Posts filed under 'typefaces'

Turn the Page

Add comment November 25th, 2015

For some time now—and way too long—I’ve neglected the hell out of this blog o’ mine. In fact, I’ve written and posted just seven pieces here in 2015. That does not mean that I’ve lost interest in making books, book design, typefaces, freelancing, and in writing about all those things.

It would be nice to say that I’ve been busy as all get-out this year, designing and laying out books the whole time. Truth is, however, I’ve only worked on five books so far this year. And two of them were children’s books—books I’m proud of, but short, as children’s books usually are.

But now things take a decided turn.

Those of you who have stuck with me over the years know that I have freelanced as a book designer/layout artist for about twenty-four years, as I like to say … “with a net.” That is, I’ve also held a full-time day job that is totally unrelated to book design and publishing the whole time—in fact, going back over thirty-two years.

Well, in a few hours, at 9:00 AM I begin my last day at that day job. At 5:00 PM I retire from it and throw myself fully and only into the life of a freelance book designer and layout artist. I plan to take on as much book design and layout work as I can. Making books is the work I love to do. I mean to do such work every moment that I can. So I am open to hearing from everyone and anyone about the possibility of such work: traditional publishers, self-publishers, university and independent presses, and everything in-between.

I am finishing work on the second of the two children’s books I mentioned above, Don’t Feed Your Pets Weird Stuff. After that I will launch some kind of promotion, perhaps a postcard or maybe an email to every publisher in this year’s Writer’s Market. I also want to complete the two books I’ve begun writing—the first to show self-publishers how to make design choices and apply them to book pages made with the open-source (free!!!) program Scribus; and the second, a retrospective on the books I’ve worked on to date.

Additionally, I will be more attentive to this blog, writing frequently for it. Additionally, I hope, turning it into a platform for “book people” to bring their book design issues to for discussion.

Otherwise all I really want to do is play golf every day. And maybe find a team in an over-50 hardball league to pitch for.

Type Size and Leading, White Space and Page Color

4 comments February 24th, 2013

The size of type, of an individual letterform in a particular typeface, is measured from the top of the highest ascender to the bottom of the lowest descender. (Note: I originally had some kind of brain freeze and defined this incorrectly. But Michael Brady was kind enough to point this out to me in a LinkedIn group discussion.) But that doesn’t mean different typefaces fall the same way on a page. Some typefaces have larger x-heights (measured from baseline to the top of, say, a lowercase x. Others have longer or shorter ascenders and/or descenders. So there are definite differences in how much space characters in any particular type occupy in comparison to those same characters set in another typeface.

type_sizeLeading, as indicated by the dotted horizontal lines in the example above, is measured from baseline to baseline. After type size, leading is perhaps the simplest way to exert control over the color of the page—i.e., how dense (light or dark) the page looks.

Rule of thumb says 120% of the type size is a usual leading. So if the type size is 10 point, rule of thumb calls for 12 point leading.


Too little leading—the term originates from strips of lead placed between lines of type when type was set by hand, in metal, during the pre-digital age—and the page will be crowded with type and have a dark look.


Notice how the above example appears blacker than the one above it, which looks grayish in comparison.

Too much leading, on the other hand, distracts the reader’s eye. Such text looks disjointed, and the lines no longer appear to be joined into paragraphs. The page looks lighter still than the previous lighter page.


My sense over the last few years has been to use more and more leading, pulling up way short from too much, but definitely stretching beyond 120% of type size. With the ITC New Baskerville type I’ve used for all my examples, I was able to stretch the leading to 16 point, over 131%. And yet I think it clearly is not too much.


Stretching limits, but not rupturing them, I believe, is a good way to create page designs that are attractive and original, but do not distract readers from the books they read.

The Year Just Past

Add comment December 31st, 2012

2011 was a boom year. 2012 not so much. Not to say that I was not busy. In fact, I worked pretty much throughout the year. I worked on a couple of long-term book projects—interior design and layout on one; cover design and execution and interior design and layout on another—longish books with stringent creative requirements that stretched through from one year to the next. These two books actually made up the lion’s share of my work. There were other books as well, but, overall, though I was worked steadily, the year was not so profitable as the one before.

