Justification in Print Design

What is justification in page layout and typography?

Justification is the structuring of the top, bottom, sides, or middle of text or graphic elements on a page to align the text against one or more specific baseline markers—usually the left or right margin, or both.

Types of Justification

Justified text remains flush relative to a specific point of reference on the page:

  • Left-justified text uses the left margin as its reference point. Text at the left margin touches the left margin but text near the right margin wraps naturally where the words break; there's no changing of spacing between words to ensure that the text is flush against the right margin. 
  • Right-justified text is like left-justified—but on the opposite side of the page.
  • Centered text uses an imaginary line in the middle of the page as a reference guide. Every line in the paragraph is spaced such that the content is equally balanced to the left and right (or top and bottom) of the center line.
  • Fully justified text aims for a smooth flush against the inside and outside margins, or the top and bottom margins, or both. Usually, only the last sentence of the paragraph remains justified to one margin only. If even the last sentence is fully justified, the approach is called forced justification.

For tabular data, numbers may be centered or left- or fully justified around a specific tab stop. Decimal tabs, for example, generally work by right-justifying the material before the decimal, then left-justifying the numbers that follow. This approach is common in business reporting.

Purpose of Text Justification

Justified text is generally considered easier to read, which is why most books and newspapers justify the text, paragraph by paragraph.

Most trade paperbacks, for example, are fully justified on a paragraph basis and upper justified relative to where paragraphs begin on a new sheet of paper.

Justifying Images

Images may be justified, too. The use of the term justification for images refers to how text flows around an embedded graphic object.

For example, if you left-justify an image, text will flow from the left edge of the graphic toward the right margin—regardless of the image's placement relative to the left margin. Fully justified images flow around an embedded object. 

With objects, additional parameters, including baseline offset and gutters, fine-tune the relationship of the text to the image.

Problems With Justification

Full justification of text can create uneven and sometimes unsightly white spaces and rivers of white space in the text. When forced justification is used, if the last line is less than 3/4 of the column width, the extra space added between words or letters is especially noticeable and unattractive.

Commonly Confused Concepts

Justification governs the relationship of text to the margins or some other baseline. Other technical graphic-design terms sometimes are confused with justification:

  • Kerning is the adjustment of spacing between individual pairs of letters. For example, the letters A and T might have their kerning adjusted to avoid a small white-space gap between them that looks inconsistent with the other letters in the sentence. Kerning is often manually adjusted for certain fonts printed at large size, like billboards and posters.
  • Leading represents the vertical distance between lines of text, represented as a decimal.
  • Tracking is often confused for kerning. Tracking refers to the spacing between all elements in a line and is usually represented as a percentage of the typestyle's default. For example, tightening tracking in a paragraph to 95 percent will "compress" the text, while expanding it to 105 percent will make the text appear a bit wider. Manual adjustment of tracking can be useful in book design, to avoid paragraphs that end with a single word on the bottom line.
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Bear, Jacci Howard. "Justification in Print Design." ThoughtCo, Oct. 23, 2017, thoughtco.com/justification-alignment-in-typography-1078093. Bear, Jacci Howard. (2017, October 23). Justification in Print Design. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/justification-alignment-in-typography-1078093 Bear, Jacci Howard. "Justification in Print Design." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/justification-alignment-in-typography-1078093 (accessed November 18, 2017).