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I once encountered the advice to use \renewcommand\baselinestretch{1.025} after \usepackage{bera} (though I am not 100% certain that 1.025 was the suggested value). There's little doubt to my relatively untrained eye that the results are better with the renewal than without. If I recall correctly, the source I got that from also had suggested values for other fonts, together with an explanation of why this was necessary for some fonts.

I've googled around and consulted the dead-trees I have at hand, but cannot find where I got this all from. So, is there a canonical source of the required adjustment values? A clear explanation of why this is necessary for some fonts? Or, is this all a figment of my imagination?

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3 Answers

up vote 21 down vote accepted

It's not a figment of your imagination—the amount of leading is an important aspect of the typographic design. It's more complicated than just a certain value for a certain font, however.

Ages ago I wrote a document comparing a paragraphs with varying linewidths and leading; you can find the file here: http://gist.github.com/608324

The file also gives "relative speed" values for quantitative tests that were performed at some stage, but I've lot my reference right now so that's about as much information as I can give you.

Digression aside, there are two main variables to consider when choosing the leading:

  • The x-height of the font: a font like Palatino will need more leading than a font like Garamond, since the lines are effectively closer together due to the larger height of the lowercase letters

  • The width of the text block: a longer linewidth requires larger leading

It would be fun to produce an empirical equation to relate these three.

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The optimum leading depends: very strongly on size and style of the font; fairly strongly on the measure (longer lines favouring more leading); weakly on the kind of text (heavy mathematics vs technical prose vs fiction); to some extent on stylistic preference.

The first few factors are such an important part of typographical design, that typographers abbreviate them as, eg "12/13x22 Centaur" meaning the typeface is Centaur in 12pt with 13pt leading on a 22pc measure.

The default classes set the leading independent of these factors. Eg. \documentclass[10pt]{book} loads bk10.clo which sets 10/12. \usepackage{bera} sets \linespread{1.05} modifying this to 10/12.6. But depending on the above factors, maybe you are better off with your \renewcommand\baselinestretch{1.025} for 10/12.3.

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Another factor to be considered is the frequency of uppercase letters within the text. Ideally, a text in German (with all nouns capitalized) should be typeset with slightly larger leading than an English text, given the same font size/style and measure.

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Good thinking. I'd never considered that before. –  Will Robertson Oct 3 '10 at 13:49
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It can also depend on the language, Vietnamese with its stacked accents need more leading, vowelled Arabic text needs more leading compared to non-vowelled text etc. –  Khaled Hosny Oct 3 '10 at 14:07
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