Entering 2012 my optimism was on the wane. It simply seemed to me that I could not expect it to be as financially rewarding as 2011. Of course, I always worry about self-fulfilling prophecies and giving myself excuses for failing. But 2011 had been head and shoulders financially better than any other year I had ever worked as a freelance book designer/layout artist. The way the rest of the American economy suffered, I could not imagine that freelancing in the publishing arts would continue to fare so much better.

This was also the year in which my promotional skills took a step forward. I don’t pretend to know any more or any different than people who, for instance, make social media their main field of play, but I have finally coordinated my Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and blog presences. I have been contacted through each of those venues by prospective clients. This last quarter of the year has seen a number of exciting propositions materialize.

First, I managed to line up three new books to begin in January. And second, I have opened a new avenue  to promote my services, beginning to review big, new books on design on my blog. The first appeared about a month ago and was about Stephen Coles’ The Anatomy of Type. The second is being done as a series, the first of which appeared just a couple of days ago, on Phaidon’s boxed set, The Archive of Graphic Design. (The latter ill resume next time I post to the blog after the instant piece.)

And so it goes. I am set up for the biggest start to a new year that I have ever had!

The Anatomy of Type

Add comment November 30th, 2012

What a book!

From the first page, Erik Spiekermann’s Foreword, The Anatomy of Type spoke to me. Mr. Spiekermann made it clear that this book is for both type geeks and for those who are more focused on the use of type for particular reasons. In fact, he could have been speaking of me, way back in 1989, discovering Avant Garde, one of the resident family of fonts on my first Macintosh, a IIx, when he wrote,

We like best what we see most. … Gimmicks don’t work, as they wear off quickly, and basing a whole alphabet on one idea also doesn’t fly. This is painfully apparent, for example, in a page set in Avant Garde Gothic, whose geometric shapes separate characters from each other rather than combine them into words.

Would that I had known that way back when. But Avant Garde was one of my two favorite types at the start, the other being Palatino. I liked what I saw most, all right.

And Mr. Coles’ book would have gone a long way for me as a textbook and gotten me up to snuff far more quickly than the roundabout trial-and-error fashion in which I wound up learning the things I know now about using type. In little more than a dozen pages, from his Introduction through half-page representations of the various type classifications, Mr. Coles’ creates a foundation for those learning to begin accumulating real type smarts.

And then the fun begins.

Some of the “Good for” comments, particularly about text faces I have used in books, made me smile at first blush, amused. Upon reflection I got more the sense that saying something in a witty manner does not mean the speaker is making light of his subject.

The front cover is a wonder, packing a great deal of information into both its text and the labeled graphic. It pretty neatly displays all the book is about, providing a one-line descriptor after the subtitle, “Examining Shoulders, Spines, and Tails in Detail.”

And really, what more could one ask for in a book for type students and typophiles? I know I discovered a few types that knocked some of my favorites off their pedestals, some that I have added to my list of “text faces I intend to use when the right book arrives,” and one or two sans serifs that I put on a very short list—to this point it had only had Optima on it—of sans serifs I would like to use for body text in a book.

Mr. Coles has written and presents quite a thoughtful collection of insights on typefaces, illustrated by the types themselves and, ultimately, I only wish he had included more, simply because I did not want the book to end so quickly.

Making My Way into ebook Design and Layout

4 comments March 28th, 2012

Although I continue to harbor reservations about the ability of human readers to change the look of ebooks on their e-reading devices, time has come for me to jump into ebook-making with both feet. To be sure, it gnaws at me that the typefaces I use in my print books will not make it to their e-versions, but it really is time.

So right now, in between projects and/or pieces of projects, I am beefing up my skills by extending my knowledge. First in my learning parade is Anne-Marie Concepcion’s DVD from, Adobe InDesign CS5.5 to EPUB, Kindle, and iPad. This is a fairly painless way, I am finding, to take a step-by-step tour of what you need to do to turn InDy CS5.5 files into epubs.

