The Typehead Chronicles: On Leading
      Of Thomas Christensen, ABCedminded Typesetter  

homeward bound


On Leading

Leading is a measure of vertical space between lines. The term is a legacy from the days of hot type, when extra lead was added to increase line space. Thus 12/16 is sometimes referred to as "four points lead." The absence of extra leading is called "setting solid" (for example, 10/10). Tighter line spacing is called "negative leading"; it is sometimes seen in short texts in advertising, in logos, or (recently) in avant-garde design that flouts legibility. A rough rule of thumb for leading conventional continuous text is 20% of type size (thus 10/12), but there are many considerations for particular cases:

  • The longer the measure (column width), the more the lead.
  • The greater the x-height, the more the lead.
  • The looser the word spacing, the more the lead.
  • The darker the face, the more the lead
  • The larger the type size the more the lead
  • Reference material: less lead; continuous reading: more lead.
  • Serifed face: less lead; sanserif face: more lead
  • Old style face: less lead; modern face: more lead

The elements of a coherently designed work should be leaded in such a way that the basic gridline can be reestablished following interruptions in the continuous text (in other words, if an extract, for example, is more tightly leaded than the main text, it should be surrounded by sufficient extra space to get back the the main grid, so text on that facing pages will align.





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