As typographers and book designers, we need a minimum three-font family—regular, italic, and bold: Italic is necessary for periodical names and emphasis. Bold is used for proper names and headers. As you saw at the start of this paragraph I used a bold through the colon to emphasize an important point. In my books I use my Bold Sans Serif. But regardless of which font family you choose it must satisfy several basic requirements of book design.
What do you need in a font family to make it exceptional for designing books?
That is what I cover in my books. Good font families for book design are relatively rare. I’m prejudiced toward my designs (after all I designed them to meet my needs), but you need to be aware of which fonts might work for you and why. These fonts are a careful choice. Let’s start with some basic criteria for book design fonts.
- Readability: Body copy set with the fonts you choose must be exceptionally easy and comfortable to read. Reading comfort is imperative to help the reader enjoy the book.
- Extremely smooth type color: Type set with the font you choose must have excellent letterspacing and produce a smooth even texture when the type is set in paragraphs. That smooth, medium gray type color generated by the body copy is the background that you must have to easily contrast the headers—to make heads & subheads pop off the page, as it were.
- Legibility: The fonts chosen need to be quickly absorbed when being used for headlines, subheads, captions, pull quotes, and the like. This is not the place for fancy scripts, or wild decorative typefaces. You need to be sure your readers can quickly comprehend your fonts.
- Oldstyle figures: It would probably help if I called them what they are: lowercase numbers. 1234567890 They are essential for good type color—where lining figures are shouting just like all caps shout in an email.
- Variety of weights: You will really need regular & bold weights, but light & black weights will help immensely.
- True small caps: As we will discuss later, small caps are required in several instances.
- True, but readable, italics: Obliques [slanted letters] simply look wrong to an educated reader. But many italics are closer to a script with all of the attendant readability issues.
There’s quite a bit more which could be added, but this will give you a start.
Get good fonts!
Garamond, Caslon, Baskerville, Jenson, Galliard, Bembo, and of course Contenu 😉