Printing and Design Tips: November 2010, Issue #112

Broken Carton of Paper

A "broken carton" of paper is less than a full carton of paper (or printing stock). This is relevant to you when you ask your printer to purchase non-standard paper for a job.

Let's say that you have chosen a paper sample from a paper mill's swatch book, and your printer does not have this on the floor. You may be asked to pay for the entire carton, rather than just the paper used for your particular job. (For instance, you may want to print a short in-house newsletter on 50# canary yellow offset, but you might need less than a carton for your limited press run.) Essentially, you would be asked to assume responsibility for paper your print provider would probably not be able to use for another client or another job.

To avoid such added costs, consider having your printer suggest substitutes for your paper choice. Specify paper based on its qualities (paper weight, color, thickness or caliper, etc.), or send your printer a paper sample to match. Choosing paper this way rather than requesting a particular name brand can often help you benefit from the discounted price your printer may be able to negotiate with his supplier.

If this is not an option, and your heart is set on a particular printing stock, ask your printer about buying more than you need for a particular job. Ask about buying a year's worth of paper, if your publication will be a recurring one. Your printer may charge a fee for storage and handling, but your discount from buying in bulk may offset this cost.

Discretionary Hyphen

Most if not all page composition software packages — like InDesign and Quark — allow you to add a hyphen manually that will only print when "necessary." This is called a discretionary hyphen. If you type a combination of (usually two) computer keys where you want the word to be hyphenated, the page composition application will keep the word un-hyphenated and on one line if it fits, or it will break the word at the point of your inserted discretionary hyphen.

This option is relevant for a few reasons. It avoids errors that occur when you add a "hard hyphen" (using the actual hyphen key on your keyboard) to break a word manually. Such a hyphen always prints. You may have seen one of these in the middle of a line of type, perhaps in a magazine. At best, it breaks your focus; at worst, it makes you wonder whether the job was proofread (and whether the facts of the article were checked as well). Why does this happen? This occurs when the type has been edited and reflowed, and the extra hyphen has not been caught by the editor.

Designers don't add these to cause problems. They add them to make ragged type less ragged, to get more words into a paragraph in a smaller amount of space, or for other reasons. But when hard hyphens are used instead of discretionary—or soft—hyphens, and then copy is edited or the type size or type face is changed (i.e., when the type is "reflowed" in the document), these hyphens sometimes show up in the most disconcerting places.

As a caveat, keep in mind that even discretionary hyphens can cause problems. Apparently, in some e-book-readers, discretionary hyphens can become hard hyphens. They can show up in the middle of words in the middle of lines of text. So check into this in your page composition software manual, through its "Help" application, or on the Web before you export the text or save it in another format for use as an e-book.

Kerning vs. Tracking

What are "kerning" and "tracking," and how do they differ? Both refer to adjustments in the spaces between letters when you are typesetting copy, but kerning refers to a more localized adjustment.

If you are typesetting the letters "A" and "V," for instance, or the letters "W" and "A" (all capitals in a headline, particularly if you're using larger type in Adobe Illustrator), look closely at the letter pairs prior to adjustment. They will usually be too far apart, and this will look amateurish. To make the letter pairs more attractive, you can close them up using the "kerning" function of your page composition, image editing, or illustration program. The kerning function lets you make this adjustment incrementally—in painfully small increments. (Check your software manual for instructions.)

"Tracking," on the other hand, refers to a function in your page composition, illustration, or image editing program that allows you to adjust larger groups of words. For example, you might want to tighten or loosen the spacing in all headlines, or in a paragraph or group of paragraphs. Ideally, you are doing this for design reasons or to improve readability. You may in fact be using this as a trick to get more words into a smaller space by ever-so-slightly tightening the space between all letters in a paragraph. In either case, do look closely at the final typeset output. Make sure it is still readable, visibly consistent with other type in your design, and aesthetically appealing. It is far too easy to use a computer to accidentally make type look strange or unattractive.

[Steven Waxman is a printing consultant. He 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.]