Microtypography is the name given to a range of methods for improving the readability and appearance of text, especially justified text. The methods reduce the appearance of large interword spaces and create edges to the text that appear more even.
There are several methods that can be used.
- The tracking (interletter, as opposed to interword, space) can be increased or decreased.
- The width of glyphs can be increased or decreased.
- Glyphs that are small (such as a period) or round (such as the letter "o") at the end of a line can be extended beyond the end of the line to create a more even line at the edge of the text. This is called protrusion, margin kerning, or hanging punctuation.
- Multiple different versions of the same glyph with different widths may be used. This method was used by Gutenberg in the 42-line bible (see (Zapf 2007)), but is less easy now because few fonts come with multiple versions of the same glyph. It is not practical with narrow variants of a font or with different weights of a font because the glyphs look too different from each other to create good effect. It is possible with some multiple master fonts.
- The interline space can be adjusted in a similar way to the interword space to create text blocks of identical height or to avoid widows and orphans. However, this practice (sometimes called vertical justification) is frowned upon in quality typography, as it destroys the fabric of the text (Bringhurst 2008).
The following methods are not usually considered part of microtypography, but are important to it.
- Justification of text. If the text is not justified, the word spacing is fixed and so only the protrusion elements of microtypography are likely to be useful.
- A hyphenation method that can break words at an appropriate point if necessary.
- Kerning helps ensure that the space between letters is appropriate before microtypography is applied.
Adobe InDesign provides microtypography and is based on the Hz program developed by Hermann Zapf and Peter Karow. As of August 2007, InDesign is available for Apple Mac OS X and Microsoft Windows operating systems.
Scribus provides limited microtypography in the form of glyph extensions and optical margins. It is available for Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, various BSD flavours, and others.
The pdfTeX extension of TeX, developed by Hàn Thế Thành, incorporates microtypography. It is available for most operating systems. For LaTeX, the
microtype package provides an interface to these microtypographic extensions; as of August 2007, pdfTeX was not compatible with XeTeX, an extension of TeX that makes it easier to use many typographic features of OpenType fonts. However, in 2010, support for protrusion was added to it.
ConTeXt, another typesetting system based on TeX, offers both microtypographical features such as expansion and protrusion (a.k.a. hanging punctuation) and OpenType support through LuaTeX, which is an extended version of pdfTeX.
The word-processing packages OpenOffice.org Writer and Microsoft Office Word do not, as of August 2015, support microtypography. They allow pair kerning and have limited support for ligaturing, but automatic ligaturing is not available.
GNU TeXmacs support microtypography features such as expansion protrusion, kerning and tracking.
- Bringhurst, Robert (2008), The Elements of Typographic Style, Hartley & Marks, ISBN 978-0-88179-206-5
- Hochuli, Jost (2008), Detail In Typography, Hyphen Press, ISBN 978-0-907259-34-3, reprint, originally published 1987
- Forssman, Friedrich; De Jong, Ralf (2004), Detailtypografie. Typographic etiquette, Hermann Schmidt Verlag, ISBN 978-3-87439-642-4
- Williams, Robin (2006), The Non-designer's Type Book, Peachpit Press, ISBN 0-321-30336-9
- Zapf, Hermann (2007), Alphabet Stories, Linotype GmbH, ISBN 3-9810319-6-2