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Microtypography is the name given to a range of methods for improving the readability and appearance of text, especially justified text. The methods reduce the appearance of large interword spaces and create edges to the text that appear more even. Microtypography methods can also increase reading comprehension of text, reducing the cognitive load of reading.
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Micro-typography is the art of enhancing the appearance and readability of a document while exhibiting a minimum degree of visual obtrusion. It is concerned with what happens between or at the margins of characters, words or lines. Whereas the macro-typographical aspects of a document (i.e., its layout) are clearly visible even to the untrained eye, micro-typographical refinements should ideally not even be recognisable. That is, you may think that a document looks beautiful, but you might not be able to tell exactly why: good micro-typographic practice tries to reduce all potential irritations that might disturb a reader.— R Schlicht, The
microtypepackage: Subliminal refinements towards typographical perfection, v2.7, 2017
There are several methods that can be used.
- The tracking (interletter, as opposed to interword, space) can be increased or decreased.
- The width of glyphs can be increased or decreased.
- Glyphs that are small (such as a period) or round (such as the letter "o") at the end of a line can be extended beyond the end of the line to create a more even line at the edge of the text. This is called protrusion, margin kerning, or hanging punctuation.
- Multiple different versions of the same glyph with different widths may be used. This method was used by Gutenberg in the 42-line bible (see (Zapf 2007)), but is less easy now because few fonts come with multiple versions of the same glyph. It is not practical with narrow variants of a font or with different weights of a font because the glyphs look too different from each other to create good effect. It is possible with some multiple master fonts.
- The interline space can be adjusted in a similar way to the interword space to create text blocks of identical height or to avoid widows and orphans. However, this practice (sometimes called vertical justification) is frowned upon in quality typography, as it destroys the fabric of the text (Bringhurst 2008).
- The width of the word spaces can be increased or decreased. Word spacing can be adjusted uniformly across a block of text or variably with different sized spaces used between different words. The variable adjustment method is often called syntactic cueing, phrase-based formatting, or Chunking when expansions or contractions are varied to group multiple words into units of meaning such as phrases or clauses. Chunking words by visually grouping them through word spacing or other white space improves reading comprehension, speed, and verbal fluency 10-40%.
The following methods are not usually considered part of microtypography, but are important to it.
- Justification of text. If the text is not justified, the word spacing is fixed and so only the protrusion elements of microtypography are likely to be useful.
- A hyphenation method that can break words at an appropriate point if necessary.
- Kerning helps ensure that the space between letters is appropriate before microtypography is applied.
Adobe InDesign provides microtypography and is based on the Hz program developed by Hermann Zapf and Peter Karow. As of August 2007[update], InDesign is available for Apple Mac OS X and Microsoft Windows operating systems.
The pdfTeX extension of TeX, developed by Hàn Thế Thành, incorporates microtypography. It is available for most operating systems. For LaTeX, the
microtype package provides an interface to these microtypographic extensions; as of August 2007[update], pdfTeX was not compatible with XeTeX, an extension of TeX that makes it easier to use many typographic features of OpenType fonts. However, in 2010, support for protrusion was added to it.
ConTeXt, another typesetting system based on TeX, offers both microtypographical features such as expansion and protrusion (a.k.a. hanging punctuation) and OpenType support through LuaTeX, which is an extended version of pdfTeX.
The word-processing packages OpenOffice.org Writer and Microsoft Office Word do not, as of August 2015[update], support microtypography. They allow pair kerning and have limited support for ligaturing, but automatic ligaturing is not available.
GNU TeXmacs support microtypography features such as expansion protrusion, kerning and tracking.
Asym is a real-time microtypography platform developed by Asymmetrica Labs that subtly modifies word spacing, and claims to make significant improvements to engagement, conversions, and E-commerce purchase rates.
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- Williams, Robin (2006), The Non-designer's Type Book, Peachpit Press, ISBN 0-321-30336-9
- Zapf, Hermann (2007), Alphabet Stories, Linotype GmbH, ISBN 978-3-9810319-6-6
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- Magloire, J. G. (2002). "Eye movements by good and poor readers during reading of regular and phrase-segmented texts". Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ.
- LaVasseur, V. M.; Macaruso, P.; Palumbo, L. C.; Shankweiler, D. (2006). "Syntactically cued text facilitates oral reading fluency in developing readers". Applied Psycholinguistics. 27 (3): 423–445. doi:10.1017/S0142716406060346.
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