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Setting Body Text for Comfortable Reading

| March 5, 2014 | 27 Comments

Probably the most important magazine page element is the body text or body copy as some refer to it. Magazine readers do not notice properly set body text. They notice nice images, powerful headlines, but they do not notice body text. And this is a good thing. Properly adjusted body text should be unnoticeable and it should not interfere with the process of reading. It should be invisible so that the reader is never aware of the reading process.

On the other hand, if the body text is not set properly, this can lead to bad readability and it can annoy potential readers, but for us editorial designers this is the first thing we should do and if the result is unnoticeable than you know you did a good job.


magazine body text, body copy

The visual difference is obvious between the different fonts in same sizes. Lyon looks dense and page filled with this font would be too dark. On the other hand, Garmond looks spacious and would produce page that is too bright. In this size and in these settings, Caslon seems like the best choice.


Choosing body text font

When choosing a proper body text font, choose the ones that will suit your publication. You can choose serif fonts that have proven to be a great choice for body text. Some of them are Caslon, Jenson, Chronicle, Miller, Palatino, Garmond and Goudy to name a few. Although they are popular, never ever use Didot and Bodoni or any similar font for body text. They are not intended for display at small sizes and for lengthy article reading because of their big contrast in thick and thin strokes.

If you choose a sans serif type you can choose from the usual suspects like Helvetica, Franklin, Univers, Gill sans, Meta, Swiss and so on.

I personally rarely use sans serif fonts for body type. For longer feature articles I almost always go with serif type and I leave sans for smaller sections and text in boxes, but no one says you cannot choose a sans serif for longer articles. It all depends on the nature of the publication.

Though sans serif fonts is a bit harder to read than serif fonts, you should increase the leading up to 135-140% for easier line to line eye transition.

Pick one font and use it for all body text in the entire magazine.


Body text sizes

When designing a magazine from the scratch first thing you should do is to choose the body text font and its size. It all starts from there.

There are no strict formulas for setting the proper body type by itself. The size of the body text should work with the width of the column and it should be appropriate for the targeted audience. Let’s say that the majority of your readers will be seniors, 60 years and older. For them the size of body type should be larger. The same principle applies to small children.

Body text sizes can range from 9pt to even 12pt. Although I have never set any body text in 12pt. There is no one size fits all principle, but do not go below 9pt and do not go over 12pt. Newspapers are usually set in 10pt, but this is not a rule set in stone.

The size also depends on the x-height of the font selected. X-height makes type look big or small.

Leading should be set at default 120%. For narrower columns you can decrease it and for wider you should increase it.


magazine body text, body copy

Body copy aligned left with 3mm indent on the first line of each paragraph and with horizontal rules in between the text columns.


Body text alignment

There are only two options for body text alignment. Left and justified. Never centered and never aligned right.

There are almost no differences in readability of text aligned left and justified. If you plan to use justified alignment, adjust properly its justifying settings.

Text aligned left can provide some valuable white space in text columns and it does not create a dull horizontal look like justified text columns.

Sometimes you can use vertical thin rules to divide the text columns of text aligned to the left. It will make these columns look tidier but if your text is justified, there is no need for vertical rules between the text columns are already perfectly straight in a vertical line.

Each paragraph of text can have a horizontal indent in the first line of the paragraph. The paragraph just below the subhead does not have to be indented. Indent should be from 3-5 mm, depending on the width of the text column. Instead of indent, you can use drop caps at the beginnings of the paragraph, but do not over do it. Also never indent the paragraph that has drop cap applied.


After you have set the size, leading and alignment, create few columns and fill them with dummy text. For example, create three columns spreading from top margin to bottom margin and place some text in them with the settings you have chosen.

Print one page and take a look at it. Does it look too gray? Is it too bright? This is called the texture of body text and it should be optimal, neither too dark neither too bright.

Try out some different point and leading sizes, create columns, fill them with text again, print and compare. See which ones look better. There are no rules and the best result will be the one that looks optimal. Read the text in the columns and if you can read it with a nice flow and without interruption you have made it.

