Quick Tip:
"Leading" Demystified

Thanks to Teaya, one of our Graphic Design students, for sending in this question:

"I'm having a hard time getting this leading thing. Is 'leading' the single- or double-spacing between lines?"

Leading is, indeed, the space between lines. The name comes from the slugs of metal (made out of lead) that typesetters once used to put spaces between lines, paragraphs, and other elements in a printed document.

However, leading is much more precise than the single/double spacing option in your word-processing program.

Most layout programs like QuarkXPress and InDesign allow you to specify the amount of space between lines in tenth-of-a-point increments, giving you great control over how your document looks.

Rule of thumb for leading: Whatever point size your text is, add 2-3 points for leading. (Sometimes, more leading is needed with "descenders" (letters like "p" that drop below the baseline).

Say your headline is set in 30-point type. Make your leading 33-35 points.

If you're using 12-point type in the body copy, your leading should be 14-15 points (or more, if you have a lot of descenders).

Greater leading produces a more open feeling with lots of white space. Smaller values make copy look dense and dark. But beware: Too much leading makes copy difficult to read.

Most layout programs use auto-leading. However, you might need to adjust this according to how you want your text to look.

You are the final judge on what leading to use, based on how the copy looks and feels to you (and, of course, to your client).

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Published: November 22, 2004

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