Typography – Part 2 of A Graphics Primer


A graphics primer for the novice

Part 2: Typography

This time we’ll discuss typography. In Part 1, we delved into the graphics of graphic design. This time let’s take a look at the text. The words are so much more than simply typing out what you want to say. Here are some important elements of typography.


Also called line spacing, can change the look and feel of a piece. In grad school we were told to never use auto leading, which is the default setting on all graphic software. I can remember doing an entire project with 8 point Eras type on 16 point leading. It has a dramatic effect, but make sure your text is readable as well as good looking.

8 point type typography

Letter spacing

Sometimes, especially in advertising and logos, you may want to use letter spacing, spreading out or squeezing in letters to fit a certain space.


The distance between the letters in a word. It’s very similar to letter spacing, but certain fonts, especially free ones that can be downloaded, sometimes have weird little quirks with their kerning.

Line length

Very small text should not be in long lines as it is easy to get lost while reading the text. Very large text should not be in short lines. This is merely a guide, but usually makes sense. If the type is big, you may end up with only a word or two on each line.

Double space after a period

This has gone the way of the dodo bird and is another pet peeve for me. It is done in typing, not in typesetting and a sure sign an amateur has created your project. I understand it’s a hard habit to break, but it must be done.


A widow is when you are creating a newspaper article, newsletter article, book or journal article and you have a paragraph that starts on one page and the last line of the paragraph is alone on the next page. Then there is a space before the next paragraph. It doesn’t look professional and widows should be avoided.


An orphan is when there is one word at the end of a paragraph on a line by itself. If you have a very long line and have a couple words on the last line of the paragraph, that can also be considered an orphan. Like widows, orphans do not look professional. If you are creating a brochure, try to avoid orphans. If the text is larger and the line length is short, you might be able to get away with it unless it is a really short word.


Use fonts that go well together, but are dissimilar enough to look like different fonts. Use san serif type like Arial or Helvetica (letters are smooth with no little feet) or serif (have little feet) like Garamond or Times. Script fonts can be used for headlines, but are often inappropriate or hard to read. Scripts tend to be either very formal or informal with few in between. Fonts go in and out of style. I mentioned Eras earlier. It was all the rage when I was in school, but has fallen out of favor since then. If you are designing a logo, the classics are always best.


typography san serif and serif

Free fonts

Make sure that your free font is okay to use for commercial purposes before you use it. You can get into legal trouble if not.

Display fonts

Display fonts are just that, for display. Avoid using them for body copy. They are generally too difficult to read in a paragraph.

Bastardizing fonts

A pet peeve for me… Stretching fonts to fit where you can tell they have been stretched. If you stretch or shrink the width of your text, make sure it doesn’t look like you did it by accident.

typography stretched image and text


Some fonts are pictures instead of letters. They are called dingbats.

dingbat typography

Font size

Make sizes of headlines, subheads, sub-subheads and body copy that are distinct. You can also make them bold or complimentary fonts to make them stand out as separate headings. Making the body copy 11 point with a 12 point sub-subheads, 14 point subheads and 16 point headings are not different enough. Make the differences more striking, but also not fighting with each other.

Reverse type

Light type on a dark color or black background. It can also be on an image. Be careful using reverse type because it can be difficult to read, especially if it is small.

Copy or content

Both are words used to mean the written text for your project.


Flush left means everything is aligned to the left side, flush right means everything is aligned to the right. Centered is where the text is centered in a column. Justified is when text is flush left and flush right, making the text align on both sides. The most common place to see justified text is in newspapers.

Rivers and valleys

Rivers and valleys usually happen when you justify type and the text is too big for the line length. This is not something you want to do.

rivers and valleys typography


Never hyphenate the last word in a line more than two lines in a row. In advertising and some other projects, you may not want to hyphenate at all. If you are designing a newsletter, you may have to use some hyphenation in order to avoid rivers and valleys.

Oxford comma

The Oxford comma is when there is a comma before the word “and” or “or” in a series like: one, two, and three. It is up to your personal preference whether you use it or not, just be consistent.


Depending upon where the text is, using caps, italics, bold or larger font size can be used for emphasis. In advertising it is up to the designer. Italics is generally used for emphasis in blogs, newsletters, articles and books.

Proof, proof, proof!

Proofreading is the most important thing to make your piece look professional. Years ago I worked as a proofreader for a printing company and a brochure had a mistake in a headline. Catching that mistake saved the printer a ton of a money as 100,000 copies of the brochure were about to be printed. Headlines are often skipped by clients. For some reason they think because it is big, it is correct. Check everything!

Contact Social Squids if you need help with a graphic design project like a corporate identity package (logo, letterhead, business card), trifold brochure, flyer, ad, newsletter or any other printed piece.

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