Legibility of Print by Miles A. Tinker is the seminal study on how we read printed type, and it remains the standard for typography even now, 45 years on from when it was first published.
The rules of typesetting are many and varied and in most cases commonsense. Recently I’ve been looking into research from eye-tracking studies to explain how we read across the page, and how our eyes respond to blocks of type. I had often heard about Miles A. Tinker’s (great name) famous study and decided to look into it.
Much of what is known – rather than intuitively felt – about type legibility is derived from Tinker’s work – large blocks of italics are particularly hard to read, capitals are easier to read from a distance and sentence case paragraphs are easier to read close up. His studies were testing reading efficiency and oculomotor skills in various ways. These included how the eye focused on blocks of text, how often the eye would have to re-read text, eye movements across a page, the reaction of a subject to a single letter, speed of reading, peripheral vision, distance from the page and many more. Much of it was based around how the eye fatigues and his studies showed that, for example, if the conditions are good – i.e. good lighting, quality of printed page and well typeset text – a person can read without fatigue or loss of efficiency for about 6 hours.
On top of some of the commonsense results, there are some take-home lessons from the study which I found surprising and fascinating. For example, type that is set vertically is just as legible when read from bottom to top as from top to bottom. He also found that for the most effective reading the best setup is that the reading material should be sloped at a 45 degrees; a change of 15 degrees reduces efficiency significantly. He found that a curved page – for example when a book’s text goes tight into the gutter – retards reading significantly but that a large margin at the outer edges of a block of text has no bearing on it’s readability. He also found that indenting the first line of a paragraph increases legibility by 7%.
It has long been known that providing entry points to blocks of text, either by indenting or by using a drop cap helps the reader to access the text, but by giving these things scientific efficacy, Miles A. Tinker entrenched what was felt into what was known. You can buy his study here.
Do you know any good studies into the legibility of type? Do you have any tips for setting type to make it a pleasure to read? Let me know below.