Select Committee on Home Affairs Appendices to Minutes of Evidence (Volume II)


Clear Print Guidelines from RNIB

1.  Introduction

Good standards of print legibility help all readers, but for many people with a visual impairment the issue is crucial to whether they read or not. It is important to recognise that blind and partially-sighted people have different eye conditions and what they see can greatly differ. It is therefore impossible to devise a "print standard" which will meet all needs. These guidelines simply aim to describe a few inexpensive, commonsense steps which can easily be taken.

2.  Contrast

An important factor affecting print legibility is the contrast between the type and the paper on which it is printed (or photocopied). Contrast is affected by paper colour, printing inks and type size and weight, all of which are considered below. Without doubt publishers can best help blind and partially-sighted people by paying attention to this very simple aspect of print legibility.

Black type on white or yellow paper gives a very good contrast. If you wish to use paper in other colours, or to print text on top of tints, the background colours selected must be very pale. Dark background colours should always be avoided as they rarely provide adequate contrast, especially if the type is black.

Printing ink, if not black, should be as dark as possible—for example greens, blues, reds or browns can be acceptable if dark ink is used and the background is very pale. Never use yellow printing inks; they are as good as invisible. Avoid pale colours on coloured backgrounds—for example grey on blue. Do not be tempted to run type across a photograph or illustration. This limits the contrast and confuses the eye.


In general it is easier to read black text on white paper than white on black. White type on black paper is acceptable, provided that the typeface, size and weight are suitable. Avoid reversing out small type sizes and light faces because these tend to fill in with ink and tend to become indistinct. Some blind and partially-sighted people prefer reversed-out type if the size and weight are adequate.


Publishers should bear in mind that size can significantly improve legibility. For the general reader type sizes between 8pt-10pt (this means that the height of a letter x is around 1 mm-1.5mm) are frequently used. These print sizes are not legible to the majority of blind and partially-sighted people. RNIB's own aim is to produce documents intended for general readers using 12pt (to give an x height of approximately 2mm). This is the "clear print standard" to which we believe others should also aspire.

RNIB's research has shown that a significant proportion of blind and partially-sighted people can read large print. The type size commonly used in large print books is 14pt (giving an x height of around 2.5mm). RNIB recommends this as the minimum print size for material intended for blind and partially-sighted readers.

However, RNIB requires 16pt when producing information for blind and partially-sighted large print readers. RNIB's research showed that the majority of blind and partially-sighted people can read print of this size. There appear to be no advantages in enlarging type above, say, 20pt, though larger sizes may be necessary for headings.


This is almost as important as the size in determining legibility. Light typefaces should be avoided, especially in smaller sizes. Blind and partially-sighted people may need medium or bold type weights; even "regular" weights may provide inadequate contrast between the type and the background.


Most typefaces in common use in books and newspapers are legible and the choice of typeface is less important than contrast, size, weight, and the way in which characters are spaced. Typefaces to avoid are the obviously bizarre or indistinct ones.

If you print documents with numbers in them, for example, bank statements, accounts or tables it is important to ensure the numerals are as distinct as possible. Blind and partially-sighted people can easily misread 3, 5 and 8 in some faces, and even 0 and 6.


Stick to even word spacing. Do not stretch lines of type or, worse, single words, to fit your line length. RNIB prefers to use unjustified right hand margins; it is felt that this is helpful to blind and partially-sighted people. Leave reasonable space between lines of type: this text is set 13/15 point, that is it has additional space between lines of two points.


This should ideally be in the range of 50-65 characters. Blind and partially-sighted people many prefer even shorter lines than this. Avoid splitting words at the ends of lines.


  Print on Glossy paper (art paper) can be difficult to read, especially if your sight is impaired, because it reflects too much light. Very thin, semi-transparent papers can also cause problems because text can show through from the reverse.


These are harder to read than lower case letters. Although a word or two in capitals may present no serious difficulties, capitals should be avoided for continuous text.


This is very important as many readers are easily daunted by a page of close-set type. Leave space between paragraphs. Don't cram the page. Layouts should be simple and clear. It helps to provide good "navigational" aids for the reader—for example a contents list, clearly differentiated headings, rules to separate un-related sections—anything which makes the layout easy to follow. RNIB prefer to avoid fitting text round illustrations (which results in different line lengths). It is also worth noting that, on forms, blind and partially-sighted people often need generous space to fill in details that have to be hand-written; their writing tends to be larger than average.

  If you are setting text in double columns, make sure the margin between columns clearly separates the two columns. If space is limited, use a vertical rule to separate columns.


RNIB is planning to undertake further research into print legibility, these guidelines are therefore subject to review.

Please contact RNIB for further advice on the production of specific material.

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Prepared 1 October 1998