6 Things Your Type Needs to be Readable When Small


When to Use Small Type:

Being small is no excuse for being unreadable. Whether it’s a footnote or image credit, the smallest type on your information should not only be legible, but clear enough to be read and understood.


Most often, small type comes into play for legal copy like those footnotes and credits. However, you may also find yourself needing to size down for your calendar or brochure to fit all important information. 


I would even encourage these same principals to be applied to wall text and object labels. While not instances of literal small point size, these moments can be met with frustration when visitors are unable to read the text from where they stand.


Small type can be readable. It just needs to be styled correctly.


How to Style Small Type:

1. Wide Character

Select a typeface that has a relatively wide character shape. 


2. Tall X-Height

Your choice should also have a tall x-height – or tall lower-case letters. 


3. Little/No Contrast in Line Weight

It’s also key for the type to have little to no contrast, or thick and thin lines. Most serif fonts don’t size down very well in print or on screens, so work more with those that have consistent line weight – like Helvetica.


4. Lots of Space

Next, be sure to always loosen the leading and tracking – or increase the spacing between lines and letters. Having a little breathing room between letters will help words to not look “squished” when seen at a small size. 


5. Short Line Lengths

If possible, also reduce the line length. Small type is hard enough to read, but it is especially hard when it extends across an entire page. For footnotes, can you alter the design at all so the line can break in a column length? Image credits are usually reliant on the space provided to them. Can you finesse that space to include more small lines instead of one long one?


6. No Thin Fonts

Thin letters and italics don’t hold up well when small. If you can, add some weight to your type by using a medium or medium italic font and as always make extra sure each letter has a lot of space.


Good Font Options for Small Type:

It’s a good idea to have typefaces with lots of options at your disposal. That way, adjusting the weight as you size down is a matter of going from thin to book or book to medium instead of adding a bold or stroke to any text.


These typefaces have the characteristics to withstand being shown small (consistent line weight, tall x-height, and wide characters) and are easily available:

·     Adobe Garamond

·     Bookman

·     Baskerville

·     Helvetica

·     ITC Avant Garde Book