Best Book Sans?

Ryan Maelhorn's picture

I really havent delved into book fonts too much yet. My opinion right now is just use Garamond, lol. It's hard for me to imagine any sans looking right in body copy, except maybe Helvetica.

I'm sure this question has been asked before here, but it'd be nice to get as many current opinions as possible.

snow is nigh's picture

First of all: “lol”?

Helvetica for body copy? Helvetica is structured in a very monotonous way, making it hard to distinguish the individual characters and character-groups that make up words. Helvetica for body text is an absolute mis-use of it. Pick a humanistic sans if you need to go with a sans. Garamond has an absolutely different flavor than Helvetica, which tells me you do not know what tone the text should communicate. So for which tone do you want to go, what is the environment of the text?

Ryan Maelhorn's picture

Yes I have no idea what I'm doing when it comes to body text. I said LOL because I was laughing at my own super limited view of it.
Isn't Helvetica technically the default sans for the web?
I suppose I would just be looking for something very readable, very clean, doesn't make itself stand out. The context would be actual body text in a book or longer pamphlet.

Florian Hardwig's picture

Here’s a list of sans-serifs that can be used for longer texts:
http://www.typophile.com/node/39592#comment-258784

J. Tillman's picture

Ryan Maelhorn, you will get more suggestions with a little more information about your publication. Is it a fashion pamphlet for young women? medical information for older people? technical sales brochure for an affluent audience? a romance novel?

Or are you just looking for an all-purpose sans serif more-or-less suitable for all projects. That's tough to recommend.

hrant's picture

Ryan, first of all: you're new here, and it's clear you're not shy
about going out on a limb, exposing your typographic limits.
Bravo - it's the best way to learn. Due to human nature, most
people will usually only reply when you say something they
don't agree with; if you cajole people they probably won't teach
you anything. As I once stated: "Blind speculation is the key to
efficient data mining." :-) But you need titanium skin to go along.

Just wanted to start off by saying that.

--

Yes, Helvetica is LOL for text. In fact for me the only way it
ever works is very light and very large. And no, it's not the
default sans for the web, because Windows (you know, 95%
of systems out there) doesn't even have it. Arial fills in for
Helvetica, and it's close (it's less un-texty) but anyway on-
screen things change so much compared to print that it's a
moot point.

All things being equal, assuming there's no stylistic clash the
one sans that I believe in (in terms of textiness) is Legato. See
my mini-review - the last one here:
http://typographica.org/on-typography/our-favorite-typefaces-of-2004/

But yes, the context of content will guide better than anything else.

hhp

charles ellertson's picture

Best way -- at least, to see what's current -- would be to go to a book store & browse. If you want to see books with a sans as body type, stay with art and travel books, at least in the States.

Yes, I'm saying we don't use sans serif for text much in the U.S. I believe Europe is a different story. But unless you're aiming at a European audience, or the author is willing to put up with diminished sales so that you can show 'em, by God, you would most likely be better off with a serif typeface.

Having said that, we've used TheSans successfully in art books, usually semi-light, or regular if the setting size is small. Also Scala sans and Quadraat sans.

We do set one (sort of) academic journal in Helvetica, boundary 2. A number of people have tried to get them to change the typeface for the journal over the years; they won't. I guess if I worked it over some more I could make it a little more attractive. That's on my list, down near the bottom.

* * *

BTW, how does your Garamond work out for war stories? I was appalled to see The Pacific set in Adobe Jenson. World War II as bought to you by the Italian Renaissance. Maybe one style doesn't fit all?

rs_donsata's picture

Kievit and Caspari and work very good for long copy, even for a book, they are somehow close to garamond in proportions, structure and maybe even color. Quadraat Sans has a better color and better modulation. These three faces also have good italics.

The thing with sans serifs is that most designers are used to set them a bit tight by means of negative tracking and in the case of body copy you need them to set them normally and with more leading that if you were setting a serif face because the visual cohesion of the line is weaker due to the lack of serifs.

Also light sans faces are no good for long body copy and disastrous in books, you need the lines to have good color.

Ryan Maelhorn's picture

I'm really really really liking Yellow by Jürgen Weltin.

http://www.typematters.de/tmt_Y1.html

Pretty much exactly what I'm looking for. Alas, it is a commissioned font and does not seem to be publicly available.

quadibloc's picture

Although I think that Helvetica Medium is a wonderful typeface for signage, Univers, the looks of which I'm not particularly fond, is clearly better for body copy use than Helvetica.

But, really, one should not use a sans-serif for text. If you don't like serifs, use Optima. If you don't like varying stroke width, use a face like Memphis or Stymie.

rs_donsata's picture

Yes, I had a book set in Univers, I lost it and the new copy was set in Helvetica. I really liked it better set in Univers.

