Using Reversed Type in Publishing

Brochure for PANDORA Jewelry using reversed type

Mike Coppola / Getty Images

In commercial printing, when the type is reversed out of a background, the background is printed in a dark color while the type is not printed at all — it is the color of the paper. For example, you cannot successfully print type in white ink on a black background, but you can print the black background everywhere except for where the type would be, which gives the same effect. The type produced in this manner is called reversed type.

When to Use Reversed Type in a Design

Graphic designers use reversed type as a design element because the eye is drawn to reversed type. Use it sparingly in your designs though. If you use reversed type in several areas of a design, they fight for attention. Examples of effective uses for reversed type include:

  • Make column headings in a brochure using type reversed out of dark color rectangular blocks
  • Set a headline in reversed type
  • Reverse a pull-quote out of a colored box

Precautions When Using Reversed Type

Reversed type is harder to read than printed type. Because ink spreads a little on paper, the dark ink can spread into the area of the type. If the type is small, has thin strokes or tiny serifs, the type becomes unreadable or at least unattractive. For this reason, it is better not to reverse type that is smaller than 12 point and to use a sans serif typeface if you must reverse type at a small size. Other things you can do to make reversed type legible include:

  • Use bold type 
  • Increase the leading between the rows of reversed type
  • If you reverse type out of photos instead of out of color blocks, don't use a busy photo. Reverse the type out of an area that is relatively the same color for legibility.
  • Use a dark color with reversed type for contrast. A pale pink block with reversed type on white paper is harder to read than the same reversed type on a red or dark blue block.