Buying a type for commercial use and suggestions.

Kristina Drake's picture


I edit a university calendar, which is nothing like a regular calendar; it's a 600+ page book with our rules and regulations and course descriptions. Pretty dense stuff. Right now we are using Arial Narrow at 9/10pt because, well, we always have, and it seemed to be good for cramming maximum text into minimum space. Recently, however, we changed from an ancient version of Word Perfect to InDesign, and now I am considering suggesting a font change as well.

What font would you suggest that would be as efficient with space and readable? And, considering this is for company use and that at least two of us need to have the font on our computers, how does licensing work? (I have no experience with buying/licensing fonts.)

Thanks for your suggestions,

sample.pdf458.44 KB
sample smaller.pdf458.86 KB
hrant's picture

One thing you should keep in mind here, something sort of counter-intuitive, is that narrow fonts aren't always/necessarily more economical (except for single lines). This is because wide fonts can be set at a smaller point size, maintaining apparent size (compared to a narrow font set larger), and saving space vertically. This is especially true if you have a lot of paragraph breaks (which eat up the potential savings of narrow fonts). Another thing is that serif fonts can actually be set tighter (I mean stem-to-stem, and wordspace) while maintaining readability (not to mention their inherent readability advantage).

Try Parable:


dezcom's picture

I just looked at Parable for the first time. It is quite good!


Kristina Drake's picture

Yes, I like Parable. Thank you for the suggestion. However it doesn't seem to be for sale yet. That's ok because I haven't broached the subject with my boss yet. ;)

Thanks for your input.

hrant's picture

> doesn’t seem to be for sale yet.

Not from MyFonts, but from FF directly sure it is.


Kristina Drake's picture

Thank you, Hrant.

(I had some screwy Internet security settings that wouldn't let me get to the FF site.) Their description of Parable will be helpful when I present my arguments about dropping the Arial Narrow. It explains things super clearly. So often (where I work, anyway) people go with the status quo just cuz it's always been like that. Eventually no one remembers the original reasons for things. I can't stand proofing Arial Narrow, so it can't be all that much fun to read. I'd tried putting in a different serif font (warnock pro, I like) at 8/10 rather than 9/10 but, although I found it way clearer and loved the extra white space, people with glasses didn't like it so much.
All that to say thanks, man.


Wadim Kahlkopf's picture

It sounds exactly like "lido" by Storm Type. It´s freeware!

Kristina Drake's picture

Thanks, I'll check it out.

William Berkson's picture

Because you have a great variety of type weights sizes probably needed for this job, I think it will be hard to beat one of the Adobe 'Opticals' of Slimbach, with their many optical sizes, weights, condensed versions, etc. Also since you are attached to a school you can choose between Kepler, Utopia, Warnock and Minion and Myriad for only the $99.00 for the Adobe Classics for Learning!

Font Bureau also has families with many weights. Proforma might work for you well, as it was designed for the sort of thing you are doing.

sim's picture

First question: Why do you choose Arial narrow?

sim's picture

There is a lots of typeface you can use. Lots of things can force us to work with a typeface instead of an other one. Of course the legibility and the readability are two of the most important. But don't forget the relation you have with a typeface you choose. Imagine, you have to design over 600 pages with a typeface. If you choose one you never tested, Is he readable, is she legibile, Is she has italic, bold or black if you need it? Do you like the one you choose, do you enjoy the g, the a or the ampersand for instance? If not, you'll find the job will be hard to do. Choose a typeface is an important decision. To me there is 3 most important tasks before to choose a typeface: make test, make test and make test again.

Kristina Drake's picture

Wow, I thought this thread had died.

Well, I didn't choose Arial. I inherited Arial and the publication.

I have been researching typefaces, reading my Bringhurst as well as a couple other books on type, especially as it relates to book design (not just short bits of text).

Since I do not have much of a budget to play with, I started by going through every font I have on my computer, particularly those that came with CS2. I liked Warnock Pro. Somehow it seemed a little funky... but a bit on the small side. Finally I bought Parable, and this is what I intend to use, although first I have to make a case for it, and convince the administration that not only is Parable worth the $300 bucks, it's also worth the added pages that will result from properly spaced type.

I'll post another example soon.