Ryan Maelhorn's picture

Sans Serif is the way. Sans Serif is the light!

hrant's picture

I love Yellow (partly because it has a blackletter vibe).

hhp

rs_donsata's picture

But aren't Yellow's letters a little too individualistic? They seem more fit for signage (short outstanding settings) than for paragraphs.

Ryan Maelhorn's picture

The creator of Yellow has been gracious enough to email me, and he assures me I don't want to use Yellow for running texts. Never thought I'd see the day. What a world!

hrant's picture

Jürgen is a good guy.

hhp

oldnick's picture

It probably goes without saying—not that such a qualification will prevent me from going on—that when you design a book, you usually design it for an audience, rather than for yourself—unless, of course, the book is your personal diary.

Older readers, like myself, tend to prefer serif faces for body copy; I can't really speak for the young whippersnappers, but I hear tell that they're cool with sans faces. You could always split the difference, and look for a nice semi-serif.

rs_donsata's picture

Once I read a 380 pages book set in futura, It wasn´t the most comfortable read of my life but it didn't hurt either. I helped that futura has humanist proportions.

brianskywalker's picture

I can read entire books set in bold.

rs_donsata's picture

Who set a book in bold?

hrant's picture

You know the guy who used ITC Garamond? His brother.

hhp

Nick Shinn's picture

Who set a book in bold?


Paul Rand.

Notably, the regular weight of Gill Sans, long considered the most readable sans, on account of its humanist qualities, is more like a medium.

hrant's picture

These days we call that a Demi.
Which to me is an awesome weight for text.

hhp

rs_donsata's picture

That bratty old man!

brianskywalker's picture

See also Type Now by Fred Smeijers. I don't have it, but it was surprisingly comfortable to read. Also note the unusual way lists are set.

hrant's picture

Smeijers is known to like darkish text (also), so it's probably not a Bold.

hhp

Ryan Maelhorn's picture

That Gill Sans looks great. Probably a bit bigger point size than the standard book text however. I agree with donsata, i really dont have any problem reading bold or black in running texts. In fact I think the whole thing is kind of an old wives tale. I was reading in "Just My Type" how people studying legibility based on what people could actually read (gasp, you mean not just a theory?!) found out it really had nothing to do with what was "more legible" based on the standard thinking: x height, large counters, etc...; but rather on what people were used to reading. That is, what fonts were closest to the ones they see everywhere everyday. I think that's pretty valid. Think about the blackletter fonts used by the Germans for so long. It takes me a great deal of effort to decode those forms sometimes, but the Germans, who saw them everyday, had no such troubles.

Bert Vanderveen's picture

Body text is best in a somewhat dark face. It is easier to flip a switch for some light than to darken the room you are in. Mind you: Dutch trains do not have window shades.

quadibloc's picture

I've read computer manuals that were "typeset" on an IBM Executive typewriter... using the Mid-Century typestyle, which was patterned after Futura. So, yes, a book set in Futura is survivable.

While it would look eccentric today, and dated to the 1920s, Kabel might be even better.

hrant's picture

> what people were used to reading.

Personally I consider that the single most offensive theory in
type design. Not just because it's an irrational simplification
of the truth, but because it turns the craft into a mere art.

hhp

Ryan Maelhorn's picture

"mere art"?

hrant's picture

I view Art as the self-centered act of expression; expression
for its own sake. In contrast, Design is about serving others;
in Design expression happens in spite of one's self. But as you
might note I'm capitalizing those, because they are intangible
pure concepts; in reality every actual act of creativity is some-
where in between.

hhp

charles ellertson's picture

How about commerce, Hrant? If I wrote a book to be sold in the U.S., and the designer decided to set it in a sans, I'd fire his ass so quick he/she would need a fast plane to catch up. I'd like some royalties, please.

When will designers learn the term "designer" is not a synonym for "self-indulgent"? Sorry, that should be "good designer."

hrant's picture

When they realize that not being able to make
enough money selling paintings doesn't mean
they know how to help others. You can't get
here from there.

hhp

Ryan Maelhorn's picture

I'm sorry hrant but this is a bit much. Do you define Michelangelo's David as a self centered act of self expression? Or the Sistine Chapel?

charles ellertson's picture

Perhaps you've bought into American capitalism so much you pity Fra Lippo Lippi?

In any case, I visited your web site. It did not remind me of Michelangelo...

hrant's picture

I know it's a bit much. Because it flies in the face of the very
high valuation of Art that we're brought up to feel. I can just
as easily imagine a society where the painting of tableaus is
a punishable offense (not that I'd like to live in such a society).
Basically, I think Art has too much value today; and this might
be why we're surrounded by vapid celebrities.

In any case, like I opined, any act of creativity has both Art
and Design in it; both the creator and his environment. So
if Michelangelo was paid (and he was) to create his art then
he was serving a client - he was directing his expression to
make others happy. Design. At least to a decent extent.

