Posts filed under 'typefaces'

The Subtle Art of Pairing Serif and Sans Serif Typefaces, Part I

Add comment December 14th, 2010

More from the old, corrupted blog, this one the first part of a two-parter on pairing typefaces in books

A while back I wrote about the type I lean toward using in my book design work. This moment I want to move right past questioning ever using sans serif faces for main body text. But I need to comment just briefly about it.

What was once a taboo I see broken more and more. And though never disastrous, I almost always find it annoying. One reason is that the usual relationship—main body text in serif, display heads (and other display elements) in sans—gets thrown off. While I have yet to do a book in which I use a sans for my body text, I have admitted before that I would like to use Optima just that way if the right book comes along . (After that, who knows whether the floodgates might not open and I will become a sans serif-setting fool?)

When that occurs, I will not reverse things and use a serif for display items, but rather variations of the body sans. So the “right book” means one without a great number of different design elements.

There are two ways to pair types. The first simply requires that the book designer locate the correct “superfamily,” a family of fonts that includes both a serif and a sans serif. Two that I admire, have written about, and plan to use when the correct circumstances arise are Jos Buivenga’s Fontins, and Liberation Serif/Liberation Sans. For a terrific list of some forty superfamilies, see Peyton Crump’s Superfamily Font Roundup. I should caution, however, that not all of these are suitable for use in books.

As Crump points out, the purists among us—as well as nagging bits of creative conscience in those of us not so pure—frown on these ready-made matches of serif and sans serif types. Although such superfamilies are designed organically, often from the same inspiration, they lack the seasoned book designer’s application of eye and aesthetic sense. However, that is not to say that any particular type designer is not seasoned and possessed of a superior eye and sense of design aesthetics.

Stay tuned for part two!

Free Tools for the Beginning Book Designer

Add comment November 20th, 2010

This is one of my favorite pieces from the old, compromised blog. I enjoyed my wiseass take on grandkids as “our replacements”—it stills makes me smile when I read it now. But the meaning of this piece to me is that it’s when I began to acknowledge a sense that things I learned and learned about could assist others starting out on the freelance path I chose

It’s taken me awhile to write and post this. Mostly because my granddaughters—“our replacements,” an old friend calls them—were visiting the last week and a half. But that may also have pointed me toward my material this time around.

See, I’ve been thinking about novice book designers starting out. It can be an expensive proposition when one begins, I realize, all while striving to get one’s foot in the door. Hardware is just the initial investment.

Software, too, adds up. Additionally, with software, there’s the stinking suspicion that open-source software—TeX (in all its flavors) and Scribus for page layout, plus various printing, drawing, and photo editing programs—may make an investment in QuarkXPress or InDesign, and art programs such as Photoshop and Illustrator a waste of money.

I know there are those who swear by open-source, regarding commercial software as unnecessary. I am certain these same people do relatively good work. But no book publisher or packager who was looking to hire someone for design or layout of a book ever asked me whether I was skilled in Tex or Scribus.

But I come not to praise—or take shots—at software choices. Rather I want to discuss the tool next in line: typefaces. Where do we get them? What’s the story with how expensive they can be? Are there alternatives to paying top dollar to Adobe and the other foundries out there, boutique and otherwise?

The first types we handle are the resident fonts in our computers. On the Macintosh, my choice, that means Times Roman, Helvetica, Palatino, etc. On PCs I imagine that means fonts called Arial, Swiss, and Comic Sans—there’s an “inside sports” joke here that I’ll get back to … if I remember—among others. Then there are the “bonus” fonts packages with other software. I know of two reputable sources like that: Corel (Draw, Paint, WordPerfect, which I have never owned, because Quark, Adobe products, and MS Word seemed to be pretty much the professional software of choice that a book designer/layout artist would need to consider) and Adobe.

My first font purchase, as I;ve mentioned before on this blog, was a twosome: Adobe Garamond and Futura. I wish I could remember what they cost back in 1989. I think I recall around $100 each. Next I bought Bodoni and Frutiger from Adobe. And those were my last individual purchases for some time to come, because it wasn’t long after that I bought a version of Adobe Illustrator—version 6, I believe—that came with the aforementioned generous slice of Adobe’s Postscript 1 Typeface Library.

Many of my favorites, typefaces that I still use today, are in that Adobe collection. So I would urge any new book designer to look around for it, as there are more than mere favorites in it. Classic typefaces can be found in that collection. But that still requires an investment of cash.

What about totally free typefaces?

