Tips for Desktop Publishers

Pick a Clean Design and Stick to It

Many desktop publishers run amok on this subject. One of the basic elements of a clean design is the typography, the choice of typefaces and point sizes of the type that you use in your publication. Here is an example from a real, published book where the formatter went berserk:


Here the author (or whoever designed the layout) chose a typeface for the header that is nearly unreadable. This is a fancy typeface, meant for things like artsy newsletters, not a serious work of non-fiction. The words are spaced so close together that they are difficult to tell apart. The typeface itself clashes with the typeface used for the body text. A sans-serif typeface like Arial or Helvetica (which are nearly twins) would look much better.

The formatter used the same typeface for the chapter titles. This typeface looks to be one named “Broadway.” Regardless, it was a very poor choice for this book.

Notice how much better the header would look in a typeface like Arial in an 18-point bold font:


As I pointed out in a previous blog, the best typefaces are those that work well together. You can select a typeface that complements the body text, which is normally a serif typeface such as Times Roman, Palatino, or Garamond, from the sans-serif typefaces that are available to you. You can set chapter titles, headers, and page numbers, in the same sans-serif typeface, with headers and page numbers in one point size and chapter titles in a larger point size so they stand out. You can also use a different typeface for the chapter titles if you wish. There are no hard and fast rules; just be sure the typefaces you pick look good together.

In many non-fiction books, you may also need to have subheadings. You can set these in the same typeface as the page headers, normally in a slightly larger font. You can also set them a slightly different sans-serif typeface, just so long as it goes well with the one used in the headers.

Here is a page from a well-formatted book,
First to Die: The Tragic Loss of the SS Vestris:


The header and page number are 11-point Calibri; the subheading is 13-point Calibri; and the body text is 11-point Georgia. Note that the first paragraph under a subheading has no first-line indent. This is standard book formatting.

The authors used 15-point
leading throughout (leading: the space between lines of text; rhymes with sledding).

To get a good feel for the art of formatting books and other publications, look at ones that are commercially published—avoiding those like the top example, which are a distinct—and ugly—minority. You are sure to pick up a good feel for this sort of thing if you study enough published books, looking at the formatting instead of reading the words.

Typography and Type Design

You might think that typography and type design are basically the same thing. They aren’t. Typography is concerned with the way words look on a page, whether in print or on a computer monitor. Type design is the creation of letter shapes to make up a typeface.

Typography’s focus is on things like word spacing, leading between lines of type, paragraph form, and all the components that make a page of text both look good and easily read.

Type design homes in on the details of glyphs. A glyph is a character in a typeface. Letters are glyphs. So are numbers and special characters like @, #, $, %, &, etc. If you are designing a typeface, you must choose the form of each glyph carefully so it will fit in with the other glyphs in the typeface. Type design is an art form in its own right.

Desktop publishers need not be concerned with the details of type design. Instead, they need to be cognizant of the details of typography. The way text looks on a page goes a long way toward making the material attractive to readers. Choice of typeface and the particular font used, the leading (spacing between lines), kerning (the spacing between characters in words), and the design of paragraphs—including the use of subheadings where appropriate—are all part of the decisions that go into a good typographical design.

But wait. Haven’t I been redundant in saying “typeface and the particular font”? Aren’t a typeface and a font the same thing? No, they aren’t. A typeface comprises many fonts (theoretically, an infinite number of them). Through misuse of the term “font,” it has become—unfortunately—a non-standard synonym for typeface. Calibri, Times New Roman, Verdana, and Palatino are all typefaces. But each of them has variants, such as roman (ordinary text, like this), italic, boldface, italic boldface, condensed, condensed italic, condensed boldface, condensed italic boldface, and often many more. Is each of these variants a font? No. A font is a variant in a particular point size. So, how may fonts are there in a typeface? Since you can have any point size you wish, there is theoretically no limit to the number of fonts in a typeface. But let’s restrict ourselves to body text at point sizes between, say 8 point and 14 points, and further restrict point sizes to one-half point increments. So, we can have 8, 8.5, 9, 9.5, etc. points to our text. That gives us 13 different point sizes of the eight variants listed above. Thus, for this example, we have a total of 104 fonts from a single typeface.

