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Old 10-29-2006, 08:36 AM   #1
MarieMeyer
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Default Readability at arms length

Hi, I need to produce labels containing alpha-numeric codes that are easily readable at a bit more than arms length - say, 30 inches. Because readability is the key issue, I want to pick the font and size first, and then will design the label to fit the font.

Could I have your advice, please?

To begin with, color: I assume that black on white is the most readable choice, do you agree? If so, do I want brilliant white or off white?

What is considered to be the best font for readability?

And, of course: what size should it be? The objects that are being labeled are not large, which means the label cannot be infinately large. Is there some sort of look-up table that one can consult that says "for a middle-aged person needing to read text at a distance of 30", the minimum recommended font size is X"?

Thanks in advance for your time.
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Old 10-29-2006, 11:15 AM   #2
ktinkel
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Thirty inches isn’t so far — it is about my normal reading distance here with my monitor, for example. At that distance I find 12- or 13-pixel Verdana to be very legible (and those sizes correspond roughly to point sizes on this monitor).

However labels on packages will be in a more cluttered visual environment, so I would suggest using something like 14-point sans serif, bold. Franklin Gothic would be good for legibility, and you could even consider a slightly condensed version to save space if need be. Then space the characters a bit apart to make sure there is no ambiguity from colliding characters.

(This is technical nit-picking, but you are not really interested so much in readability — the way to quickly grasp text — but legibility. You want them to pick out the characters correctly even though they may not form readable words.)

If there is also regular text on the label, I assume it can be smaller? Or lighter? And do leave a good clear field for the alpha-numeric code.

As for contrast, high is good, but bright white paper can cause glare, especially if it is shiny. Black ink on matte off-white should work fine.

Why not dummy up some labels like that, set them 30 inches away, and see how they read. You don’t mention light quality; if the light is poor, the size would probably have to go up. Anyway, easy enough to test.

   
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Old 10-29-2006, 02:30 PM   #3
PeterArnel
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The only thing I will add to Kathleen's reply is
If u can go and see the label being used in situ and what the users think
and also see if there are any legal requirements or excepted industry standards.
Peter
14pt is the minimun
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Old 10-29-2006, 03:02 PM   #4
Michael Rowley
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KT:

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I would suggest using something like 14-point sans serif, bold
I should have thought non-lining figures would be better; that doesn't, of course, rule out sans serif. And if possible, the figures and letters should be grouped. What has been found to be good in tables of figures (e.g. tables of logerithms) should be good for alphanumeric codes too, which are usually long strings of (apparently) meaningless letters and figures.

   
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Old 10-30-2006, 05:58 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Michael Rowley View Post
I should have thought non-lining figures would be better; that doesn't, of course, rule out sans serif. And if possible, the figures and letters should be grouped. What has been found to be good in tables of figures (e.g. tables of logerithms) should be good for alphanumeric codes too, which are usually long strings of (apparently) meaningless letters and figures.
Not sure about that — sometimes oldstyle figures can be more ambiguous than lining. The zero often looks like a lowercase O (unless it looks like an unweighted circle, which is unambiguous). In some fonts the 1 can look simply puzzling if it stands alone, though it is clearer when in a string of numbers.

Codes are not always designed with legibility in mind, and most seem to have figures and letters all mixed up.

The real problem no matter what font or style is the confusion of 1 with l (lc L) and 0 with O — so unless you can specify always to use cap L and lowercase O, even case doesn’t offer a perfect solution. Adding a slash or dot to the zero helps. This is easy to do if you have the tools (or know someone who will do it for you — it it not a big job, as you know).

Anyway, look at these possibilities using Franklin Gothic (attached).
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Old 10-30-2006, 07:22 AM   #6
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KT:

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sometimes oldstyle figures can be more ambiguous than lining
I don't think there's much in it if you have a mixture of letters and figures. I've seen the main culprits recently in Butcher et al.'s Copy Editing 4th edition, but they're given in earlier editions too. The principal ones are the 0 (not O) and the 1 (not l); the zero can, as you say, be made unmistakable (in English) by an added diagonal (it's a pity there doesn't seem to be a Unicode equivalent); perhaps one should avoid having lower case l in alphanumeric codes. Fortunately, Greek letters are rarely used in alphanumeric codes.

The problem of the possibility of confusing certain characters with more common characters has been well known for a long time; the concession allowing L to be used instead of l for litre was a step in the right direction.

Recognition of alphanumeric or all-numeric codes can be greatly helped by grouping in threes or fours. Humans can't easily take in more than about those numbers of characters.

   
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