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Clear print guidelines

Producing clear print helps everyone - people with poor sight; people who find written English difficult; people with issues around concentration. There is no ‘perfect template’ but there are some common sense guidelines:

Strong contrast between the paper and the text - black on yellow and black on white are great. As a whole, backgrounds should be as pale as possible and printing ink as dark as possible. Do not put text over images or across a different block of colour.

Reversals of type (white out of black) - white type on black or another dark colour is fine - as long as the typeface, size and weight of the text are suitable. Tiny white print reversed out of a dark background is hard for most people to read.

Type - standard material should not have type smaller than 12 pt although some typefaces and type weights will mean you might be able to drop to 11 pt or even 10 pt. Light typefaces should be avoided, especially in smaller sizes. Medium or bold type weights are often better. Most typefaces in common use are legible but avoid gothic or hand-written styles. Capitals should be avoided for continuous text, although are fine for individual words.

Spacing - stick to even word spacing. Do not condense or stretch lines of type or single words to fit a line length and do not justify right hand margins. Leave space between lines of type. Avoid splitting words at the ends of lines and do not use too many columns per page.

Design and layout - a page of close-set type easily daunts many readers. Layouts should be simple and clear. Leave space between paragraphs and bullet points. Do not over fill the page. Provide good 'navigational' aids for the reader (contents list, clear headings, rules to separate unrelated sections etc.). Avoid fitting (or ‘wrapping’) text around illustrations, as this results in different line lengths. If your print includes a fill-in form, leave generous space for details to be hand-written.

Paper - glossy paper can cause glare. Very thin, semi-transparent papers can allow text to show through from the reverse. They can also be hard to handle.
Did you know…40% of the population cannot easily read print if the type size is below 12 pt?

Plain English – the Plain English Campaign is an independent pressure group, fighting for public information to be written in plain English. They aim for more information to be written in language that the intended audience can understand and act upon from a single reading. In 1990, they introduced the Crystal Mark to encourage organisations to communicate clearly with the public. They also have an internet Crystal Mark and other options for magazines, long books and computer software. In order to be awarded the mark, organisations have to submit work to the Campaign for Testing. They look for a number of things, including:

  •  a good average sentence length (about 15 to 20 words)
  •  plenty of 'active' verbs (instead of 'passive' ones)
  •  everyday English (words like 'we' and 'you' instead of 'the insured', 'the applicant', 'the society' and so on)
  •  conciseness
  •  clear, helpful headings with consistent and suitable ways of making them stand out from the text
  •  a good typesize and clear typeface
  •  a reasonably short average line length and
  •  plenty of answer space and a logical flow (on forms).

A series of free guides on writing in plain English can be accessed from the Plain English Campaign.

To go straight to the Plain English Campaign website...