text faces

scottsullivan's picture

I'm looking to invest in a good friendly text face to have in my aresonal for when I jump in to my professional career but I'm not privy to much general discussion about text faces.. so I have some questions.

1. good friendly text face

2. what's the 'helvetica' of text faces? is there any single text face that you see everywhere??

3. what about a sans??

4. what's Jost Hochuli's 'Detail in Typography' set in?


PublishingMojo's picture

Since most people still choose a serif for text composition, the closest thing to a "Helvetica of text faces" is Times Roman. Times is a good, useful face that, like Helvetica, is now so ubiquitous in our visual environment it's practically invisible, and that's why you shouldn't make it your house text font.
How about ITC Stone? The serif is dignified but not boring, and is available with small caps, old style figures, etc. There's a handsome italic, and it comes in Semibold and Bold weights.

There's also a companion sans serif, which I like for text composition because it's not as rigidly geometric as many sans serifs.

And if you want to get extra-friendly, there's Stone Informal, distinguished by blunted serifs, less contrast between thick and thin strokes, and a cursive-style lowercase a and g, even in the Roman.

Celeste's picture

Jost Hochuli’s “Detail in typography” is typeset in Adobe Minion — which is precisely what I would have suggested to you as a definitive workhorse.

Quincunx's picture

Not necessarily the Helvetica of sans text faces, but FF Kievit and FF Milo are really good sans serif text faces.

charles ellertson's picture

For all the denigration of Helvetica and Times, they are (were?) good fonts. Times particularly worked better in metal though, and in certain sizes. The many "computer" versions muddy the water.

The contemporary "Times" is, as Celeste says, Minion. It is common enough for text settings that designers mutter, "I'm so tired of Minion." There is a reason they're tired of it; it works so well for so many things.

* * *

BTW, I've been setting books for 30 years, and have never heard of Kievit or Milo. They may well be fine typefaces, but aren't desert island fonts yet.

Quincunx's picture

> BTW, I’ve been setting books for 30 years, and have never heard of Kievit or Milo. They may well be fine typefaces, but aren’t desert island fonts yet.

That is because they didn't exist yet 30 years ago. ;)
That, and the fact you have never heard of them or used them, doesn't make them less good typefaces. Personally, I have used them both for long stretches of text, and they work beautifully.

In any case, they work better for text than Helvetica.

Nick Shinn's picture

...a good friendly text face to have in my aresonal...

Speak softly and carry a big stick?


Think carefully about the forces you align yourself with professionally, and their inherent karma.
If you are looking forward to a comfortably numb career, Minion and Times will do just fine.
Once you get a few jobs in your portfolio set in such faces, your horizon will begin to shrink.

scottsullivan's picture

Thanks for the responses guys! Okay so the best way to go forward from here:

I asked what Detail In Typography was set in because I thought it looked really great, but what do I know and Mr. Shinn says I'll get pigeon holed and I definitely do not want that to happen.

I have Adobe Minion Pro (probably came with CS3 or 4) so I can definitely afford that, ITC Stone looks pretty cool and I can buy the variations individually.

I'm probably going to have to wait on FF Kievit or FF Milo, seems like a good thing to bill a client for..

So the question is: what's the best way to get my hands on the licenses to better text faces? buy em' now out of (mostly empty) pocket? or wait till I get a job where the client will need a good text face and get it that way?

Mr. Shinn: are there any text faces that you could suggest to possibly broaden my horizon?

- Scott

_Palatine_'s picture

Arno Pro
Jenson Pro
Dolly (with the extra ligature set)
Freight Text
Warnock Pro
Corundum Text
Baskerville (lots of choice here)
DTL Documenta
Hoefler Text (lots of variety in the full set)

Have a look through some of those. If you can print out samples, then do so.

Look at Arno Pro in particular. It seems quite versatile and offers a great deal of variety.

Nick Shinn's picture

Look for features that interest you.
Many faces these days have all kinds of OpenType feature sets.
Alternate figure styles, various heights of small caps, unicase, optical sizes, alternate extenders, alternate "a" and "g" forms, swash characters, &c.
These kind of typographic niceties give you options to play around with when setting work as mundane and complex as business cards.
You can check out OpenType features visually on the new MyFonts interface.