Of course, as often happens, one thing leads to another and I realize that I need to get up to snuff with CSS, so that I can tweak CSS definitions to adjust how ebook pages will look. The text recommended to me for CSS is HTML and CSS: Design and Build Websites. I think, too, that I should brush up on my HTML. So that leads me to something lighter, a series that I had some fun with learning basic HTML years ago, Sams Teach Yourself HTML5 and CSS3 in 24 Hours. But all isn’t right enough with the world to end there. I remain stuck on the thought of how much I hate that all my design choices can be altered on an e-reader. Some ongoing discussion on Twitter and great suggestions from fellow tweeters, under the #eprdctn hashtag, led me to a number of great looking open source typefaces at The League of Moveable Type. I think their Fanwood, Linden Hill, Prociono, Clover, and Sorts Mill Goudy might be very nice text faces. Raleway, League Gothic, and Junction might just lend themselves to some great display work.

That’s how, after all this time, I am really preparing to plunge into the design and layout of ebooks. Any other suggestions most welcome.

ATTN: New Type Designers—Buy This Book: Letters of Credit

Add comment May 15th, 2011

Well, I never did deisgn a typeface. Book design work came in while I was still pondering the question of what one could do to make the same old letterforms, numerals and the rest in new ways. But I actually enjoyed reading this old piece from the hacked blog and want to share it anew.

I thought I first saw mention of Walter Tracy’s Letters of Credit as an answer to “Name one design-related book you highly recommend” when I first blogged on Four (Sometimes Multi-Part) Questions for Book Designers. Turns out, however, that a quick review shows that not to be true. So I have no idea who brought it to my attention.

But I must say that I highly recommend it.

As someone who has become much interested in type design—I guess I would like to design a text type that embodies everything I want to see in such a typeface—I am looking for a how-to for organizing the whole effort from drawing to using the piece of open-source font design software, FontForge. Letters of Credit is as close as I have come to finding such a book.

Here are seven reasons or pieces of information why:

  • According to Mr. Tracy, the ratio of a letterform’s x-height to its ascender should, ideally, equal 6:10, or .6.
  • In Chapter 7, on “The Forms of Letters,” he gives pointers on how many of the letterforms, both upper- and lowercase, ought to look; and poses the essential question for any designer of types: How, then, do designers contrive to create new types that preserve the natural features of letters and yet are visibly different from others of their kind?
  • Mr. Tracy makes the case for lining and non-lining (old style) numerals. The latter “followed the style used by professional scribes, who had chosen to form the figures in a mode similar to that of the lowercase letters.” That is, “3, 4, 5, 7 and 9 were descender characters; 6 and 8 were ascending; and 1, 2 and 0 were of normal x-height.”
  • He divides the roman alphabet into four groupings: letters with a straight, vertical stroke; round letters; triangular shapes; and “the odd ones.”
  • Most aspiring type designers, I would guess, can draw or have done hand-lettering. I, having started to write fiction at a very early age never took to either. So, what is probably the first issue of concern for most type designers, is already my second concern. I speak, of course, of the space built around each letterform. Mr. Tracy kindly tells us straight off that H is the basis “for spacing of the capitals,” followed by O. He goes on to explain some about how to work out this most delicate an important of details.
  • He cites Edward Johnston, “regarded as the greatest calligrapher of the twentieth century,” as having established a type stroke weight by the way that is natural to calligraphers, “from the breadth of the pen.” The ratio of the thickness of the stroke to capital height is strictly set at 1:7.
  • In discussing an italic type of Frederic Goudy, Mr. Tracy says—somewhat condescendingly, I must admit—“[Goudy] seems to have recognized two important facts: that the angle of an italic need be only a few degrees from the vertical, and that the lowercase letters should be narrower than the roman.”

I can point to spots in the book where Mr. Tracy writes in almost a catty tone. Frankly, it becomes amusing after awhile, as I find that the whole business of type design grows solemn very easily. I think type designers do at least seem to have an easy time taking themselves seriously. But there is much that I find practical and priceless about this book, as in the seven points above. Likewise, when quoting W. A. Dwiggins on the manner in which he begins to draw his letterforms, and at what size, the neophyte designer gets a sense of how to shape a method for beginning to design types.

If only someone would write the book that shows how to apply such thinking for use with FontForge.

