LibreOffice: Fonts, page color, and the magic number

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Applying the Magic Number

Beginning typographers often wonder how to proportion documents. Over the years, countless theories have evolved, many of them are uncomfortably elaborate. But the easiest is what I call – for want of a better name – the magic number.

The magic number is the line spacing that gives the best page color for the chosen Body Text font and all the paragraph styles based on it. The magic number's application is simple: Whenever possible, any measurement in a document will be a multiple of the selected line spacing. For example, if the magic number is 15, the indentation at the start of a new paragraph would also be 15 points. Similarly, the top page margin might be 60 points (4x15).

Not every design element can use the magic number, but most of the important ones can, as follows:

  • Text indents, first line indent, space above paragraph
  • Space below paragraph, space between numbered, bullet, and list items, space above or below a graphic or any other inserted object
  • Tabs
  • Page margins, header/footer height, space between a header and footer and main text
  • The combination of heading font size and the space above/below

At times, you might use half the line spacing instead of a whole multiple. In theory, you could use a quarter of the line spacing or less. However, if you stop at half, then your document will never be far out of sync. Using the magic number is painstaking – but it is precise and unambiguous. You should have no trouble detecting a document designed with the magic number, because of its unified dimensions.

Typography and LibreOffice

If all this sounds like a lot of work – it is. Although modern computer users take fonts for granted, the tradition of how to use them has developed over more than five centuries. Many printers and publishers consider the selection and arrangement of fonts a minor art form, and well worth taking pains over. The advantage of using the magic number is that it adds a uniformity of design and reduces many design choices to a system.

After all, if you place your thoughts in a pleasing form, the layout just might help to persuade your readers to your point of view – and think better of you as well.

The rumor is that the developers at StarDivision, which became, were told that would have to use the code they wrote to document it, so they put all the features they would need into it. That may or may not be true, but free software is especially fortunate in LibreOffice and its predecessor in having a document processor that allows high standards of design.

The Author

Bruce Byfield has been writing about free software since 1999. His other interests include exercising daily, parrots, science fiction and 19th century novels, and collecting Northwest Coast art.

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