Building and Controlling Type-Heavy Designs Within Photoshop

Share this article

In the past, designers used to leave typography projects to Quark and InDesign. You could always adjust type within Photoshop, but to do serious typographic work, you would need to bring your work into either Quark or InDesign, where there were paragraph and character styles. This isn’t the case any longer. The development of Photoshop CS6 has given designers quick and easy control over even the largest bodies of text. No longer do you have to leave type to InDesign or other “type-friendly” software.

The first place to go for controlling type in Photoshop is the Character Panel.

This is the panel where we can control the typeface: its weight, the type size, the typeface, leading, kerning, and tracking. The second set of controls determine the vertical scale of your type: the horizontal scale, the baseline shift, and the actual color of your type. Under those, you have faux settings, which is where Photoshop will fake settings for you if that weight isn’t available. These include faux bold, italic, all caps, small caps, etc. Stay away from faux bold and italic, because faking it really distorts your type. Proper bold and italic versions are carefully crafted to be balanced, while faux bold and faux italic simply slant and add mass to your typeface.

Sizing Your Type

Sizing your type is easy with the character panel, but if it isn’t handy, you can select your text, hold down Alt/Option + Command/Ctrl+Shift and use the angle bracket keys (“>” and “<“) to quickly control the size of your text.

Choosing a Typeface

You can choose a typeface within the Character Panel at any time. It can be difficult to preview what it will look like. You can also select a typeface in the Options bar at the top of the screen. Select the text on your canvas that you want to preview, highlight the typeface name in the options bar by double-clicking on it, and use the up and down arrow keys to cycle through different typefaces.

Here is a nice tip for adding effects to type. If you want to keep your text editable, simply right-click on the type layer in the Layers Panel and choose “Convert to Smart Object.” This will allow you to add filters and effects to your type while keeping it completely editable. To change the wording in your text, double-click the smart object icon within the layers panel and your type will open up in a separate, temporary document.

Select the text tool, change your text, save the temporary document, and go back to the original file to see the updated changes.

Font Weights

Typefaces have different weights, which means they are thicker or thinner and built to be used in different instances. If you are following along, I am using Frutiger CE 55 Roman Bold for the headline. You can see from the screenshot that there are many different weights for this typeface, ranging from light, which is very thin, all the way to bold and black.


Leading is used to control the spacing between each line of text in body copy. To draw out a confined section of body copy, you simply select the Text Tool and click and drag across the area where you want your text to be. If it isn’t perfect, you will have handles that allow you can click and drag to resize the bounding box of your text. This makes it so that you don’t have to hit return at the end of each line, which can create problematic hard line breaks within your text.

You usually don’t use leading when working with a headline, unless it is a long headline that spans multiple lines. The general rule for leading is that you set your leading to 20% more than whatever your type size is. For example, if your body text is 10pt type, then you would set the leading to 12pt. This rule will usually work well for most body copy, but having a large amount of leading between each line can give the body text a high-end look. In the examples below, the first is set to 16pt leading, but the second is set to 20pt. You can see the difference of just a few extra points of leading, and it makes the text much easier to read. Typography problems often stem from leading that is too close together. When our eyes go from the end of the current line of text to the line below, if the leading is too crowded, we might end up accidentally rereading the first line over again, which can be frustrating for readers. The more leading you can give your readers (within reason), the easier it will be for them to read.

This example uses 16pt leading.

This example uses 20pt leading.


Tracking refers to the spacing with groups of letters and even whole paragraphs. Many designers leave this set to the default, because tracking isn’t normally an issue, but it is good to be aware of, especially if you need to confine type to a certain area. You normally adjust tracking minimally to fit text to a set area.


Kerning refers to the spacing between two letters. This is an important one, especially for bold headers, because sometimes certain letters don’t work well with one another when set to the default settings. Kerning allows you to go in and adjust the spacing between certain letters. The reason that we are concerned with the kerning on our letters is that some typefaces — with certain combinations of letters — end up adding too much space between them. This makes the word visually break up, and the viewer ends up reading the text as two or more words instead of one, misconstruing our message and causing confusion. You can see in the example below that nothing that major is happening, but there are still some issues with a few letters. Much of this is subjective, but the overall goal is to have consistent spacing between each letter.

