Word spacing is one of those typographic details that is taken for granted. That is, most people think that the default word spacing of any given font is fine due to the fact that it was determined by the type designer. But this is not always the case. Whether for text or display settings, there are some instances where the word spacing could be improved with some manual intervention.
Word Spacing for Text Type
The word spacing for text settings is important because it affects readability. Appropriate text word spacing should not be so small that the words start to run into each other; nor should it be so large that the text is sprinkled with oversized spaces between words which can be distracting (even if this is unconscious) and interrupt the rhythm of reading. A good rule of thumb for word spacing in text is that it should approximate the width of the lowercase n or o of each particular font. This is a good benchmark due to the fact that word spacing should be in proportion to the overall width of any given type design. Therefore, the word spacing of a narrow or condensed typeface should be narrower and in proportion the overall type design. Conversely, it should be wider for expanded designs.
While it is true that word spacing of a typeface is a predetermined value for each font (and differs from font to font), it can be modified from within most design software. Why would you need to do this? Some commercial fonts have too much word spacing, which can lead to visual hesitations that can reduce readability. When this is the case, the spacing can be improved by setting the word space to around 80 to 85 percent, or whatever value improves the overall color, texture and readability. NOTE: There is never a need for double spaces between sentences when setting type on your computer, as was done in typewriter days. In fact, it is a serious type crime in professional typography.
Adjusting Word Spacing in InDesign
The ability to change the word spacing of any selected text is a somewhat “hidden” yet useful feature of most design software. Although this is done via the so-named Justification settings, it can be used to adjust the word spacing of text with any alignment. Here’s how it is done in InDesign:
- With your cursor in the text you want to change, select Justification from the panel menu of the Paragraph or Control panel. Or press Command+Shift+Option+J (Mac) or Ctrl+Shift+Alt+J (Windows).
- Enter a value in the Word Spacing row in the middle field labeled “Desired.” The value will be a percentage of the normal, or built-in, value of the selected font. The Desired value must be between the Minimum and Maximum values, so adjust these as necessary even though it will have no effect on non-justified text.
You can also edit the Justification options in a paragraph style so you have consistent word spacing everywhere that style is used.
Bonus tip: Whenever you edit word spacing, be sure to select the Preview checkbox, so you can see the effects of what you’re doing immediately, and save yourself repeated trips back to the dialog box to tweak the values.
Word Spacing for Headline Type
As type gets larger, the space between words optically appears more open. Therefore, the word spacing for display type should be slightly less than what you’d use for text. This is especially true when using a typeface intended for text settings but used for larger sizes. In addition, the word spacing for headlines and other large settings frequently looks uneven due to the differing shapes of the characters surrounding the space.
The most precise way to adjust the word spacing in display type is to use the kerning feature. (Yes, you can kern a space to a character and vice versa!) This way you can customize each space depending on the characters surrounding it.
For InDesign users, there are keyboard shortcuts to adjust local word spacing quickly and easily:
- Select the text or headline you want to adjust.
- Press Command+Option+Delete (Mac), Ctrl+Alt+Backspace (Windows) to decrease word spacing by 20/1000 of an em.
- Press Ctrl+Command+Option+\ (Mac), Ctrl+Alt+\ (Windows) to increase word spacing by 20/1000 of an em.
- Add the Shift key to these shortcuts to increase/decrease word spacing by 5x more (100/1000 of an em).
Note that these shortcuts change all the word spacing of selected text evenly, so for best results you might still need to go back and fine-tune your display type with a little kerning.Tags