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Chapter 4. Type > Optical Margin Alignment

Optical Margin Alignment

Ever since Gutenberg set out to print his Bible, typesetters have looked for ways to “balance” the edges of columns of text—particularly lines ending or beginning with punctuation. Because the eye doesn’t “see” punctuation, it can sometimes appear that the left or right edges of some columns of type (especially justified type) are misaligned. Some other programs compensate for this problem by using a “hanging punctuation” feature, which pushes certain punctuation characters outside the text column. But there’s more to making the edges of a column look even than just punctuation. Some characters can create a “ragged” look all by themselves—think of a “W,” at the beginning of a line, for example.

When you select an InDesign story (with either the Selection or the Type tool) and turn on the Optical Margin Alignment option in the Story palette (choose Story from the Type menu to display the Story palette), the program balances the edges of the columns based on the appearance of all of the characters at the beginning or end of the lines in the column. This adjustment makes the columns appear more even—even though it sometimes means that characters are extending beyond the edges of the column (see Figure 4-67).

Figure 4-67. Optical Margin Alignment

Optical Margin Alignment off

Optical Margin Alignment on

In this close-up view, you can clearly see the way that InDesign adjusts the characters at the edge of the text column.


The amount that InDesign “hangs” a character outside the text column depends on the setting you enter in the Base Size field of the Story palette (that’s the field with the icon that looks like it would make a drop cap). In general, you should enter the point size of your body text in this field.

Unfortunately, it turns out that many designers don’t like the look of Optical Margin Alignment. It’s not that the feature is flawed; it’s that designers (especially younger folks) have become accustomed to the lower quality of type set without this feature. Nevertheless, we encourage you to try turning it on and seeing how your readers like it—we think they’ll find the text easier to read.

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