The quick way to adjust kerning between letters in Photoshop is to click between the letters that you want to kern. In the example below, we will place our cursor between the “R” and “A” in “Typography.” Then, you can use your keyboard to quickly make adjustments. To do this, hold down Alt/Option and use the left arrow key to decrease the kerning amount and use the right arrow to increase the spacing between the two letters. Below is the headline after adjusting the kerning between each letter.

The Paragraph Panel

The Paragraph Panel is the panel where you can control things such as text alignment, margin, and hyphenation. The typical alignments are left, right, centered, and justified. Photoshop even includes options for justified, where the last line is forced to align to the left, right, or centered. You can also determine if there is space before and after a paragraph.

You also have character and paragraph styles. These are extremely handy, because they work the same way that character and paragraph styles work in InDesign and Quark. If you have a certain way that you would like to style a word or a headline, Character Styles is usually a  good place to do it. Instead of setting up the styles for each headline, Character Styles allows you to set it up where you can select the text that you want to format, and you can click the style to instantly implement the settings that you have determined previously. The Character Styles Panel works much like the Layers Panel does. The new layer icon actually creates a new style, and the trashcan deletes it. The circular icon is actually different; it clears the styles of the currently selected character style.

Click the New Style icon and you will see an unnamed character style. Double-click character style layer to open it up and view the different options available. Below is the first set of options that you have available. This is where you name your style and choose your typeface, its size, case, if it is superscript or subscript, or if it is underlined, etc. You can also choose the color.

The next section determines the vertical and horizontal scaling (if for some reason you are stretching your typeface, which is not recommended), and it also determines your baseline shift. This is where the bottom line of the text is shifted upward to give the appearance of a drop cap.

The third option is for OpenType fonts. These will include extra options, such as ligatures, where the crossbars of side-by-side letters are combined for appearance, or the crossbar of an “f” is combined with the dot that is over a lowercase “i”.

The Paragraph Styles Panel is exactly the same for the first three panels,  but there are actually four more sets of options for your type. The first one is Indents and Spacing. It is here that you can determine how the text is indented and how much space is placed in between each paragraph.

The next option is Composition. You have the choice between single line and multi-line composing. In single line, it will process each line separately, but with multi-line composing, it will process it all together, giving you a tighter, cleaner, more consistent paragraph. Roman hanging punctuation should be checked, because it sets your quotation marks outside your block of text, so that each line of text lines up, instead of your quotes being included in-line. This makes all of your text line up visually and look more professional.

Justification gives you the ultimate amount of control over your justified text. You can determine the spacing between each word, each letter, and your glyph scaling. For your spacing options, you can  determine the minimum and maximum amount to use in-between words and individual letters themselves. This is an excellent way to make your justified paragraphs look their best.

The last option, Hyphenation, allows you to set custom rules for when to implement hyphenation for the words in your paragraphs. You can determine the length of the word in characters and where to place the hyphenation within the word. This is excellent for customizing hyphenation in your paragraphs.


Photoshop CS6 has implemented a lot of great new features for dealing with type, so that your work can look professional and beautiful. You can customize the spacing between each letter, style your lettering, and even determine preset styles to use in larger bodies of text. You can control spacing between words, spacing between letters, and you can even determine how they react to hyphenation. The level of control that Photoshop CS6 has added for text has made working with typography in Photoshop much easier, and appear more professional and refined.

Do you use Photoshop to work on type-heavy designs, or do you favor other software such as Indesign or Quark?

James GeorgeJames George
View Author

James George is a professional web developer and graphic designer. James is an expert in design, and a professional web developer, with a special interest in WordPress. Founder of Design Crawl, James has been a professional designer since 2005.

Share this article
Read Next
Get the freshest news and resources for developers, designers and digital creators in your inbox each week