Tiny Tutorial: Improve justified type settings

Tiny Tutorials is a new feature on the Design Cubicle which will focus on short and handy design tutorials and tips.

In my very first ‘Tiny Tutorial’, I will be discussing techniques and tips I’ve learned along the way to improve justified type, such as how to tweak the word spacing, letter spacing and glyph scaling in Adobe InDesign to improve appearance, consistency and readability.

While well set justified type can look extremely beautiful and classy, the complete opposite can be said for not treating it with the proper care. When type is justified, the word spacing, letter spacing and glyph scaling (see below for meaning) is adjusted to fit the type in its constrained area, usually resulting in large gaps, windowing (too much letter spacing) or inconsistency of each line of type. Continue reading on how to improve this.

Before we get started, let’s learn some terms:

  1. Word Spacing is the space between words that results from pressing the spacebar. Word Spacing values can range from 0% to 1000%; at 100%, no additional space is added between words
  2. Letter Spacing is the distance between letters, including kerning or tracking values. Letter Spacing values can range from 100% to 500%: at 0%, no space is added between letters; at 100%, an entire space width is added between letters.
  3. Glyph Scaling is the width of characters (a glyph is any font character). Glyph Scaling values can range from 50% to 200%.

Changing the type to justify

After laying out your type in InDesign within it’s specified area, change the default left alignment to justified located on the top controls when the Type tool (V) is selected.

Change the Justification settings

With the text selected, open your ‘paragraph’ palette and click on the tiny downwards triangle in the top right of the palette (see image below). Select ‘Justification…’ from the list.

Change the settings in the Justification window to the following:

You should see an immediate improvement after making the changes and hitting ‘OK’.

Change the hyphenation settings

Located in the same drop-down menu as the ‘Justification…” settings, select ‘Hyphenation…’. While these settings are entirely subjective, adjust the Better Spacing/Fewer Hyphens bar based on your preference — Better spacing in return for more hyphens or vice versa. You might even want to try adjusting the other settings in this window as well.

Adding Flush Space

When you justify your type you will notice that it justifies every line of type, including the last. Using flush space for the last line can make a tremendous difference in the appearance of the formatted paragraphs by getting rid of the extra white space by flushing it to the left. This also readjusts the type before it it, thus improving the consistency.

To add flush space:

With the Type tool (V) selected and cursor placed to the right of the last character of the last line of type in a paragraph, choose Type > Insert White Space > Flush Space. This will left align your type.

Check those Violations!

You can also have InDesign check your letter spacing and word spacing for problems by selecting InDesign > Preferences > Composition on a Mac or Edit > Preferences > Composition on Windows. Put a check next to H&J Violations and press OK. The darker the shade of yellow the more serious the problem.

Bingo! — a much improved justified text block! While I’m sure there are various ways to improve justified type, the above method has seemed to work well for me over the years and produce recognizable differences.

Discussion and Comments

+ Add to the discussion
  1. Chad Engle says:

    Hey man thats a hell of a post! Nice tutorial about justified type I really enjoyed it! Keep them coming!

  2. Krissy Gogel says:

    Excellent post behoff :) Thanks for sharing your tips for how to improve the consistency of justified paragraphs. To be honest I’ve never given this too much thought, but I’m pretty sure that a lot of people believe that inconsistent spacing is something that just happens when you justify text. Well done!

  3. Lisa Firke says:

    Now if only there was a way to make it look halfway decent on the web.

  4. jeff says:


    Great post and nicely mapped out. Depending on the situation, adjusting the column width and/or the point size can help too. Those old school typesetters used to lay this all out on graph paper and determine all of this manual – crazy. One final thought: pull quotes never seem to work justified. Jeff

  5. Danish says:

    Great post. If this could be done with css :)

  6. kashyap says:

    Wow! nice post.. Can the same thing be done in Illustrator or PS ??

  7. Brian says:

    Glad you enjoyed it… Actually I can be done in Illustrator to an extent but not Photoshop to my knowledge. You don’t really want to set good text in Photoshop anyways — type looks horrible in PS! In Illustrator though you can set the Justification and Hyphenation settings much like in InDesign. They can be found in the same area or by click on the word ‘paragraph’ in the top controls when your Type tool is selected. AI doesn’t have the H&J Violations though. Let me know if you need further help with this.

  8. Dan says:

    This is great, justified text can be particularly difficult for me. Thanks for the guide.

  9. Sarah says:

    Great, informative post. Thanks!

