Newspaper font size?

Adam Union's picture

This is my first Typophile post--please excuse any blatant ignorance

I do the layout for a high school newspaper. It is tabloid sized, five-columns, justified, 2" wide each (1.92" text-useable when you include margins) and I'm having some trouble figuring out just what size to make the text typeface. I've had to drastically updated it every issue as my design skills improved: I've gone from 9.8 pt Liberation Serif to 9.1 pt Georgia to *something* Utopia, hopefully, for the upcoming issue.

I've had .15 pt condensing but I'm thinking of swtiching to .1 condensing with 9.4 pt. Utopia. Leading has always been 10.2. Here's the question: is that a good size? It's a high school, so too small and I don't think anyone will read it, but too big and huge spaces start to appear in the text. I'm not a fan of hyphens, but I've let Publisher do its .25" hyphenation.

I've googled 'Utopia font sizes' but have come up with nothing--I can't find what size type works for other newspapers.

If you have any general size rules-of-thumb, I would appreciate it so much. Thanks in advance

Reed Reibstein's picture

From my own (limited) experience (I'm only on a college newspaper, now), I believe that most papers set their type between 8 and 9 pts with approximately 1 pt leading (with hyphenation, a necessity), as you seem to be doing. But it all depends on the particularities of your newspaper -- the column width, page width, use of images, etc. You're definitely right that you don't want to scare off readers with too small type, but do consider that high schoolers do have good eyes, so a smaller point size may not be awful.

I will say that when I redesigned my high school newspaper, I had just read Bringhurst and decided to use his recommendation of 9 pts with 11 pts leading (using Mercury Text Grade 2). Only later did I realize that I had given the type twice as much leading as was customary, making the typography more like a book's. But, in fact, it worked out quite well, as I found that the airiness of the leading allowed me to set pages with remarkably few images without seeming intimidating. I'm not necessarily advocating this for your paper, but experimenting to find the optimal size, leading, etc. for your publication might be the way to go.

Almost forgot: You can see lots of professional examples at the Newseum. No point sizes listed, but you can get a feel for them.

nmerriam's picture

Adam - If you can, run out to your local bookstore and buy a copy of "The Elements of Typographic Style" by Robert Bringhurst. I think it's only about $15 or so, and you will find it an invaluable companion in your design education. It's one of the very, very few books that literally no designer in any field should be without -- I reread it every few years from cover to cover.

In general, 9-10 pts will be just fine for a newspaper use. The biggest question is how long you want your lines of text to be, how you use your columns, and what leading you want to use. It certainly isn't going to make much difference whether you use (for example) 9.2 or 9.4 except as it relates to the leading.

Do you know about leading grids? I'm guessing with a leading of 10.2 you're not using one, and for newspapers and magazines it is one of the really fundamental tools you want to use to create the basic design, along with the number of columns. A leading grid makes everything else easier, I remember stumbling across them in a design book when I was in high school (also working on the newspaper :D ) and having a real combination "duh"/"eureka" moment. I'd imagine Google will turn up tons of stuff on "leading grid" that you can follow (as would searches for newspaper layout, newspaper design) but come back and ask if you need clarification.

Just to throw out an example, if you're using a 5-column layout on a tabloid page, I might use 9.5 Utopia with 12pt leading. Then using a leading grid, we can say we want our headlines to have 24pt leading, so maybe 17-22pts in size. You can set captions at 9/11 in a lighter or heavier or italicized face. You can do subheads at 16/24 or even 11/12 or 12/12 depending on how tests for readability and choices you make about style work out. Essentially, start with your body copy, figure out what combination of leading and columns make it work for your goals, and then design everything else based on the body copy. You might wind up using 4 columns of text, or break it up into sub-columns so that you can introduce asymmetry without throwing off alignment. So if you designed the page around 7 columns, you would have 3 columns of text, each of which spanned 2 columns, and a column of white space on the outside of the page where photos can hang, captions can go, things like that. Designing with grids that way adds visual interest without making things arbitrary, but don't feel obligated to try out everything at once :D


Nick Shinn's picture

The Globe and Mail was set in 9 on 10 Utopia for many years, until last year's redesign changed the face.

kentlew's picture

I think you'll be hard-pressed to find a newspaper with text as large as 10 pt. Most are in the 9 pt range, as someone already mentioned. It also depends upon the face. Some types designed specifically for newspaper text are actually targeted to be used closer to 8.75 pt, but look more like 10 pt.

