Size matters, now more than ever.
December 20, 2010 6:08 AM   Subscribe

In this question, I asked about vertical space. Now I need to add a horizontal space requirement as well.

The key to my vertical size needs was to use 13pt line spacing. Keeping that requirement, I now need for 30 characters to fit into exactly 5.813 inches as well. I assume I need a fixed width font, like courier (is that true? are there prettier fixed width fonts?)
posted by Obscure Reference to Computers & Internet (11 answers total)
Not necessarily. More likely, you need a program that allows you to fine-tune the spacing and kerning of your text. Word fails at this, but if this is a one-off project, you could download the 30-day trial of InDesign.
posted by ella wren at 6:22 AM on December 20, 2010

Best answer: Yes, you need a fixed-width font, unless your word-processor allows you to set character-spacing to a fixed value (Word doesn't).

In Word, I think the only way to achieve this would be to just expand the character spacing by an increasing number of points and test each time. To avoid having to print out lots of test sheets, draw a line of the desired width using the drawing tools to serve as a guide.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 6:27 AM on December 20, 2010

To clarify my answer a bit where it disagrees with ella's, if you want an arbitrary piece of text to have a fixed with, you will need a fixed-width font. You can of course get a non-fixed font to fill a certain amount of horizontal space, but you'll need to tweak the text manually for different sets of 30 characters.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 6:32 AM on December 20, 2010

You can also justify the text which will automatically adjust the spacing between words to fill the width.
posted by bitdamaged at 6:38 AM on December 20, 2010

The word you're looking for is "monospaced." There are some OK free alternatives to Courier on Font Squirrel's Monospaced page.
posted by bcwinters at 6:46 AM on December 20, 2010

It depends on what you want it for. As you suggest, you can achieve this with a fixed-width font. These are fine, but look a certain way. If you care at all about the visual design, and your requirement is "these specific 30 characters on a single line in this one specific case" you should do as ella wren says and use InDesign.
posted by beerbajay at 6:59 AM on December 20, 2010

If you don't have ready access to InDesign, you can pay by the hour for access to it at a local Kinko's FedEx Office. Your local public library may have design computers with InDesign as well.
posted by zachlipton at 7:38 AM on December 20, 2010

Response by poster: I need it twice a year so buying (and learning!) InDesign isn't worth it. There must be a way to know what (and how) to set my fixed width to so that 30 of these widths take up the required space. Is "pitch" the word I'm looking for? I know (next to) nothing about fonts.
posted by Obscure Reference at 8:02 AM on December 20, 2010

Microsoft Word is not meant to be a pre-press tool, so it does not do exact measurements well. Since it sounds like your issue is that you will need different sets of 30 characters to fill the exact same width, then definitely go with a monospaced font. It will save you major headaches, and le morte de bea arthur's line trick is all you really need to get it right.

I like Inconsolata best for programming (free download, look for the "OpenType File" button), and it would be my choice if I had to use a mono for print.

(You can adjust pitch individually each time you set up this file, but it will change when your character set changes. Long ago before I had InDesign, I remember trying to force Word to give me the spacing I wanted by adding spaces between letters and individually adjusting them - 1px, 2px, etc. - until the text came out right when printed. You could do this. You will go crazy though.)
posted by ella wren at 4:54 PM on December 20, 2010

Your requirements are kind of mutually exclusive, at least in terms of readability.

Courier needs to be about 23 pt in order to fit 30 characters in a 5.813" wide space.

With 13 pt line spacing, that means the characters will overlap. Try it and you'll see.

You might find a wider monospaced font someplace, but most either mimic the sizing of Courier or try to be narrower.

Your next option is to adjust the kerning (spacing between letters) with a font of a smaller point size, but it's not going to be nice looking--there will be loads of white space between the characters.
posted by bcwinters at 10:13 AM on December 21, 2010

Response by poster: I should have said that it is for filling out a form. It needn't be pretty. If I need 23 point, I can use 60 characters of which half are spaces. (fake kerning, I guess.)
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:01 AM on December 22, 2010

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