Monday, 14 January 2013

(Automatic) leading you astray

It’s been a long timeI have been quite busy! Things to do, kids to raise, games to play. I have also spent some time brushing up on a few areas of InDesign and passing my CS6 ACE recertification. First and foremost I highly recommend this book if you are interested in scripting. It is a brilliant introduction to Javascript within InDesign and will have you coding very useful things in no time at all. Secondly, the previous long form posts require a fair bit of work and commitment. I will try to keep them coming, just not quite so often. With that said, this did start off as a quick paragraph about Auto Leading

An intensely brief history lesson

For the purposes of printing, type used to be cast in blocks. One block per character. This is known as movable type. These blocks were then placed in racks to form words, sentences and lines of text ready for printing. Strips of lead would then be added in between these lines to add spacing and improve legibility. I did say it was brief!

The vertical space between the baselines of two lines of text is still called leading. In fact, a lot of the terms used in typography have their feet firmly planted in the past. Leading values can be expressed in a few ways. The most common is font size/leading amount. For example, if I were to write 12/13, I have 12 point type with a 13 point leading. Type with a leading value the same as the point size of the text (e.g. 12/12) is known as being set solid, in other words there is no lead separating the lines. When increasing the leading it is customary to say, for example, +1 lead. So our 12/13 could also be also be expressed as 12 point type with a +1 leading.

There are loads of resources and websites devoted to type and it is well worth a quick trip down the rabbit hole to the wonderful world of typography. A couple of good places to start: this website; Thinking With Type and Nigel French's book Professional Typography With Adobe InDesign.

The time is now!

These days each character within a typeface is still held within a block, of sorts. You can’t see it though unless you are looking at the character through a Font Editor. The font should also have within it’s code some information which details the ideal horizontal gap between common or particular character pairings. This is known as kerning. The type of kerning mentioned above is called Metrics kerning. An alternative to Metrics is to let InDesign decide it's own custom kerning based on the shapes of the character pairs, this is called Optical kerning. If neither of these options suit your needs then you can change the value manually. You do this by clicking between two characters. You don’t select anything, the cursor just needs to be actively blipping away between a pair. You can then choose one of the preset values available in the drop down menu, type your own numbers or use the arrow buttons to increase or decrease the amount. The higher the number the further apart the letters will be.When adjusting the spacing across a line, paragraph or any multiple selection of characters you are adjusting the tracking. Unlike kerning, to change the tracking you do need to have an active selection. As above you can use a positive or negative amount, depending on what you are trying to achieve. But the main reason we are here is leading, and by default InDesign sets the leading amount to be 120% of the type's point size.

Why 120%? I don't know. I have searched and returned empty handed. Anyway, for most people in the know, Automatic Leading is a definite no go. Your leading value should be defined according to the nature of the type it is being applied to. There is no such thing as an Automatic Leading one-size-fits-all solution. An all caps header would probably want the leading set solid, if not a smaller point size than the font. Whilst body text may look OK with the automatic setting applied at 120%, it may also benefit from a little more line spacing. More importantly, type set at say, 11pts, will have a leading value of 13.2. And, if you are like me, that .2 will drive you crazy every time you see it. It's just so unnecessary!

Luckily Automatic Leading can be changed, and its something you will probably want to do! Personally I prefer my leading to be set solid by default, as for me, this is a much better starting point. Although you could set it to any percentage size you like, as long as it is between 0.0% and 500%. To do this we need to make a minor tweak to InDesign.

As usual, if you want this change to affect any future documents, you need to adjust the setting with nothing open. Otherwise any adjustments will only apply to the currently active document. Or the currently selected text frame. Or the paragraph of the selected text of the currently active document. So with that in mind, mouse over to the Control Panel menu, then choose Justification. The shortcut for this is command+option+shift+J (alt+ctrl+shift+J on windows).


The Justification dialog panel is an essential place for controlling how type appears on a page. Whilst we are here to change the Auto Leading value, it won’t hurt to know what everything else does.
  • Word Spacing: As you may have guessed, this relates to the amount of flexibility you allow InDesign to have when composing type. What you are saying is, ‘where possible, I want the desired amount. If you need to reduce the spacing between words, don’t go beyond the minimum. Likewise for increasing spacing, don’t go higher than the maximum figure.’ The desired amount should be left at 100% but the minimum and maximum numbers can be tweaked as required.
  • Character Spacing: Although similar in principle, this is a bit more of a touchy subject. Some people are completely against messing with it. The font designer would have designed the font with character spacing in mind. Although sometimes, if the job demands it, you have to alter it. The default values for this are 0%,0%,0%. The adjustments here should be minor, a small percentage amount each way. For example changing the values to -5%, 0%, 5%  allows InDesign to flex its spacing muscles without being too noticeable.
  • Glyph Sizing: A glyph is any character in a font and so, as the name suggests, these are the numbers to change to allow InDesign to scale the width of each one if required.
  • Auto Leading: This is what we came for. It does exactly what it says. Just change the value to 100%. Now your future documents will have solid set type. But there is more to this window so lets carry on!
  • Single Word Justification: One of the justification options for a paragraph is Justify All Lines. This will force justify the paragraph across the width of the text frame. The other justify selections will leave the last line either aligned left or centred. If you have a single word paragraph, by default it will keep that word justified left—even with Justify All Lines selected. This is where you can change that setting. The options available are Align Left, Align Right, Align Centre or Force Justify. This last choice will add space between each character to make the word justify across the available width. It can be pretty useful if you are looking for an easy way to get an effect like the one shown below.

  • Composer: The two options on offer here are Single Line or Paragraph Composer. The Single Line Composer will deal with spacing and composition, one line at a time. The Paragraph Composer looks at the whole paragraph, even as you add lines it will go back and re-fit previous lines to get the best composition.

As well as setting these values as the defaults or on a per document basis, you can also alter the Justification settings as part of a Paragraph Style.

Another handy thing to look at, when dealing with spacing, are the Composition Preferences. Here you toggle on or off highlighting for violations and other deviations in the text. The H&J option will highlight text that goes beyond your Justification values when you have justified a paragraph. The stronger the colour shown the further it is from the specified numbers.

And that’s it! Automatic Leading with a little bit of kerning and spacing thrown in for good measure. Typography is a great subject to look into—a little bit of knowledge can go a long way.

photo credit: SeanMcTex via photopin cc

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