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U&lc Online Issue: 41.1.1

Word Spacing: How To




For Your Typographic

We originally wrote about word spacing and the occasional need to alter it manually when setting type. Here we’ll take a closer look at how word spacing differs in text and display type and present the best ways to adjust it.

Word Spacing
The word spacing in this headline, set in ITC Century Condensed, is inconsistent (upper) because of the large amount of white space around the A, F and T, as well as between the two rounded characters, O and C. It is greatly improved (lower) when space is removed from the offending areas with the use of kerning.

Word spacing in text type
Determining the appropriate space between words is more of an optical judgment call than an exact science. Several factors influence the decision, such as the overall width of a typestyle, the openness or tightness of the letter fit, the point size and, sometimes, even line spacing. A good starting point with text is to look at the width of the body of the lowercase ‘n’ or ‘o.’ Because word spacing should be proportionate with the typeface, wider designs require more space, and narrower ones require less. But don’t follow this guideline slavishly, as spacing might vary depending on the typeface and setting.

Follow these steps to alter the word space of a text setting (see illustration):

Word Spacing
Adobe InDesign

  • Select the text
  • Open the Paragraph panel (Window > Type & Tables)
  • Select Justification from the panel’s flyout menu
  • Enter a new value in the Word Spacing Desired field that is a percentage of the normal, built-in, value of the selected font


  • Open the Hyphenation & Justification dialog box (Edit > H&J)
  • Select Standard and click the Edit button to change the default, or click New to create a custom setting
  • The Edit Hyphenation & Justification dialog box will appear. In the Justification method section, enter the desired value in the Opt. Space field. The value will be a percentage of the normal, built-in, value of the selected font
  • Name the setting if it’s new

To access settings:

  • Highlight text
  • Go to Style > Formats to open the Paragraph Attributes dialog box
  • Select a setting from the H&J pull-down menu

Word spacing in display type
As type gets larger, its visual proportions change. Word spacing will occasionally look too open, especially if the typeface is intended for text settings. In addition, the word spacing often looks uneven due to the differing shapes of the characters surrounding the space. (see illustration)

The best way to adjust the word spacing in display type is to use the kerning feature (yes, you can kern a space to a character!). This way you can customize each space depending on the characters surrounding it.

For InDesign users, there is a shortcut to adjust word spacing quickly and easily:

  • Highlight the text or headline you want to adjust
  • Hold down the command / option / shift keys and hit the delete key to close up word spacing, or hit the vertical bar / backslash key to open up spacing

This shortcut changes all the word spacing evenly in ten-unit increments, so you might still need to go back and fine-tune display type using the kerning feature.

Editor’s Note: Ilene Strizver, founder of The Type Studio, is a
typographic consultant, designer and writer specializing in all aspects
of typographic communication. Read more about typography in her latest
literary effort, Type Rules! The designer's guide to professional
typography, 2nd edition, published by Wiley & Sons, Inc. This article was commissioned and approved by Monotype Imaging Inc.