5 tips for better typesetting

Typesetting – the business of putting text on a page – is one of those design disciplines that might look straightforward enough to the casual observer, but which is actually full of potential pitfalls. There's more to it than choosing a decent font pairing (opens in new tab) and hoping for the best.

Bad typesetting can be just as hard on the eye as an ill-considered palette or a poorly-executed logo design, and there's no way around it: you have to take your time learning the basics. If you follow these expert tips, though, you should find that the path to typesetting expertise becomes much easier to follow.

01. Take your time

"Getting typesetting right is something that will largely come with time," says Michelle Stocks of Nelson Bostock Unlimited (opens in new tab). "So just keep practising, and don't get put off when it doesn't look good immediately. I recommend looking at a lot of inspiration too, because it helps you get an idea of what works well together."

02. Keep studying 

"First you need to learn the tools: font size, leading, tracking, horizontal and vertical scaling, paragraph styling, language settings and grid systems," says Maya Walters of Hogarth Worldwide (opens in new tab). "Then you need to extend your knowledge: there's always something new to learn. Read a book on typography and set challenges for yourself to put your new skills into practice, such as working on a personal project."

03. Read books

For reading matter, Luke Tonge of LIFE (opens in new tab) suggests Type Matters! (opens in new tab) by Jim Williams and Thinking with Type (opens in new tab) by Ellen Lupton. And if you really want to treat yourself, he adds, The Visual History of Type (opens in new tab) by Paul McNeil is "the best book on type this year". 

04. Use online resources 

"There are countless online resources to help you improve your skills too," says Tonge. "They include ilovetypography.com (opens in new tab), typographher.com (opens in new tab), letterformarchive.org (opens in new tab), typewolf.com (opens in new tab) and fontsinuse.com (opens in new tab). Plus, on Twitter there are heaps of amazing foundries, magazines, designers, publications and organisations to follow, to further immerse yourself in the world of type." 

05. Clients come first

"Above all, find out about the client's needs when it comes to typesetting," says Walters. "Do they have guidelines and styles? If so, they should be made a prime consideration for the typography you create."

This article was originally published in issue 274 of Computer Arts, the global design magazine. Buy issue 274 here (opens in new tab) or subscribe to Computer Arts here (opens in new tab).

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Tom May is an award-winning journalist and editor specialising in design, photography and technology. Author of the Amazon #1 bestseller Great TED Talks: Creativity (opens in new tab), published by Pavilion Books, Tom was previously editor of Professional Photography magazine, associate editor at Creative Bloq, and deputy editor at net magazine. Today, he is a regular contributor to Creative Bloq and its sister sites Digital Camera World, T3.com and Tech Radar. He also writes for Creative Boom and works on content marketing projects.