Step 7: Creating Attractive, Readable Materials

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Effective Layout and Design Techniques

By now, you know what you want to say and who your audience is. You have taken cultural, translation and reading level issues into consideration. You have identified compelling and appropriate images that you might want to use. Next comes layout and design—selecting fonts, spacing, charts, colors and the actual images you will use. Following are some recommendations to help ensure your materials have a look and feel that emphasizes readability and impact.

Overall Layout

Use of white space

The judicious use of white, or blank, space keeps your materials from looking crowded and overwhelming. Set your top, bottom, left and right margins at one inch, minimum, and keep adequate space between different sections.

Justify only the left margin

Justifying your paragraphs on both sides creates unnatural spacing between words. Keep the right margin ragged so that spacing looks natural and the reader can keep track of where they are in the document.


Headings help guide the reader through the document. Try using questions for headings, for example, “Is secondhand smoke making my child sick?” This can help the text seem conversational rather than formal.

Line length

Line length refers to the width of a block of text. Try to limit line length to 30 to 50 characters. Keep sentences short, succinct and clear and ideally no longer than 10 to 15 words.


Use columns for text only if each column will be at least 40-50 characters in length—columns any narrower are difficult to read.

Font Selections

Font styles (typeface)

  • Choose fonts that are easy on the eyes. To improve readability, select a serif font for your basic text. Serif fonts have been proven to be more readable for text than sans serif fonts. Examples of serif fonts include Times, Times New Roman, Garamond and Georgia.

  • For headings and subheadings, use a sans serif font, which will provide contrast from your body text font. Examples of san serif fonts are Arial, Geneva, Helvetica, Lucida Sans, Trebuchet and Verdana.
  • Avoid using fancy or script fonts, which are often difficult to read.
  • To keep your document looking clean and unified, use no more than two to three font styles per document.

Font size

Type that is too small can be hard to read. For the main body text, make your type size at least 12 points, ideally 13 points, but no larger than 14 points. For headings, use a font size two points larger than the body text.

Make Your Materials Easy to Read or Skim

Word emphasis

Use CAPS, italics and bold for emphasis but limit their use so that they are effective rather than distracting. Avoid underlining.

Keep it organized

Display information in a logical, organized manner. Be clear about what you want the reader to do or learn, and take them through the steps to get there.

Using lists, graphs and boxes

  • Bullets or numbered lists make information easier to skim, but keep lists short. Charts and graphs are good ways to display information. Try to keep your charts oriented horizontally so they can be read without turning the document.
  • Avoid using shaded backgrounds or faded images in the background, as they can make text more difficult to read.
  • Text boxes can be helpful to make small sections of text stand out. However, avoid putting large amounts of text in boxes, as this clutters your page.

Images and photos

Images and photos help convey information to your audience. Pay attention to cultural issues when selecting images, colors and graphics. See Step 6: Using Compelling and Appropriate Images: A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words.

Color selections

  • Black text on a white background is easiest to read.
  • Images are the best way to add color to your materials.
  • Occasionally use fonts in basic, consistent colors to add emphasis or for titles/headings, but avoid using too many colors in a single document, as they may draw attention away from your message.
  • Use colors that are culturally appropriate for your audience.

Required Elements

Don’t forget to include any required logos or funder acknowledgments as you complete your design and layout. For details regarding how to acknowledge California Tobacco Control Program (CTCP) and your contract number, please see our Funding Acknowledgment FAQ.

Preparing for Printing

  • Paper with a shiny coating creates glare and makes text difficult to read. Use matte paper of a medium weight (not too flimsy, not too stiff).
  • Ask your printer for samples of paper or for their recommendations of paper type based on your specific materials. See Printing Your Materials