Using Type: How to Justify Type

Using Type, set in FF Spinoza

Alright, you’ve read the intro on when to justify and what considerations to make when doing it, now let’s get to the how of it. First, before any documents are open in InDesign, let’s fix the default. From the Paragraph panel, select the down arrow in the top right corner, and choose Justification.

InDesign justification settings

Common Term: When typographers refer to ‘H&J,’ they’re talking about hyphenation and justification settings.

InDesign justification settings

Applying the above defaults ensures terrible justification. Twenty percentage points of variation tighter and looser than the default word spacing is simply too elastic a standard. Spaces between words will be both much too wide and far too tight as a result. Instead, vary Word Spacing by 2 or 3 percent on either side. The same goes for Letter Spacing and Glyph Scaling, though I’d keep it to a 1 or 2 percent variation.

InDesign justification settings

And yes, in case you’re wondering I did in fact just say it’s okay to squoosh type, a little. Many designers of text faces take this constraint into consideration and make their designs capable of withstanding modest scaling. But by all means, use your eyes and try it out with the real thing. Once you’ve got a representative sample of your copy set, dial these settings (Glyph Scaling tolerances) back some to see what’s working. (Update In response to one of the comments, I’ll add: If you’re creating a PDF to be read primarily on screen, fix glyph scaling to 100%.) Note that I don’t mess with the Single Word Justification since this is something that’s rarely used, but when it is, you’ll want it to perform as expected. Alright. Provided no other documents are open upon closing this dialog, the values you’ve just set are your new justification defaults.

Justified column

The sample above is justified with the above settings applied. It’s set in Font Bureau’s Benton Sans. Below is a comparison of the default justification settings, left, to the new settings, right. The text breaks at exactly the same points in both samples, which is unusual, but offers a nice apples-to-apples comparison of the subtle differences. Note especially the word spacing on the fifth lines of each.

Default justification settings, new settings

Now to touch briefly on hyphenation. Justification wouldn’t work without it, not without a tremendous copyfitting effort anyway. When words are hyphenated, they should lead the reader from the head of the word, to the waiting body at the beginning of the next line. What I mean to say by that is there’s a logical flow to it. The hyphenated word above, ef-fective, breaks after the first two letters. If it were effect-ive or effe-ctive, it wouldn’t read as well. Which begs the question, how does InDesign know where to acceptably break words? It uses a hyphenation dictionary. But how does it know what language the copy is in? Either you specify it, or it defaults based on the language from its installation setting. The way you set copy to follow the rules of a different language is by selecting the text, either at the character level, or by selecting its text frame, and from the bottom of the Character panel, setting the language. If working with text that constantly flips back and forth between languages, this means that the best way of handling it, at present, is by setting up a character style with the language applied. See Using Styles Properly. Below I adjust the settings on a piece of Spanish text set in Max Phillips’s FF Spinoza.

InDesign language settings

By the way, I recommend limiting the scope of your typesetting work to languages you currently speak and read. If you can’t spot a commonly misspelled word or catch a grammatical error, your ability to operate as a typographer (in that language) will be pretty limited.

InDesign hyphenation settings

My only advice with the above Hyphenation dialog, also accessible from the Paragraph panel, is to look at it on your own and make some conscious decisions, run some tests, etc.. Also, depending on the faces you’re working with, the Story panel’s Optical Margin Alignment setting may offer you a bit of needed latitude, and is worth a try.

InDesign story settings

Now what am I leaving out? Please let me know in the comments. Thanks for reading. Using Type is a regular series on this blog, published Thursdays.


  1. erik
    Posted March 7, 2013 at 10:26 PM | Permalink

    For once I disagree. You can easily get back to 70% wordspace and open up to 120%, provided the measure is not below 50 characters (it shouldn’t be for justified text anyway). Most typefaces need a reduced wordspace for unjustified setting, including my own faces. I tend to go for 80%, so justified can be reduced a little more to 70%. I would even allow 1% of tracking, but never glyph scaling as that affects the rendering on screen and even on paper. In languages other than English with its fairly short words, hyphenation is much more important and may need different settings. For text that gets read in a hurry (certainly a newspaper, even a magazine) you have to allow 3 consecutive hyphens, at least in language like German. Narrow columns should not be justified at all because even wordspaces – we agree there – are paramount to reading comfortably.

  2. Posted March 8, 2013 at 4:36 AM | Permalink

    I concur with Erik about the wordspace and NOT scaling glyphs and would like to add that Auto Leading should be set to 100% (leading is a design choice, something better not left to Adobe’s programmers) .

    Also: some typefaces have quite loose kerning and require wordspace settings that are on the other end of the scale, eg 100 / 110 / 125.