  10. liz says:

    I dig this tiny tuts idea! This and Niki’s quick tip screencast – awesome stuff. I may have to get on the bite sized teaching action… something for me to ponder over the weekend!
    <3 to yr blog.

  11. Hey, this is great Brian! I remember learning about these settings before, but I haven’t ever actually used them, so I forgot about them. Ah, I love ID. It’s such a powerful tool when you uncover all these goodies.

    For improved paragraph appearances, sometimes I rely on changing to Single-line composing (from the same flyout menu for paragraph options). When I just can’t get the lines to break well, I switch from the default, paragraph composing. It does make a difference sometimes. I also use Keep Options, and non-breaking white spaces between the last two or three words instead of inserting a soft return (just in case the layout changes later).

    One little note (so newbies don’t get confused!), the Type Tools is T, not V, first line under “To add flush space.” :)

  12. [...] Tiny Tutorial: Improve justified type settings | The Design Cubicle "techniques and tips I’ve learned along the way to improve justified type, such as how to tweak the word spacing, letter spacing and glyph scaling in Adobe InDesign to improve appearance, consistency and readability." (tags: design tutorial type) [...]

  13. [...] Tiny Tutorial: Improve justified type settings [...]

  14. [...] Tiny Tutorial: Improve Justified Type Settings via The Design Cubicle. [...]

  15. [...] Tiny Tutorial: Improve Justified Type Settings Awesome tutorial and advice on how to improve your justified [...]

  16. [...] little tutorial, in the Design Cubicle Tiny Tutorial series, is very valuable if you use justified type. Also word [...]

  17. Ehsaan Mesghali says:

    oh lord.

    this is a science of its own.

  18. IndesignNoob says:

    Thank you very much!!

  19. Krystal says:

    You just saved my report! I thought I was going to go crazy trying to figure out how to resolve that “flush space” issue. You are a major lifesaver. My colleagues seem to love full justified type, but I hate fixing rivers. Can’t say that I knew exactly how to use these features, but I will never forget them now!

    Keep doin your thang!

  20. [...] Tiny Tutorial: Improve justified type settings | The Design Cubicle (tags: useful typography tutorials) [...]

  21. Scot says:

    Hmm very well explained but i thing red marko n the screen shots should be more visible to highlight.

  22. [...] Tiny Tutorial: Improve justified type settings [...]

  23. cj Madigan says:

    Thank you, Brian, for an excellent little tutorial. It was exactly what I needed. I made the changes you suggested and see a significant difference.

  24. Kyle says:


  25. This article is really nice. Good post!!!

  26. Jillian says:

    Wow! Thank you so much. That helps alot!

  27. Shannon Brown says:

    Why do you do a justify all lines instead of justify with last line aligned left?

  28. SOS Media says:

    Thanks for the advice. My clients’ book is now greatly improved!

  29. Tiffany says:

    Thanks for sharing this amazing piece of knowledge!

  30. Iain Gwynn says:

    Thank you so much, does exactly what it says on the tin!!


  31. David Jenne says:

    Fabulous set of tips Brian. Thanks! I have the same question as Shannon Brown. I always choose left justify instead of full, and don’t bother with adding the flush space after the last word. Am I missing something by doing that?

  32. vix says:

    You saved my day. Thank you so, so, so much.

  33. GR says:

    Why do graphic designers prefer Macs over PCs? Photoshop is the same for the Mac as it is on PCs?

    BTW, nice tips. Thanks much. Your blog is a go-to blog for me on web design, design musings, etc.

  34. Absolutely outstanding tips on the plague of rivers in justified type! Thanks much


  35. Awesome post.Thanks for sharing this informative article

  36. Dan says:

    Just use Justify Left and forget the flush. Otherwise, great tips!

  37. Brittainey says:

    Amazing! This saved me 15 minutes of silent cursing. Worked like a charm.

  38. Suzan says:

    THANK YOU! I’ve been fiddling around for hours trying to improve the justified type in a 350 page book. This did the trick. YOU ARE MY HERO! A million, gazillion, megatrillion thank yous!

  39. tykayn says:

    very nice to know :) useful to make fanzines

  40. This saved me 15 minutes of silent cursing. Worked like a charm.

Brian Hoff
About Brian Hoff: Designer, Writer and Speaker

I’m a graphic designer living in Brooklyn, New York who loves creating compelling and useful websites and memorable interactions across the web. When I’m not designing I can be found writing, speaking and occasionally part-time teaching at colleges — all on the subject of design. I started this blog to share my passion and experiences with designers and clients. I'm most active on Twitter; say hello: