roman, book, light - when to use?

frootloops's picture

I'm a designer asking for advice as to when it's appropriate to use book, roman, medium and light versions of a typeface and also what are the differences between the versions, besides the fact that they look different.

dberlow's picture

Hey froot, there are lots of motivations for picking a style for it's weight. The color on the page is one likely motive where the design, designer and/or production methods demand one over the other. Another motive is to get an appropriate contrast between the lighter and the bolder at the same size. And this same quest for contrast is often pursued in the relationship between text and headlines, different kinds of text, and betweeen headline faces.

There is no hard rule on which to select, but when a single "regular" is all that is available, one must hope that it's color beside the bold, or in relation to other fonts in a particular design or production process, is "just right".


microspective's picture

Choose what moves.

Nick Shinn's picture

Those terms are now used as weights, except in this context "Roman" isn't quite right, and should be "Regular".
"Roman" is the style default for a typeface family, in opposition to Italic, whereas Regular is the weight default -- so you can see how the default font Regular Roman may become abbreviated to either Regular or Roman (which are, strictly speaking, incorrect), ignoring the possibility that what's being described might be Bold or Italic. But in practice Regular (or nothing), not Roman, is used to denote the default of a typeface: regular weight, roman style.

The weight designations are actually given numbers and positions in some software schemes -- Thomas Phinney posted a link to a file which shows a chart of this, in the Build section of Typophile, some time ago. Anyway, AFAIK, certain software applications recognize a scale of weights, and this is included in FontLab, so that when type designers such as myself are making fonts, we follow the scale which includes:
300 Light
400 Regular
400 Book
500 Medium
600 DemiBold
600 SemiBold

As you can see, there is some confusion there -- quite understandably, as "book" is not really an adjective and doesn't describe weight in the way the others do.

"Book" has occasionally proved to be a useful typographic term, although these days it can cause problems if both Book and Regular weights are included in a font family.


The first instance of a type family member named Book that I came across was Bodoni Book, and this would be at least 25 years ago. It was a regular weight Bodoni, but with slightly heavier hairlines than Bodoni Regular from the same foundry. Presumably they named it Book because they needed a word to let people know it was different from Regular, but not a different weight, despite its extra heft. Anyway, the memorably alliterated Bodoni Book proved to be a very durable general purpose font, without some of the problems that the fine hairlines of Bodoni Regular would cause when photographically processed during production.

It also had a classy tone, as it sounds upscale to be using a "book" font in a mere pamphlet or brochure.

kentlew's picture

Nick -- Bodoni Book is actually the name given to one of the Bodoni series in the 1923 ATF catalog. It is actually a lighter weight than the undesignated Bodoni cut (which is the typically heavy weight of this style at that time).

-- K.

dezcom's picture

Book was used much more often in the metal type era. I don't think it was applied with a given strict standard accross foundries. This is pure speculation but it seemed to be that it was more a designation that could combine anything from fit to weight. Perhaps since books tended to be printed at higher quality than newspaper or simple jobbing work, the refinements in "Book" weight would come through best under good printing conditions.


PS: Hi Kent!

Dan Gayle's picture

Typically "book" means that the contrast is lowered compared to the regular weight. A lot of digital type came from the original display masters, etc., thereby making a beautiful typeface less usable in a long running text.

Bembo is a classic example. A beautiful typeface, but something was missing when you used it for text.

Enter Bembo Book, a slightly heftier, less contrasty typeface much more suitable for setting text.

You see the same thing when you peer into the optical sizing of the Adobe fonts.

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