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Scope

This is a question about looks in a written document. I has nothing to do with LaTeX, although I create my documents with that. Is this the right site then?

Current state

I write lab reports and other documents where I have to include a lot of images and tables. Those are usually floating within the text and are referenced to via numbers. As you can see in the image below, I use a serif font (Bitstream Charter) for the main text, a sans-serif font (Bitstream Vera Sans) for the headings.

To distinguish the caption below the image, I have changed the font to sans-serif. That gives it a distinguished look, but it also feels a little too distinguished. If you look really close, you can see that the “mm” are set in serif font, since that is math and that uses serif by default.

Is there some other way to distinguish the captions visually from the remainder without using a different font variant or shape?

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I'd reduce the padding below the image (or increase it above the image and below the caption), and if you created the graph I'd make that sans-serif too. I'm not sure what you mean about the mm - I can see they're serif, but why not change them? –  OGHaza May 8 at 20:00
    
Are you using floats to insert your graph into the document? I'd recommend LaTeX's default option in the figure environment. This will likely put it at the top of a page which will emphasize the separation. I'd support your use of hanging captions. –  Hugh May 8 at 21:50

3 Answers 3

The simplest way to differentiate and group information is with spatial separation. Place items together that belong together, and separate them from the rest using extra space.

Here, the spaces between the chart and the caption, and between the caption and the next paragraph are the same. The space above the chart is also the same. This gives to visual cue to show that the caption belongs with the chart, not with the flow of text.

Add half a line, or even a full line of additional space above the chart and below the caption so that the informational separation and the visual separation match one another. You could also add a fine (1/2 point or so) rule below the caption, just to make it really obvious.

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To gain a deeper understanding of what Alan is talking about, you can also read up on proximity in any good graphic design learning resource. –  DumbNic May 8 at 22:02

Bunch of ideas (in addition to Alan's great comment on spacial seperation)

  • use a different color
  • use italics
  • use a border/divider
  • place on a block of color
  • use other visual (brackets, arrows, etc)
  • indent captions differently

But, use these sparingly. Less is more, and why I'd lean on Alan's answer first and foremost. See if that works first.

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I recommend studying a little about Font Pairings and stylizations to give you a better sense of how to pair headlines with your body copy, sans-serif or otherwise. Hoefler & Co. has a great article on this:

The key takeaways:

  • Complementary moods
  • Same history, different features
  • Similar line structures
  • Similar proportions
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