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The font size for a current product instruction label I am working on is 4.75. I am needing to reduce the size even lower to make more content fit. This goes against everything I've learned about usability and readability, not to mention customer satisfaction with the product.

The need is partly over the requirement to have the label be bilingual. I've tried to work with my colleagues to reduce the amount of text, but am not gaining any support. The size of the label cannot be increased.

I've seen even smaller text on OTC drug instructions and women's makeup packaging, for example. Too small for normal reading glasses in normal lighting.

What is the absolute smallest font size that is acceptable. What are thoughts on industry standards? Anyone have experience with this?

I'm cringing over having to do this but think I will have to go down at least a point size.

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The minimum legal text size will vary depending on the type of product, where it is going to be sold and the nature of the copy in question. For instance, the Food Industry Regulations in Europe specify that all mandatory legal text (ingredients, allergy warnings, nutritional values, etc) must have a minimum x-height of 1.2mm (unless the pack is very small in which case that drops to 0.9mm). Marketing (or 'romance') copy is not subject to the same rules. In some cases (such as alcohol content) the minimum size is defined by the cap height, but this minimum size also varies from territory to territory. The specific legal minimum for what you are working on should be defined by the technical and/or legal department of the company that you are working for, but a good practice for teeny tiny text is to place a clear, eye-catching note on the artwork (outside the cutter guide) which states the point size, cap height and x-height of the text in question. This makes it easy for approvers to check the artwork and moves the responsibility away from you.

The next question will be whether the small text is actually printable. Again, you should be provided with a print spec from the printers who will produce the labels and this should include minimum printable text size (or two - one for positive text and one for negative, reversed out text) which will probably be expressed in points. HOWEVER, take that with a grain of salt because the print spec will also include a minimum printable line weight (two again - pos and neg) so if your text is so small that the lines making it up fall below the minimum line weight then you will have to thicken it up a bit, probably by adding a very fine stroke if a suitable heavier weight is not available or appropriate. This is particularly import with reversed or white out text which can 'fill in' when printed.

Finally, there are the aesthetics and readability. Unfortunately, these always tend to suffer when we are required to put a gallon into a pint pot - which is all too often the case with text on packaging. The best you can do is usually to use a condensed version of the type face and squeeze up the leading (I usually stop just before the ascenders and descenders start to crash into each other). This allows the actually point size to be as big as possible.

As one of the other questions says, you have to learn not to let the ugly appearance upset you to much. This is a common situation in packaging and product labelling and is only likely to get worse as packaging gets smaller (for good environmental reasons) and the amount of legally required copy gets bigger (for good consumer protection reasons).

  • Thanks @Chris. I don't know of any legal restrictions, but yes, think I will have to bite the bullet and just do my job, even if I don't like the design. Thanks for the comment. – ispaany Nov 7 '16 at 16:25
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Consult your lawyer. This is not a graphic matter, but a legal one.

Graphically, you can print as small as your output device is capable of. A good imagesetter will give you nice clean 2-point type!

  • I've heard sometimes that the "minimum legal point size" is 6 points. That means nothing to me: different fonts show different sized characters at 6 points. If there is such a "law," I'm sure it varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. And the other day in a store I was trying to read a pet-medicine bottle that had text so small, I could not read it at all. It was probably about 3 points. – q23.us Nov 1 '16 at 15:41
  • While the legality of tiny font size might be up for debate, OP might want to cover his behind by talking with the client/boss about the legality of using tiny print. THAT might help to get text reduced or free up space some other way. Write a follow up email noting that you talked about it so you have proof that you tried. – TCDesigner Nov 1 '16 at 17:12
  • @user75926 Good to know graphically fonts can print to 2pt and be clear (with a loupe or a microscope perhaps). My question wasn't really about legal though. This has been a standard at my work for years and legal has not been involved and not wanting to go there. It is more about what is acceptable in design. Thanks. – ispaany Nov 1 '16 at 20:10
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    I have seen a workaround for this issue before where a label can be produced with a perf or gummed section that peels back to reveal more information. this will no doubt increase costs but given the space situation could be a workaround. I suggest talk about the options with your printer and your client. – Mark Read Nov 2 '16 at 2:21
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Legibility is going to vary based on the printer, device, and font.

There are a few ways to increase legibility at small sizes.

  • Decrease the text width: I always hear that 80 character per line is idea, but at extremely small sizes, I'd go less. Shorter lines are more readable than long lines if you need to decrease the leading, and helps with height if there are paragraph breaks in the text
  • Use a font with a large X-height: These are going to be legible at smaller sizes.
  • Use a font with few fine details: Fine details will get lost, so at minimum use sans serif.
  • Increase tracking: If you can accord it, slightly increase tracking (inter-character spacing). You can go smaller that you otherwise might.
  • Use a caption font: These usually do the above for you (bigger X-height, more space, etc). For a free font example, see PT Sans, which has regular and caption versions.
  • Try to move on: If it is legalese, no one is going to read it anyway, so swallow it and put your skills to use in areas more prominent to the user.
  • this about sums it up. "Try to move on: If it is legalese, no one is going to read it anyway, so swallow it and put your skills to use in areas more prominent to the user." – ispaany Nov 1 '16 at 20:12

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