InType: Making Text Fit

Body: 

As a publication designer, I’m often handed projects where the client has provided more copy than will comfortably fit a particular page or layout. Most times, the fix is easy: I just ask the client to cut a few words, lines, or sentences and the problem is solved.

But sometimes trimming copy isn’t an option. For example, when you’re designing a print ad for a pharmaceutical client, government regulations stipulate that specific text (often a disclaimer) must be included at no less than a given point size. Likewise, you can’t edit text when you’re preparing a new version of an ad at a smaller page size than the original, or when repurposing a multi-page document into a single-page document.

So what’s a designer to do? To help understand the options, I’ve made a list of eleven possible ways to solve the too-much-text problem:

• Reduce font size

• Choose a more condensed font

• Tighten tracking

• Tighten word-spacing

• Enable glyph scaling

• Scale down graphics and images

• Run captions over graphics/images instead of below or to the side

• Adjust text alignment

• Adjust hyphenation (if possible)

• Tighten leading

• Change paragraph indents

These are not in any particular order! From a design perspective, some of these fixes are more preferable than others. Some fixes can be combined with others. As a designer, it’s ultimately up to you to figure out the best way (or shall I say, the least offensive way) to maximize your text count with a minimum of visual damage.

Figure 1 shows a full-page ad (8 1/2 x 11 inches) for a tourist bureau in Bend, Oregon. The company would like to run this ad as a half-page horizontal ad in a major magazine. The specs are 7 1/4 x 4 1/2 inches. Figure 2 shows a picture of the space.

Figure 1: A full-page ad that must be reduced to a half-page ad.

Figure 2: Placeholder for a half-page ad

As you can see, the new ad is about half the height of original. Let’s see what happens now when we try to resize the content to fit (Figure 3).

Figure 3: A first attempt at fitting the ad into a smaller space

Although I’ve resized the ad’s “What’s Just Around the Bend!” tagline to better fit the space, the essential body copy (set in BentonSans Light, 6/7.9 pt) is 57 words too long. (Tip: you can click in any story with the Type tool and the Info panel will tell you how many words are overset.) Even if the copy were to fit, 6 points is too small to comfortably read in a magazine. Setting the type even smaller is therefore not an option. Unfortunately, shortening the copy by 57 words is also not acceptable to the client.

In Figure 4, I extended the text frame upwards into the “top margin”—​the white space to the right of DISCOVER!. The text copy is still overset by nine words, but this problem could be easily solved in a number of ways. On the downside, the client and I both feel that the ad needs the white space in the upper right corner. Plus, let’s not forget that the type is still painfully small at 6 points.

Figure 4: Extending the text frame reduces the amount of overset text. Unfortunately, it also eliminates most of the white space in the ad.

So at this point, the first thing to determine is an acceptable size for the body copy. Setting aside the issue of copyfitting for now, I’ve decided that the text needs to be set at a minimum of 8 points to be readable. Figure 5 shows how the body copy looks at 8/9.6 points.

Figure 5: Increasing the point size makes the text more readable.

At this point, our list of options begins to shrink:

• Reduce font size

• Choose a more condensed font

• Tighten tracking

• Tighten word-spacing

• Enable glyph scaling

• Scale down graphics and images

• Run the body copy over graphics/images instead of below or to the side

• Adjust text alignment

• Adjust hyphenation if possible

• Tighten leading

• Change paragraph indents

Choosing a more condensed font might be an option with some fonts. Yet BentonSans, our body font, doesn’t include a condensed style. It does have a Thin style, but employing it here doesn’t help (Figure 6).

Figure 6: Changing the body font to a Thin style doesn’t solve the overset text problem.

Your next thought might be to choose a new typeface. Unfortunately, this isn’t an option. Brand consistency is paramount in advertising, so changing typefaces is out of the question.

Another approach is to scale the type horizontally across its width. Solving the problem this way is anathema to me, since it distorts the design of the typeface. But even a type purist like me might consider such an option if I thought a little belt-tightening would work. Desperate times call for desperate measures. I’ll let you be the judge (Figure 7).

Figure 7: Reducing the width of the glyphs solves the overset problem, but distorts the design of the typeface.

The best I can say is that the type now fits. But at 57% its original width, the result isn’t pretty. Okay, so how about tracking the text tighter, you might ask? Let’s give that a try (Figure 8).

Figure 8: Tracking enough to make the copy fit also makes it unreadable.

Ouch! In this version I had to track the text to –194 to make it fit. Of course it’s unreadable, so tracking alone is not an option. At this point, it’s apparent that I’m going to have to use a combination of tactics to make my type fit.

Have a look at Figure 9. I’ve taken some drastic measures, and I still have a couple of words to fit. First, I’ve reduced the text size from 8 to 7 points. I’m not happy about this, but I’m running out of options. Along with making the type a point smaller, I’ve tightened its leading to 7.9 points from 8.4, the default 120% auto-leading for this size type. I also applied a tracking value of –20, which seems acceptable to my eye. To save more space, I removed the extra space after each paragraph following the first paragraph. For now, I used a bullet to indicate paragraphs, but these could be replaced with some kind of dingbat or small graphic. I also enabled hyphenation, which helps a little. Finally, I made the black Oregon silhouette graphic slightly smaller. We’re getting closer!

Figure 9: Combining several methods nearly achieves the goal of fitting all the copy and keeping it readable.

Now it was time to bring out the big guns: justification. I rarely touch these controls, but this project warranted it. Tightening the Desired value for Word Spacing from 100% to 90% helped, but Glyph Scaling was the magic bullet. See how things changed in Figure 10.

Figure 10: Changing the Justification settings made the text fit the given area.

With the overset text problem solved, we have a chance to reclaim some of the air we took out previously. To pick up a little more space, I did the following: a) widened the column just a touch; b) changed the column’s alignment from Flush Left to Justify with Last Line Aligned Left; and c) reduced the amount of Text Wrap around the Oregon graphic. Each of these steps contributed to a net savings of about 2 1/2 lines. This savings allowed me to loosen up the column’s leading from 8.75 to 9.25 points. Figure 11 shows the end result.

Figure 11: The final half-page ad

Closing Thoughts

Most of these typesetting gymnastics could have been avoided if we’d been allowed to do a little bit of copyediting. Eliminating a few words here or there can make a tough copyfitting job much easier. But copyediting isn’t always a possibility. When it’s not, you need to think creatively, and often use multiple tools to fit more type without compromising your design.

***

Scott Citron is the award-winning creative director of Scott Citron Design. Based in New York City, Scott specializes in publication and corporate identity systems for print and screen. In 2013 he and fellow NY IDUG co-chapter rep Bob Levine formed Tabulous.net, a company focused on providing design and production services to publishers moving InDesign content to the iPad and other mobile devices.

 

Liked This? Read These!

Have you fantasized about becoming a 3D artist but were discouraged by the steep learning curve and costs? Read More
TypeTalk is a regular blog on typography. Post your questions and comments by clicking on the Comments icon above. If Ilene answers your question in the blog, you'll receive one Official... Read More
Follow these simple steps to set text that catches and keeps the reader’s eye. Read More
This story is taken from "Before & After" Magazine. Read More