How important is white space in print design?

Before we answer that, let’s quickly go over what white space is. Basically, it’s all the space between the words and pictures. And it doesn’t have to be white. In the example below, the white space is actually blue.


Why white space is used

Professional designers actively employ white space. It’s not just the space left over after everything has been placed on the page; it’s a separate design element. There are many reasons why they do this. Here are a few of the more important ones:

1. It separates elements on a page.

This the fundamental reason to use white space. Without it, your page would look cluttered and messy, readers wouldn’t be able to tell what words relate to the images, and it would be hard to read (so it probably wouldn’t be read). Even using white space badly doesn’t solve those dilemmas – you need to use it properly. The design in the example below has virtually no white space. This makes it very ‘busy’, like everything is coming at you at once, and, for me, it’s like getting punched in the eye.

2. It creates focus and makes things stand out.

White space, generally, is rather blank. There is nothing to look at. If it surrounds something, that something really stands out. If your brand has a minimalist look, all of your advertising might take this approach. Look at the example below. What do you focus on the most?


3. As we hinted at point 1, it improves readability.

All other things being equal, words that stand out will be read more often than words that don’t. Also, words that are easy to read will be read more often than words that aren’t. Therefore, it pays to make the most important words stand out and easy to read. The example above, while the focus is on the image, also illustrates that words surrounded by space are easy to read.

4. It helps to create balance.

There are many things to think about when trying to create a balanced image: size, shape, colour, contrast, etc. Adding white space is a great way to balance different-sized objects on your page. You see, a balanced design doesn’t mean symmetrical. A large design element can be balanced by a few smaller ones, which is where white space can come in handy. In contrast, an unbalanced image can look, well, wrong. It’s illogical. It makes the eyes dart all over the place. And you see it a lot in the work of amateurs (below on the left). Adding the right amount of white space in the right places can make your page balanced, neat, and attractive (below on the right). The picture below, on the left, is crammed and there is stuff all over the place.


So, how important is it?

White space is a really important design element. It can make your readers look at whatever you want them to or reinforce your branding. It can be used to make words easier to read and it’s especially useful for minimalist designs.

Next time you make a printed document, think about the gaps – the white space. That is the element that will make or break your design.

Parting thought

‘Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.’

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

I think of that quote when I suspect that maybe my design is too crowded. It’s a great reminder to not cram as much as possible on to the page.

  1. January 9, 2013
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