Beautifully Justified Columns?

wmuench's picture

I’ve done freelance graphic design as a hobby for many years, and then went to school for it. I am now working as a tech and tutoring in ID, ILL & PS CS5.

My education taught me there are bad ways to use layout programs so I want to make sure the students I tutor can benefit from learning good habits as opposed to just taking the easy way out by letting the app decide how things should look.

Right now, specifically, I am talking about column justification. Many of the classes (which are not graphic design but intro/overview classes) are having students duplicate layouts--which is fine--but since they aren’t teaching the software, the students will do things like use paragraph returns to justify, (to ensure each line ends with the specific word that match the layout document). They also misuse tracking/kerning/leading etc., much less know the differences or when/where/how to use them.

It’s impossible to just teach the program without going into some design aspects and would like to educate these students a bit about what makes good typographic sense. How it’s about type working with white space to create texture, and the difference between optical and measured spaces.

I haven’t done a lot of layout work myself and have yet to get a handle on the best way to properly finesse justifying a lot of text in columns but I know simply clicking on ‘justified’ in the paragraph palette makes for poor design.

I’m sure there are a number of ways to do this properly but I’ve yet to feel comfortable giving any hardcore advice and wonder if anyone would care to share their conventions here?

Thanks a million!

riccard0's picture

There was several discussions here about these topics.
Some examples:

JamesM's picture

> [my classes] are not graphic design but intro/overview classes

The three discussions mentioned have a lot of excellent advice. But if you're teaching beginners, I'd suggest just giving them a few basic tips, rather than trying to make them into justification experts.

Show them some "before/after" examples of good and bad hyphenation. Explain how line length affects hyphenation. Show how to turn hyphenation on and off, and explain a few of the basic settings. Point out that the Help files for each program explain the other settings if they want to refine the hyphenation further. And show them the right way to manually insert line breaks.

By the way, one mistake I've frequently noticed in beginning designers is that they insert hard line breaks when manually changing line breaks. This is bad technique, as they are actually creating a new paragraph when they do that. They should use soft breaks instead (shift-return in InDesign).

Here are a few other goofs I often see. They'll force a line break by inserting a tab or multiple blank spaces, which can cause problems if the text reflows later. And this may be slightly off topic, but many beginners don't know how to use the "indent to here" command in InDesign; a command that's extremely useful in many situations.

wmuench's picture

Riccard0: Thanks for the links--I have yet to read every page but can already see a number of things I'd like to try.


Thank you for some great advice!

In having to troubleshoot students files I show them how to turn on/off hidden characters so they can check for inconsistencies when the text layout behaves erratically.

Re: "...I'd suggest just giving them a few basic tips, rather than trying to make them into justification experts."

I agree--especially when I'm not 100% comfortable with it myself! Many classes will use the same exercises and one part of these layouts is justified columns that students seem to slave over, so no, I'd rather not spend too much time on any one topic but this seems to be a dominant problem for most of them. If they're not planning on being the next Paul Rand I don't go into as much detail but for those with a keen interest it's hard not to try to make the experience a richer one and eliminate the same frustrating mistakes I made when trying to be creative with an app I didn't know.

Showing examples of line length and badly spaced text is a great idea. In fact, example from the real world abound and I should be looking for them to use as teaching materials.


carlos_moreno_'s picture

James, in fact you don't need use soft line break in InDesign to force a line to end. You have commands to force the hyphenation of a word in the place you want, or to not break the word instead. This way is better because if the column width changes, the line won't break in the wrong place as if you use soft breaks...

JamesM's picture

Carlos, you make a good point; a soft break will not reflow later. InDesign gives us a variety of options for forcing a line break at a specific place, and each has its pros and cons.

A discretionary hyphen is a good choice if you don't mind having the last word hyphenated. Will only work if the last word is already hyphenated but you just want to change the location of the hyphen. Will reflow properly (if the text reflows later and the hyphen is no longer needed, the hyphen will disappear.)

If you don't want a hyphen, options include:

Discretionary Break — Tells InDesign the preferred spot to break a line. Will reflow if necessary. However InDesign will only apply the break if it's near the end of a line, and I've found that InDesign sometimes refuses to break where I want it to because it thinks I'm making that line too short.

Soft Break — Forces a break at a specific spot. Gives the user total control over the break point, but may cause problems if the text reflows later.

No Break — Tells InDesign not to break a word or phrase. Often used for phone numbers, URLs, etc., but can also be used to force breaks at certain points. But if the text reflows later it's possible you'll be left with an awkward break.

kentlew's picture

Discretionary hyphen will work to force a break if you place it at the beginning of a word, before the first letter.

But if one wants this kind of micro control over paragraphs and over each line, then it’s probably better to use the single-line composer, instead of the paragraph composer. That way, micro tweaks like those mentioned will do exactly what is expected, as opposed to causing the justification engine to recalculate the entire paragraph, which will often then come up with a different solution than the one intended by the compositor.

mikeaalex's picture

It sounds like a lot of the justification issues that you are having are due to the types of breaks that the students are using. I would suggest teaching them the proper use of breaks that James mentioned above. To improve the look of the justification, make sure you teach them to use their justification settings for a paragraph style (Mac [CMD-SHIFT-OPT-J] win [CTRL-SHIFT-OPT-J). Ugly hyphenation can also ruin a block of copy, so consider the hyphenation settings also.

Keep in mind that I am just a student myself, so you can probably get more advanced or specific advice from some of the other members here.

kentlew's picture

I'll reiterate something I said in another thread on H&J: In InDesign, the more you limit the variables, the fewer options the engine has to work with, and the more likely you are to wind up with situations where the engine has to “give up” and opt for bad results.

So, if you really can’t abide hyphenated lines in proximity to one another, then sure, go ahead and set the Hyphen Limit to 1 as in this example. But hyphenation and spacing are always playing against each other; the more you tie the engine’s hands in hyphenation, the more it’s going to have to compromise in spacing, and vice versa.

I’ll tell you, I regularly work with an unlimited Hyphen Limit in InDesign and I rarely see more than three hyphens in a row, and even three is not that common. (In book work, that is; narrow columns will require more frequent hyphens.) The H&J engine really tries not to stack hyphens and factors in penalties accordingly.

Again, picking on the example above (nothing personal, Mike): If you limit the hyphenation in this case to words with minimum 7+ letters, then the engine will not be allowed to break words like “tim-ber,” “vic-tim,” “zig-zag,” et cetera. (There are probably thousands of examples.)

If you really can’t stand these sorts of breaks, then by all means, set that limit. But otherwise, why not give it as much leeway to make good choices as it can get?

You should really only limit it with what you absolutely cannot abide.

Florian Hardwig's picture

Word. Regarding the multiple hyphens in a row:
What’s good enough for Gutenberg is good enough for me.

wmuench's picture

Thanks all for the further advice. I'm learning a lot here!

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