Hyphenation and Justification

Justification Options. These can be accessed in the Paragraph Style dialog box or in the Paragraph panel menu options. You’ll notice that the default has the “Letter Spacing” minimum, desired, and maximum all set to “o.” In other words, InDesign isn’t going to let any of your characters spread out when justifying type, it will only put space between the words. This is ugly. What settings you use will depend on your font and whether you use its kerning metrics or optical kerning, but most fonts will work with a minimum of “-2,” desired of “0,” and maximum of “5.” Note that these are ballpark figures; you probably don’t wan’t to ever exceed “10.”


Awkward word spacing as a result of Justified text. You can control and improve the Justification settings in InDesign. It is best to do so via Paragraph Styles (not the Paragraph window). Apply the changes to the text using the resulting style. Below is a snapshot of the Paragraph Styles editor dialog, showing the Justification options:H & J.pngafter.png

Notice the much more even spacing of type. Those awkward gaps are gone.

It is important to point out that there are no absolute right or wrong values for word and letter spacing. If I have decided to justify my type, then I experiment with the values until a representative sample of the type looks good to me. Different fonts, column widths, hyphenation settings, kerning method (optical vs. metric) and word lengths will all have an effect on the values you use. I will say that I don’t believe I have ever exceeded a range of -5% to 5% for letter spacing for regular body text scenarios, and I often use word spacing of 90% min, 110% desired,130% max for certain fonts to allow a bit more space between words. However, each time I set up a new document I do some tests using its fonts, sizes, and grids and determine what works best for that document.

Some additional things to consider when working with justification settings:

  • If you are NOT justifying (flush left, flush right, or centered), the minimum and maximum justification settings are ignored, but the desired settings are still honored.
  • By changing the desired settings you can change the default spacing between words, which is very useful with some fonts that look like the default space is too narrow or too wide. (While you could possibly change the desired letter space or glyph scaling, I would not recommend it in most situations.)
  • In extreme situations, such as catalogs in which text must absolutely fit inside a box at all costs, it is possible to use extreme values and even glyph scaling to avoid manually tracking/resizing type to fit. (note that glyph scaling affect the horizontal scale of the type only).
  • Justification works hand in hand with hyphenation. Just like InDesign’s default justification settings have problems, I would never recommend using InDesign’s default hyphenation settings. Simply turning off hyphenation might be a solution, but with narrow column widths combining with justified text and long words, sometimes you’re going to have to hyphenate or live with horrible typography.
  • Never justify fonts that are intended to connect to each other, such as script fonts.
  • In my experience, often when justifying Optical Kerning will look better than Metric Kerning, especially if you are using more extreme letter spacing values.

Hyphenation Settings. Find them in the same place as the Justification settings. I can’t think of many 5-letter words that I want to hyphenate, but that’s the default. I usually use 8, with 3 letters as the smallest syllables allowed, and a maximum of one consecutive hyphen. The other settings you can adjust until your type looks good.