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Book Designer & Self Publishing coach

The Best Typeface for Your Book

Design

July 2, 2020

Not All Fonts are Equal

Fonts (also known as typefaces) are small applications that work within other applications to render type. Typefaces are considered intellectual property and typically are not licensed to copy from one computer to another unless allowed under the font license agreement.

Not all computers have the same fonts and not all fonts are equal and even when fonts have the same name they may be different. When selecting a face for your book you will want to consider how it will be used and if it performs well for your purposes. As with all software, some programs are more well thought out and executed than others. The same goes for fonts. Some fonts have poorly designed kerning sets, that is the spacing between some letter pairs is not as esthetically pleasing as other pairs. Other fonts may pdf poorly or refuse be output on many printing devices. Still others may add junk when using soft returns. While many of these problems usually happen with display fonts and not text fonts, it is wise to test-drive your font before making a commitment. A number of years ago I even had a font that got damaged midway through a project and it made my computer crash when I scrolled to the page it was on. I took me days to figure out what was wrong it never occurred to me that the font was the cause of so much grief. A badly designed or damaged font can affect the performance of your computer and cause crashes, freezes and other usability problems.

5 things to consider…

  1. Do you need a complete family? For books you usually will want a face that includes a roman, bold and italic face, sometimes you may require a bold italic version of the typeface. You may also want a condensed bold, roman and italic face. Often a face may not have bold and italic version. Even if your computer can style a font bold or italic, there is no certainty those styles will be available when that file is sent to press—they may be substituted with another face, or not be styled as you intended.
  2. Does your face include all the characters you need? Some faces are better equipped to handle foreign languages and are supplied with appropriate language specific ligatures and accents. While others include mathematical symbols and fraction sets which may be crucial. In one book I designed, it had a chapter in Navajo and the only face I could find at the time to handle the unique Navajo alphabet was Times Navajo, so I decided to design the entire book in Times. When testing fonts for other languages you will want to test drive and review them carefully. For instance, in Vietnamese, accent marks stack above each other. A font that does not render Vietnamese well may stagger the accents. If you are not familiar, you may not notice the issue until it is too late.
  3. Examine all the letterforms. You may be surprised what you find. I had an inconvenient surprise when the face I chose for a Spanish/English bilingual art book had a crazy question mark. The font I purchased was Adobe Stemple Schniedler It was a beautiful typeface but while I designed the book I discovered that the upside down question mark looked more like a right side up question mark. It probably would not have been an issue if it was an English-only book, but Spanish uses the upside down question marks at the beginning of the sentences and everyone who reviewed the document questioned whether the marks had been swapped. In the end, I had so many people question the question marks that I had to actually swap the end mark for the beginning mark. In hindsight this may not have been the best face for the job.
  4. Are you also making an e-book? If you are also making an e-book it is a good idea to keep things simple: stick to one common typeface like Times, Garamond, Arial or Helvetica. But also be aware that e-book users can change the face to whatever they prefer, so books with special characters or ornamental bullets will not translate well to e-books.
  5. Serif or sans serif? For print books or books with lots of text, traditional serif faces have long been thought to be easier to read. It is reasoned that because much of reading is intuitive the unique features of serif faces are recognized subconsciously making it easier for our brains to process. This perception has changed more since more people are reading from screens, where the resolution is lower. In this environment, sans serif faces often perform better than serif fonts especially when scaled smaller. I still lean toward serif faces with print books particularly because I personally find large blocks text easier to read. Serif faces with body text is a convention I have grown accustomed to and I can only assume that others have too. In conclusion, either is fine depending on the line lengths, space between lines, how decorative the serifs are, and how open and compressed the letterforms are.

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