Fonts for libraries: legible call numbers

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Darkgreenblue's picture
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Joined: 15 Dec 2009 - 2:52pm
Fonts for libraries: legible call numbers
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Greetings. I am on the hunt for the perfect typeface for LC library call numbers. I want a font which distinguishes very clearly between the most easily-confused characters (zero & O, 5 & S, 1 & I & J); is either a sans-serif or a serif of low stroke contrast; is simple and looks good in Bold; and -- ideally -- has oldstyle figures available. A call number uses only capitals and numerals (e.g. JQ843.I17 S56 2009) which implies lining, but I think oldstyle numerals help to make the letter/number distinction most obvious, especially the O/zero.

Requiring bars on the I, and a sizeable angled tail on the 1, knocks out most sans-serif contenders. Serif oldstyle 1's need a nice tail too (not bars). Starting with basic Windows fonts, the best are Verdana/Tahoma and Bookman Old Style, but they have lining figures. Monospaced fonts offer a barred I, but generally have lining figures. Constantia and Georgia are too high-contrast in boldface for my taste.

My favorite finds thus far are Quadraat Small Caps (offering uniformly short numerals, which are even better for this purpose than oldstyle), though stroke contrast is a bit high and the J isn't great; Droid Sans Pro (a great sans-serif, designed for legibility on mobile phones); and maybe Cooper, of all things (in Med or Bold), because of its unusual near-oldstyle numerals. Do any fonts combine all the desired features? Numerals like those of Cooper or Quadraat SC might be best. I suppose a zero that's both short and slashed is too much to hope for!

Nina Stössinger's picture
Joined: 19 Jun 2006 - 3:01pm
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A nice, simple sans that comes to mind with nicely unambiguous hybrid numerals* is Apex New – maybe worth a look. (I haven't used it myself though, so can't offer a first-hand opinion.)
http://vllg.com/Thirstype/ApexNew/mudTyper+Weights/

* I assume these are what you mean by «near-oldstyle» – numerals that diverge vertically, but only by a bit; their «x-height» is markedly larger than that of oldstyle numerals.

Darkgreenblue's picture
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Joined: 15 Dec 2009 - 2:52pm
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Thanks for the suggestion, but like most sans, Apex doesn't meet one of my most important criteria: bars on the capital I.

I found a few more likely candidates: FF Tisa and FF Parango. (The latter's numerals are a little wispy for signage & labels, but attractive for other uses.)

Jens Kutílek's picture
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Joined: 12 Sep 2007 - 7:55am
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I'm a fan of FF Unit when unambiguous letter forms are required. It doesn't have a slashed zero though.

Another space-saving option could be Axel, with a slashed zero but no Italic styles.

Advertising disclaimer: I work at FontShop, but I have licensed both font families also for my own stuff ;)

Hrant H Papazian's picture
Joined: 3 May 2000 - 11:00am
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Nina, Apex's alphabetics kill it for this task. The lc "el" in Tisa is too much like a numeral one. Parango has bigger problems... Unit is good - and the zero could be modified. Or you could use the o-slash. :-) Axel looks like a winner as-is.

Here's an idea: programming fonts! They're not the prettiest* but their glyphs are always highly differentiated. And there's a very handy one out there: Consolas! If you're on a Mac (or WinXP), Ascender sells it.

* And would the fact that they're fixed-width be an issue here?

hhp

Nina Stössinger's picture
Joined: 19 Jun 2006 - 3:01pm
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Good points on Apex. I stand corrected. I didn't actually look at the alphabetics too much – kinda got hooked on the idea of hybrid numerals.

How about something in the general direction of OCR fonts, BTW? Even less pretty than programming fonts, but the glyphs are certainly just about as differentiated as they can be.

Hrant H Papazian's picture
Joined: 3 May 2000 - 11:00am
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Good idea!

hhp

Darkgreenblue's picture
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Joined: 15 Dec 2009 - 2:52pm
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Consolas I have, and it's certainly a possibility (and monospace is OK), though there are some things I don't like about it. Programming fonts have indeed been used by libraries for call number labeling. When I make simple things in Word, however, the Consolas alternate OS figures don't appear in the character map; why is that? Does XP not fully utilize the Vista fonts?

OCR fonts tend to look a little bizarre, and are probably trumped by other options. Lowercase is almost irrelevant to my purpose, so Tisa is still a good choice. Thanks for Axel, which is new to me.

Brian Jongseong Park's picture
Joined: 15 Mar 2006 - 12:53pm
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When I make simple things in Word, however, the Consolas alternate OS figures don’t appear in the character map; why is that?

I think that would be because the OS figures are included as OpenType features and not as separate characters. You would need a OpenType-savvy program for this. Choosing OS figures is possible in MS Word 2010 Beta (which you can try out free for now), but I don't think older versions of Word include these or many other typographically useful OpenType features.