With the typical narrow newspaper columns, you have to make a choice between hyphenation and atrocious spacing. Actually, you almost always get some bad spacing in such columns; you just do the best you can with overall H&Js to minimize it. As a result, generally speaking, newspapers use pretty much the most liberal hyphenation settings of any print medium -- unlimited hyphens in a row, two characters before and after, hyphenated capitalized words and names, etc. Many things that ordinarily wouldn't be tolerated in book typography, for instance. It pretty much comes with the territory.

If you've got the full pro version of Acrobat, you can spelunk in those Newseum PDFs and get information about the actual text specs of many papers.

-- K.

Adam Union's picture

Thanks for all these recommendations;

Utopia at 9-9.5 pts is probably fine then

I'll have to pick up that book, Elements of Typographic Style, sometime

Reed Reibstein's picture

Not to sidetrack the thread too much, but Kent, how do you see the point sizes and other specs in Acrobat? I have Acrobat 8 Professional, but all I've ever known how to do is see what fonts are embedded. Unless you just meant eyeballing the text up close.

kentlew's picture

Reed -- I have 7.0, but I assume it's the same in 8: Use the TouchUp Text Tool to place an insertion point or select a bit of text. Then control-click to get a contextual menu and select Properties…. This should give you a dialog from which you can learn the specific font and size of the selected text.

There may be other ways of getting to this dialog, but that's the one that sticks with me.

-- K.

Alessandro Segalini's picture

Reed, you can also do that with Quite, “A Box Of Tricks” :

Reed Reibstein's picture

Thanks a ton, Kent (and thanks, Alessandro; I hadn't seen that plug-in before). I guess I need to take some real Acrobat classes instead of assuming that using Reader has taught me all there is to know :-)

Alessandro Segalini's picture

Some years ago a prepress man friend of mine came out with : “with the Reader you do the beer !”. He meant the Pro version can make the wine, but I guess it has humor to Italian wine lovers only.

Quincunx's picture

That fontsize info in Acrobat Pro is nice. Would be even better if it could also show leading. ;)

SuperUltraFabulous's picture

Best looking paper by far is the Los Angeles Times... at least for the US anyway. Most of the newspapers I’ve seen are the best Font Bureau specimens you can ever get a hold of.

Mikey :-)

Don McCahill's picture

> Would be even better if it could also show leading.

I don't think this can easily happen, because PDF does not deal with leading. Each line is given a discrete x,y position, not based on the line above. This is why it is difficult to get text out of a PDF into WP or DTP formats again.

Quincunx's picture

> I don’t think this can easily happen, because PDF does not deal with leading.

Ah, I see. Well the pointsize tip is already very handy. :)

kentlew's picture

I seem to remember getting property information on leading in an earlier version of Acrobat. Back around v.5 I think. But I think aspects of PDF have evolved and maybe leading is no longer a relevant measure, as Don explained.

-- K.

michiganlaw's picture

Dear Adam,
I'm sure you are busy, so this suggestion is one that will save you an enormous amount of time. The size of a tabloid page is approximately 11 x 15. Using Microsoft Word, set up a custom size of 11 x 15 (or whatever size you need). Be sure the drawing toolbar is available. From the drawing toolbar choose the text box tool, and draw a box the size of the page, less margins and headers or footers. Then paste your copy in the box in one column. Change your type size to 9.5 or 10 point. By using the format paragraph command, set your leading to anything you wish. Then select all the type; goto the format menu and select columns. Choose the number of columns that you wish; set it for flush left,right or justified; choose the space between columns; add a line between columns (or not) and your page will be finished. You may have a problem fitting the copy to the page size. In that case you have no choice but to change the leading; change the point size of your type; use fillers to take up the space if you don't want to change the point size or the leading. I suggest you use ten point century with the leading at 11, for readability. If you don't use fillers (cartoons; public service announcements etc.)you either have to change point size and leading as necessary or edit your copy to fit the space you have available. If you have any questions my email is

