Adopt Better Layout Strategies with CorelDRAW

By Steve Bain

There are good and bad ways to build a layout, and simply making a project look pretty doesn’t guarantee it will be successful at getting a message across. In this tutorial, you’ll learn about layout and design habits that you should definitely avoid, and I’ll demonstrate a few best practices to adopt. These techniques apply regardless of which recent version of CorelDRAW you are using, and the core concepts generally apply to any software you happen to be using. So, there’s a little something for everyone in this installment. 

Avoid Over-Hyphenating Text
When you format text, you can apply a justified paragraph text alignment by choosing Full from the Horizontal Alignment option on the Property Bar (see below). The forced character and word spacing can be distracting, however, if your columns are narrow and your justified text font is large, or if your text includes longer-than-average words. You can eliminate this problem in one of two ways.

First, start by activating the text hyphenation feature in CorelDRAW. To do this, select your text frame, open the Format Text dialog (Ctrl+T), select the Paragraph tab, click the Hyphenation Settings button, and choose the Automatic Hyphenation option (see below).


Hyphenation can improve the appearance of justified text and often compresses it more efficiently. The example below shows highlighted text that was drastically improved simply by activating the hyphenation feature in CorelDRAW at default settings.


If certain words in your text still appear awkwardly spaced after you activate hyphenation, you may need to make localized text adjustments to improve readability. Adjusting the hot zone value of your hyphenation settings can often help. This is the zone at the end of a line in which words are eligible for hyphenation.

Adjusting the hot zone can be a useful strategy, but it involves certain trade-offs. Increasing the hot zone gives the hyphenation engine in CorelDRAW more freedom to hyphenate, but excessive hyphenation detracts from the appearance of text. Reducing the hot zone value slightly in specific areas of text can sometimes help avoid instances of poor spacing. The example below shows how increasing the hot zone in a hyphenated paragraph affects readability.


The second way to improve the appearance of justified text is to adjust the word and character spacing values by changing the justification settings in CorelDRAW. You can access these options (see below) by clicking the Settings button in the Format Text dialog, which becomes available after you choose Full Justify or Force Justify.

The example below shows the effect of reducing the Maximum Word Spacing value after activating hyphenation for a justified paragraph.


Fixing Widows and Orphans
Solitary words in the first line of a column frame or in the last line of a paragraph are referred to as widows or orphans. They can create distracting white gaps in otherwise smoothly flowing text. If you don’t have the option of editing the text, you can repair widows and orphans during the layout. You can eliminate the unwanted gaps caused by widows and orphans by adjusting the kerning properties to slightly increase or decrease the length of text lines. Kerning enables you to adjust the space between certain letter combinations without affecting the normal character and word spacing. With CorelDRAW, you can adjust kerning in 5 percent increments by using the Range Kerning option in the Format Text dialog (see below).


By adjusting kerning, you can lengthen or shorten your text without significantly affecting its readability. You can use the Text Tool to select text and then use the following keyboard shortcuts to adjust text kerning:

Increase range kerning by 5 percent Ctrl+Shift+>
Decrease range kerning by 5 percent Ctrl+Shift+<

The example below shows text frames with both widows and orphans in the first and last lines of the paragraph text frames in a layout. In the bottom instance, range kerning was applied to lengthen or shorten the text and thereby eliminate the hyphenated word fragments.


Avoid Using Uppercase Characters for Emphasis
We’ve all seen the overuse of uppercase characters – especially on the Web. Uppercase characters used in entire sentences or paragraphs are intended to add emphasis, but they often have the opposite effect of making text difficult to read (see below). The use of uppercase should be reserved strictly for beginnings of sentences, abbreviations, important places, official terms, and proper names. In e-mails, newsgroups posts, and blogs, uppercase text simulates yelling, which makes it even more of a no-no in your layouts.


In the days of the typewriter, uppercase characters may have been the only way to add emphasis to text, but today’s digital fonts offer more flexibility. In CorelDRAW, you can easily change the case of your text using the Change Case command. To open the Change Case dialog (see below), choose Text > Change Case, and choose a character case option. Once the case has been corrected, you can use size and style to emphasize and de-emphasize your text.


Choose Your Fonts Carefully
The font you choose for your text profoundly affects the attractiveness and legibility of your layout. Select a body text font with as many style variations as possible so that it can serve most of your layout needs. You can use the same font for body text and headlines, but there’s no law against mixing fonts. Just don’t go overboard.

In most designs, two text fonts are sufficient to use for all of the necessary editorial functions. If you plan to use text for graphic purposes, you can use a third font, but avoid the mistake of using multiple fonts in an attempt to make your layout more attractive. Too many fonts actually detract from the appearance of your layout, as shown in the example below.


Avoid the Razzle-Dazzle Temptation
CorelDRAW is a powerful drawing tool capable of creating great layouts, but many of the effects that you can apply to text may do more harm than good to the readability of your document. Rotation transformations and character stacking are two effects that inexperienced users often overuse in an attempt to add “wow” to their brochures or newsletters.

Using slanting or rotating words and applying text to a path are both great options in illustration, but they often reduce text readability in a layout. Text in English is meant to be read upright, from left to right and from top to bottom. The examples below illustrate the reduced legibility of rotated text characters. Do your audience a favor: avoid the temptation of using these effects to dress up a layout.


Pay Attention to Spacing
The vertical spacing above and below headings and text is called leading. Consistent leading gives your layout a professional touch. You can find the spacing controls by clicking the Paragraph tab of the Format Text dialog.

