From the IFD Mailbag …
Graphic Design Software

Hello, everyone!

Our first email comes from Jen, who writes:

I am having a little trouble when dealing with leading and kerning. I understand the concept, but when given a choice , I cannot pick the most appropriate spacing for the page. Is there anything I can do to help train my eye?

I would also like to know how I can get my hands on new fonts. My computer only has one of the fonts mentioned in the Graphic Design Program, and if I am to give each assignment a voice I'm going to need more voices to choose from.


Thank you for your email, Jen. Please don't get discouraged! Determining the right leading (space between lines) and kerning (space between individual letters) comes with practice.

When laying out a letter or other direct-mail piece, here's what I recommend: Type a few paragraphs, and copy/paste them a few times to get several samples you can work with. Apply different leading, font size, and kerning to each sample. Then, to see the difference, print them out and study them carefully.

Keep in mind that your goal is to make reading the copy as easy as possible. So ask yourself the following questions about each one:

  • Is my eye following the text naturally … or are there any “stumbling blocks”?
  • Are the lines too long, making reading difficult? Should I break up the text and make the lines shorter to improve readability?
  • Are the lines of text cramped and too tight?
  • Is there enough space between paragraphs … or does everything just looks like a big block of copy?
  • Is the font used appropriate and the right size?

Another thing that will be helpful is to look at your swipe files to see how different fonts are being used. Not everything out there is an example of good design, but often you can learn a lot just by looking at what comes in the mail.

You also asked about where to get new fonts. There are many places, including,, and Veer is a good source, because they let you “test-drive” their fonts. You can type a section of text and choose a font to see how the text looks.

You can find many free fonts on the Internet. But I don't recommend downloading them, since they could be corrupt – and you won't find out that something is wrong with them until your file is at the printer.

Now, here's another question – this one from Jamie, who has written to us before:

In all the ads I see for freelancers, the requirements are almost always for experience in Quark, InDesign, Illustrator, and Photoshop. When I started Graphic Design Success, I was told I would need Word and, maybe later, one page-layout software program(I chose InDesign). But now when I look for work, I see the above requirements. What do I really need to get hired in this field – one or all four?

Thank you,

Job listings for graphic designers are “wish lists,” Jamie. Same is true for many other professions. Companies often list more requirements than they really need … maybe to discourage candidates who do not feel confident in their abilities.

Just because you don't have all the programs doesn't mean you can't offer your services as a freelancer to any company. Nobody starts out knowing every program that is out there. As with every profession, the more experience you get, the more expert you become. And as you become more confident in your skills, you will want to expand your knowledge and learn more programs.

A big factor in choosing which software to invest in next is the kind of design you'll be doing. If you plan to design high-end, full-color brochures, you'll eventually want to get an image-editing program like Photoshop. If you want to specialize in logo design, you might want a vector-drawing program like Illustrator. If you want to design the sales letters and other direct-mail pieces that we focus on in Graphic Design Success, you already have an excellent tool in InDesign.

Until next time …


The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

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Published: October 6, 2005

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