The beauty of type

I wrote above that desktop publishers—and commercial printers as well—need not be concerned with the details of type design. That doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate the work of great type designers. As you work with various typefaces, you will find that certain characters may strike you as especially artistic in their design.

In examining individual glyphs—or letters—in a type face, it helps to know the names of some of the commonly used features. The height of lower case letters is called the “x-height” because it is easiest to see in that letter. Any rounded part of a letter is a “bowl.” The vertical part of a letter, if it rises above the x-height, is an ascender. If it drops below the baseline—defined as the bottom of the x in lower case letters—we call that a descender.

In thinking about this while composing this blog, I realized that I have two favorite letters myself: the uppercase P from Palatino and the lowercase b from Times / Times Roman / Times New Roman. The bowl of the Palatino P doesn’t quite make it to the ascender, making the letter look a bit like it’s an upper case I with a fancy scroll hanging from the end of the top serif. But it comes off as looking elegant to my eye. It’s certainly distinctive. And the lowercase Times b has the bowl connected directly to the ascender, again elegantly so. It’s as if it suddenly forgot it was a serif typeface when it got to the bottom of the b and rounded the turn towards the ascender.

Here are the two paired, in all their glory (and large size type). Note that the Palatino has the nearly-slab style serif of a Transitional Roman typeface, whereas Times Roman has the wedge-like serifs of an Old Style Roman typeface.


Even though they come from rather different typefaces, the two of them seem to get along quite nicely together—they even form the chemical symbol for the material used in the earliest metal type: lead.

Typefaces for Body Text

Rapidsoft Press a light bulb
When you are laying out the format for a document or manuscript, this is one of the most important choices you will have to make. You will make your choice depending on what kind of document you are designing: a short piece, such as a leaflet, flyer, announcement, or something else that will take up a maximum of, say, three or four pages, or a much longer manuscript such as a book.

For short pieces, a sans-serif typeface—like the one you’re reading here—will do. If you are writing for display on the Internet, these are really your only valid choice, because serif typefaces do not display well at the coarse resolution of today’s Internet. A sans-serif typeface is a good choice for things like flyers or advertising leaflets. Layout of paragraphs, pictures, photographs, or callout boxes are where the real design meat is in these short documents.

When a sans-serif typeface is called for, my go-to choice is Calibri. It just seems more elegant than Arial or Helvetica.


That said, there isn’t a great deal of difference between these three typefaces. Which you choose is a matter of personal preference. For my taste, however, Arial’s glyphs seem short for the point size (Calibri is 14 points, the other two are 13 points) and the periods almost disappear. Helvetica—although OpenType—appears to be an incomplete typeface with ligatures only for fi and fl, and the kerning is a bit sloppy.

When you have a substantial amount of text to set, you would do well to look to the serif family of typefaces. Tests show that readers can comprehend printed text better when it is set in a serif typeface than a sans-serif typeface. Even here, however, sans-serif typefaces do well as page headers or subheadings to set off portions of text where there is a change of pace. Using the same typeface for everything is, in a word, boring.

If you are content to go with the crowd, stick with something like Times New Roman for your body text. But remember: Times Roman was designed for newspapers, not books. To my eye, Times Roman—New or not—looks a bit frowsy, like the ladies in
Arsenic and Old Lace. Here is a short sample of Times New Roman:


For a more modern feel, try one of the newer typefaces that have been developed specifically for digital reproduction. The first such typeface is Minion, which was designed by Adobe typographer Robert Slimbach and released in 1990 as an Adobe Type 1 typeface. It is available today as Minion Pro. Here is a sample of Minion Pro. Nothing frowsy here!

Minion Pro

Notice the ligatures in the letters “fi” in “fix” and “” in “dicult” in these examples. You may have to insert ligatures by hand in Times New Roman, but good desktop publishing software such as Microsoft Publisher will create these ligatures for many typefaces as you type in text. This is a good reason to use your DTP software to enter the text into your document rather than using a word processor, such as Word, for this task. Word will not (to the best of my knowledge) create ligatures for you automatically the way Publisher will, even though they are both in the Microsoft Office suite.

