Using type on the web like an expert

How you use type on the web is just as important as how you use it in print, but many web designers ignore even the most basic rules of typography. Here’s a quick rundown on how to use type like a pro on your website.

How you use type on the web is just as important as how you use it in print, but many web designers ignore even the most basic rules of typography.

Good typography makes your content easier to find and read. Bad typography tires your reader and can make site visitors leave your site. Here’s a quick rundown on how to use type like a pro on your website.

Typeface selection

There are five web-safe fonts that work on most Mac and Windows browsers. Here are the reasons you might choose one over the others:

Verdana
Sans serif font designed to be legible even at small sizes
The five boxing wizards jump quickly
Trebuchet
Sans serif font that’s narrower than Verdana so you can fit more content in the same space, plus has a little more “personality” than Verdana thanks to is stylized letter forms
The five boxing wizards jump quickly
Arial
Sans serif font designed for print but that you might use if you’re interested in matching your web fonts exactly with your print fonts
The five boxing wizards jump quickly
Georgia
Serif font designed to be legible even at small sizes
The five boxing wizards jump quickly
Times New Roman
Serif font designed for print but that you might use if you’re interested in matching your web fonts exactly with your print fonts
The five boxing wizards jump quickly

Alignment

The appearance of type on your web page can change depending on the device, browser, screen resolution, and personal settings. Use left alignment instead of justified text for the best readability. When the browser justifies text, it inserts space in between words that cause the reader to pause or stumble when reading. Although you might end up with a ragged right edge when using left aligned type, it is still more readable. To help reduce the ragged right edge, put spaces before and after dashes so the browser puts the words before and after the dash on two lines if needed.
alignment of type

Column width

If your columns are too narrow, you break up your sentences into too many pieces, which slows down reading. If your columns are too wide, it is hard to move your eye from the end of a line to the beginning of the next line and you can get lost. Ideal line length for the web is approximately 12 words or 66 characters, however if a user changes the browser’s default font size, the number of words that can fit in a column changes. It’s best to use a measurement that changes depending on the font and size, such as an “em,” which is the width of a capital “M” in any given font. Setting the column width to 30 ems usually gives you the optimal column width no matter the type size.

Color

type on different color backgrounds
If you emphasize everything by using colors, you end up emphasizing nothing. Use colored type sparingly, only where it will help guide the reader, for example on subheads to help readers skim for the information they want. Don’t rely on color alone to convey information in case someone who is colorblind is looking at your site. Bold or italicize your type in addition.

Backgrounds

Use enough contrast between the background color on the page and the type. Colors that are too close in darkness are hard to read. Don’t put type on complex backgrounds or images with a lot of contrast or it will be difficult to read.

Smart punctuation

Professional typographers always use typographically correct punctuation on the web, including “smart” quotes and apostrophes, em and en dashes, and ellipses. Don’t use inch and foot marks, hyphens, and triple periods when you can use the real punctuation.

Amateur moves

These are web design choices that will instantly mark you as an amateur designer:

  • Use of non-web-safe fonts
  • Justified type
  • Columns that are too narrow or too wide
  • Too many colors
  • Background color that’s too close to the text color
  • Inch and foot marks, hyphens, and triple periods
  • Two spaces between sentences
  • Writing in all caps

Hopefully, this information has given you ideas about using type to strengthen your own website. Following basic rules of good typography can help produce professional-caliber results.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *