Justification, Tracking, Kerning - available tools?

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Justification, Tracking, Kerning - available tools?

Post by withoutFeathers »


I'm a long-time Nisus Pro user and I'm attempting to clean up the justification word and letter spacing -- tracking, kerning -- of a 500 page book of prose before publication. I'm having some trouble getting word and letter spacing to look polished, so before I do the whole book I want to know if I have all tools available for the work.

I'm familiar with these tools Nisus provides:

--Hyphenation and spacing via Apple's built-in engine.
--Soft hyphen insertion
--Kerning (twips)
--Justify fully macro

So my questions both to other users and to Nisus:

Is there a 'tracking' option that I've missed?
Are there any other tools I've missed?
Is there other software that I can run the manuscript through (it's in RTF) that will do the job better, or help with it?

I find the tools I've listed above sometimes aren't producing a polished-looking result without a lot of fiddling, e.g., the line's word spacing and letter spacing seems too wide or narrow, and manually kerning parts of it word by word is painful.

Any comments, tips, tricks, appreciated.



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Re: Justification, Tracking, Kerning - available tools?

Post by adryan »

G’day, WF et al

The first thing you need to ask yourself is: Is it absolutely necessary to have your text fully justified?

Fully justified text can never look “perfect” everywhere: the best you can hope for is that it looks “good enough” most of the time.

Some things that can make a difference:–
(1) line or column width
(2) line spacing
(3) font
(4) font face
(5) use of a fractional font size
(6) word order!

For example, a large font size in a narrow column will not look so “pretty”. Adjusting line spacing can sometimes disguise awkward word spacing. By “word order”, I mean that transferring words to a different position in a sentence might cause lines to be readjusted so that their appearance is improved.

If you drag the inner (or outer) page margin left or right, you can actually see the inbuilt kerning algorithm at work, assuming your text is fully justified. Sometimes you can tweak a line to improve on the inbuilt kerning algorithm a bit, but someone has put a lot of thought into that algorithm and you certainly can’t depart from its result too much before things look even worse.

I don’t know of a better algorithm that could be incorporated in a macro. I certainly would not adjust kerning manually in 500 pages of text. (It’s hard enough as it is without a kerning slider in one of the Palettes.) I think I would first ensure the font size was appropriate for the line width, and then consider altering word order for truly glaring passages. Sometimes one can extract a problematic string and display it in a separate paragraph with its own formatting, as one sees with block quotations, for example.

A word of caution: There is no point in doing any line-by-line adjustments on other than the absolute final draft of your document. If, however, you were tempted to adjust kerning, say, I would suggest that you first apply a “Kerned” style to any words that are to be altered, so that you can find them again and de-kern them if necessary if you did happen to contravene the preceding admonition.

Note that Paragraph 17 of the Justify Fully English macro should read:–
Menu 'Align Justified' # in case the user forgot
MacBook Pro (mid-2014)
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Re: Justification, Tracking, Kerning - available tools?

Post by ptram »


When activating kerning and hyphenation, Nisus Writer can produce a very nice-looking page. However, there are some subtleties (like optical margin alignment) that it cannot do.

If the text is meant for publishing, maybe you can subscribe to Adobe InDesign for just 30 days. It can read Nisus RTF, including all the paragraph and character styles, very well.


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Re: Justification, Tracking, Kerning - available tools?

Post by withoutFeathers »

Thank you adryan and ptram for comments and suggestions.

I had already begun a workaround, which seems to solve much of my problem, and which I'll describe at the bottom after addressing your comments.

I should have said that I'm not new at this (used PageMaker, Quark twenty years ago in layout job) so I'm aware of the basics you present. However I overlooked font size as a possible tool and will set that up. And, your reminder not to put too much into this until I'm absolutely sure of final text is worth hearing again. (And as to ragged edge -- no, it's prose fiction in hardcopy -- which I think almost always uses justified AFAIK, and I anyway I prefer justified. So I have to do this, if only to please myself.) :roll:

@ptram Thanks for the idea about InDesign, and I may do that down the road if I need to do a larger-scale printing and want it finely tuned. However, at present I think Nisus via Apple engine is very close to good enough (this is a draft for beta readers, maybe 5-10 copies).

What I was shaking my head about in Nisus was:
a) The lack of tracking controls that can be applied on demand. Ideally with separate word and spacing tracking, with +/- % limits. Even the overall Apple engine doesn't supply this control anywhere AFAIK; I suggest Nisus should bite the bullet and add their own.
b) Hyphenation control seems spotty; it's too blunt a tool having to specify it for the whole document. IMO it should have three or four levels available for each paragraph, so it's a click or two to try different hyphenation options and they get remembered. And Nisus 'don't hyphenate' paragraph seems buggy -- I'm finding it doesn't remove hyphenation, often. Which leaves no options except turning off all hyphenation, or applying kerning/tracking tools, which leads to....:

What I've already done as workaround:
1. Realized I can set up styles with Kerning twips as a pseudo-tracking, and quickly apply them (and find them later if necessary). I set up about 16 or so styles (took me about 15 minutes to set up): with ten Character Styles: Tighten twips +1 through +5, and Loosen -1 through -5; and six Paragraph styles: Tighten +1, +2, +3, and Loosen -1, -2, -3.
2. I went through the first chapter (50 pages) using these styles, to get rid of as much word-breaking and widows as possible while addressing word spacing.
3. Found this works very well -- I can usually fix almost all broken words in a paragraph and still kern the text to look smooth and readable. The trick seems to be only going up or down 1 twip at a time -- between a paragraph, a line, or a word -- so the eye never sees a two-twip jump in the tracking.

Blind test:
Yesterday I printed my test first chapter, kerned with these styles, at a local printer. I'll read it again in a few days after I've forgotten what I've kerned and what I haven't, and use this as a way to blind compare Nisus built-in Apple spacing with my changes. I'll mark what I don't like, and if the majority of these are Apple/Nisus, and my improvements don't get flagged, then I'll go ahead and do the whole book like this.

At least, that's the plan today. :wink:

Thanks again for the comments, and if you have any others, fire away.


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