Another nice typeface is Palatino. It has an especially elegant upper-case letter P, as you can see from this example:


If you are preparing a textbook, you might consider Century Schoolbook—that’s what it was designed for:


You will find there is an ample supply of decent typefaces to choose from. Be careful, however, and stay away from oddball typefaces. How would you like to have to read an entire 200-page book set in Ravie?


As for me, I generally stick to Minion Pro. It’s readable, has a nice light, airy feeling, and a decent x-height, all of which make for a good presentation in printed output. It’s a true jack-of-all-trades.

Typefaces for Titles

Titles want to be noticed. They should be bold. Attention-getters. Here’s good one for starters—it says, “Look at me!” (For each of these I give the name of the typeface followed by a sample title):


But there are many varieties to choose from. Perhaps an outline typeface for a title?


Or perhaps your book is about something ancient and mysterious. You could use this one:


Or maybe you need a title for a wild western story. You could use this one:


The sample title is from a real book. You can find it on

If you need a title that looks modern and full of pizazz, try this one:


Some of these title typefaces have both upper- and lowercase glyphs (glyph is a fancy typographic word for a character). Others are in all uppercase glyphs, and a few have uppercase and “small caps” that take the place of lowercase glyphs (e.g., Trajan Pro).

Suppose you have a title that needs real impact. Then why not use this one:


Or it may just be that you need an ornate title like this:


The varieties of headline type are almost as numerous as the designers who invented them. You’re sure to find one that suits you.

How about a touch of “oldness” but still retaining elegance? Like this one:


Here is one that needs a bit of loosening in the spacing to really look right:


Then there is this old choice for an open-face title:


Of course, on a book cover you would use the typefaces in a much larger font than I’ve shown here. The spacing I used on these is “Normal” for the first three; 140% (very, very loose) for the Mesquite Std.; “Loose” (112.5%) for Broadway and Impact; Normal for Copperplate Gothic Bold and Charlemagne Standard; Loose for Felix Titling; and Normal for Caslon Open Face LT Std.

More on Color for Graphic Designers

To show what the actual JPEG artifacts look like in the image of “The Greening of Mondrian” examples, I selected a very small piece of the image—enclosed by the tiny magenta rectangle in the image below—and magnified it 1200 times in Photoshop.

The Original Test Image Showing the Piece Selected for Magnification

The images below show the results of magnifying that tiny piece of the image. On the left is a piece from the original “Save 0” image, which was the first time the image had been compressed by the JPEG process from 13+ million bytes (one byte for each of the three primaries, red, green, and blue, per pixel multiplied by the width of 1817 pixels and the height of 2400 pixels, or 13,082,400 bytes) to a mere 197 kilobytes, or 202,390 bytes.

A number of very faint
JPEG artifacts may be seen in the white area near the edges of the black lines. The hardest thing for the JPEG process to portray is an abrupt change from black to white, which is what we have here.

jpeg artifacts

On the right is the same precise piece of the image, also at 1200×. The JPEG artifacts are slightly more noticeable in this 30th consecutive save than they are in the original save. They are still very faint, and in full-size displays—whether on screen or in a print-out—they are still nearly invisible. It would take an extremely sharp—almost preternaturally sharp—eye to detect any of these artifacts in a full-size display of this image.

Keep in mind that in the magnified views, each of those little squares is a pixel. Each of them has sides that are precisely 1/2400th of the vertical dimension of the overall image. If you printed the image in a format twenty-four inches high, each pixel would measure exactly one-hundredth of an inch on each side and would be one ten-thousandth of a square inch in area.

Color Theory for Graphic Designers

Way back in 1931—which happens to be the same year in which yours truly was designed and launched—a committee of the International Commission on Illumination (CIE) established a mathematical specification for colors. The CIE color space, or chromaticity diagram, specifies all the colors that can be seen by the human eye. The 1931 CIE diagram looks something like this:

cie color space

As Wikipedia puts it, “The mathematical relationships that define these color spaces are essential tools for color management. They allow one to translate different physical responses to visible radiation [from color prints], illuminated displays, and recording devices such as digital cameras into a universal human color vision response.”

