The Beginner’s Guide to Leading
In our typography breakdown series, we look at some of the key techniques which have the ability to transform lacklustre text into jaw-dropping typography.
Here, we’re going to find out more about leading (or line spacing), including what it is and how you can apply it in your own design work.
What is Leading?
The definition of leading is: the distance between two baselines of lines of type. The word ‘leading’ originates from the strips of lead hand-typesetters used to use to space out lines of text evenly. The word leading has stuck, but essentially it’s a typographer’s term for line spacing.
Why Do Designers Use Leading?
Leading is one of the quickest and simplest tweaks you can do to make your text look instantly better.
If you’re working in design software like InDesign, the program will set a default leading value whenever you type up more than one line of text. However, this is not usually generous enough, and can make paragraphs look squashed. This works fine if you’re creating a crammed front page for a newspaper, but less well for most other purposes.
Increasing the leading allows the text to breathe and makes it appear instantly more attractive. For readers it has practical advantages too—increasing leading makes text easier to read, and it’s also kinder on reader’s eyes over longer periods of reading.
So if you’re designing a book or magazine layout, increasing your leading will ensure your audience is captive for longer.
How Do I Apply Leading?
When working in InDesign, once you’ve created a piece of text using the Type Tool (T), you can adjust the leading from either the Controls panel running along the top of the workspace or the Character panel (Window > Type & Tables > Character). To edit the leading across a whole section of text, either highlight the text or click on the text frame to select it.
Leading is always positioned below or next to the Font Size option. Setting the leading to Auto will apply InDesign’s default leading for the font size you currently have applied. You should see this as a minimum value for your leading. Increasing the leading (which is measured in points, pt) will increase the line-spacing across your paragraph.
To apply a particular leading value to just one line of text (e.g. if you want to separate a paragraph visually from a heading positioned above), highlight the line you want to shift downwards and increase the leading.
Leading may seem straightforward enough but designers have all sorts of tricks and tips for making the most of this simple type technique.
- While generous leading can improve the look of paragraphs, making the leading overly generous can disrupt the flow of the text and impact on legibility. Print out different leading settings before going to print, to make sure you can read the text comfortably.
- Setting text against a colored or dark background? Apply slightly more generous leading than normal to make the text ultra-clear to read.
- Different fonts will suit different leading settings, as the x-height (the height of lowercase letters) will vary between fonts. Fonts with shorter x-heights won’t require as much leading as those with taller lowercase letters.