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Striking a balance between Adobe Jenson light and Adobe Jenson Regular

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parangon's picture
Joined: 7 Sep 2017 - 2:49am
Striking a balance between Adobe Jenson light and Adobe Jenson Regular

Fellow typophiles,

As a book designer, I am writing this post in order to get help and learn from members who are certainly more knowledgeable and have more experience than me in setting typography.
I love humanist typefaces and want to use Robert Slimbach's revival distributed as Adobe Jenson. As you all know, it provides optical sizes ranging from caption do display as well as different weights from light to bold. What I am trying to achieve is a correct type color on the page. Jenson regular is too aggressive and lack elegance while Jenson light is too anemic (but has elegance). I want to know how to strike a balance between these two extremes and get a weight that is between the light and regular. I know editing software such as fontographer provide such tools but don't know how to proceed artfully (which I know takes a lifetime). It seems to me that choosing an em size in fontographer by simply clicking on "change weight" is not all there is to it.

So could a generous soul guide me on this path to achieving music for the eyes. (This could be references to books, websites, tutorials, suggestions, advice, etc.)

I recently discovered the I Tatti Renaissance Library series published by Harvard. I thinks that its design, beautifully orchestred by Dean Bornstein of Perpetua Press, interprets quiet elegantly the Renaissance period. He used Adobe Jenson and definitely changed the weight of the typeface but I think it still remains too thin, especially the italics. Do you think he made Adobe Jenson light weightier or Adobe Jenson Regular thinner ? How do you proceed in doing this?
Here's a sample page from the series:


And here are two links for more information on the design:


Steve Tiano's picture
Joined: 17 Aug 2007 - 1:39pm

I'm a freelance book designer/layout artist of over 26 years' and 100 books' experience. NEVER fuck around with a typeface's weight yourself. It's prob'ly not okay with the EULA. But it's also not the type designer's vision. Design your own face if you have a better idea. That said, I know what you mean about some typefaces making for a darker page than you'd like. But that's a design issue that you, as the book and page designer are supposed to be able to dope out. I work it out with generous leading, which I tend to favor anyway. I would look at 11/16. If that's way beyond what you've ever used and seems crazy, try 15.5 pt or 15 pt leading. I think I've actually used Adobe Jenson Regular as body text on a book within the last coupla years to good effect. But, again, the generous leading made it work. The Light over the course of 200 or more pages strts to look insubstantial, I think. Of course, this is only my experience and my taste.

Eric Doctor's picture
Joined: 16 Jan 2008 - 3:27pm

Hi Parangon, I'm curious whether you're rendering these judgements of the typeface's character by looking at it on a screen or printing it on paper — often a typeface will feel more aggressive or more elegant when it's ink on paper, rather than pixels on a screen. This goes for the type of ink and type of paper, too; cheaper paper creates more ink spread, while in a laser print the ink sort of sits on top of the page.

I bet it's possible (probable, in fact) that the Tatti Renaissance Library books you admire so much use an out-of-the-box weight of Jenson, but that the particular paper and ink being used make it appear different than it does in whatever medium you're currently looking at it.

EDIT: Nevermind, just read the design info, which says the books use a custom typeface based on Jenson (not Adobe Jenson, mind you, but rather the historical model of Jenson itself) — curious that it doesn't name the type designer.

literyzmetalu's picture
Joined: 13 Sep 2017 - 1:34am


Thomas Phinney's picture
Joined: 3 Sep 2002 - 11:00am

Hi “Parangon,”

So, the nice thing about the Adobe EULA is that, unless something has changed since I last checked, it allows modifications for internal use.

A similarly nice thing from your POV about the Adobe type design process is, most of the typefaces with varying weights were designed using an axis-based approach like Multiple Master or Variations. So the odds are extremely high that you could glue together the light and the regular weights of Adobe Jenson in an axis-based space, and interpolate and get something perfectly usable, because that's pretty much how they were designed in the first place! Maybe a few glyphs would need to be fixed, is all (as Adobe does an auto-clean-up after interpolation, which could damage the interpolability of some glyphs).

You could even do a custom optical size at the same time, to match your most common point size of body text in your book(s).

My normal approach would be to create the two axes and find the ideal instance, and export that as a stand-alone font, and then try it. Get a different instance if your tests show you need more or less weight, etc. I have done this a fair number of times in the past. Of course, as CEO of FontLab and former product manager for fonts at Adobe, I am pretty familiar with all the moving parts in this equation, so I know what glitches to look out for.