Color would never be the same again. It had been reduced to numbers: Specify the x and y value and you’ve defined the color. This eventually wreaked havoc with what painters thought they had been doing for centuries.

And therein lies a tale. Fast forward to the 1970s, when I first became intrigued by all of this. By 1975 I had become interested in a Dutch painter named Piet (Peter) Mondrian (1872–1944). As
Wikipedia states it, “He evolved a non-representational form which he termed neoplasticism. This consisted of white ground, upon which he painted a grid of vertical and horizontal black lines and the three primary colors.”

Ah . . . and there’s the rub. Like most painters then—as well as many nowadays—Mondrian mistakenly believed that the primary colors were red, yellow, and blue. This was because paints are a subtractive medium and thus operate in the CMYK color space. The CMYK primaries are magenta, yellow, and cyan—magenta being (roughly) red and cyan being (roughly) blue. Here is a genuine Mondrian painting, titled “Composition in red, blue, and yellow” (1930):

primary colors

Of course, human eyes see in red, green, and blue (RGB), and our monitors and TVs display the same primary colors, which are additive. These Venn diagrams illustrate the difference:

venn diagrams

Note that for each of these, the primary color has a complimentary color—its exact opposite—which shows as a smaller two-color overlay directly opposite the primary circle itself. This is true for both sets, the compliments in the RGB color space being the primaries in the CMYK gamut, and the CMYK compliments being the primaries in the RGB gamut.

To top this off, the CIE Color Space pictured above is not even accurate. It cannot possibly be accurate, because some of the colors near the outer edges of the diagram can’t be reproduced by paints, inks, or colored light sources. This little CIE color space diagram shows why:

rgb and cmyk

Colors that lie outside the RGB (often called “sRGB”) triangle cannot be reproduced by your computer monitor—or your TV, either. Colors that lie outside the CMYK polygon (in yellow above) cannot be reproduced by paints or printing inks.

But wait—there’s more. Our human visual system operates in a four-primary color space, where the primaries are red, green, yellow, and blue. These four are the only colors that cannot be described in terms of a combination of any other colors—proving that they are primaries in our visual system. True, monitors and TVs produce yellow by mixing red and green, but no human would ever describe yellow as “greenish-red” or “reddish-green”—it just doesn’t work.

Yet, the other two CMYK primaries (the “K” stands for black) can be described in terms of other colors: cyan as blue-green or greenish blue, and magenta as bluish-red.

So in 1975 I boldly decided to create a new Mondrian-type painting that would include all four of the human primary colors. I titled it “The Greening of Mondrian.” It’s painted on 12 by 16 canvas board, framed, and hangs in my family room. I recently created a digital version of this painting in Photoshop. I made the black line elements out of blocks (using the Rectangular Marquee Tool), which I filled in with black. When the pattern was complete, I filled in the appropriate enclosed spaces with pure colors from the sRGB gamut available in Photoshop.

By the way, should you imagine that creating a picture like this would be an easy matter, perish the thought. That’s what I thought before I started. It was anything but easy. I must have made about 25 studies of this painting before I got an arrangement that looked pleasing to my eye. Perhaps I’m too fussy, but I don’t think so.

homage to mondrian

After doing all this, I did some Googling on Mondrian’s paintings and discovered that I was truly innovating when I created “The Greening of Mondrian”: Because Mondrian never used diagonal elements in any of his paintings. His lines were all strictly horizontal or vertical. Perhaps this was why it proved so difficult to get a pleasing arrangement, although it might have been just as hard to make a horizontal/vertical picture. By using diagonal elements, I was trying to ensure that I was not copying anything Mondrian had actually done. But I didn’t know he had never used any diagonal elements. Back in 1975 there was no Google to search with. I had only library reproductions (in books) to go by.

