Well, black and white, right? No, not exactly. Color comes into play in book design in three ways; actual printing with inks of two or more colors, which I’ll discuss in another installment; paper and text ink color, which I discussed two installments back; and what typographers call the color of the page, which has to do with font choice and spacing; I began that discussion in the last installment and it continues here.

Ladders, rivers, and pigeonholes: Another principal aspect of typographic color is the uniformity of tone within a text block. Word processing programs generally do a poor job of controlling this. Modern page layout software generally does a good job. When you look at a page of type, you do not want to see:

  • Ladders. A ladder is a series of four or more lines ending with a hyphen
  • Rivers. A river is a gash of white (or black running down a paragraph where word spaces align with each other vertically or diagonally from line to line. Word spaces should, to the extent possible, be offset from each other on succeeding lines so they do not connect in a pattern of any sort.
  • Pigeonholes. Pigeonholes are word spaces that are so wide they gape. If a paragraph looks more like a jack-o’-lantern  than like a smooth, gray rectangle, you’ve got pigeonholes to fix.

Hanging punctuation or optical margins: When you scan down the right edge of a block of justified type, the short glyphs (period, comma, hyphen, quotation mark, apostrophe) form little visual nibbles in the margin. By allowing those characters to extend partly or fully into the margin, you can create the optical illusion of a block of type with a straight edge. This technique, called hanging punctuation, was not generally available, except at extra expense, during the age of metal type (it actually arose quite by accident, through a misunderstanding of a technique Gutenberg used in the Mainz 42-line Bible). Today it is available at the click of a checkbox. It’s not appropriate everywhere, but it’s a good thing to know about.


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[Brian Jud invited me to contribute short articles on book interior design to his Book Book Marketing Matters newsletter, a biweekly e-zine. This page is adapted from one of those articles.]