Prior to digital technology, setting type to a shape or
wrapping it around an image was difficult at best—and
virtually impossible if the shape or wrap was the least bit
complicated. Now, it is relatively easy to define a shape
and “pour” the type into it. Technically, it is simple.
Aesthetically, however, it can be problematic.
Want to ensure that text copy is read? Set it in tidy
columns that are flush on the left and ragged on
the right. While nice, straight columns may not be
visually stimulating, they are the best way to present
lengthy text content.
But what if you want to add a little visual dynamism
to a page? And what do you do when you have
to contend with an illustration or photograph that
is so large that it takes up some of the space allotted
to the text column? Or what if the content message
could be enhanced if it were set within a shape?
These may be the times when wrapping text around a
graphic or setting it to a shape is not only necessary—it may actually help the communication process.
1. Be appropriate
The first rule of creating a text shape or wrapping
copy around an image is to be sure that it is the
right thing to do. Have a clear reason why you want
to deviate from a conservative typographic arrangement.
Shapes and wraps can add drama and energy
to a page—just make sure the drama you create is
appropriate to the content, application and reader.
“Because I can” is almost never a good reason to
show off the power of your design software.
2. Keep things simple
Text that takes on a shape or has unorthodox alignment
is almost always distracting and rarely easy to read. If you set type to a shape or as a wrap, keep
it large, simple and limit it to one to a page. The
smaller the text shape, the more difficult it will be
to control word spacing; text that wraps a simple,
large graphic shape is simpler to control. Many text
shapes on a page will make content flow hard to
follow. And wrapping text around several graphic
images will almost always create a page that is cluttered
and difficult to read.
3. Be logical
The text shape should also be logical to the content.
It might make sense to set a holiday missive
in the shape of a Christmas tree or Shield of
David, but copy set in circles, squares, triangles or
other shapes that have no relationship to the copy
content are more than distracting. They can be
4. Make adjustments for readability
Defining the shape and pouring in the copy is only
part of the process. Copy and spacing may have
to be manipulated to maintain the shape’s integrity
and content readability. For example, if the
shape has any very narrow lines, copy may have to
be adjusted to maintain consistent word spacing.
In addition, because hyphenation and justification
specifications are measure sensitive, problems
can occur when the measure changes from line to
line. Word spacing can be affected, and hyphenated
words can pepper the right margin. One set
of hyphenation and justification specifications may
not work well for the whole range of lines within a
shape. It may take some handiwork to get the copy
to space well and look even on all lines.
A block of text copy set to a shape that has poor
word spacing is even more difficult to read than justifi
ed columns of type with poor word spacing. Keep
in mind that the text content is always more important
than the shape in which it is set.
Truth be known, setting text copy to a shape is
almost always more trouble than it is worth. While
wrapping text around an illustration or graphic is less
problematic, the key to success with either type treatment
is to keep the word spacing consistent if lines
of copy become short.
5. Watch the margins
Wrapping text—especially in large point sizes—to
a simple mathematical margin will often produce
a less-than-successful result. The margin may have
to be adjusted to provide an optically even wrap.
Part of the reason for this is that it is not the edge
of the characters that aligns to the margin, but the
character’s bounding box. As the margin deviates
from absolute vertical, the space between the character
and the graphic may appear more distant. The
solution is to adjust the margin shape to produce
optically even alignment with the graphic.
The most legible wrap exists when the text is set
flush left and the right margin wraps to the left-edge
of an illustration or graphic. The reader’s eyes will
naturally return to the left-aligning margin. The key
is to make sure that margins around the top, side and
bottom of the graphic appear even.
Wrapping text to the left of a graphic is more
problematic than on the right of a graphic. Care
should be taken to ensure that a gradual change takes
place in the alignment of the left margin of the text.
The more dramatic the left margin changes from one
line to another, the more difficult the copy will be to
read. In some cases, moving an odd shaped graphic
up or down a little may allow the lines of copy to
6. Remember the reader
Two-sided wraps are the most problematic. Here,
the text should almost always be set in two columns.
Forcing the reader’s eyes to jump over a graphic to
continue reading a line of copy is rarely successful.
The larger the graphic—or jump—the eye has to
make, the more reading is disrupted. While your
page may look dramatic if copy flows around a large
image of the Earth from outer space, you will not
make any friends with your readers.
If the columns are set flush-left, rag-right, the
right edge of the first column may also have to be
set to justified as it wraps around the graphic. Not
doing so may create an uneven appearance to the
Text shapes and wraps can create arresting and
engaging pages. Follow the six rules above and they
will also be pages that will be read.