Four Questions for Book Designers

24 comments April 3rd, 2011

In July of 2007, I ran my little survey for the first time, getting the idea from something similar that Smashing Magazine addressed to web designers. Little did I know that I would later find value in running it annually. That is, until my website, blog, and Twitter account were hacked into and I got kind of turned around from anything that called for comments.

But it’s back, primarily because a lot has come and gone since the last time I asked these questions. I won’t give my answers yet, but some comments after each one.

  1. Name the first aspect of designing a book that you give priority to once you accept a project and sit down to start. Originally I was thinking of things like page size and proportion, font choices, and the like. These days a few other things come to mind, such as whether an ebook edition is in the cards.
  2. Has InDesign proven to be the Quark killer for you; and, if so, what was the feature that did it; or do your clients determine which software you use?Again, when I first asked this question, I was not at all pleased with the early InDesign’s handling of type. I was even defensive about the possibility that Quark’s time might be running out. Although I still continue Quark a capable tool, and I know there are plenty of Quark users still out there, I think the fight has passed. InDesign prevails … mostly. The more interesting source of competition for InDesign comes from open source software: there are a number of flavors of TeX and I wonder whether many professional book designers use any of them?
  3. What’s the first font comes to mind for body text each time you begin a book design project; and do you usually stick with that choice or say something like, “Yes, I really like that font, but it’s time to work with something else”?Nowadays, I find myself interested in how you buy your fonts. I mean, do you buy one font family at a time or do you look for collections of type? For instance, the bedrock of my typeface library has been the bundle of fonts Adobe includes with Creative Studio (and before that, Illustrator).
  4. Name one design-related book you highly recommend to book designers—please don’t suggest Tschichold’s The New Typography (Die neue Typographie), as I am just up to here with that book, as much of an earth-shaker as it was.I cannot get over how rudely I put that: up to here with Tschichold. So I will try to be clear.  I have nothing against the books below. I have always regarded them as my core references. But I’m ready to consider some new ones. Five Hundred Years of Book Design proved a little disappointing. And I have high hopes for one I just ordered, Joost Grootens’ I swear I use no art at all. Still, I would rather not hear about the following books for this little questionnaire.

    • The Elements of Typographic Style
    • On Book Design
    • Book design: practice and theory
    • The Design of Books
    • Bookdesign: A comprehensive guide

So … what do you have to say?


Add comment March 13th, 2011

About twenty years ago, when I was finding my way around graphic design and trying to learn what my chosen area of project work would be, I started by designing and typesetting résumés. They were made up résumés for the most part, even though I used my name and the names of people I knew just to fill out the look.

But I manage to parlay this invented experience into my first real job, a product brochure for a medical lamps company. I got the project from an ad agency in my backyard on Long Island. I still remember the day I got the call from them to come in for an interview. This was pre-Internet, when I still answered newspaper ads, and with old-fashioned printed cover letters and résumés.

The call came to me at my day job, because I always gave that number for contact, so that I would not miss any calls for design work. It was deep in the winter, close to quitting time, 5 pm. I sat facing the window at my desk, trying to keep my voice low. I saw my reflection in the window, as if it were a mirror, the light inside playing on the darkness outside.

“I’m impressed with your use of negative space,” said the man on the telephone.

“Thank you,” I began, launching into an ad hoc speech on the beauty of negative, white, space in print and how nothingness made what is present more precious. And the longer I went on about this, the more I made faces at my reflection in the window, communicating a “Do you believe this?” to myself, as I dug myself in deeper. Fortunately, I had to take a breath and the man on the telephone was able to take control of the conversation again and arrange for me to come in for the interview and to take a look at the design brief.

As full of it as I was during that telephone conversation, I did learn the importance of white space. I like to think I had an instinct for the subject, and that’s why I got so enthusiastic so quickly. But the more books I’ve worked on over the years, the more importance I gave white space.

Initially the most obvious way to give or take away white space is by adjusting the margins surrounding the text area on every page. The first books I worked on, as a layout artist, had fairly equal margins. But as I began to study Robert Bringhurst’s The Elements of Typographic Style and Jost Hochuli and Robin Kinross’s Designing books: practice and theory, I got braver and braver with my own book designs and took to applying some of their classically-inspired page proportions to my own work. And these resulted in large areas of white space on the inside and foot of pages. The better for making a note, I thought, not being one who is adverse to writing in a book.

