page margins

One inch is not enough

Page mar­gins set the default ter­ri­tory your text occu­pies on the page. Page mar­gins deter­mine the width of the text block, and thus have the great­est effect on line length. (Point size also affects line length, though more finely.) As page mar­gins increase, line length decreases, and vice versa.

Most word proces­sors default to page mar­gins of one inch. On stan­dard 8.5″× 11″ paper, that pro­duces a line length of 6.5″. That was fine for the monospaced fonts of the type­writer era, which used a lot of hor­i­zon­tal space. But for pro­por­tional fonts, they’re too small.

At 12 point, left and right page mar­gins of 1.5″–2.0″ will usu­ally give you a com­fort­able line length. But don’t take that range as an absolute—focus on get­ting the num­ber of char­ac­ters per line into the right range (see line length). The smaller the point size, the larger the page mar­gins will need to be, and vice versa.

Fear of white space

But if I use big­ger mar­gins, won’t a lot of the page be empty?” Yes. Is that a prob­lem?

Pro­fes­sional typog­ra­phers never use 8.5″ × 11″ paper with a 6.5-inch line length. Nei­ther should you. Set your text accord­ing to the prin­ci­ples of good typog­ra­phy. The white space will take care of itself. The plea­sure of read­ing an effec­tively designed doc­u­ment will soon out­weigh the unfa­mil­iar­ity of extra white space around the edges.