One quandary I have to admit to here is that, if a given piece
of art inspires me to make my own life better, does that make
it an instance of self-expression that helps others? If so, does
it matter whether that was the intent of the artist or it was
simply coincidental? I don't know.

hhp

Ryan Maelhorn's picture

I wasn't really brought up to put a very high value on art, and with the decline of arts programs in the USA I don't think many other people in America will either. I don't remember the "artists" being upheld in awe in high school. In fact they were usually made fun of, sadly.

Anyway this conversation has somehow derailed. The point was to find the best new book sans, not the one I personally like the best even though it doesn't work but I'm gonna use it anyway because I'm self centered. I mean I wouldn't really need other's opinions or advice for that.

hrant's picture

Sure. The main thing I objected to was the
belief that familiarity equates to readability.

hhp

Ryan Maelhorn's picture

When the flush of a new-born sun fell first on Eden's green and gold,
Our father Adam sat under the Tree and scratched with a stick in the mould;
And the first rude sketch that the world had seen was joy to his mighty heart,
Till the Devil whispered behind the leaves, "It's pretty, but is it Art?"
-Kipling

Nick Shinn's picture

“…what people were used to reading” …turns the craft into a mere art.

I look at it another way.
Chick Corea expressed it on the liner notes of his Piano Improvisations Vol. 1 album in 1971: “This music was created out of the desire to communicate and share the dream of a better life with people everywhere.”
One side of the album is quite lyrical and charming, dreamy in a conventional way. But the other side has a fair bit of experimental plinking and plunking.

On the one hand, you could say the album was an artist expressing his own interests, but as the man said, he was sharing a dream, and it’s certainly inspired me.

Type design isn’t music, but I don’t see why, in lieu of being merely functional, it can’t also have the quality of being able to bring delight through its formal beauty, and stimulate the intellect through the idiomatic play of design—and to do so subtly, with taste.

charles ellertson's picture

I should have known.

Anyone who, on an internet forum, asks, on a general topic

"What's the best..."

is either a troll, or has so much to learn that an internet forum can't provide an intelligent answer.

hrant's picture

Charles, you're not being fair.

hhp

Nick Shinn's picture

The clichéd question provides an opportunity for the usual suspects get onto their favorite hobby-horses.
But as Ryan says, he’s looking for current opinions.
I don’t think I've changed my opinion on this, at best refined it.

The more helpful posters (Ricardo, Florian) will provide a link to relevant previous Typophile threads.

This kind of question (what’s the best?) is not as productive as “What’s the best new…?” which focuses on the here and now, hopefully sparing us all from any further mention of those dreary old standbys Helvetica and Gill Sans, not to mention Univers Bold.

hrant's picture

On the other hand currency can be over-stated.
Reading depends heavily on human attributes
that practically don't change at all with time.

hhp

rs_donsata's picture

I once read a great book on legibility which got burnt in a fire last november... but what I can remember is that reading, as a perception process, is led by the mind's never ending search for sense in the stimulations it gets. So in theory we could easily read any kind of text (in a broad not latin type centric sense) that has enough differentiation features to hold meaning... but then we also have to take into account eye comfort, familiarity and practicity which is why as time passes we become more and morep picky about what's readable. The more we refine visual comfort, visual and sintactic familiarity and practice, the more we will find different visual styles of text unsuited for speedy, effective and comfortable read.

hrant's picture

Indeed. And this pickiness is proportional to the
reading speed we become capable of achieving.

hhp

Ryan Maelhorn's picture

I'm trying to think about how to explain my point to you, hrant.

Because I agree in part with you, but disagree at the same time.

What is more important about letters than familiarity? If one cant recognize which letter a glyph is in a fraction of a second, it is useless. We can make any old scribble, and say, look, there is my uppercase G,

but if no one can comprehend it immediately, it is useless.

As to beauty, I feel no need for it to inspire. True beauty is beauty enough.

hrant's picture

Familiarity is s complex thing. You can recognize
a letterform even if you've never seen it before.
And you can often recognize distorted or abstract
letterforms, although it might -tellingly- take more
than a fraction of a second. The main question in
my mind concerns immersive reading: how does
exposure to a specific style of letter affect its high-
speed decipherment? Although I don't know the
answer to that, I can confidently believe that the
inherent qualities of letterforms are not irrelevant,
that they contribute to how smoothly/quickly this
familiarity can be gained; I'm also confident that a
typestyle can have inherent flaws that place upper
limits on how comfortably it can be read no matter
how much you're exposed to it.

hhp

Ryan Maelhorn's picture

Yes, but then you say you cant stand the idea that legibility = familiarity...? Understand, I'm not questioning you, just trying to understand you.

hrant's picture

Familiarity helps, up to a point. The inherent features
of a font (like whether it has serifs or not) cannot be
made irrelevant via familiarity.

hhp

Syndicate content Syndicate content