depth discussion in this video Tighten up, part of Learning to Set Display Type.
- There are many ways to set display type, depending on the typeface and the context, but here's a rule, display type is usually big, generally speaking, big type should be set more tightly than small type. Let me show you why. We're looking at a standard column of text, 10 points on 13 1/2 point spacing, Adobe Caslon, classic face, very easy to read. Most type is designed for this size, with enough space between each character that the letters don't run together. But watch, as type gets bigger, the spaces get bigger, too.
But at this size every character is clear and we no longer need that space, so we want to remove the excess, line spacing, letter spacing, word spacing. If your type is really big it needs to be tightened even more. The word Boston here is poster-sized but spaced for text, so just tighten it up. This is a basic rule of display type. The exception is if your big type will be seen from a long distance, like a billboard, in which case it actually looks small, so you need to space it small.
The other thing, when type gets big you see more than just the letters, you see edges and nooks and lines and ridges and hollows, there's all kinds of cool stuff going on, and letters up close interact in ways that they don't when they're loose so what's happening between letters becomes important. Here's another rule, always set display type letter by letter, don't just type it. Let me give you two examples, we have an upcoming exhibition called Art In The Hills, for which we need a poster.
This typeface is Avant Garde Gothic Pro, all caps, just typed. This is text spacing, which is what you get, but when it's big like this it just sprawls, there's no artistry here, there's no beauty, nothing. I'm going to work first with the two key words which are Art and Hills. First step is what? Tighten it up like so. Now here's an interaction I want you to see, pay attention to the letter spacing, note that I've made the spaces between the H, I, L wider than the space between the L's, which is wider than the space between the L-S, which has no space at all.
Why is that? It's because of how this combination of letters interact, between the H-I-L, although the gaps are wider, the spaces are narrower than the space between the L's, which is narrower than the space between the L-S, so the variable letter spacing is an effort to even out some of that difference. The word Art doesn't have this issue, the spaces between the letters are basically the same, so this is the correct spacing for these two words. Now, I want to modify this, Avant Garde Gothic Pro has a lot of alternate characters and ligatures that are pretty interesting, so let's first swap out the A for one with a vertical right edge and then we'll swap the L's for a double L ligature.
Looks a little funky and now our spacing is off again. So here's how to fix it. The double L is a fixed ligature, meaning the space is locked in, so what I want to do now is narrow the other spaces to match it like this, which now looks like this. Next step is to tighten the word Art the same way, like this, and now what you're seeing is kind of interesting, there's some artistic rhythm to it, the adjacent verticals are all spaced exactly alike and very tight, and then the R,T, the H and the L,S are open counterpoints.
The horizontal space in those L's matches the verticals, so let's use that for line spacing and stack our words like this. And this is getting really artistic, look at where we started. This is fun and it's unique to display type, it's big, it's going to make an impression, we're building it letter by letter, we're paying attention to every unique interaction, and when I say unique it really is one-of-a-kind, different words, different typefaces, different arrangements and the interactions will be different.
Let's add the other words back in, these are exactly half size and spaced like the big words. Check out that T-H ligature where our H forms part of the T. Cool glyph, that's another one of the Avant Garde Gothic Pro set. And we're pretty much done. Two more things to do, want to first add dates and I'm going to do it like this, same typeface, out on that periphery, spacing's the same and you can probably see where I've aligned this with the verticals in Hill.
If one of these dates were a single digit we couldn't align it this way, we'd have to try something like this. Every setting is unique. One more thing, glyphs are easy to overuse, look at the dates, the tilted M, the tilted A's. This is pointless, special characters are special, use them sparingly, sometimes one is all it takes and only when they add to the artistry. Last step is to add color, there are a million ways to do this, what I've done here is pasted a photograph of our hills into the type.
Similarly, we could also paste a watercolor from a painting into the type. Let me show you another example in a curvy typeface. Turnip Hill I've set in a face called Hoban, it too has a lot of decorative glyphs, here I've just typed it, this is the default spacing. First step, you know what it is, tighten the setting. Hoban is a pretty face but you probably didn't notice that until the letters got close so they can flow from one to the next. Here's the setting so far.
Note the collision between the T and the U, that's not pretty and it would be hard to solve except that we have a beautiful glyph to use which looks like this and as soon as that curling arm comes up we can tuck the U right in there. Let's swap in some more glyphs, these are all unique to this typeface. First, the N, really pretty swash but you can see that it touches the P, I don't want that, they're different form factors, that curve in the straight. It can be solved with a P glyph, that's a small cap, an uppercase character at the height of the lowercase letters, then an I, very pretty, the swash counterbalances the N swash, a cap H, also very pretty and the other I.
And those are our letters. You can see a big gap on the right, this is essentially a rectangle, which is a foreign form and doesn't belong with all these curves. We can get rid of that by pushing Hill to the right, but now we have a collision with the N. The other my I isn't happy with is the R in Turnip, a white gap between the arm feels weak compared to tight fit of the other letters. I can tell both these problems with one move, I'm going to swap out the R for a small cap, which fills the space, I love the leg.
It also moves the N away from the L. And we're done, it's a beautiful setting. In real life it took a little longer than this, but not a lot. The setting looks especially good in black and white, I think because of its high contrasts, but we can add color to it as we did before by pasting an image inside, which keeps the dark color but gives us a bit of radiance. By radiance I mean there's some dark and light in there, it's not flat as it would be if you just filled it with a color. Radiant is more lifelike.
Lighter colors are pretty, too, but we lose some of that nice, sharp contrast. You can also put it against a color background, like you might see on a book cover. Those, for the most part, are your coloring options, every job you do will be some variation, black, white, flat color, radiant color or on a color. You may find another option, I'll avoid putting a pattern inside a typeface which generally just makes a mess.
Join John McWade as he explains how to design in a variety of styles and voices using display type, which is type that's set at headline size and above. He discusses type families that include strikingly expressive characters, shows how to combine typefaces, shares how to avoid common design flaws, and takes you through working with type in photos. This art form is applicable to print advertising, brochures, magazines, posters, fliers, slide decks, and much more.
- What is display type?
- Form vs. function
- Setting display type
- Combining typefaces
- Tightening or loosening a setting
- Using display type with images
- Avoiding common mistakes
- Typographic voice