Although there are multiple meanings, in desktop publishing column usually refers to the vertical arrangement of space, typically filled with text, found in newsletters, some books, and other publications. A two-column arrangement would set text in two side-by-side columns, usually of equal size.
In desktop publishing software column guides control the placement of text frames that create the columns of text. In a layout, columns can be empty or can contain images in place of or in addition to text.
Other definitions of column that are related to page layout or publishing are:
- A vertical list, such as a column of figures in a spreadsheet.
- A regular, recurring type of article in a newsletter, newspaper, or magazine. These are often identified with a byline and a kicker.
Designing With Columns
- A single column arrangement runs from margin to margin. With multiple columns, an alley separates the columns. The narrower the alley, the more likely that the reader's eye will jump the alley when reading the text. A slightly wider alley as well as fully justified text which creates a distinct line ending down the edge of the column can help prevent this.
- Sometimes a downrule, also called a column divider, is placed in the alley between columns to provide a greater amount of visual separation. This is helpful with very narrow alleys or with ragged right justification.
- Although not a hard and fast rule, in general a two-column or four-column layout is more static and more formal in appearance while a three-column (or other odd number) layout is more dynamic and less formal.
- The number of text columns does not necessarily equal the number of grid columns in a layout. More varied layouts are possible by using an underlying grid of 4 or 5 columns but varying the text columns so that they are 1 or 2 (or more) grid columns wide with a grid column left blank or used for pull-quotes or tips or sidebars.
- In general, narrower text columns require smaller fonts. Larger fonts need wider text columns.
- A leading grid that aligns baselines can keep text in adjacent columns lined up neatly for a better appearance.
- When placing text in columns, beware of dangling words and phrases at the tops or bottoms (widows and orphans).