Layout and design tips

Planning and organization

  • Keep paper in mind when designing your publication: coated vs. uncoated, finish, weight, and color vs. white.
  • The key to good layout is to visually organize your information.
  • Use a grid. It gives a coherent structure to your publication. Don’t vary from it unless there is a good reason to do so.


  • Edit copy or use kerning to eliminate orphans (words of text that stand alone on a line) and widows (lines of text that stand apart from the paragraph with which they belong, usually at the top of a column or page).
  • Look up and down columns of type for hyphens and short words at the ends of lines—to, a, and it, for example. The reader will be distracted if there are three or more hyphens in a row or if words seem to stand alone. Break the type differently.
  • White space gives the reader a rest. Try not to fill a publication with too much information.


  • Use italic and bold fonts instead of using generic italic and bold styles.
  • Kern (reduce space) between letters when necessary, especially for larger point sizes.
  • Limit the use of type families. Times, Times Bold, Times Bold Italic, and Times Italic comprise a type family; Helvetica, Helvetica Bold, Helvetica Bold Italic, and Helvetica Italic are another.
  • If you want to use more than one typeface in your publication, try using a serif and a complementary sans serif typeface for visual contrast. As a rule, serif typefaces are used for text and sans serif for headlines.
  • Create a type hierarchy with point sizes and keep all the type consistent within the hierarchy. A hierarchy might be 16-point heads, 14-point subheads, 11-point body copy, and 9-point captions, for example.
  • Keep the leading, which is the vertical space between one line of type and the next, consistent. Be consistent with the space between paragraphs, as well.
  • Use one space after sentences instead of two spaces.
  • Use an easy-to-read font for lengthy passages. Serif fonts are usually considered more readable than sans serif. Fonts that are ornate, decorative, extremely condensed or extended, all bold face, or all italic should be used for emphasis or impact, not for extended reading.
  • If you use justified type, correct awkward spacing between words.

Graphic elements

  • Make sure all photographs are scanned at the proper resolution. The standard for offset printing is 133 lpi or 266 dpi.
  • Break up text and create visual interest by using some of the following: clip art, photographs, quotes, larger bold heads, boxed sidebars, color, tints, rules, and white space.
  • Use boxes, rules, and other visual elements sparingly. Usually, they are for emphasis; too many will compete with each other and create a confusing visual layout.
  • Be cautious about using a logo as the main graphic element. Logos are meant to be a symbol or an identifier, not the main graphic.
  • Bullets should be smaller than the type they accent so they don’t overpower it. In the examples below, the 11-point type is accented first with a 7-point bullet and next with an 11-point bullet.
  • When using initial caps, place the letter close enough to the body copy so a visual connection is made.
  • Keep screen tints in the low range (from 5% to 40%, depending on the intensity of the color) when type will print over the tints.


  • Choose ink colors carefully when printing photos of people. Green, for instance, is not very flattering.
  • When you use a second color, use it generously without overdoing it. Get your money’s worth!
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