098: ABCs of GCM: J-R

We learn our ABCs as preschoolers; we begin to write down our alphabet, combine letters into words into sentences and eventually into stories. When entering into a new industry, it can be like learning a whole new language to understand the technical jargon and specific buzzwords thrown around. The graphic communications industry is no different so let’s pick up where we left off on our journey through the alphabet, using it as a framework to explore the ABCs of GCM.

J is for Justified

Cry me a river.

Cry me a river.

In 2002 Justin Timberlake cried a river. While most listeners believed that JT’s smash hit was about his breakup with Britney, I knew the real truth.

It’s typography, b*tch.

After all, Cry Me a River was released on his album, Justified. It’s as clear as black text on white paper.

For anyone utterly confused (which is fair), ‘justified’ is a form of text alignment. And rivers are unsightly white spaces running vertically down blocks of justified text because of issues with spacing. And designers cry about this problem.

Justification happens when text extends to both the right and left sides of a column. In trying to achieve such typographic gymnastics, sometimes unsightly word spaces appear in blocks of justified text. When these larger-than-normal word spaces combine with other larger-than-normal word spaces throughout a block a text, ‘rivers’ result. And they are unsightly typographic no-no’s if we can avoid them.

But how do we avoid such unsightly white spaces that impact the overall colour of a page layout? There are a few solutions.

  1. Increase the column width so that the software (such as Adobe InDesign, for example) has more to work with in spacing out characters across a line.

  2. Make the size of the type smaller, which is in essence allowing for the same additional type of graphic freedom as suggested above.

  3. Use a more condensed version of your typeface, which, again will aid in much the same way as suggestions 1 and 2 above. Remember, however, that it’s a bad idea to condense the type yourself. Instead choose a member of a font family that is designed to be condensed.

  4. Increase the default amount of hyphenation allowable. Mr. Gutenberg was notorious for going buck wild with hyphens (almost 1/3 of all lines within the Gutenberg Bible are hyphenated) and people rant and rave about the overall quality and type colour established on his pages

  5. Choose to left align the text instead, creating a ragged right side and eliminating all occurrences of the larger-than-normal word spaces

Whatever river-reducing method you choose...

You don’t have to say, what you did

I already know, I found out from Kim (from the art department)

Now there’s just no chance

With u and e

There'll never be

Don't it make you mad about it?


The damage is done, so I guess I be retrieving (the previous version of my file...)

(Just call me @WeirdAl of the type world)

K is for kB = kilobyte

A kilobyte (kB) is a measurement of computer hard drive storage and computer memory storage. While a kB once represented 1000 bytes, it’s more commonly used to represent 1024 bytes today.

1 B (byte)

1000 kB (kilobyte)

1000^2 MB (megabyte)

1000^3 GB (gigabyte)

1000^4 TB (terabyte)

1000^5 PB (petabyte)

1000^6 EB (exabyte)

1000^7 ZB (zettabyte)

1000^8 YB (yottabyte)

What does 1 kB represent in everyday data storage?

Approximately half a page of Roman alphabetic text (1 byte per letter)

A short email

In 1956, IBM launched the world’s very first computer. It filled an entire room, the disk drive weighed a (literal) ton, it cost $35,000 per year to operate and stored 5 MB of data.

Today, you can buy any number of USB storage devices, available everywhere, even at local corner stores. They fit in the palm of your hand, weigh around 20 grams, they cost under $10 and store around 64 GB of data.

What could only be described as ‘science fiction’ less than 70 years ago is now a commonplace, everyday convenience that continues to shape our world. Just think where we’ll be 70 years from now… I’ll be transposing this text straight from my brain (no typing required) on my disposable computer, from the passenger seat of my self-driving hover car on the way to the hologram repair shop.

L is for Leading

Leading (pronounced ‘ledding’, not ‘leeding’) is a term used to describe the space between lines of text, also referred to as line spacing. It’s measured from the baseline of one line of text to the baseline of the text above.

The term leading has roots in the first printing process (letterpress) commercialized by Mr. Gutenberg almost 500 years ago. Rectangular blocks of lead were inserted between lines of text to provide breathing space and enhance readability.

Today, adjusting leading no longer requires physical blocks of anything and it can be manipulated at the click of a button. Leading can be adjusted in professional page layout software like Adobe InDesign, as well as word processing software like Microsoft Word and Google Docs.

