Typesetting - Is centered text a no-go?

  • Hello everyone,

    Thanks for taking a look at this post. If you've ever self-published or worked with a small publisher, perhaps you've run into the same situation I have where I'm in charge of typesetting as well a illustrations? It's a very unfamiliar territory for me and a bit daunting. I don't want to mess up the book because the text looks amateur.

    This project is for a somewhat poetic book. The text is metaphorical and has a phrase that repeats throughout the pages.

    I have it set up so far so that the text is centered, as in, the lines of text don't all butt up to the left like is typical in picture books. It works well with the illustration flow on some pages, but on other pages it's arbitrary.

    I remember reading somewhere long ago something that gave me the impression that centered text is a big no-no, but I'm wondering if it's ok for a more poetic book. I'd love insights from anyone with experience in this realm.

    Also, if you have any more general typesetting advice, or resources for learning to point me to, I'd be very grateful.

    Thanks for the help!

  • It really depends on the page as a whole. Centering is not not-done, but neither is it always a good option. If you're looking at it purely for readability, left aligned text is better (or right aligned if the reading direction is right to left, for some languages).

    Justified can sometimes work, mostly for long texts and in combination with hyphenation (hyphenation isn't used a lot in English, but in my language - dutch - it's really common, making dutch texts usually more suitable for justified).

    I'd look into books of the same genre, and see what they mostly do (look at books published by established publishers), so you know what the norm (safe choice) is. I would usually only deviate from that if there is a reason for it. If you have a reason for it, it's easy enough to justify the choice if the author/publisher starts asking questions.
    For example, if the text is about someone feeling lost, the centered text could add to the feeling of not being grounded anywhere. Perhaps combined with a little more line spacing than you'd usually go for. Or if the illustrations are important, they could dictate where the text can and cannot go.

    I can't tell you the right choice without knowing the content. I hope this still helped a bit.

    Here's a myfonts newsletter with a few tips that I found surprisingly good: myfonts tips

    A rule that may help: for readability, optimal line width (number of characters in a line) is generally 1,5 - 2 times the alphabet without spaces for printed work. Edit: for children, you'll probably want to go a bit less.

  • A quick internet browsing makes it seem as if centred text CAN be done, but only with good reason.

    I think you will be safe with left-aligned text.

    That being said, though, part of the art of poetry is how it's presented on a page. As much as there's a way that poetry is more often presented, you can also just do what you want 🙂

    Have you thought about asking the client to spring for an editorial consultation just to be sure? I'd imagine it wouldn't cost much.

  • @Lize Hello! Thank you so much for taking the time to share all you did with me. I really appreciate considering the points you mentioned, and the resource you shared was really helpful. I’m thinking I’ll set up the type again and make it left-aligned. That way there is at least an opportunity to compare the two options and choose what feels better and more appropriate. Thanks again for the help!

  • @Braden-Hallett Hi Braden, thanks so much for your comment. I think you’re right about being safe with left-aligned text. I’m definitely going to try it out. And an editorial consultation! That’s a great idea! Thanks so much for sharing that!

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