Cold lead type composition, before hot lead compostion, used proportional kerning designed into the lead matrices. A capital letter A, for example, had a slight right-hand space appropriate for lower case and capital case letters on its right side. Right-hand kerning of all alpha glyphs. Punctuation and other marks also had proportional kerning. Word and sentence spaces were standard as well, usually an en space for words and an em space for sentences. Some typsetting practices used 1/2 em space for word space and en space for sentence space. An em space is the width of a capital N, em space capital M, in the typeface of a text.
Periodicals used typefaces designed for space conservation and had tighter kerning proportions. Books more luxurious kerning. Times New Roman is an example of a periodical typeface, Caslon a book typeface.
A composed type line width that isn't tight left to right using conventional glyphs and spaces was tightened using metal shims, brass usually, and distributed across the spaces. They came in several gauges of fractional points based on typesetter measures and were a height less than the type height so they wouldn't print. Twelve points to a pica, six picas to an inch.
One-twelfth inch pica shims spread across a book text line's average ten spaces might tighten up a loose type line and not appear to the average eye as any different from the type lines above and below. If another twelfth shim or two is needed to tighten up the line, they are inserted at a sentence space. Other size shims may also be used for looser type lines, up to two points or so per space. A point is equivalent to 1/72nd of an inch. A standard 20 pound copy paper leaf is equivalent to one point thickness.
In this way, a text block is proportionally spaced so that both left and right margins are justified and the text is pleasing to the eye. Wordprocessor programs kern automatically if text is set to be justified.
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