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Printing Industry Exchange ( 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: Two Ways to Emphasize Design Elements

I’ve written a number of PIE Blog articles referencing Design Basics Index, an easy to use print book written for designers by Jim Krause. I find it a useful guide in my own creative work.

One topic that I noticed recently is how to emphasize various design elements on a page, or how to lead the reader’s eye through the design, clarifying which items are more important and which are less. Although this sounds controlling, it actually eases the reader’s anxiety, since he or she will know exactly what to read, in what order, to grasp the meaning of the piece, without needing to think.

Using Initial Caps to Emphasize Body Copy

Krause describes and illustrates a number of ways to emphasize type using large capital letters. In this case, larger than usual capital letters can lead the reader’s eye to the beginning of a section, showing where the text begins and distinguishing editorial copy from headlines, subheads, pull quotes, etc.

You can indent initial caps three or four (or more) lines deep into the paragraph. That is, they can be as tall as three or four lines of type (resting on the baseline of the third or fourth line of body copy), while pushing the text to the right far enough to accommodate their width.

In such a case, you can use a contrasting typeface (perhaps a bold sans serif typeface to contrast a serif typeface in the body copy). Or you can use the same typeface for both the initial cap and the text (perhaps making the initial cap bold for further emphasis).

As an alternative, instead of having the initial cap sit flush with the left-hand margin (i.e., in vertical alignment with the margin), you may choose to extend it into the margin a little, or a lot.

Or, you may choose to set the initial cap on the same baseline as the first line of type in the paragraph. This way, instead of being nestled into the first three or four lines of the text, the initial cap can sit up high above the body copy.

If you screen back the initial cap, you can even set it very large and place it behind the initial paragraph of body copy. This will give a layered look to your design while still drawing the reader’s eye immediately to the first paragraph.

In all of these examples cited by Jim Krause in Design Basics Index, the goal is the same. Whether the initial caps are in color, gray, or black, they pinpoint the exact spot where the reader can enter the text of a design. This is the key, whether the design is a brochure, the first page of a print book chapter, or a large format print poster or wall graphic.

Emphasizing Headlines by Varying Type Characteristics

Design Basics Index goes on to show a number of ways to treat headlines in publication design. Most of these look like the initial pages of a magazine article or newsletter, but a savvy designer could easily adjust them to work on a large format print poster, print book cover, or any other graphic design product.

Krause’s first four sample mock-ups show a headline centered over two justified columns of text. In the four samples, the headline is set in the same typeface as the body copy. The heads differ in their type size, but, in addition, one is set in roman type, one in italics, one in all-caps, and one in small-caps.

Furthermore, one sample mock-up distinguishes the first word of the title from the following words by reversing it out of a black banner. The large text seems to shout at the reader, while a headline set in small, italic text seems quieter, particularly when surrounded by generous white space. (Perhaps this is because it is not as cramped as a larger text treatment of the headline.)

What we can learn from these four mock-ups in Design Basics Index is that each option can be adjusted to make it an effective design approach that emphasizes the headline. At the same time, each treatment of the headline, whether italic, bold, roman, large or small, will give a slightly different emphasis and tone to the headline. The design will reinforce (or could presumably even change) the meaning of the words.

Krause’s print book includes four more options, showing that headlines need not always be set above the body copy in a symmetrical manner. Two of these samples position the words of the headline in a stack of several lines with a flush right (ragged left) margin.

One example places the body copy in a full-length (top to bottom of the page) column on the right side of the page and places the headline (and a logo, but nothing else) in the column on the left. Here, an intuitive, asymmetrical balance makes the design work while emphasizing the words in the headline.

A slightly different version enlarges the flush right headline a little and sets it within a mortise cut into the column of text on the right. The text of the body copy is slightly indented, and the words run around the headline (this is called a cut and run-around). For added interest, the large headline has been placed about a third of the way down the column of body copy rather than at the exact top of the column.

Another design option in Krause’s print book article positions the large, centered, all-caps headline above a single, narrow column of body type. The logo is at the bottom of the page. For interest and emphasis, Krause tilts the three-line headline while keeping all other elements of the page in a classical, symmetric balance. The contrast between the slanted type and the symmetrically balanced remainder of the ad creates interest. The design also works because it is so unexpected. The tilted type is unusual and therefore grabs the reader’s attention.

What You Can Learn

Controlling the path your reader’s eye takes across the printed page helps him or her understand the order of importance and the relationship among the various text and graphic elements of a design. This makes a print book page, brochure, or large format print poster much easier to navigate. By grouping important elements in a simple way and adding emphasis using differences in type size, alignment, design, or color, the graphic artist can help make the reader’s experience both productive and enjoyable.

And the best way to learn to do this is to identify sample publications you particularly like, and then study them closely to determine exactly why they work so well.

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