[scribus] Why scribus lacks letter-spacing? was: how does scribus do justification?

Tornoci Laszlo torlasz at net.sote.hu
Thu Jan 28 10:30:40 CET 2010

On 01/26/2010 11:48 PM, John Culleton wrote:
> Kerning between letters, also called letterspacing is not a good way to
> justify. One guru is famously quoted as saying "A man who would letterspace
> lower case would steal sheep."

Although I am neither a typographer, nor a native English speaker, let 
me correct you a bit.
1. "Kerning" is to adjust the space between specific pairs of letters to 
achieve a better, more natural look of a word. Kerning information is in 
the font file, you may override this manually, for specific pairs of 
letters in scribus.
2. "Letter spacing" is one way to do hyphenation/justification. 
"Hyphenation/justification" (H&J) is to achieve an even, straight line 
for the right, left or both margins by optionally hyphenating words at 
line ends and by changing the position of words/characters.
3. The quote you mention is actually a misquote (see: 
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederic_Goudy). Goudy (a famous American 
typographer) said:  "Any man who would letterspace blackletter would 
shag sheep." As you see, the statement is actually a lot stronger :-), 
but it is only about blackletter fonts.

I like books that where produced with care, according to the built up 
skills and tradition of printers and typographers. These people well 
deserve our respect. However, typography is more of an art than an exact 
science. There are rules, traditions that we should follow, but these 
exist for a goal: to produce a readable, esthetically pleasing text. So 
I don't think statements of any typographer should be considered 
unbreakable truths.

There are many ways to achieve hyphenation/justification. Gutenberg 
solved the problem by carefully crafting special character combinations. 
Today we can use:
1. change the word-spaces (spaces between words)
2. change the letter-spaces (spaces between characters within word)
3. change the width of the characters themselves

In an ideal case you can give % values for the minimal and maximal 
values for all of these. (Plus you should be able to change the mean as 
well, to achieve "tracking").

In Scribus 1.3.5 you can set (Properties, Text, Advanced settings): Word 
Tracking (that's word-spaces) minimal and normal value (I guess this is 
the mean), and you can set Glyph extension (that's character width) min 
and max value. There is no way to set letter-spaces. So we have #1 and 
#3 but no #2.

It is well known, that misusing letter-spacing is ugly. Setting it to 
more than +/- 3-5% from 100% can lead to a change of "color" of the text 
(the average grey impression of the text when not directly focusing on 
it). But you can also misuse #1 and #3 as well! There is a wide belief 
that letter-spacing is from the evil (based in part on the above 
misquoted opinion of Goudy). I rather believe my eyes. There are lots of 
examples in the book "J Felici: The Complete Manual of Typography" of 
the same block of text set with different combination of H&J methods #1, 
#2 and #3. It is clear, that a combination of these methods gives the 
best results if used properly. I simply don't believe anyone can spot 3% 

So my humble request for the developers: PLEASE, AT LEAST CONSIDER 
including the ability to change letter-spacing. You don't get as much 
flexibility with it as with #1 and #3, but it is useful. I think Scribus 
should be the best layout program, and this is a useful feature.
I understand the implications: the H&J algorithm becomes more 
complicated, possibly slower, but I still think it should be implemented.

Optical margins are very nice (they are available in 1.3.5) and H&J 
"paragraph at a time" would be very-very welcome. But I understand it is 
coming for Scribus.

					Yours: Laszlo

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