One of the fun things about the Bringhurst and Hochuli/Kinross books is some of the “recipes” they give for page sizes and text area proportions. Many times I look at the number of words a book’s textfiles have and what my client tells me their ideal final page count is. Then I start playing with one of the recipes, often turning it around or adjusting to something that strikes me as ideal.

Although what I am going to say next has nothing to do with margins, but still with white space and readability, I think it deserves some attention.


There … I said it.

Leading is the space between lines of type. It gets its name from the lead strips typesetters used to insert to separate those lines, and it is another big determining factor in white space and readability. One of the first things I learned about typography was that leading equals twenty percent of type’s size. For example, typically one would set 10 point type on 12 point leading (indicated by “10/12”), so that 12 point would measure from the baseline of one line of type to the line above it and the line below.

About the time I was experimenting with 10/13, I read something that said it was all the rage for designers and typesetters of long-form text to just keep pushing the envelope on leading. That may be so. I’m finishing a book that’s set 11/15 and I find, if I may say so myself, the typesetting simply elegant. And very, very readable.

Some Things That Affect the Cost of Self-Publishing

Add comment January 9th, 2011

One of the most obvious expenses—or investments—that a self-publisher makes in his or her own book is the cost of printing. Of course, some printing options cost more than others simply because of the way those printers run their businesses. Aside from that, however, there are a few details to keep track of that definitely affect how much one will invest in self-publishing a book.

One of the things that makes the quickest impression is color print, whether for text or pictures. Color often makes for a large jump in expense. Otherwise the amount of paper used is probably the largest material expense.

Page count itself can be affected by a number of details:

  • page size
  • text area
  • typeface
  • type size
  • leading

Page size and text are fairly obvious, but typefaces, even at the same size, can occupy different amounts of space. Here are three samples of typeface not uncommon to books. Here I have them in the common 10/12 set, 10 point type on 12 point leading, on 6-nch by 9-inch page, with half-inch margins all the way around. (Only the type will show, not the page and its margins.

So even within the same size, typefaces will have different characteristics that affect just how the set on the page.

Taking Charge and How I “Took Charge” of One Book’s Interior Design

Add comment December 15th, 2010

I’ve said before that the best part of book design is starting a new project. But that may not be strictly true. Opening fresh copies of books that I’ve designed ranks right up there, too.

The other day I received copies of two books for which I’d done interior design and layout. Both books were published by TSTC Publishing, a college press. The two books are Taking Charge: Your Education, Your Career, Your Life, Second Edition and Lust, Violence, Religion: Life in Historic Waco.

The second book I’ve already blogged about. The first is to be the subject of this piece. As its name indicates, Taking Charge is a guide for students making the transition to young adulthood. As it is a second edition, I decided that, along with the material in the book that had been updated and improved, I would renovate the book’s interior and connect the structures of Taking Charge to the content of its pages.

To accomplish all that, I began by altering the page dimensions a bit. I went from a rather squat 71/2″ × 91/2″ page to one that measures 7″ × 10″. The small changes, adding half an inch of height and subtracting half an inch of width would make the book look more like something one might choose to read and less like something that might be assigned.

For typefaces I chose the Fontin superfamily, containing both serif and sans serif types. Although I generally enjoy the process of matching types for a book—and the Crump mentions in his piece that some purists object to type designers’ own serif/sans pairings—it is sometimes gratifying to set a book with a type designer’s own meticulous matching of types from the creation on up.

Designed by Jos Buivenga for his Exljbris Font Foundry, the Fontins are freeware. I thought this might be particularly appropriate in a book for young adults, an example of how good, useful and attractive things need not be expensive. I had been waiting a long while for just the right book project to present itself so that I might use the Fontins. In addition to being the thrifty choice, Fontin sets nicely a little smaller and is visually appealing thanks to its largish x-height, loose spacing, and darkish color.

Below are a few pages from each for you to compare.

The first edition:

The second edition:

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