QUESTION: What is "copyfitting"?

ANSWER: Copyfitting is the process of ensuring that a block of text isn't too long or too short to fit the space allotted for it in a document. Another term for copyfitting is "text fitting."

Here is an example of a situation where copyfitting is important.

Let's say you're using variable-data-printing software to create variable-data documents each of which has a space three inches wide and one-half inch high that is supposed to contain a company name. Let's also assume that you've used your variable-data-printing software to specify a particular font, font style, and font size for the company name. What happens if a particular company name is too long to fit into that space?

The illustration below shows what can happen in a situation like this.

"ABC Corporation" and "Gillins Company" both fit into the reserved space, but "Monmaxx Company" does not fit. Some typesetters refer to this situation as an "overset."

You might think you could avoid oversets by imposing a limit on the number of characters that are allowed for the company name. For example, if company names are stored in your database in a field named COMPANY_NAME, you might be tempted to deal with this issue by setting up your database so that the COMPANY_NAME field contains no more than (for example) fifteen characters.

Unfortunately, this does not work very well in most cases.

For one thing, it just wouldn't make much sense to take this approach when designing a database that will contain company names, because lots of companies have names that are longer than fifteen characters, so your database wouldn't be very useful if you allowed only fifteen characters for the COMPANY_NAME field.

But there is also another reason: if you take a close look at the three company names above, you'll see that each of the company names has fifteen characters — yet two of the company names fit into the space but one of them does not.


Because the font that is used in the illustrations above is a proportionally spaced font. This means all the characters are not the same width. For example, a "t" is wider than an "i" and an "m" is wider than an "n" and so on.

The fonts that are used in most documents today are proportionally spaced fonts. Knowing this, it's easy to understand why limiting the number of characters is not a dependable method of ensuring that variable text will fit into a particular area on a document.

Managing oversets

If you are using Microsoft Word or Adobe InDesign or QuarkXPress or some other application to create a document by hand (a document that is not a variable-data document), you can simply deal with oversets as you go along. That is: if you are typing something and you see that it's too big, you can make the font smaller, decrease the inter-character spacing, or even re-word the text to make it fit.

But when you're using variable-data-printing software to generate documents, you are not typing each document yourself, and — depending on how your production workflow is set up — it's very likely you will not have an opportunity to examine each and every document that is produced — so it is very important to make sure your variable-data-printing system provides a way for you to ensure that oversets are dealt with properly.

Different ways to deal with oversets in a variable-data-printing workflow

Some variable-data-printing solutions do nothing to help you manage oversets, while others have various features that help you to deal with oversets. For example:

  • Some variable-data-printing systems create a "log file" or "history file" containing error messages that tell you about oversets that happened during a production run. With a system like this, you can examine the log file after each production run to see if there were any oversets. If so, you can then devise a way to deal with them. For example, if there are just a few oversets, you might be able to fix up the problem documents manually by editing them to make the font size smaller.

  • Some variable-data-printing systems are capable of re-sizing text automatically so that oversets will fit. These systems do this by making the font size smaller and/or by decreasing the space between characters and/or by decreasing the space between lines (this is useful if you are dealing with sentences and paragraphs of text instead of just individual lines of text).

    With systems like this, you usually have the option of setting up your documents so that text will fill up a space. That is: the text can be made just big enough to occupy the entire area that is reserved for it.

  • Some variable-data-printing systems allow you to set up your documents so that areas that are reserved for variable text expand and contract as needed — and the more-powerful systems can also position other elements on the page dynamically, depending on the amount of space that an expanding or contracting text block occupies. For example, if your document contains a paragraph that might occupy as few as two lines or as many as six lines, the vertical positions of paragraphs that follow this paragraph will be adjusted accordingly by the software. This feature is sometime referred to as "whitespace management."

  • The most versatile variable-data-printing systems offer all of the above features, allowing you to use a combination of several techniques to deal with different situations. Systems like these have the most to offer in terms of flexibility and quality control.

Re-sizing text is not always desirable

Although it is nice to have a variable-data-printing system capable of re-sizing text dynamically, it's important to realize this is not always the best technique for dealing with oversets. Here is an example of a situation where re-sizing text would not be a good thing to do.

Suppose you're creating "special-offer" cards for a shoe store. The cards are to be customized according to the information in the store's customer database. Each card is to contain the customer's name, along with a money-saving offer. Customers that have spent a lot of money at the store are to receive better offers than customers that have spent less money.

The two cards depicted below are for two customers named Marilyn Jones and Janice White. The store's database indicates that Janice has spent more money than Marilyn; therefore, Janice is receiving an offer for free shoes or boots while Marilyn is receiving an offer for free shoes only.

The offer on Janice's card has been printed in a font that is smaller than the offer on Marilyn's card. As you can see, using two different font sizes in the same paragraph makes Janice's card look unattractive. A better approach would be to use the same font size throughout the paragraph and allow the paragraph to occupy as many lines as required. The illustration below shows how this looks.

Note that the second paragraph on each card is positioned appropriately relative to the bottom of the first paragraph. In other words: even though the text in the second paragraph is not variable, its location on the page is variable. This is an example of whitespace management.