Default leading is typically set to 120% of the size type you’re working with and it provides for excellent readability. So when working with 10 pt type, 12 pts of leading is standard. Adding more lead will provide an airier feel to the document, while removing lead will make the text feel more compact and create a darker document ‘colour’ overall. If the amount of leading is equivalent to the size of type you’re using (often used when stacking capital letters on top of one another), this is known as set solid.

M is for Makeready

Making a list, checking it twice, going to find out what’s sheeted and what we’ll splice.

In professional printing just “pressing print” is not a thing. The concept of makeready (which includes running through a checklist of items to get a job up and running), comes into play in the press room. Makeready activities include things like:

  • Reading instructions for a job

  • Gathering materials such as the required ink, paper, printing plates

  • Setting up the feeder and delivery units of the press

  • Preliminary printing to ensure all plates are in register with one another and high-quality colour is achieved (multiple ‘pulls’ and fine adjustments required)

Makeready represents the fixed costs associated with printing. Whether printing 300 copies or 300,000 copies, the set up is roughly the same. Therefore, the costs associated with makeready are divided amongst the number of copies printed.

If the makeready costs equivalent of $500 in time and materials, that value is distributed over the total copies printed, increasing the overall cost per piece. Fewer copies means that each will have proportionately more cost applied per piece. That $500 makeready costs $1.66 per piece for 300 copies printed, but just a fraction of a penny per piece with 300,000 copies printed.

Makeready is neither good nor bad; it’s just part of the process of offset printing. For this reason, it makes a lot more sense to use offset printing when high quantities are required.

N is for Newsprint

Newsprint is a relatively low quality, absorbent stock used for low cost printing projects that don’t have to last a long time. Although wide newspaper circulation is a thing of the past, newsprint paper provides an interesting material science issue, one to which an elegant solution was found in the world of typography.

PROBLEM: Because of its porous nature, small type doesn’t work well on newsprint. The issue is magnified when printing important numbers in the financial pages, where readers rely on the accuracy of the data. But when dot gain occurs, 6’s turn into 8’s and 1’s turn into 7’s. Dot gain is the spreading of growth of ink beyond where it was originally intended and is amplified with highly porus paper. If not actively compensated for in premedia, as well as on press, dot gain can run rampant, causing letters to fill it and images to print darker than intended.

SOLUTION: Enter Retina. A typeface designed by Hoefler & Frere-Jones for very small sizes.

Retina was originally designed in MicroPlus size for the financial pages of the Wall Street Journal. Printers understand that numbers appearing at 5.5 points on newsprint is a dangerous combination. Small “ink wells” (notches strategically set into the characters) may look strange at larger sizes but they are an ingenious proactive design feature that helps printed ink complete each letter beautifully. After its successes on the printed page, it was time for Retina to hit the big screen and the typeface was reworked without the notches and using more conventional proportions for headlines and larger text sizes. Retina has been revered as a milestone in type design and has been acquired by The Museum of Modern Art for its Architecture and Design Collection.” (A Tale of Two Typefaces, Diana Varma for Graphic Arts Magazine)

Leave it to modern type designers to solve a printing problem hundreds of years in the making.

O is for Offset

Offset printing is like a relay race. The grippers are the runners. The paper is the baton. The printing units are the water stations throughout the race route.

A series of grippers (little claws) are strategically placed through the press. Each sheet of paper is pulled into the press by these grippers and transferred at high speed HORIZONTALLY through the press, always handed off from one set of grippers to the next. There’s never a time when the sheet isn’t held.

But there are other helpers that make the race happen. There are the hydration stations along the race route, handing out water as the racers go by. Enter: the printing units.

Each colour requires its own printing unit and there are three main cylinders integral to the smooth image transfer that happens on an offset press. (Also, the term ‘offset printing’ comes from a very practical place. Offsetting is what the image is doing as it moves VERTICALLY down a printing unit.)

  1. Plate cylinder. 🍽 This thin aluminum material is wrapped around the plate cylinder and contains the RIGHT READING view of the image printed.

  2. Blanket cylinder. 🛏 Smooth rubberized material (the blanket) is wrapped around this cylinder. It sits below and touches the plate cylinder. The WRONG READING version (mirror image) of the image exists here.