Get some printed specimens from type foundries, or the Indie Fonts books and the FontBook, and see what you like the look of.
Download PDF specimens and print them out.

William Berkson's picture

A friend of mine just had her new book (she is the author) published in ITC Stone. It is nicely clean and open, but to me its ascenders are a bit too short for books, at least in the setting in that book. For me, that makes it a little dull, as Walter Tracy says is a danger with short ascenders (for lengthy text).

charles ellertson's picture

A note on ITC Stone & Sumner Stone's fonts generally:

If you're going to get ITC Stone, get it from the Stone Foundry. Be a bit thoughtful though. The sans is just a touch larger than the serif -- or maybe its the other way. The informal doesn't usually blend too well if you're using both the sans & serif. My wife designed a book using all three which worked. It had three voices, a narrative track, an expert track, and an advice to families track. Using all three successfully was uncommon enough that Sumner included it in his exhibit at the SF library.

ITC Stone works best at slightly larger sizes, say 11-point, and as Bill says, can be a bit spikey. It was designed when we still ran repro, shot negatives, and burned plates, so the contrast in the letterforms is fairly great.

For general text use, I like Cycles much more, again from the Stone foundry. Sumner recently lowered his prices; there are some tremendous values there. I also like Magma and SFPL. Stone print is also useful when you have to pack text into a narrow measure.

* * *

Not to get into a pissing match with Nick, but how much you interject yourself into a design -- esp. with type choice -- depends on the text you are setting. If there is an author, their ideas and audience are paramount. If *you* want to challenge a reader, write your own book.

If it is unattributed text as in a brochure, there is likely more room for innovation in type choice.

Nick Shinn's picture

Not to get into a pissing match with Nick,

Them's fightin' words.

charles ellertson's picture

Naw, I'm long past the age where prostrate problems crop up.

merkri's picture

I have to advocate for Greek characters in a text "arsenal": look and ask for Greek characters. Sometimes common text workhorse typefaces are that precisely because they include things like Greek. I wish they were included in more typefaces. It would save me a lot of headaches.

merkri's picture

Oh--and Gentium, which someone else mentioned somewhere in a related thread. It won't work for everything, but it's a nice text face, and a change from the whole Times-news-type thing. It doesn't hurt that it's free.

scottsullivan's picture

thanks everybody!!

- Scott

_Palatine_'s picture

A ridiculously good face:


It reminds me of Quadraat in its proportions, but it possesses a kind of beauty and readability that is hard to find. Renard is dark, rich type. Set it on creamy paper, perhaps some natural linen bond, 24lb, and you'll see what I mean.

merkri's picture

I love the Renard italics.

Set it on creamy paper, perhaps some natural linen bond...

I was thinking the same thing with Gentium, actually. I saw a book printed in Gentium not too long ago, and I was amazed at how nice it looked on paper. It's amazing to me how much of a difference the paper makes sometimes for some typefaces.

ben_archer's picture


You'll see Adobe Minion given a comprehensive workout in The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst, which is reviewed by William Berkson here. Much of what is in the book should answer your questions about text faces and raise further questions...

I love Christian's list and would have added Martin Majoor's FF Scala and FF Scala Sans.

_Palatine_'s picture


Absolutely, add Sala and Scala Sans to the list. Perhaps Seria as well.

The kicker is that most lists will be partial because there are so many great serif faces out there. I think the goal is to build up a core set of "workhorse" faces and then build around those.

Nick Shinn compiled a list a while ago, and it's quite an inspiration. It's as good a starting point as any.




Very useful (good for beginners):


There are other informative articles on his site, certainly worth reading.

_Palatine_'s picture


I find that this sort of rich, dark text is characteristic of Dutch type in particular.

Quincunx's picture

A thread I will keep linking to whenever someone is looking for text faces: "Choosing a font for book design?"

Nick Shinn's picture

Thanks for mentioning those Graphic Exchange articles Christian, but I should point out that I wrote them in 2001, and a few things have changed since then--such as the OpenType format becoming established.

pantalones's picture

Hoefler is a nice one

Yehan's picture

Sorry..I must add my personal favourites here too! Hahah..

ITC Mendoza



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