Thanks for the interest!

crossgrove's picture

Hi Kristina,

You refer to Warnock Pro as "a bit on the small side". What do you mean? If you mean the x-height/Cap ratio is great, that could be true. However, Warnock comes in 4 different size variants. If you have the smallest version, you have a set of fonts for all kinds of print work that are engineered to work at small sizes. I have to echo Hrant's point about relative size; condensed faces take up less room and therefore are smaller.... Wider faces can be set smaller and still be readable. So it may not be useful to focus on condensed designs.

The features you require are economy, clarity, comfort for the reader, and several weights/styles so you can manage the hierarchy of info that is no doubt crammed into this calendar book. For that, you could pick any sturdy text family; Parable is quite nice, there's also Arnhem or Fresco from, or Absara Serif and Sans, Clifford (smaller sizes) from FontShop, Proforma (as mentioned earlier), Farnham, Miller, Prensa and Whitman from FontBureau, and Legacy superfamily, Albertina, Mentor superfamily, and Laurentian from Oh, and the Freight megafamily from Joshua Darden.

Considering all the nice fonts that came with CS2, you have some pretty robust options there you can test out without any expense, to see which conserves the most space. I suggest you set your sample pages in Minion, Warnock, Chaparral, and if you chose this option, Garamond Premier Pro Text and Caption sizes. All of those are built for heavy text use at small sizes. You might be able to reduce your type size to 7 or 8 and not lose any reading comfort. Minion especially performs well when tracked and set with comfortable linespacing down to 7 or 8 points.

At the very least, I hope you switch from Arial Narrow to something less torturous. Given your current options it would be unethical not to. ;D

Kristina Drake's picture

Hi Grossgrove,

Thank you for the suggestions, I really appreciate the input.

I have gone through pretty much all of the serif fonts in CS2, and somehow even the ones I like don't quite do it. Some seem big at 9pt for a 10pt leading, but too small at 8pt. Others just seem inappropriate. I don't yet have a better typographical vocabulary than that, unfortunately.

Warnock was pretty good, but the people in my office who wear glasses thought the Arial Narrow was more readable than Warnock... go figure. I like that Parable is easy to read at 7 pt -- 8 pt is almost too big. And I like its open feel.

Perhaps after readability the defining factor is the feel I want the publication to have. It's often thought of as an academic legal doorstopper that no one reads, and it's printed on something close to newsprint, but not as thin. I'd like the font to be readable and liven up the publication somewhat, even minutely.

I'm having difficulty finding a sans serif for the headers and subheaders. I don't know which ones go well together. For now I've matched Parable with Myriad Pro. Something about the flare (like at the base of the uppercase M) seems right, but I could be way off.

I'm not looking for a condensed font per se. I'm trying to bridge the need to not add too many pages to the book and the need for readability (I really need something that will work with the 10 pt leading). I know very little about typography, but I'm learning.

I'm prepared to compromise somewhere because I may not have a choice, but overall I'm going for improvement. The fact that this publication has persisted in this format for so long speaks volumes about where the priority has been placed. Extra pages cost money...

I will check out the other fonts you've listed. Thanks again for the input. I'm beginning to feel like I've been staring at the project for too long.


hrant's picture

> finding a sans serif

What about the bold of Eidetic Modern? _
You can access a PDF form the bottom box.

It has the same sort of chunkiness as Parable, and
strong visual interest, without seeming frivolous.


crossgrove's picture


Good news: If 8 is too small, and 9 is too large, InDesign will give you any fractional size between. Customize it to 8.4 if that feels right. But I wonder why you need to stick to 10 point leading? Is there already an InDesign template you're working from?

I ask, because like the type size, leading is also finely adjustable in InDesign. When setting text, the combination of typeface, size, tracking, leading and column width all work together to produce blocks of text that are more or less comfortable and economical of space. Especially when switching from a condensed sans to a serif, the overall look will be very different; be wary of the impressions of people who are used to looking at this document.

I do have some experience with typography, and from the type specs you've named, I can say very confidently that with a careful revision of typeface, size, and leading, you should be able to save paper and improve the feel of the document.