  3. Impression cylinder. 📜This hard metal cylinder sit below and comes into contact with the blanket cylinder. It provides the squeeze needed for the image to transfer to the paper. Paper travels between the blanket and impression cylinders and when the inked-up image finally hits the paper, it’s RIGHT READING again.

The two systems (horizontal paper travel and vertical image transfer) work together to win the race and look good doing it.

P is for PPI (Pixels Per Inch)

In the graphic communications industry there’s no shortage of ‘P words’ to choose from: points to picas, page count to pagination, perfecting, proofs, and presses (oh my!).

Let’s focus on a very important indicator of quality that can make or break an image: PPI (Pixels Per Inch). PPI describes the detail of an image at a specific size. Images are made up of pixels. Pixels are teeny tiny squares 🟨 of digital colour information. When sitting in a grid beside many thousands or millions of other pixels (all made up of their own colours) these tiny digital mosaics look like continuous tone images. But pixel-based images can’t be increased in size forever and ever without beginning to look pixelated.

Here’s how @explaineracademy describes this phenomenon (and it’s brilliant):

Digital image = knitted blanket 🛏

Pixels = yarn 🧶

When the blanket was made, it was created using a specific amount of yarn.

In its original, intended size, it looks good. It’s tightly knit, warm and fuzzy.

As you begin to stretch the blanket, the fibres separate and become more like a net. You can see the individual grid that makes up the blanket and it no longer functions as intended.

Similarly, when a digital photograph is resized, there are only a finite number of pixels available. Pixels aren’t added as you resize; instead each square of colour gets bigger until you can see each of the individual pixels.

In regards to designing for printed output, the partner-in-crime opposite to raster images are vector images. Vector images are made up of lines - mathematical curves that are resolution-independent, meaning that they can be resized up without any concern for loss of quality. Fonts are vector files and so are digital illustrations created in @illustrator.

Typically, for high quality professional printed output, a raster image must be 300 ppi in its final size on screen in order to look high quality in print. If you increase the size of the image, the size of each individual pixel will increase proportionally with it. That’s because raster images are resolution dependent - they are made up of a fixed or finite number of pixels depending on how many pixels were in the original file. The number of pixels in a photograph is the direct result of the device that was used to capture the image. A 24 MP camera 📸 will produce an image with a greater amount of colour information - more pixels - than a 4 MP camera, for example.

So grab a cozy blanket and get busy resizing images in @photoshop.

Q is for Quire

An individual piece of paper is called a sheet and a ‘quire’ is the smallest unit to measure a grouping of identical sheets of paper (25 sheets). It’s not a commonly used term but here’s a rundown of what various groups of sheets are called:

25 sheets = 1 quire

500 sheets = 20 quires = 1 ream

1000 sheets = 40 quires = 2 reams = 1 bundle

5000 sheets = 200 quires = 10 reams = 5 bundles = 1 bale

So if you need new ways to describe quantities of paper, now you’ve got it!

R is for Ream

A ream of paper is defined as 500 identical sheets. When you buy paper for your printer, it typically comes in a ream. However, diving down the deep hole that is the Internet led me to learn that there’s a long history of the ream. Apparently, the 500-sheet ream has only been that way since the late 20th Century. 🤷🏻‍♀️

Here are some other ways that the ream has historically been defined:

  • 472 sheets – Mill ream

  • 480 sheets – Short ream

  • 500 sheets – also called Long ream

  • 504 sheets – Stationer's ream

  • 516 sheets – Printer's ream or Perfect ream

If you need new ways to describe a single quantity of paper, now you’ve got it!

And a shoutout to my colleague with a great name, Reem El Asaleh. :)

There are more ABCs of GCM to come in the next episode so stay tuned…

Sound Effect (public domain via Freesound):

InspectorJ - Kids Playing

Mattskydoodle - Censor

Music (public domain via Free Music Archive): John Bartmann (in order of appearance in episode)

Chill and Grill


Cheeky Buggers

Rubiks Cube

Old Road to Town

Fancy A Stroll

Smooth Criminal

Somewhere Nice

Mad Hatter Tea Party

Talk Paper Scissors Theme Music: Retro Quirky Upbeat Funk by Lewis Sound Production via Audio Jungle

Boat Origami Photo: Boat Origami Photo by Alex on Unsplash

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