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How many characters wide should your content be?

July 18, 2014

Column widths and choosing a comfortable measure

Within your websites and emails, do you give much thought as to how wide the columns are and how many characters each line contains? If the answer is ‘not really’, you could be making the copy unnecessarily hard for your audience to stick with.

In Robert Bringhurst’s 2004 book ‘The Elements of Typographic Style’ he states that between 45-75 characters per column is the satisfactorily length of a line with 66 characters (counting both letters and space) as the ideal length.

This is illustrated in the following examples (click to enlarge):

column measure example

In the first example there is a single column at a reasonable font size, however this spans the full width and has around 131 characters per line.

The second features the same font size but is split into two columns of around 66 characters making it easier to read and less distracting for the eye to construct sentences.

The final example has a single column with an increased font-size and white space making it the most legible of the three.

A note on responsive design

Creating a responsive design won’t limit your control over column widths and characters per line. Media queries can be set to increase or decrease font size, letter spacing and line height depending on the width of the mobile device or size of the browser window, keeping your copy as clear and readable as possible.

Posted by Joel Jarman
Email Design, General, Writing copy

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