For more than you probably will want to know about color models for printing, see THIS.

Degradation in Successive Saves of a JPEG File

The second view of “The Greening of Mondrian,” on the right labeled “30th Save,” deserves some explanation. You will find “experts” on image preservation who will tell you that you should always work with an original (RAW or bitmapped) image, and after editing it, save the final version as a JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group), which has a jpg filename extension. For example, check out this website.

Some of the text there reads: “Most of you probably know that JPEG is [a] lossy compression method, meaning compression permanently throws out data and detail. Luckily, a typical compression can save 10 times the space of an uncompressed image without sacrificing much noticeable quality. However, if the image is repeatedly compressed and saved, artifacts introduced during compression become more and more obvious.”

This may be true, but the losses are seldom obvious to the eye or in the printed image. To test the theory that saving and re-saving a picture in JPEG format degrades the image, I made an extra copy of the “Greening of Mondrian” file and saved, reloaded, and saved it again--until I had done this thirty times. The result is the right-hand image.

There is no discernible difference between the two versions, the original and the 30th Save. The hues are all identical, and the saturation and brightness are all either 99% or 100% when measured in Photoshop. It could be that the simplicity of this image is the reason almost no degradation occurs. The JPEGs above were made with a Quality 10 setting. The original image is 12.4 MB (3 × 1817 × 2400 pixels); the JPEG image is 197 KB (202,390 bytes), a savings of more than 98%. In a typical photograph, the savings at level 10 would be about 90%; the 98% here is the result of the very simple image used.

On the PetaPixel website (at the link given above) a fellow by the name of “Grundle” saved a picture 500 times and made a video out of the results. Here is a picture of the original picture and the 500th saved version:

grundle 500 saves

Only a fool would edit the same picture 500 times, saving each edit as a JPEG file, and the resulting degradation is very noticeable. But wait—notice that the young woman’s face and hair are mostly just as good looking in the 500th save as they were in the original. In fact, the original picture Grundle used has noticeable pixelation in the background. This is especially noticeable in the right-hand portion of the picture, but even the odd pixelation on the woman’s right cheek is present in the original, albeit as an almost invisible artifact. These strange pixelations, which would never be produced by a decent digital camera, are the source of the awful-looking pixelations in the 500th save.

The lesson here is that if you start with a slightly pixelated image and edit it numerous times, saving each edit as a JPEG file, you are going to end up with a badly pixelated image. Not good.

Getting the Lead Out

one of a series

about fonts
Nearly six centuries ago, ca 1440, Johannes Gutenberg (Yoh-hah-nes Goo-ten-bairg) invented the printing press and movable type. The type was mostly lead, although it also contained tin and antimony (typically 75% lead, 15% antimony, and 10% tin). Ever since then—for some five centuries—printers called this “lead type.” Printers made lines of characters—called “sorts”—out of a lead alloy, and they called the separation between lines of type “leading” (rhymes with sledding).

Even today, after we’ve almost entirely supplanted lead type with modern methods of producing printed text, we call the spacing between lines of text leading. Leading is important because it can make a page of text clean and easy to read or make it ugly or hard to read.

When you use current word processors or formatting software (such as InDesign or Microsoft Publisher), you should make Styles for the various parts of your text, such as indented paragraphs, non-indented paragraphs, subheadings, titles, etc. One of the things you will set when you create these styles is line spacing, which is actually the leading. You will find the defaults are usually something like “Multiple at 1.08” (Word) or “1.19sp” (Publisher). The programmers based these on some “standard” amount of leading, typically 120% of the type size. So 10-point type gets 12 points of leading. This may work for short lines, such as in a two-column publication or lines of verse, but generally more leading works better.

You want to over-ride the “standard settings” that text-generating software likes to force on you and set your own leading. Always do this in points. For example, if you are preparing a document to be printed full page-width on letter-size (8½ by 11) paper, 10-point type should have something like 14 or 15 points of leading, not the 12 points the software wants you to use.