Adam Union's picture

Thanks for all your help Herb

If only I had that 6 months ago when I was first doing layout! It would have saved me a ton of time. Now I'm pretty comfortable with Publisher--here's a (very low-res) screenshot of the latest issue (I'll probably start a new thread to ask for input as well)
Do you think Century is better than Utopia? I was planning to use 9.2 pt Utopia on 10.2 leading for the next issue...


Randy's picture

SuperUltra: them's strong words man. Not even leaving the state, SF Chronicle's headline and text versions of Electra are something to behold. Esp the headline. Then again, I love Electra. Their sans, not so good. In fact I would say generally that newspapers often choose safe and stale sans whilest serifs and slabs are allowed tons of personality.

Adam: that looks nice!

Adam Union's picture

Thanks Randy;

I'm thinking of changing all the Myriad to Chaparral..I think it looks a little austere now for a high school paper.

SuperUltraFabulous's picture

Randy, show me a sample of their Electra. I’ve always thought of that face suitable for books not newspapers. Must be a new custom job. The LA Times uses a custom Kis which is really pretty and well suited for the task when I would have thought that Kis was for book reading. And you are right about that their sans– very clunky.

Adam, I really like your paper. Chaparral is worth a shot tho.

Mikey :-)

Reed Reibstein's picture

Actually, their Electra, called "Electric," was done by Jim Parkinson none too recently. According to this interesting Adobe PDF, it was designed prior to 1996. Looks like he also did a custom version of Metro for them, but that doesn't seem used for much of anything anymore.

Adam, your paper has a really great modularity, with a lot of different elements to catch the readers eye -- very nice! But you could really use some white space for breathing room; the gutters between columns are very tight if not nonexistent, and you should put some between the different elements as well. Try building it into the template; it will make the newspaper a whole lot more attractive. Even if you don't implement a baseline grid as Nathaniel said (which is a great idea that worked well for me in the past), think of the white space as pacing your page -- you need the proper amount to give your readers a place to grab onto the next element or they'll be moving around so quickly they won't have anywhere to stop. As with many things, Bringhurst is good for understanding this, too.

And while we're on the semi-relevant best-designed newspaper in the U.S., my favorites include the Houston Chronicle, Kansas City Star, and the Virginian-Pilot, with the WSJ, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, and Baltimore Sun as runners-up.

EDIT: And I second Chaparral, though it might be a little light-hearted for news. If you do have any money you can finagle out of your school's newspaper budget, I would strongly recommend buying some new type (which of course people around here can help you out with) -- the perfect typeface(s) can go a long way toward establishing a strong identity, even if future generations are not as committed to design excellence as you are.

EDIT 2: And, Mikey, they're not just Font Bureau specimens; there are a lot of Hoefler & Frere-Jones types in them, too ;-)

Adam Union's picture

I've never known how to properly add whitespace--do it wrongly and it looks like you've made a bad layout mistake.

Should I just add a bit of space under each headline? That seems to be what several papers do.

Reed Reibstein's picture

Yes -- and between your columns, where you really need it. But you're right that it can be a tricky business. To echo Nathaniel again, if you set up a baseline grid (though I don't know if you can in Publisher; in InDesign it's pretty easy) you can just use that to define all your white space issues. So a headline may be one, two, three, or four leads from the text, and so on.

Actually, in the Newspaper Designer's Handbook by Tim Harrower (which I actually recommend just as much as Bringhurst for you; it's incredible for explaining news design from the ground up), there is one page on spacing. He writes, as an example: "Headlines: Above: allow 18 pts. between logos or unrelated stories and top of the headline. Below: Allow 6 points between descenders and text/photos below. Roundups and briefs: When compiling packages of briefs that use small headlines (12- or 14-pt.), use tighter spacing: 1 pica of space above the headline and 6 pts. below." Maybe this will give you an idea of how spacing might work.

