Resources for more advanced typographic self-education

Maurice Meilleur's picture

Hi, all:

Having reached a good basic grasp of InDesign (or so I think), it's time for me to take my typographic skills to the next level: I want to learn better the finer details of kerning, tracking, and h&j--to know when to rely on a font's metrics and how best to tweak them throughout a text when not.

I know the best way to learn is still by doing, and I plan to do as much as I can. But with a PhD in another field and a full-time day job, and freelance design on the side, it's got to be self-education for me. Courses and apprenticing are out of the question, and anything I can do to speed the process along within reason would be good.

Here are some of the resources I've already amassed, thanks to past discussions on Typophile.

Bringhurst's Elements (and Richard Rutter's online interpretation for the web)
Dowding, Finer points in the spacing and arrangement of type
Felici, Complete manual of typography
Haslam's Book design
Hendel's On book design
Hochuli's Designing books and Detail in typography
Mitchell & Wightman's Book typography
Ari Rafaeli's Book typography
Williamson's Methods of book design

I know these are good for discussions of general approaches to setting type in print. But I really need to know more about the mechanics of adjusting type in InDesign--specifically, using GREP and scripts. I've run across resources like Peter Kahrel's kerning script for InDesign, and his O'Reilly book on GREP, but I don't think I'm even at the level where I could use them properly, or accurately evaluate the relative advantages and drawbacks of GREP and scripts (or recognize when it would be better just to edit the kerning tables in a font directly, something I feel is well beyond my abilities right now). Any suggestions?

eliason's picture

I haven't tried them myself but I hear good things about the tutorials at; looks like they have some on GREP and scripts.

Joshua Langman's picture

I know there's actually a book called "InDesign Type," but I don't know if an edition has come out since the introduction of GREP styles.


Maurice Meilleur's picture

Ooh--good call, Craig. I've used Lynda tutorials in the past, but didn't think to dig into their InDesign catalog.

charles ellertson's picture

I see some on your list I'd cross off.

* * *

It is probably the old man in me, but most anything from the Hyphen Press is pretty good.

For the overlap between design and composition, see esp. Detail in Typography

Though I'd note that some of the spacing in the lovely examples wouldn't survive in the text as set -- generally true for Dowding, too.

Just one example: All that lovely space between the parens and letters in the examples is larger than a word space in a tight line. You wind up with the parens being closer to the previous word, even though separated by a space, that to the letter it encompasses.

Composition is all about compromise. Still, the examples in Hochuli's book show some worth considering.

Maurice Meilleur's picture

Charles, I'd be interested to know which books you'd 86 and why.

JamesM's picture

> I hear good things about the tutorials at

Their InDesign tutorials are excellent. They even have separate series for each version of InDesign. For example, here's a screen shot of their CS4 InDesign video tutorials about GREP (over 3 hours on GREP alone):

You can often find an offer code for a free trial week via a Google search.

charles ellertson's picture


I'd ditch Ari Rafaeli's Book typography, but my reasons may mixed with personal ones. He quoted a portion of an email of mine to another person (not Rafaeli) without my permission. Not only was it a portion, but also dependent on a conversation which was not included. In other words, he distorted my thinking for an ulterior purpose.

And that, it seems to me, was to elevate himself by running down Rich Hendel, who, I'll allow, is a friend. Aside from that, I find it simply a rehash of early to mid twentieth century British typography. Better to get that from the original sources.

As to that: I was enamored of Dowding at first, but when trying to actually set books with his tight spacing, kept running into problems. Part of this may be because I set mainly scholarly texts, which are not only peppered with long words, but have a relative dearth of short ones. Along with hyphenation, it is the number of word spaces in a line that control how tight or loose those spaces must be to justify a line -- at least, if you don't alter the type itself. The number of characters has no bearing.

Just as an example, hyphenation too is worth considering. Some hyphen points are awkward, but will give more even spacing (or tighter spacing) in the text. So, do you go for clearer hyphenation, or more even spacing? Or take it as a compromise, with no clear rules. Would you let a single "A" of a title end a line (as in A Bridge too Far, or would you keep it with at least one more word of the title? How about "vol. 21"? Break between for more even word spacing, or keep them together? Etc.

So I'd take Dowding as a powerful apologist. Finer points is worth reading, but in the end, Dowding will sacrifice everything for tight word spacing. And that, I'd argue, is not an aesthetic amenable to reading, which is still the point of setting type.

Same with Bringhurst, to a lesser extent. Well worth reading, not always worth following.

Perhaps that is the point: Many of these texts argue strongly for certain positions, and that can be quite useful if you take the arguments as polemics. But if you take these texts as giving rules to follow, things to emulate without question, you're not doing the work of a compositor.

For books, both interior design and composition are at their best when reading the text is served. Graphic design and typographic purity have to take the back seat.

William Berkson's picture

Mitchell & Weightman's Book Typography I like a lot. I'd be interested in Charles's opinion of it.

Just for training your eye on type, Doyald Young's books are wonderful in getting across the concept of even color.

Nick Shinn's picture

On the practical side, I can recommend trying to create a digital facsimile of an old foundry-metal or linotype face document.
It really exposes and illuminates the differences in justification methods, among other things.

