Does print size matter for reading? A review of findings from vision science and typography

Gordon E. Legge, Charles A. Bigelow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

121 Scopus citations

Abstract

The size and shape of printed symbols determine the legibility of text. In this paper, we focus on print size because of its crucial role in understanding reading performance and its significance in the history and contemporary practice of typography. We present evidence supporting the hypothesis that the distribution of print sizes in historical and contemporary publications falls within the psychophysically defined range of fluent print sizeVthe range over which text can be read at maximum speed. The fluent range extends over a factor of 10 in angular print size (x-height) from approximately 0.2- to 2-. Assuming a standard reading distance of 40 cm (16 inches), the corresponding physical x-heights are 1.4 mm (4 points) and 14 mm (40 points). We provide new data on the distributions of print sizes in published books and newspapers and in typefounders' specimens, and consider factors influencing these distributions. We discuss theoretical concepts from vision science concerning visual size coding that help inform our understanding of historical and modern typographical practices. While economic, social, technological, and artistic factors influence type design and selection, we conclude that properties of human visual processing play a dominant role in constraining the distribution of print sizes in common use.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-22
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Vision
Volume11
Issue number5
DOIs
StatePublished - 2011

Keywords

  • Critical print size
  • Reading speed
  • Type size
  • X-height

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