EDIT: Your idea of looking at other newspapers may in the end be the best way. You may want to look for ones that have a similar layout to yours and examine their use of white space, both within and without articles, horizontally and vertically.

Randy's picture

There is a very fine display cut for section heads too. On the front page you can see the subheads, italic and text. EDIT the newseum for the LA Times is strangely defaulting to times roman and stretching to match metrics. Looking nasty! What kind of newspaper is that?? :-)

Adam: I think you need the contrast between serif and sans. Don't replace the sans with a serif. I might choose darker, more flat sided sans with tighter fitting. This is preference. If myriad and chapparal are the only choices, stick with myriad.

A related and interesting read (previously linked on typophile):

Adam Union's picture

Publisher does have baselines which work perfectly...should I leave more space after larger headlines than after smaller ones? Now I leave less than 1 leading (10.2pt) after everything, which seems constricted.

Here is a prototype of my latest layout design, with 1 leading space after the heading (from the descenders). Is that enough white space?
I also bumped the inter-column spacing to .12" from .1".

Nick Shinn's picture

Your layout is fine.
The design has punch and immediacy, which is so important in a paper.
And you've managed that with a considerable level of editorial complexity.
It would be a huge mistake to fancy it up by adding white space and non-news types such as Chaparral...which I can see you've just done, and already it's starting to look like a wishy-washy corporate newsletter.
In the context of newspapers, rules are much better than white space for demarcating content.
In general, it's a good idea to do the opposite of what graphic designers and typographers recommend for newspapers --unless they actually have experience in designing one.

Adam Union's picture

So Myriad is beter than Chaparral? I thought Myriad was far too bland...I even considered switching to Helvetica because it looks noticeable and original by comparison

Before Myriad I used the new Microsoft font Candara for headlines, which is extremely informal. Myriad was better, but I didn't think it was a great headline or caption face.

As the type designer for the Globe and Mail (I think it looks fantastic, by the way), I will blindly listen to any newspaper layout advice of yours...what do you think the headline/sans font of the newspaper should be?

Reed Reibstein's picture

Well, Nick, maybe you do have a point; the current version above does feel newsy and a bit different. But those wide columns, especially at the bottom of the page, can feel oppressive without some white around them. At the least, I think you should make it consistent; if you're not putting space between article, then you shouldn't between columns within articles, either.

If you only want to use type already on your computer, you could try Corbel; it has a slightly harder feel to it than Myriad.

Adam Union's picture

I was thinking of Corbel earlier...I'll try it again. Thanks for the advice.

I must be doing columns differently: I have .12" between every single column, even if they are in the same article. The only difference is that between articles, a vertical line seperates columns with .06" of room on each side.
You seem to be refering to another way of handling column spacing...what do you mean?


Nick Shinn's picture

While it's possible to use any face, it's usually a good idea to pick something with short descenders for a newspaper. Corbel, for instance, would be nasty in "Grade eights..." with the descender of g and ascender of l bumping.

I thought Myriad was far too bland
Unless you're picking a specific display face, e.g. Meta Headline, it's probably better to go with a generic sans, and take the blandness off it by nuancing tracking, leading, and horizontal scaling to suit your layout.

If you're experimenting with controlling white space Adam, how about tightening up the tracking on the (Myriad) heads a bit?
That would "drive" out" the white space into the surrounding area.

At the least, I think you should make it consistent


Adam Union's picture

OK, thanks. The Myriad and Chaparral in the sample are tracked at 95% but I could always make it a little more condensed...

The real problem with Myriad, I think, is the the bold: its so bland as a headline font it hurts. The semibold is even worse. For captions and roman-weight titles it's excellent, though.

I just compared Myriad to Corbel--Corbel has a nice clean look but feels too simple for the job.

The school does have Helvetica and Cheltenham: would either of those be good as the caption and/or headline font? I know the New York Times uses both but its look is probably too formal for this setting.

William Berkson's picture

You may find that Myriad Semi-Condensed or Condensed works better for you for headlines--and you may have them on your machine as I believe that they have come bundled with some of the Adobe software.

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