Choosing a font for book design?

gertie's picture

I'm sure this has been a thread at some point, but doing a search didn't show me what I was looking for, so if I just need to be redirected, go for it. :-)

The situation is this- I have a book I need to format for someone (my dad actually) and am already stuck- trying to decide what font to use!

The only info I'm beginning with is that I'd like to use serif, having heard more than once that sans serif is inadvisable for books.

I would like to give a better idea of what I'm looking for, but my ignorance has got the best of me here. The book is non-fiction, essentially about ethics, society, agnosticism, serious schtuff like that. :-)

So if anyone has suggestions of fonts I can try, I'm all ears. I'm also open to suggestions regarding books about fonts for books, but that is more long term, as I need to begin formatting this book yesterday.

Thanks for any advice you can give,

dezcom's picture

Lovely specimen, Kent, and certainly a fantastic typeface.


typehunter's picture

Thank Kent,

That helps. Looks like a nice font. I'm not in the studio today, but I will print it out tomorrow & look more closely. If not right for this book, might be good for some of the newsletters/magazine projects I do.

Am really into a body type discovery phase right now. I have always focused more on the art direction, overall layout design, and display type and treatment. But I am really drilling down to the fine details of typopgraphy (when I get a chance) these days. Since I am self-trained and never got this in art school, this site it proving to be a world of useful information.


Scalfin's picture

Touching on the assertion that if sans were usable, they would be used, the myth feature in today's Science Times notes that studies have shown little or no benefit from stretching before exercise.

Even if you don't want to use sans in general, this list might be useful for those using a body font lacking a good bold, as it was a common practice to use a sans as a bold in the past, as sans, at least back then, were darker.

kentlew's picture

John --

In terms of magazine usage, you can see Whitman in action in Brides (albeit not that much, since they're not long on serif text), The Knot (more prevalent), and the newly redesigned Fortune (except that unfortunately they seem to be using InDesign's optical metrics, or something equivalent that subtly throws off spacing in the text -- but I'm probably the only one who notices).

-- K.

mondoB's picture

Kent, I am a very big fan of Whitman, but I need Bold Italic in order to buy the family--I can't use it without. Your own website samples italics for both Semibold and Bold weights, but neither Font Bureau nor MyFonts makes either one available. How can I buy bold italics for Whitman?

kentlew's picture

John (mondoB) --

Yes, for various reasons, FB has not yet launched the Semibolds and Bold Italic on the Retail site for easy purchase and download. But they are available for license.

Contact Harry Parker directly -- hparker [at] fontbureau [dot] com, or 617/423-8770 -- let him know what you want and he should be able to work it all out with you.

-- K.

mondoB's picture

That is great news, Kent...we're all grateful for those extra fonts.

kentlew's picture

Well, you can also thank Tsang Seymour Design who commissioned the extra styles for The Knot. ;-)

-- K.

jupiterboy's picture

Thanks for the great work Kent, and the info.

TypoJunkie's picture

Very nice find! I'll be coming back to this thread regularly until I've seen more details about the faces mentioned.

I can't believe no one has mentioned Epic though. I bought it while it was on sale, but have not had a chance to use it. Has anyone?

J VILAS BOAS's picture

Hi everybody! :D
This thread is amazing! Very useful!

What do you think about design a book in Helvetica?
No one mentioned it. Helvetica is a ubiquitous typeface! Does Helvetica has quality for it?


dezcom's picture

Inserts canopenner into can of worms and hears that hissing sound as the pressure releases...


jupiterboy's picture

Can has Helvetica burger?

Must ask ceiling cat!

pattyfab's picture

Oh noes!

Hey Steve, thanks for the kudos. I just noticed that.

vascoprt's picture

Hi everyone,

I am just finishing writing my PhD thesis in Physical Chemistry... not much of a graphic designer! :) Since I have to use plenty of numbers and greek characters in equations and body text, I am thinking on going for the Minion Pro. What do you think? Any other fonts you'd recommend?


charles ellertson's picture

This is a pretty old thread. I imagine a number of us are finished with it -- I can't even say why I looked at this last post. With that in mind, you might do better starting a new one.

Off the top of my head, I don't think of Minion as wrong for science, but I don't think it is the best choice, either. I think Minion's Greek characters are drawn primarily for classical Greek -- note the Greek extended (aka polytonic) glyphs, used only with ancient Greek. You would know better than I whether or not Minion's Greek glyphs are appropriate for science. I remember having to change something -- either the theta or phi? -- for some technical figures supplied to us by a designer using Minion -- they used the wrong ones. The scientific ones are there, but not in the "regular" Unicode spot.

Beyond that, the font has none of the chemical bonding characters, and I believe it doesn't have alphabetic superiors/inferiors. The superior/inferior numbers aren't quite right for science either -- nor are they quite right for footnote calls.

I imagine there are better fonts for your purpose, even though Minion is quite a nice font.

dezcom's picture

Arno has all the features you need.

