Widows, Orphans and Bottom Balancing

This chapter covers some typographical conventions: widows, orphans and bottom balancing, and how to control them.

Pressbooks is a wonderfully easy tool to help you create well-designed print books, but that ease comes with some typographical constraints.

In particular, there are tradeoffs in Pressbooks between control of widows and orphans, and bottom-balancing.

Widows and Orphans

Orphans are “isolated lines created when a paragraphs begin on the last line of a page. They have no past, but they do have a future.”[1]

Widows are the “stub-ends left when paragraphs end on the first line of a page. They have a past, but no future.”

According to Bringhurst, “orphans need not trouble the typographer … but widows should get one extra line for company.”

In most cases, Pressbooks has widow and orphan settings as follows:

  • Orphans: 1 (meaning that we tolerate a single line of a paragraph at the bottom of a page)
  • Widows: 2 (meaning there should be at least two lines of a paragraph at the top of a page)

Bottom balancing

Bottom balancing is a typographic convention that tries to keep the bottoms of facing pages in an open book evenly aligned.

Unfortunately, current typographical algorithms using the technology in Pressbooks (HTML and CSS), makes controlling bottom balancing difficult, especially in the case that we wish to avoid widows (and orphans). Since the widow control will “move” a line from the bottom of one page, to the top of the next, it means that you risk having a page that “runs short,” or is unbalanced with its facing page.

To solve this, you can change the widow and orphan settings, so that you prefer bottom balance over widow control. In order to do this, you will have to modify your widow and orphan settings.

Changing your Widow and Orphan settings

In order to change your widow and orphan settings, go to:

Left Menu >> Appearance >> Theme Options >> PDF Options

And enter in the values you would like to use for widows and orphans.

Tight and Loose Tracking

You might also want to flex your typographical muscles, which can address some of these issues described above, using tight and loose tracking.

  1. The Elements of Typographical Design, by Robert Bringhurst