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What would be the best practices to fix the rags on a left aligned text for print. Besides breaking lines and hyphenations, should you use tracking, and if so how much.

Also, how would you judged a well ragged text?

I think that rag fixing, much like kerning, is one of those things that are really subjective that you get better with a lot of practice but also good critique but there must be some general guidelines to help you start.

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You might find the answers to this seperate question relevant: Role of the designer in content –  user568458 Dec 16 '12 at 12:41
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2 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

A decent rag is fairly easy when setting English texts (German, among others, can be a real pain). When done correctly, a flush left setting should require very few hyphens and manual tracking and scaling should be virtually non-existent.

The key is your type specs: font, size, and line length

Set width is the number of characters of a given font at a given size that fit on a line. That width will determine how wide your lines should be.

Measure is the length of your lines, usually in picas or points. A generally accepted rule of thumb is a measure of around 62 characters for something like a book. That will usually give you an excellent rag. Narrower is the norm for periodicals, brochures, and most of the web -- that's why their rags aren't as clean ;)

Point size is the coarse means of changing your measure. Up a point for longer lines, down for shorter. Of course, you have to stay within legible norms.

Justification settings are the primary tool for fine tuning after settling on a point size. Even in a non-justified setting word or character spacing can be tuned by modifying the "desired" column. Some fonts can accommodate more compression or expansion than others. In any case, your adjustments should be very small, like single digits small. I had quite a lot to say on Justification settings in another post.

Justification settings work for justified and unjustified type!

Hyphenation is something that should rarely be turned off completely, though it's not often needed in well set type. Adjust your hyphenation to deal with very long words which would otherwise create a gaping hole at the end of a line. You should add exceptions in your hyphenation dictionary for common URLs so they don't end up with errant hyphens.

Adobe's Paragraph Composer, also called the every-line composer, should be turned on in your styles before you go any further. There has been much debate about this feature but I assure you, it will give you a cleaner rag.

When all that hard work fails

Problem lines should be the exception if you carefully set all of the preceding parameters, but it happens to the best of us. Thanks to the aforementioned Paragraph Composer, the best place to start is the justification panel for the whole paragraph. Making adjustments here spreads minute changes to word and letter spacing (and even a point or two of character scaling) across multiple lines to fine tune the wrap.

Line by line spacing tweaks is the absolute last resort. You can do this by switching your composition mode to Single Line and manually breaking, tracking, and scaling with a very delicate hand.

Sometimes, a bad line is unavoidable with the text at hand and changing the text is rarely worth salvaging the rag. Go home and have a stiff drink instead.

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Personally, I don't like hyphenation, although it's definitely OK when kept to a minimum, and when the hyphenation is well placed. Tracking and horizontal scaling should be seen as a last resort, but can be handy if you're desperate.

The best option is adding non-breaking spaces or soft breaks (for print work) or using non-breaking spaces (nbsp; for web work).

Or, rephrase the text slightly. If you're working with a good copywriter, they should be prepared to make changes to improve the layout. If you're writing the copy yourself, it's even easier.

So, the best two strategies are:

  1. Add soft breaks or non-breaking spaces.

  2. Rewrite the copy.

If you find those two are not enough, then you probably have columns that are too narrow.

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+1. I would only ever use individually placed discretionary hyphens in ragged-right text. –  e100 Dec 17 '12 at 10:37
Actually, on re-reading, not sure adding soft breaks is best practice in print work. The problem is when edits earlier in the text mean they shift to the middle of a line. Why not use non-breaking spaces in both contexts? –  e100 Dec 17 '12 at 10:39
Sure, that works. In the print work I've done things were usually set and that was it, but it makes sense to use non-breaking spaces everywhere. Edited! –  Marc Edwards Dec 19 '12 at 10:47
Philosophically: There comes a point, pretty early IMO, where you need to let go. Yes, orphans, widows, bad breaks are important, but you are dealing with text and meaning will never align with your ever-changing measure of beauty. You might as well say you want your mud with less dirt in it. –  horatio Dec 19 '12 at 15:22
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