  3. Posted March 8, 2013 at 4:48 AM | Permalink

    Well done. I’m looking forward to your take on en dashes, em dashes, hyphens and non-breaking hyphens. I recently had an iDesign issue with a simple two column bit of text. The first column had the word ‘Co-Lead’ in it. When I went to change it to ‘Co-lead’ it brought the second part of the word to the next line. I think I spent half an hour trying this and that to force it up, and yes eventually got it, but with all the trying I can’t remember which method finally worked. (Might have something to do with being over 50)

    I’m so pleased to read your posts, ever so happy that the art of typesetting still matters to some. Any font designers needing someone to help with the art of pairing characters? I know someone who is very talented, willing and available.

  4. Posted March 8, 2013 at 8:18 AM | Permalink

    So glad that someone disagrees; otherwise I wouldn’t learn anything new. I don’t think we disagree that much. As Erik says, with some faces the desired Word Spacing should be set much tighter, with more leniency on either side of the ideal. The reason why I set the defaults as I do is because this generally works well with the type I’m justifying. Adjust your defaults as necessary. Regarding Glyph Scaling: Erik’s right. It does affect rendering, particularly on screen. So if you’re setting justified text that will be read on screen from a PDF for example, you’re best off fixing the scaling to 100%. In print, as always, trust your eyes. It’s here where I do disagree. You can get better results with modest scaling. That’s no guarantee of course—sometimes you’re better off leaving scaling alone. On hyphens, Erik’s advice is right. My inclusion of a screenshot is only to demonstrate that the default values can and ought to be adjusted as necessary per project, per language, etc.. Thanks also Bert for indicating a preference in Auto Leading (line height). I tend to keep this where it is and adjust via my baseline grid settings.

  5. Stephane
    Posted March 8, 2013 at 12:22 PM | Permalink

    @ Cath: Have you tried to apply the ‘No break’-property?
    @ all: There is hardly a valuable reason to justify text, leave alone glyph scaling.

  6. Posted March 8, 2013 at 12:44 PM | Permalink

    Hi Stephanie. I learned something there! Highlight the word you don’t want broken by hyphenation, and from the top right menu of the Character palette, apply No Break. This prevents breaking even for already hyphenated words like ‘Co-creator,’ etc..

  7. Johan
    Posted March 15, 2013 at 5:44 AM | Permalink

    Good article even though but also because there are things to disagree with. Languages are so very different and mine, Finnish, is hard to justify (ha!). Words can be very long and compound words, which are very common, even more so. Like kasvojenhoitotuoteluettelo. Thats four words in one and perfectly correct. So you can imagine hyphenation is the vital tool – and oh, how much fun it is that the interweb doesn’t hyphenate… InDesign does have Finnish hyphenation but there is often need for the Discretionary Hyphen and as we put a space between numbers and units (155 cm, 75 %, 60 mg/ml…) also for the No Break feature.

  8. Posted February 4, 2014 at 12:28 AM | Permalink

    I use discretionary hyphenation A LOT, because InDesign’s German hyphenation is … well it works in a way. And I regularly set different hyphenation settings in different paragraph styles, of course.

    »No Break« is so valuable in some projects I even create a character style for it. Concerning unjustified text (2-3 lines or so) it is THE way to prevent forced line breaks.

  9. Posted February 6, 2014 at 2:06 PM | Permalink

    Leaving punctuation outside the text frame can also help to achieve an even texture in justified settings.

  10. Posted February 6, 2014 at 2:20 PM | Permalink

    Right—most commonly this is done through the Story panel in InDesign, or with the Roman Hanging Punctuation setting in Illustrator. I actually wish InDesign had a more ‘mechanical’ solution like the one Illustrator offers.

  11. Posted February 21, 2014 at 1:10 AM | Permalink

    great detail not to translate this page with google my language: Spanish

  12. typohannes
    Posted May 9, 2014 at 8:09 AM | Permalink

    Heya David, what a great article! I am always having trouble achieving a rag where the lines actually alternate between long and short (starting out long), and where the difference between the two measures a fifth of the longer line length. No matter how I screw around with the hyphenation zone I can’t seem to make this distinctly “Swiss” style of hyphenation work…
    Any advise?

  13. Posted May 9, 2014 at 8:42 AM | Permalink

    Hey Hannes. I know of no automated way of getting it really right. The way the pros do it is simply the laborious process of inserting discretionary hyphens and copyfitting—abbreviating, expanding, rewriting and editing—often used in conjunction with cheating—adjusting a column width here and there or otherwise manipulating the layout, etc..

  14. typohannes
    Posted May 9, 2014 at 8:48 AM | Permalink

    Thanks, David. That’s exactly what I have been doing but I thought I was just too dense to find the right settings…
    It’s a pity all those knobs and dials can’t seem to make such a basic and time honored typographic ideal happen. I do hope the good folks at Adobe are listening.

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