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Tip of the Week: Choosing the Right Amount of Leading

This InDesign tip on choosing the right amount of leading was sent to Tip of the Week email subscribers on March 1, 2018.

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There is no magic formula for choosing the right amount of leading, just a few common sense guidelines to consider.

Avoid auto leading. While convenient, having your leading expressed as a percentage of your point size can cause problems, especially with display type. While the default amount of 120% works OK for body text, it is proportionally too much for anything above 14 point and fails miserably when you have display type in all caps because the absence of descenders makes the lines look even further apart. Rather than use auto leading, take charge of the exact amount of space assigned to each line by choosing an absolute leading value. As a rule of thumb this should be between 1–3 points more than the size of body text.

If working with a wide column, increase the leading to improve readability, likewise if your type reverses out of a solid color.

Typefaces with a high x-height, like Helvetica, benefit from a bit more leading; those with a low x-height, like Jenson look better with less.

As type gets bigger, so the relative size of the leading should decrease. But don’t take these guidelines as truth—use them as a starting point and then adjust to your taste.

 

Nigel French

Nigel French

Nigel French is a graphic designer, photographer, author, and teacher living in Lewes, UK. He is the author of InDesign Type and Photoshop Unmasked, both from Adobe Press, as well as several titles in the lynda.com online training library, including InDesign Typography.
Nigel French

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5 Comments on “Tip of the Week: Choosing the Right Amount of Leading

  1. Back in my Quark days, I always used the relative (I think that’s what is was called) leafing feature where you set the type with a +X leading like we used to do when marking up copy for typeseting. E.G. 12/+3 = 12/15. I wish Indesign would add that feature. Much better than auto leading.

  2. Hello Nigel —

    > Typefaces with a high x-height, like Helvetica, benefit from a bit more leading; those with a low x-height, like Jenson look better with less.

    Andrew Strauss quantified this with a simple formula, called 4-on-12, which sets leading at three times the x-height of the used type. Works very well for standard-width text columns. When done manually you have to determine the x-height in some way, but it’s not hard to script.

  3. Peter Kemp: You can do that in InDesign: simply select the Leading field (in the Character panel or the Basic Character Formats tab in the paragraph style window) and enter 12+3.

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