TypeTalk: It's Fontariffic!

TypeTalk is a monthly question-and-answer column on typography. Send your question to typetalk@creativepro.com. If we publish it, you’ll receive one Official Creativepro.com T-Shirt!

Spacing of Periods
Q. I don’t like the awkward spaces that result when superscript characters or quotation marks are followed by a period. Do you kern the period to the left so it’s positioned under the quote marks or superscript?

A. Yes, those awkward spaces do look bad and can interrupt readability. To achieve a more professional look for any combinations that result in this kind of gap, kern the pair of characters to reduce the space. In the case of the superscript followed by the period, you might get a better result if you put the period before the superscript, then reduce the kerning.

How much to kern is a matter of taste and the font in question, but my preference is to have the two characters almost aligning (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Awkward spacing can result around a period next to certain characters, as shown in the top example, set in Linotype Memphis. You can improve spacing with custom kern pairs, as illustrated in the bottom example.

True Primes
Q. I’m a textbook designer who has been around long enough that some of my earliest books were set in hot metal. In your previous column the straight marks you referred to as primes aren’t really primes. True primes for inch and foot marks are slanted like an acute accent (for example, é).

A. I agree, the straight marks in most fonts aren’t primes from a historical point of view. They’re typewriter characters that were used as both quotes and primes.

Unfortunately, when typewriters transitioned to computers, most typefaces maintained the straight typewriter quotes instead of offering the angled ones, which is why most fonts don’t have correctly angled primes (Figure 2).

Figure 2. The difference between typewriter quotes (upper left), which are often used as primes, and true primes (upper right) are obvious in this example set in Adobe’s Arno Pro, one of the few typefaces that has true primes. The typographically correct smart quotes are on the second line of the figure.

I refer to straight typewriter quotes as primes because that’s what most designers are familiar with, and because most fonts don’t have true primes. But strictly speaking, you are absolutely correct.

Several symbol and Pi fonts, as well as some of the newer OpenType fonts, do have true primes in addition to smart quotes and old-fashioned typewriter quotes. Those typefaces include Adobe’s Universal News & Commercial Pi, Symbol, Linotype European Pi, Bigelow & Holmes’ Lucida Math, Linotype Mathematical Pi, and Linotype Universal Greek with Math Pi, as well as Adobe’s Arno Pro and Hypatia Sans Pro.

You can find true primes in OpenType fonts by searching for their Unicode IDs (U+2032 and U+2033) via the glyph palette, as well as in the OS X Character Palette and the Windows Character Map.

Word Spacing in Text
Q. Is there a way to adjust the word spacing for a block of text that is set flush left, rag right? The word spacing looks too open for one font I use, but OK for other typefaces in the document.

A. As you’ve already noticed, the built-in, predetermined word spacing varies from font to font. In addition, the word spacing’s appearance varies depending on the point size of the setting. The spacing should not be so little that the words start to run into each other, and not so much that your eye has trouble reading groups of words because it’s interrupted by large white blocks (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Word spacing that is too tight (upper left) or too open (upper right) can reduce readability. The bottom example shows appropriate word spacing for best readability and good color and texture. Set in House Industries Neutraface.

While the font manufacturer sets this value as a fixed value, you can modify it in most design software (Figure 4).

Figure 4. You can manually adjust word spacing in InDesign and QuarkXpress.

Adobe InDesign
To change the default or create new word spacing settings:
1. Select the text.
2. Open the Paragraph panel (Window > Type & Tables).
3. Select Justification from the panel’s flyout menu.
4. Enter a new value in the Word Spacing Desired field that is a percentage of the normal, built-in, value of the selected font.

To change the default or create new word spacing settings:
1. Open the Hyphenation & Justification dialog box (Edit > H&Js).
2. Select Standard and click the Edit button to change the default, or click on New to create a custom setting.
3. The Edit Hyphenation & Justification dialog box will appear. In the Justification method section, enter the desired value in the Opt. Space field. The value will be a percentage of the normal, built-in, value of the selected font.
4. Name the setting if it’s new.

To access settings:
1. Highlight text.
2. Go to Style > Formats to open the Paragraph Attributes dialog box
3. Select a setting from the H&J pull-down menu.

Free Fonts: Boon or Bust?
Q. I occasionally download and use free fonts I find on the Internet, but my boss doesn’t approve. Can you shed some light on this?

A. Many fonts aren’t cheap, which is why downloading free fonts can be so appealing. The problem is that you often get what you pay for.

Professional type designers usually sell their fonts on their own Web sites, or license the fonts to resellers and distributors. But because font development software is affordable and readily available, anyone with the time and inclination can design and produce a font.

Many free fonts on the Internet are legitimate, original designs created by hobbyists and novice type designers. While they have only the best of intentions, learning how to design and produce a high-quality font takes time and experience. To the seasoned professional, these free fonts can be lacking in concept, consistency, execution, and spacing.

Other so-called free fonts are pirated fonts; that is, fonts that have been copied with only the name and possibly a few characters or digital points changed. Not only is this often illegal (depending on what has been changed and the country of origin), but it is unethical. Pirated fonts rob those who designed, produced, and marketed the original font.

The safest free fonts are from reputable type foundries and distributors (a few of which are listed below) who sometimes give away fonts when you sign up on the site or buy a font. These are generally professional-quality fonts that you would otherwise have to pay for. To find these, sign up on as many font foundries’ and distributors’ Web sites as possible and visit the sites on a regular basis (monthly is best). You’ll be sure to get some great treasures.

The Font Bureau
House Industries
Phil’s Fonts

Love type? Want to know more? Ilene Strizver conducts her acclaimed Gourmet Typography workshops internationally. For more information on attending one or bringing it to your company, organization, or school, go to her site, call The Type Studio at 203-227-5929, or email Ilene at info@thetypestudio.com. Sign up for her e-newsletter at www.thetypestudio.com.

Posted on: February 22, 2008

Ilene Strizver

Ilene Strizver, founder of The Type Studio, is a typographic consultant, designer, writer and educator specializing in all aspects of visual communication, from the aesthetic to the technical. Her book, Type Rules! The designer’s guide to professional typography, 4th edition, has received numerous accolades from the type and design community. She conducts her widely acclaimed Gourmet Typography Workshops internationally. For more information on attending one or bringing it to your company, organization, or school, go to her site, call The Type Studio at 203-227-5929, or email Ilene at info@thetypestudio.com. Sign up for her free e‑newsletter, All Things Typographic, at www.thetypestudio.com.

4 Comments on TypeTalk: It's Fontariffic!

  1. anyone know the I’m using Windows, Indesgn CS3. The following are pretty common:
    Alt+0169 is (c)
    Alt+0153 is (TM)
    Alt+0174 is (R)

    BUT…what the he*** is (P) ????
    Thanks, Eric

  2. Hi Eric,

    Many more people will see your question if you start a new thread in the Fonts and Typesetting forum :

    Terri Stone
    Editor in Chief, CreativePro.com

  3. In most fonts, “real” quotation marks have open quotes heavy on the bottom and close quotes heavy on the top.

  4. Many fonts on the Mac offer true primes using the following keyboard combinations.

    shift + option + g = inch marks ˝
    shift + option + e = foot mark ´

    I got this somewhere a long time ago. A very long time ago.

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