I just spent a few minutes comparing Minion, Utopia, Warnock, Georgia, Clifford, and Chaparral to Arial Narrow. To get the same column length, I had to change both the type size and the leading; Utopia ended up smallest at 7.5 on 10, and with a ratio like that, you end up with much more comfortable leading, which is also where you could realize a savings in pages. If you set Utopia at 7.5 on 9.5, the leading is still more comfortable, and you can fit more lines, which equals less paper. A major influence on the readability of your document is line spacing, and frankly I found Arial Narrow 9/10 pretty cramped. I think you have a great deal of leeway to improve your document; I suspect that if you showed these comparative samples to 100 students and staff none of them would pick Arial. If you like, I will forward the PDF to you.

A Sans you could consider for heads is Cachet by Dave Farey. It's also softened, and square, like Parable.

Kristina Drake's picture

Hi Crossgrove,

Yes, please do send me the PDF.

I'm aware that the leading and font size are both adjustable -- the only reason I wanted to stay with 10pt is that it is set at 10 (except for where it isn't.. what a mess!) -- and already feels cramped. I couldn't imagine the text being legible at anything smaller than 8/10.

If 9.5 leading with the right font is legible, then that's great, wonderful even.

It's good to hear that you think I can save paper and make this look better. I was beginning to feel doubtful (and frustrated).

I really appreciate the help and suggestions I've received at Typophile. Thank you for being patient with me. The advice has been invaluable.

I'll check out the sans serif suggestions (yours and Hrant's), too.


Stephen Coles's picture

> doesn’t seem to be for sale yet.
Not from MyFonts, but from FF directly sure it is.
(I had some screwy Internet security settings that wouldn’t let me get to the FF site.)

My apologies for the issues. For future reference, a direct link to always works for FontFonts: FF Parable

Kristina Drake's picture


Please comment on these two attempts. (I've attached them to the first post.)

The first, based on around 85 characters per line: 9pt/11pt, Minion Pro, on a grid.

The second, based on the same number of characters per line as with Arial Narrow (I realize it's high, around 100) is 8.5/9.5. Minion pro, on a grid as well.

I'll also be presenting samples in Parable, but since we already have Minion, it's the more likely option.


William Berkson's picture

1. Hugely better than the Arial Narrow horror you inherited.

2. The logic behind which lines go to the edge of the page and which not is not totally obvious. This could use improvement, or another solution.

3. I personally would make the titles in the margins larger. You've got some space there; having something bigger would add some more energy to the pages. Also the titles should be aligned more clearly with the text or dividing lines, I think.

4. It would help to carry over the titles on the pages with none. That way on every page you know what it's for.

Good work so far. Immensely better.

Kristina Drake's picture

Hi William, Thank you! That's encouraging.

I'll use your suggestion about the titles in the margins, and probably align them with the first line of text because sometimes they appear where there is no dividing rule.

Your comment #2 -- I did this based on Bringhurst and Lee who suggest it as a way of preventing widows and orphans. They both say it is preferable to fall a line short or a line long (on an entire spread) rather than stretch the leading or add extra space between paragraphs. I try to play with the text wrap to add or save a line, but in some cases nothing seems to work.

Widow/orphan control is one of our major problems, and the main argument my colleague has presented for not aligning the text to a baseline grid. So if you have any other solutions, I'd really appreciate hearing them -- I've run out. However, based on Bringhurst, I feel confident that it is not as bad to drop or add a line as it is to mess with the leading and start feathering (which is what we'd been doing).

Thanks again; it's good to know I'm on the right track. This publication is not in any way going to represent perfect typography, but at least I'll have made it somewhat easier to read.


William Berkson's picture

On #2, sorry, I wasn't clear: I meant the rule that separates units. Sometimes there're longer and sometimes shorter. It wasn't clear to me why. I think it is good to do this, but you might need more different markers (some thicker rules, some thinner or whatever). I don't know how many logical units you need to differentiate, but the thing to do is to differentiate them visually to help the reader navigate.

Yes, I agree wholeheartedly that one line fewer or more on a spread is much better than messing with the leading.

Kristina Drake's picture

Ah, yes. I see what you mean.

It's not totally clear to me, either. In fact, I have no clue. Best guess is that short lines are subsections of the subsection, but why and when -- couldn't say. :/

I'm not even going to think about thinking about changing the lines (for now) ... My suggestion that we change the typeface and align to a grid has already proven rather, uh, controversial, to put it nicely.

Thanks again, I appreciate the comments and support.

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