Reading comfort depends on the ratio of type size to line length to line spacing and they all have to be in balance and you are the one that is setting this comfort for the reader so choose wisely.

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Category: Typography

Comments (27)

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  1. robin says:

    you have a typo. ‘choosing body text font’, second sentence. they are serif fonts, not sans serif.

  2. nasra says:

    I have one question do the font in the magazine have to be sett as one size for the hall magazine? or we can use different size for each page?

    thank you

  3. ares says:

    Hi, thank you for writing this article.

    I just have a clarification though, is the caslon you’re referring to is the same with Adobe Caslon Pro?

    Thanks in advance

  4. Henry Barth says:

    What are your thoughts on using Times New Roman. That would seem to suit most all designs.

    • Nikola says:

      Well Times New Roman is a typeface created for London’s Times newspapers. They have been using it as main typeface for 40 years. Today it is still widely used in book publishing. So, yes, obviously it is great type for body copy.

  5. Lance says:

    thank you for this article. I enjoyed it. I have a question thats more about the headings and paragraphs. For example, if I am designing a 3 col layout, each col with a heading and paragraph and one heading extends on two lines how would I go about position that vertically with the other cols? thanks!!!

    • Nikola says:

      Hi Lance.

      I am sorry I am not following exactly what you mean. Can you share some link with preview of your example.


      • Lance says:

        Here you go!

        As you can see there a 3 columns each having a heading. My question is what would be the appropriate way to design the headings so they look symmetrical? Right now since the column two header is wrapping it seems to throw it off.

        Would you?

        A. Wrap column headings 1 and 2 to be consistent?
        B. Try to put shorten the heading text so column 2’s heading does not wrap?

        I think i know what I would do but Im looking for some expert advice.

        Many thanks!


        • Nikola says:

          So if I am right you will have three text columns with headlines above each. The problem is that the heading in the second column is way too long. IMHO the best would be to rewrite the headings so that you have the same number of lines for each heading. Two lines would be just fine. Although all of this depends on the design of the rest of the page. You have to look at the whole picture, but if the columns are alone on the page, same line length for headings would be best option.

        • Sneha says:

          Can I see the layout?

  6. bert says:



  7. Jennifer S Clement says:

    Do all the articles in the same magazine need to be in the same body font or can some be san serif and some be serif?

    • Nikola says:

      Well, body copy should be the same. But, small text blocks that are not part of main body copy, can be in different font and in different size. Using the same font styling for body copy gives consistency which gives seriousness to the publication.

  8. Martin says:

    In instances where Times, Garamond or any other standard body-copy serif typeface is too wide to accommodate the amount of text required to be used in a publication, is there a recommended narrower san-serif font that would be acceptable for most readers? Helvetica Neue LT Standard has an awesome selection of weights, would the Roman or even Condensed weights read OK?

    • Nikola says:

      Yes, Helvetica is a great option. Although for a longer body copy I would suggest some serif type. Condensed fonts tend to read harder when used for long blocks of text.

  9. sanaz says:

    I am working on a print travel magazine in InDesign with a smaller than normal layout: 55cm x 55cm which body font size would be recommended for this layout size?

  10. Suhail says:

    Which would be the ideal fonts to use for a social awareness magazine for age groups of 16-50. For both body and headings!

  11. Vicky Nish says:

    What about spacing between lines? Spacing between heading and body etc. And wat would be a good space between columns?
    Thanks for your advice…it is much appreciated

  12. Talya says:

    Thank you! ❤️
    I’ve learnt a whole lot.

  13. Daniela says:

    hi, what do you think about a geometric san serif font ? im doing a minimalist magazine, and i would like to use Acre font or panagram sans but im not sure if it will be good

    • Nikola says:

      Hi Daniela. I would not advise geometric sans for long text blocks, but it might work. It depends on the publication. Set up some text in the desired font and print it out in 1:1 ratio and read it. See if the reading flow is natural.

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