antique typewriterNote: This article uses some words that refer to arcane technology. For definitions, please refer to the Wikipedia entry on Typesetting.

I remember a discussion I had with a client back in the days before typesetting was done on a computer about a series of programs I was doing for her. Back then, copy was keyed in by a typesetter who could make judgments about what professional text should look like. The design project involved many pages of copy and lots of references to musicians, instruments and orchestral pieces so correct type mark up and punctuation was critical.

We received the galleys from the typesetter and the client insisted that the typeset copy matched her manuscript in having two spaces after punctuation marks. “No, no, no,” I insisted “that’s so wrong,” and besides, to fix it would involve hundreds, if not thousands of dollars to reset copy that someone was going to have to pay for.

“Convince me.” she said.

And so I did.

In early typesetting, there were no conventions about how many spaces were inserted after punctuation marks, but as time went on, using one space became a best practice. The pieces of metal used to set type, and later on cast type, varied in width depending on the character they contained, so they were proportional.

Problem was, once the typewriter came into widespread use, people put two spaces after the punctuation marks because typewriters use monospaced fonts – not proportional fonts. The capital letter “I” occupied the same horizontal space as the Capital “W”. So adding two spaces helped define a new sentence visually.

Today, the only font on your computer that’s monospaced is Courier – which is supposed to look like old typewriter type. All others are proportionally spaced, both for print and web design. So unless you’re using of of those new fangled RemingtonPads, the rule is one space after punctuation.

I did convince the client – but I’m not sure if it was me or the price of resetting all of that type.