Duplicating a pre-1800 page, with long s's, is quite interesting.

charles ellertson's picture

I haven't read Mitchell & Weightman's Book Typography.

I'll allow that I find Art of the Printed Book and An Atlas of Typeforms very good typography manuals. They don't tell you rules, they show you how things were done in times past. Descriptive, rather than prescriptive. We are always reinventing typography, ever so slightly.

I like Nick's idea.

I like too exploring some of the old verbotens. For example, think about slight modifications of letters as an aid to justification, or slight changes in tracking. With the old increments of 1/18 unit em, or even the 1/54 unit em, you wouldn't want to do this. Now we have 1/1000 unit em. And InDesign will allow a decimal percentage of that.

Even rethink the whole notion. In scribal times before Gutenberg, don't you think they modified letters a bit, as they wrote (copied), to get the line to fit? Zapf did some work on alternate characters as an aid to justification and even word spacing. Implementing the idea was a problem for the layout programs, ultimately never addressed.

Different tools and different audiences offer a chance to reexamine solutions. But they should be *solutions*, not just clever ideas.

Maurice Meilleur's picture

William, it's hard to find Young's books--not surprisingly, libraries in the Illinois systems and Illiac are loath to lend their copies out. But I did track down Logotypes and letterforms.

Charles, I agree: it seemed pretty clear to me early on that a lot of books on type are polemics (just look at Tschichold!), and that what we get out of most of these sorts of books is not answers but clear statements of principle, and forthright questions and ways of framing answers, values to be traded off against each other when making typographic judgments. That's certainly what I've gotten out of them so far. And since academic texts are the ones I'd be most likely to be setting, the tip about Dowding is well appreciated. I tend myself to favor close spacing (and I saw that Rafaeli got many of his ideas about that from Dowding), but you can see in Dowding's own book the downside of being dogmatic about it.

I also think Nick's idea is intriguing. I have a copy of Art of the printed book on my shelf and a little bit of time on my hands over the holidays. And maybe after some quality time with Kahrel and I might have the skills to give it a constructive go. (But--call me the neophyte purist zealot--I don't think I could make myself modify letters.)

charles ellertson's picture

but you can see in Dowding's own book the downside of being dogmatic about it.

Yes, if you have the Wace edition. Not if you have the Hartley & Marks edition.

Spend the money to get Godine's edition of the Art of the Printed Book. My copy is not to hand, but there is a sample of 19th century French Typography toward the end of the book where word spacing is quite large. So to is the leading, and the margins. It all fits. No spatial relationship in a book should be considered by itself.

Here is an irreverent thought I once had: Why is the bottom margin traditionally so large? Now, folio-sized books had to be read at a table or desk. You don't want the first line on the page to be too far away. What about the last line? Suppose you have a significant belly?

* * *

As to modifying letters. Set a few lines of type, ragged right. Print out the page. Now "condense" it 1/1000 of an em. Print that out. Put the two pages away, and look at them, independently, the next day. Not together, but sequentially. Can you tell them apart?

Set justified copy. Find a paragraph where the wordspacing is just going a bit loose. Make the screen display smallish -- normal InDesign screen display with spreads is about right. One thing you'll see about that paragraph is it appears a bit lighter than the others. Now, track it a bit -- usually no more than -4 or -5, condense it to 99 percent, so as to save a line. All of a sudden, its color changes, closer to the other paragraphs.

Which setting is worse?

You can do the same thing with carding, which Richard Eckersley was so fond of. No, you can't see a .1 point difference in leading. But the color of the plus-carded page will be lighter. Which is more important, completely regular page bottoms, or the color of the page?


Joshua Langman's picture

"I can recommend trying to create a digital facsimile of an old foundry-metal or linotype face document."

That sounds like a wonderful exercise. I think I'll try it.

"Zapf did some work on alternate characters as an aid to justification and even word spacing. Implementing the idea was a problem for the layout programs, ultimately never addressed."

Wouldn't it be interesting if InDesign had a "contextual alternates" option in the justification box? I.e., use variant forms with different widths as a way of justifying lines, which is, of course, what the scribes did.

Incidentally, printed Hebrew will still use very stretched versions of just one or two characters in a line to justify the line, typically characters with prominent horizontal strokes. This is a holdover from Hebrew's long scribal tradition. The Latin alphabet has never really done this in print.

Maurice Meilleur's picture

As it happens, it's the Wace edition of Dowding I have. And the Godine of the Art of the printed book. Is carding done strictly for color?

charles ellertson's picture

Carding is done to have a constant text page depth. Suppose a page break would create a widow? What to do, run the spread short? That's the most common solution. Maybe you can make/save a line, another solution, which affects word spacing. Or you can card, essentially running one line less on a page, but increasing the leading so the text goes to the bottom of the page.

All these "solutions" involve compromise. If someone says one solution is like stealing sheep, you can find another who thinks just the opposite.

BeauW's picture

I've been working on adding two stylistic sets to a text font- one with condensed letters and one with expanded, to be used in justifying lines.

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