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Printing Industry Exchange (printindustry.com) is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Custom Printing: A Few More Text-Design Tips

Design Basics Index by Jim Krause has always given me food for thought regarding the fundamentals of effective publication design, including anything from posters to brochures. Since I’ve always considered it valuable to constantly practice the fundamentals of any craft, I get a lot of pleasure just dipping into this print book periodically, just to learn “one more thing.”

I found a few choice nuggets this evening, which I’d like to share with you, all of which pertain to text design. Somehow I think it’s easier to make something look good when your central focus is a photograph, but I think these few type-only suggestions will make what is usually a challenging design task just a little bit easier.

Unique Treatments of Paragraphs

Krause suggests the following two approaches to formatting paragraphs in novel ways.

In most cases you might either indent the first line of a paragraph to set it apart from the preceding paragraph, or you might set the paragraph without indents as a block of copy. Then you might separate it from the preceding and following paragraphs with extra space. While this works well, it is purely functional. It is also invisible to the reader since it lacks any design flair.

In contrast, if you’re setting up the opening pages of a magazine article and need to distinguish paragraphs in a large block of copy, Krause suggests using “dingbats.” These miniature images, also known as “printer’s flowers,” would include such marks as stars of various kinds, crosses, bullets, ornate leaf forms, the reversed “P” paragraph symbol, and various other simple glyphs.

These have a long history in the printing trade, and they make a visually interesting variant for separating paragraphs. You might even want to add color so the dingbats will stand out from their surroundings.

Personally, though, I would use these with restraint. I think they are perfect for an introduction (perhaps one you have set in a larger point size), or other important block of copy, but for lengthy text they will reduce readability. For lengthy copy, I favor non-indented paragraphs separated by extra space. This works well to break the copy into smaller, digestible chunks.

Another suggestion Krause poses in his treatment of paragraphs is to separate an important paragraph from its surroundings not with space but with color, or a change in typeface. Going back to the preceding sample of an introduction for a magazine page-spread, setting apart a paragraph in this way may give a contemporary “look” to your design piece.

Of course, moderation is important in this case as well. It would be more appropriate for a very short magazine-spread introduction, for instance, than for anything longer. In addition (in my own opinion), it is wise to consider the accent color carefully. If it is red, for instance, the paragraph will look more important than the surrounding paragraphs. If it is blue or another cool color, it will look different from, rather than more important than, the surrounding paragraphs.

Ways to Emphasize Text and Heads

I think Krause’s most useful suggestion in this section on emphasis involves breaking out of the text grid by starting the headline in the scholar’s margin (the non-text gutter to the outside of the text column). This catches the eye immediately for a few reasons:

  1. The headline is larger than the text.
  2. The headline is in a different color from the text.
  3. And the position of the headline is unexpected, since it breaks out of the column of text.

Let’s focus on the third reason. If you set up your 8.5” x 11” page with a 6”-wide text column, the reader expects all copy to fall within this space. This expectation makes reading easier. It also can make the page visually boring. If you need to draw attention to a design element, like a headline, breaking this pattern will emphasize it.

To illustrate this point, Krause’s Design Basics Index positions a one-word headline flush-left at the outer edge of the page. The headline extends into the column of type, which runs around the word. Five lines of type are indented by about an inch to achieve this “run-around.” This design treatment works well for such a one-word headline.

If your headline is larger, consider setting it in a smaller point size in multiple lines, with the run-around (indent) extending all the way around this type. Another option would be to start the headline in the “scholar’s margin” (near the outside of the page) and have it break into the column of type without running text around it. This might result in a looser, less cramped look.

Krause includes several more design suggestions I’d like to share:

  1. Put a short quote, callout, or pithy sentence in the outer margin. Your reader’s eye will go right to this copy, just as it went right to the headline that broke into the scholar’s margin.
  2. Use a simulated handwriting font for a short piece of copy. The reader’s eye will go right to this design element.
  3. Surround text with a color rule to capture the reader’s eye. Placing copy in a simple, solid shape like a circle will do the same thing.
  4. Color will always grab the reader. However, too much defeats the purpose. An accent color works because of its contrast with its surroundings. Err on the side of using too little.
  5. Larger type will emphasize a design element.

The Take-Away

Design can be learned. It is an art, but it has rules. Learn the rules and then break them—always for a purpose. The best way to learn design is by observing and deconstructing graphic design that you like: large format print signage, business cards, brochures, print books, etc. And having a few design textbooks on hand, like Design Basics Index, can make a huge difference as well.

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