Leading and other Spacing Materials

In let­ter­press, you’ll need all man­ner of mater­i­al to cre­ate the ‘white space’ between text: this art­icle looks at what’s available

Quotes from Composing Room Stores
Quotes from Com­pos­ing Room Stores

Lead­ing is a term that has made it’s way to the graph­ic design­er­’s com­puter.  It defines the gap between lines and in let­ter­press print­ing it is done by insert­ing a thin strip of lead.

Leads are around the same height as spa­cing and so don’t print.  They vary in length and also width.  On width, leads are sup­plied in point sizes and are most com­monly avail­able in 1, 1½, 2 and 3 points.  It can be con­fus­ing to determ­ine the dif­fer­ence between dif­fer­ent sizes when com­pos­ing, so in some cases it might be wise to stand­ard­ise on one or two sizes.  It’s dif­fi­cult to detect the 0.007″ between 1 and 1½pt leads.  On length, they should be accur­ately cut and your sup­pli­er will nor­mally do this.  If you are cut­ting then you need to be as pre­cise as pos­sible.  It is also worth­while to cut leads ½pt short­er than the page meas­ure used to help over­come the prob­lems of squeeze.

Be care­ful in your use of leads: Per­petua is the best example of a small x‑height face and Plantin has a large x‑height mean­ing they look smal­ler and lar­ger than each even when on the same body (of, say, 12pt).  Adding lead­ing to Per­petua will light­en the page; and hav­ing no lead­ing in Plantin will make for a very dark page.  There are no stand­ards to say what lead­ing will work for each page, that is a mat­ter for you as the typographer.

Leads are nor­mally stored in racks with dif­fer­ent com­part­ments for each length and sizes so that they can be eas­ily found.  Remem­ber that leads can also be com­bined: there is no need to keep a 40em lead when two 20em leads can sit next to each oth­er.  If you are short of space you could stand­ard­ise here on 6em mul­tiples so that you can cov­er 6, 12, 18, 24 and 30 ems which should account for most prac­tic­al uses.


Clumps can be thought of as extra wide spaces: they are usu­ally made in mul­tiples of an em and so 12pt clumps will nor­mally be 12, 24, 36 or 48pt wide.  They are made of the same mater­i­al as spaces and are the same height.  A sec­ond­ary use here is in word spa­cing for lar­ger type sizes: a 12 x 36 pt clump makes a use­ful space for 36pt type.


Reg­let is line spa­cing that is lar­ger than leads.  Almost always made of wood and the same height as leads, it is used to give more space between lines and is most often employed on title pages or notices to cre­ate white space between lines.  Again, this is often sup­plied pre-cut but can be sup­plied in long lengths to be cut by the print­er.  Adana sold a small saw and mitre block for this purpose.


Next in terms of size are quo­ta­tions, ori­gin­ally designed to cor­rectly space side-notes and quo­ta­tions in book work.  They are met­al and full spaces that are mul­tiples of clumps.  Typ­ic­ally 48pt and lar­ger they are an accur­ate way of filling space.


Fur­niture is the largest of the spa­cing mater­i­al.  Ori­gin­ally wood, it is sup­plied in ems rather than points.  Find­ing wood to suf­fer from warp­ing and eas­ily dam­aged, print­ers began to use met­al fur­niture (from the same mater­i­al as spaces), and then alu­mini­um girder pat­tern fur­niture which was light­er.  One devel­op­ment was the use of a Formica-derived mater­i­al called Resal­ite.  Steph­en­son, Blake claimed this was bet­ter than met­al fur­niture because dam­age on one dimen­sion would not cause prob­lems with accuracy.

Again, you might have the oppor­tun­ity to stand­ard­ise on one or two widths and 6em mul­tiples of length to save space and time.

Curvilinear Quadrats

This rather grand sound­ing mater­i­al is used to set curved lines of type.  It’s not used too often now, but the was a fad for firm names to be set in an arc or circle.  These are always sup­plied in pairs and have two sur­faces that match each oth­er.  Type is set between them and then locked up.  There are a num­ber of meth­ods used to get this to work cor­rectly: set­ting type against sticky tape to hold them in place; or spa­cing them with wet paper to form a sold mass once dry.