When we think about design, we often jump right into planning out all the images and blocks of text that we want to pack into a new print piece. However, the areas where we don’t place anything – the space in the design – are just as essential.
Space is the not-so-secret tool designers use to visually group or separate various design elements. Space can add emphasis, lead the eye, and create flow that a design needs to work effectively. To help you get a feel for the best uses of space in print designs, we’ll give you some background and explain the basics below.
The Background Rules of Spacing
Before you can begin spacing out your major pieces of content, you must first block out space around the edges of your print design for bleed, trim marks, and margins. These markings will help define the true area you have to work with and avoid potential spacing errors. Setting the bleed area, or the true edge of the print, creates a clean, crisp-looking finished product. Whatever background color or design you use should extend just past the bleed area to ensure you don’t end up with any blank, white space around the border of your print design.
Trim marks are placed just past the bleed area, slightly closer to the center of the page. These marks tell your printer exactly where to cut the paper to create the finished design you have in mind. No content or major design elements should extend beyond the trim marks; otherwise, they may be cut out in the printing process, leading to an incomplete and sloppy-looking print.
Lastly, margins are placed just inside the trim marks. Margins will help guide your design process and form a firm border between all visual elements at the trim marks. Including space for margins will allow a bit of room for cutting errors and help keep prints looking organized.
Now that your margins are set and you know exactly how much physical space you have to work with, you can consider how to arrange your text and other elements on the page. Space is still important to consider when adding in these features. In particular, as you add in blocks of text, keep in mind that having too much or too little space between lines can make content difficult to read.
The amount of vertical space between lines of text is referred to as “leading.” Setting the right leading for each block of text is crucial to help readers follow your print design. If general, it’s best to follow the 120 rule, meaning that space between lines should be 120% of the text size. For example, text written in ten-point font should have 12-point spacing between lines. However, if your lines of text are particularly long, we recommend that you choose an even larger leading. Lengthy paragraphs of small text will be even harder to read if the lines look crammed together. If your lines of text are shorter, you can save space and make it clear that these concise lines are grouped together by choosing a smaller leading.
Using Negative Space
With your text spaced appropriately, your focus can turn toward the rest of the design. When your mind is flowing with ideas and creativity, it can be tempting to cram as many artistic elements in as possible. You can never add too much visual interest, right? Not exactly. In fact, designs tend to look more readable and professional when they thoughtfully use negative (or empty) space.
Negative space acts as a sign to the human eye that the previous piece of content has finished, giving it some time to absorb whatever it just saw or read. Similarly, blocks of white space can also emphasize the design elements you do include, because there are fewer items to compete with. As Aarron Walter, author of “Designing for Emotion, wrote, “If everything yells for your viewer’s attention, nothing is heard.” The way that you design your white space can create an organized layout and lead readers on a clear journey through the content, resulting in a satisfied and well-informed audience.