Choose the right size of leading for a document by picking a number to begin with and then see how it looks. Depending on the particular font (typeface and point size) you are using (about which, more in a later blog), you may find that more or less leading looks better. The best way to do this is by trial and error. When you find the right number, stick to it for all paragraphs to be set in that font.

Here are three examples of leading for a column of text in 10-point Calibri:

desktop publisher samples

The 12-point leading in the first example is about right. The 10-point leading in second one is too tight; the 14-point leading in third one is too much.

Note that a typeface is not a font, as we incorrectly call it today. Times New Roman is a typeface. 10-point Times New Roman italic boldface is a font. 12-point Times Roman is a different font. They are both the same typeface. Learn the difference. It will be important when you have to deal with printers or publishers, who already know the difference.

How to Make an Elegant Drop Cap

one of a series

In a previous blog I said I would show you how to make a real drop cap. I’m using Microsoft® Publisher (a powerful DTP tool), but you can do the same sort of thing with InDesign or QuarkXPress.

The illustration below shows two views of the same piece of a page. On the left side, the View
Boundaries box has been checked to show the elements that make up the drop cap. On the right side is the plain view.

Drop Cap Rapidsoft Press

The dotted blue line on the left is part of the text box that holds the text on the page. The large blue box around the S is where the drop cap is placed. This one is in 48-point Castellar (the rest of the text is 11-point Minion Pro). The drop cap text box is aligned with the left side of the page (using “Align” from the ribbon menu) and is placed so that the bottom of the S lines up with the bottom of the line of text reading “eye and yelled.”

When you place this text box, all of the text to the right will shift away from it. You don’t want this, so you click “Send Backward” from the Home ribbon menu. This puts the drop cap and its text box in the background. The text to the right will immediately fill in to the left, actually overwriting the S.

about drop caps
This is where the two foreground “bumper” text boxes come in. I call them “bumpers” because they position the text to the right of the drop cap where you want it to be. The top, narrower one, positions the word fragment “econd” so that it almost touches the S but not quite.

The lower, wider bumper forces the second line of text beginning with “eye” to the right, leaving a comfortable amount of white space between the lower part of the drop cap and the line of text. There is no rule for this spacing. Do whatever looks good to you.

The line below, beginning with “Captain,” is aligned normally on the page.

You now have a
well-crafted drop cap. You only have to do this once for each chapter in your book, so it’s not a real chore. Try it yourself and see.

Tips for Publishers

one of a series

Use Real Drop Caps to Improve Your Formatting

Making elegant drop caps is fast becoming a lost art. Desktop publishers who are serious about their work should learn how to make good drop caps to begin chapters.

real drop caps
To learn more about this, and other aspects of desktop publishing, I highly recommend Mark Hengesbaugh’s excellent book, Typography for Desktop Publishers (Homewood, IL: Business One Irwin, 1991).

One of the subjects Hengesbaugh covers is the proper formatting of drop caps. No word processing or layout software available today—to the best of my knowledge—is capable of producing correctly formatted drop caps. It’s something you must do on your own. It’s not difficult, and you will quickly get the hang of it.

Here is an example of a correctly formatted drop cap. It is the first paragraph in the first chapter of First to Die, a book about the sinking of the SS Vestris in 1928, which I co-authored with Kristin Delaplane of Our American Stories® LLC.

Rapidsoft Press Drop Caps

The large initial letter and the extra white space around it catch the reader’s eye, which is drawn into the text. The small caps following the drop cap pull the reader’s attention to the rest of the line. The drop cap extends above the first line of text and is separated from the following line by extra white space.

The bottom of the drop cap lines up with the bottom of the second (or third) line of text, depending on how you choose to format it. Normal formatting resumes with the first line below the bottom of the drop cap.

Note that the rest of the first word of the first line is brought up close to the drop cap.

The poorly formatted drop caps that are produced by software like Microsoft® Word leave a large gap between the drop cap and the rest of the first word of that line. As Hengesbaugh observes, “Parts of words are particularly difficult to find because people read by recognizing whole words at a glance, they aren’t used to putting pieces of words together.”

In a later blog in this series I will show exactly how a drop cap can be produced in Microsoft Publisher.