how to create the best line breaks for a headline

Posted on Nov 17, 2010 | 3 Comments

If the above statement by David Ogilvy is true then it’s crucial that you make a headline appear as legible and well-crafted as possible. It goes without saying that font selection, kerning and leading are fundamental to this, but have you considered the line-breaks that you use?

Like much of design, how you break a headline is subjective, but here’s my two-cents and how I approach it.

There’s a fine line between breaking a headline using the natural breaks from a sense point-of view and breaking it to make a pleasing shape to the eye. My solution lies somewhere in between. The ideal would be to start with a short line, then a long line, short, long etc, you get the picture. Within that I try to make the breaks seem natural as it’s read, although I tend to err on the side of the visual, sorry all you copywriters out there. The short lines should all be of similar length as should the long ones. For a poorly broken headline see the image below left.

This system is perfect for centred headlines. It’s more usual in current design that headlines are either ranged left or right but the philosophy still holds true, although the breaks you use are more forgiving in these instances.

Very rarely are headlines justified. If they are the usual practice is to change the type size to fit the measure of the headline. If I’m doing something like this I tend to make sure there are some extremes in size. If you had lines of similar length and then changed the type size to justify, they would be so close that it would look poorly set. See example below right for a good example of using different sizes to justify a headline.


  1. Jimi
    December 12, 2010

    So are you saying that your justified example looks poorly set, or is it an example of adequate differences in size?

  2. Rob Sutton
    December 12, 2010

    Hi Jimi, thanks for noticing that, guess it wasn’t clear.

    I am saying that it’s a GOOD example of using different sizes when you justify a headline. I’ll make it clearer.

  3. Jimi
    December 12, 2010

    Great, thanks. I thought it looked fine but you made me wonder. 😛

    I just found your blog today, and some great information.

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