If you’re measuring your layout in picas and points, you can change your unit preference to points from the CorelDRAW default setting (% of Char. Height). This enables you to base your spacing settings on specific point values rather than on the default percentage value. The default leading value in CorelDRAW is roughly 20 percent of the character size, which can add excessive space when the size of the text font is larger than 6 points. Leading in a traditional layout is typically one point larger than the size of the text font. The example below shows 14-point paragraph text with the default (20 percent) line spacing versus the same font size with 15 points of leading.


The Before Paragraph and After Paragraph spacing settings enable you to set the spacing between your body text and headings. Between body text paragraphs, the Before Paragraph value should match your leading for text, and the After Paragraph space should be set to 0 (zero). When formatting space between text and headings, choose spacing values to match the vertical text settings in your layout grid, so that text aligns across columns regardless of where headings fall. The example below shows spacing between a heading and paragraph text that has been formatted to align to the layout grid.


Your aim should also be consistent vertical and horizontal spacing between margins, borders, and column gutters. Layout grids provide the best solution for applying consistent vertical spacing between elements. A grid can also help you align content horizontally across columns and pages. Use consistent text leading and paragraph styles to establish even spacing between headings, subheadings, and text.

In CorelDRAW, you can use guideline presets to create a custom layout grid for aligning your layout elements (like the one shown in the previous example). To create a custom grid, follow these steps:

  1. Click View > Guidelines Setup to open the Options dialog.
  2. From the tree directory, choose Guidelines > Presets.
  3. At the top of the pane, select the User Define Presets mode.
  4. At the bottom of the pane, choose the Grid option.
  5. Enable Spacing, and enter a value in the Vertical box (see below), and click OK.
  6. To view the grid, choose View > Guidelines.

Be sure that the grid spacing value you set in the Vertical box exactly matches the text leading (indicated by the line spacing value) of your brochure or newsletter, so that you can quickly and precisely align your layout elements. Once you set the lines in your grid and they are visible, use the Snap to Guidelines option in CorelDRAW (View > Snap to Guidelines), so that your layout elements easily snap to the grid.

Align Text Consistently
If you choose a general alignment theme for your layout such as a flush left, flush right, centered, or justified, use it throughout your pages. For example, if you choose a centered alignment for text headlines, apply this alignment to the text on all pages – avoid switching from one style to another. Changing alignments can make it difficult for readers to follow a layout between pages (see the example below).

Emphasize with Italics, Not Underlining
Another hand-me-down from typewriter days is the underlining of text for emphasis. Many digital fonts provide the better alternatives of bold and italic styles. Avoiding underlining is particularly critical if your layout is destined for the Web, where underlined text usually signifies a hyperlink. The example below shows how italics can be even more effective than underlining.


Use Indents and Tabs, Not Spaces
Even though your computer is not a typewriter, some users continue to type two spacebar characters after every period. This is another habit to kick. Digital fonts are designed with enough space to separate sentences, so a single space is all you need. Extra spaces may be small, but they are certainly noticeable, as shown below.


You should also stop typing spaces or tab characters at the beginning of each new paragraph to create first-line indents. Using spaces or tab characters prevents you from using paragraph formatting to set indents automatically. CorelDRAW enables you to set first-line indents by using the Paragraph tab of the Format Text dialog (see below). To set indent spacing, click to select your paragraph text, and click the Format Text button on the Property Bar (or use Ctrl+F). In the Indents area, type a value in the First Line box.


When working with tabular text formatted in rows and columns, use tab characters instead of spaces to bring characters into alignment. Spaces seldom align text vertically in table columns. Tabs are much more accurate and are designed specifically for this purpose. Tabs can be set to one of four different types (left, right, center, and decimal), and they can be precisely positioned by using the tab options in the Format Text dialog, or by moving the onscreen tab controls when your Ruler is displayed. My example below shows table text selected and tab markers displayed in the on-screen Ruler.


Incorrect tabbing techniques can cause hours of correction headaches, which makes this another habit to break. If pressing the tab key doesn’t align the text, move the tab marker rather than using additional tabs and/or spaces.

Speed Up Text Screen Display
This last round of advice has more to do with productivity than layout, but it’s relevant nonetheless. If your system is slow or low on resources when rendering large amounts of text in your brochure or newsletter layout, CorelDRAW can help. You can drastically cut text-rendering time by using the greeking option in CorelDRAW. Greeking uses black lines to approximate your text temporarily, which enables your screen to redraw itself much faster. During editing, the text resumes its normal display, as shown below.

You’ll find this option in the Text pane of the Options dialog (see below). By default, CorelDRAW is preset to greek text 5 pixels and smaller. As a result, your view magnification and screen resolution determine whether greeking is applied. If your layout is text-heavy, you can beef up your display speed and your productivity by doubling or tripling this value.

You can also speed up screen display by deactivating the automatic spelling checker in CorelDRAW. By default, while the Text Tool is selected, CorelDRAW checks the spelling of all text in a selected text frame automatically and displays any errors detected.

You can temporarily disable the automatic spelling checker. Choose Tools > Options, and click Text > Spelling in the tree directory of the Options dialog and disable the Perform Automatic Spell Checking option.


While automatic spell checking is deactivated, you can always check the spelling of your text by choosing Text > Writing Tools Spell Check (Ctrl+F12). Just be sure to turn the automatic feature back on after your layout stage is complete.

I’ve revealed a variety of solutions to improve the presentation quality of a brochure or newsletter. By using the features available in CorelDRAW, by paying attention to detail, and adopting up-to-date publishing techniques like those covered here, you’ll be well on your way to producing more attractive, problem-free text and page layouts.

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Steve Bain is an award-winning illustrator and designer, and the author of nearly a dozen books, including CorelDRAW: The Official Guide.

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