BTW, polytonic is not limited to ancient Greek texts. Much of It was used well into the 20th Century before the reform.


charles ellertson's picture

Chris, I think the superiors/inferiors in Arno are too big & too low for scientific work. Some applications programs would let you fiddle with this, but then you're off the OT feature, aren't you? Too, I'd classify it as a "sort-of-Venetian"; a touch off for chemistry. & While p-chem doesn't need all the bonding symbols of organic, he probably needs a few. I would think there is a TeX setup that covers everything.

dezcom's picture

I am sure there is a TeX setup but he may not have access to it. I wasn't getting in to style, I was just thinking Arno had a full range of Greek and sups to cover his needs. I didn't know there were any placement issues in sups with Arno. What are exactly the problematic glyphs and what should be correct for scientific work?


John Nolan's picture

What about Cambria? Anyone know if it would have what's necessary?

charles ellertson's picture

I'm not the best person to ask about scientific superscripts, but I do remember Arno well because it was just a couple weeks ago I went in and made the superscripts both smaller, and raised them up. Also put the superscripted numbers on a proportional body & kerned them. Also made sure the superscript alphas and numbers had a common "baseline."

Actually, these were the "number.super" glyphs, switched by the superiors feature. Scientific notation should be called by the Unicode index for superiors (except as I remember, superscript alphas aren't encoded? See, I told you I wasn't the best person to ask). Adobe's superiors feature doesn't switch to these, and that gives improper syntax.

Additionally, scientific superiors should have a certain relationship with both cap & l.c. letters, and lining numbers. All of these should fit well with the tops of parens & brackets, too, which isn't the case with Arno. Arno is a lovely font, but again, IMO, not for scientific work.

Adam doesn't post much on the design forum, but I'd trust his judgment, or any of the programmer types with an engineering background (which gives two strikes against me).

Edited: S/B above Chris' last post.

dezcom's picture

Thanks, Charles. I will take a closer look at Arno and check out your findings. I probably fall into the 3 strikes catagory when it comes to scientific work. I did work for an engineering firm in 1969 and did several books for them. Those were the old days and we used phototype so I specd the type but did not set it. There were plenty of math formulas which I pasted up but left the proof reading to the engineers. :-)


edited to fall below Charles' comment

dezcom's picture

OK, Charles, I will let mine stay put if you will :-)

Love this edit feature which shuffles everything like an iPod!


vascoprt's picture

Charles, I'm trying to stay away from TeX since I'm about to leave science and the time I'd loose in the learning process would be just..lost. And you were also right about physical reactions or any "hardcore chemistry". Just a couple of subscripts and superscripts, as well as some Greek characters.

You think Venetian fonts aren't suitable for chemistry design-wise. What kind would you suggest?

Thank you all for the replies on this!


charles ellertson's picture

You think Venetian fonts aren’t suitable for chemistry design-wise. What kind would you suggest?

Ah. Not sure. The last time I had to deal with equations as an "author" was when I took (& passed!) my math-logic prelim in 1970. As a compositor, I've set a bunch of equations since then, usually in economics.

Book interior design is all about audience, and a little bit about the author. If I'm faced with designing a book where I don't know the subject matter, I look to see what typefaces other designers have used, over a period of time. That "period of time" is the best way to avoid getting caught using a current fashion that will soon fade.

As a WAG, I doubt most chemists would find, say, Bembo a comfortable font for professional work. Something modern, but plain. In my grad student days that was Times Roman, but Times has become so much a design taboo that has probably changed.

I still remember one of my professors saying "Prelims are puberty rites," and my dissertation director saying "just get it done." Since he had taken ten years to write his on the early psychology of Agostino Nifo, I figured he was wrong. But it turned out he was right, & I never finished mine.

Moral: Steal a design from something the audience will be comfortable with, & get on with your life.

vascoprt's picture


Don't worry, thesis is already written :). Its just that I still have a couple of weeks until sending it for printing and I thought (besides the content) I could improve its design.

I'll see what I can find then.

Stefan Seifert's picture

Hi Kent,

thanks for the link to the very nice Whitman specimen!
Good typeface.

This FontShop stuff depresses me :-(


Sye's picture

has anyone used FF Meta or FF Meta Serif for body text in books? how do they perform?

Quincunx's picture

I have used FF Meta for medium length texts. I wouldn't quickly use it for a book though. Meta Serif I cannot comment on, since I've never used it.

Stephen Coles's picture

Just to update this thread with more recommendations, here's another list of book design typefaces.

Stefan Seifert's picture

> I would also like to suggest Cycles Eleven:

Yes, seems to be very nice!
Maybe the Italic is a little bit stiff.

Great typeface however


dinazina's picture

Speaking of text fonts, may I ask for an opinion (which the original poster might find useful as well)?

Nine years ago when I started self-publishing my costume how-to books (with zero funds to buy fonts) an editor friend recommended Book Antigua for body text, and I still use that for the book series, with Zapf Humanist for subtitles.

I know it's the custom here to disapprove of Windows-installed fonts, but what do you think of that choice? To me it has always looked pleasantly clean, legible and non-distracting.

If it was today I'd probably choose Minion as I now have lots of Adobe fonts, but Book Antigua still looks good, I think.

jupiterboy's picture

^ should probably start a new thread, as this one is an oft-linked classic and doesn’t need the confusion of an alternate discussion.

hrant's picture

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