Well, I should digress here and say that there are many great resources to learn about typefaces. My favorites are John Boardley’s wonderful blog, I love typography and the Typophile forums. Truth be told, there are many others that I frequent now and again. Smashing Magazine, although primarily a web resource has good material about fonts. And there are countless others. For this piece I searched through all of them and more. I also put out the word for suggestions on a number of forums, though not on Typophile, as I thought it a bit much to ask professional type designers who earn their living creating types to suggest free typefaces.

One thing that becomes immediately apparent when doing a search such as this is that most free fonts are display fonts, not particularly good, and rarely complete. (By “complete,” I mean a complete set of characters, from upper and lowercase, to numerals, punctuation, and accented glyphs.)

But I did come up with eight typeface families that I think might be used in designing and laying out books. Now, to be fair, two of them, Fontin and Fontin Sans, I had learned about some time ago on the aforementioned “I love typography.” The fact that Jos Buivenga designed both a serif and a sans serif, making Fontin a comprehensively complete family caught my attention and I’ve been meaning to use them and plan to soon. [It took three years, but I finally found a book they matched really well with and I used them.] I would advise novice book designers who choose to make such a search as mine to take a look at Mr. Buivenga’s exljbris Font Foundry, as well as his fine blog of the same name. He has a selection of eight fonts on the site, as well as an intriguing new one, Calluna [this one has come a long way since I first wrote about it here], in the works.

My other six selections to start a type library for free are nearly evenly split between serif and sans serif types. They include another from exljbris, the sans Delicious. Next up is Gentium, “a typeface for the nations.”. (Designed by Victor Gaultney, “Gentium” means “of the nations.”) Goudy Sans is an idiosyncratic sans by Frederic W. Goudy. The Fell Types, developed for computer typesetting by Igino Marini, are a selection of different serif, “modern revival fonts” I loosely categorize as a single selection. They bear some careful study in deciding whether and where to use them. Last are Liberation Sans and Liberation Serif, developed by Steve Matteson, again pleasing to me not just for themselves but because they form a complete serif and sans family.

I think these form a nice set of types to study and use athe best of all prices. Which is not to say that there are not others out there that deserve to be mentioned. In fact, I invite anyone who has a favorite free typeface family that is suitable for book design, to please make mention of them in a comment to this piece.

The Elements of Typographic Style

Add comment November 7th, 2010

An old piece from the corrupted blog, this one on what I consider the Bible of setting type and page design …

A careful reading of Robert Bringhurst’s The Elements of Typographic Style (Point Roberts, WA: Hartley & Marks, Publishers, 1992,1996, 2004, 2005) rewards as few books do. Written in some of the most graceful prose I have ever read, it forces you to consider just as carefully—if you love books and if you love making books—all the typographical angles.

Some time ago, when I began this blog, I admitted to considering myself something of a mercenary. I took, and even preferred, layout jobs, as opposed to designing. All for the paydays. Sometimes I smiled to myself when I thought the word “mercenary.” Well, now the other shoe drops. Reading Bringhurst makes it all too clear that I have not always kept the faith, so to speak. While I convinced myself that experiencing and executing other people’s designs was part of my typographical studies, I was not as aware as I might have been of what was in front of my eyes.

Oh, I did right by my authors in that I worked to convey their words and pictures without any fanfare for myself. I also honored my obligation to readers in doing so.

None of this goes to say anything negative against any of the “house designs” I helped to implement or carry on. For one thing, as with any business proposition, there exists an element of “the paying customer is always right.” Yet pages that were perfectly serviceable when I made them, with reflection on The Elements of Typographical Style, now seem questionable. While it pays to be mindful of the whole book—and I am little more than a quarter of my way through—a handful of Brinhurst’s lines already stick out and I find worth memorizing:

Choose faces that suit the paper you intend to print on, or paper that suits the faces you wish to use.

Choose faces that suit the task as well as the subject.

Use what there is to the best advantage.

Choose faces whose individual spirit and character is in keeping with the text.

Respect the integrity of roman, italic and small caps.

Consider bold faces on their own merits.

Pair serifed and unserifed faces on the basis of their inner stucture.

Match the continuity of the typography to the continuity of thought.

Add no unnecessary characters.

Don’t mix faces haphazardly when specialized sorts are required.

And from me: Don’t wear suede in the rain. And get the name of the book right!

Tschichold: One … More … Time

Add comment August 28th, 2010

Late one night during this past week I was reminded of the torturous times I spent reading of Jan Tschichold, his work, and his own writings, when I found Alex Charchar’s piece, “The Secret Canon & Page Harmony” on the blog Retinart. I say “torturous” because I have all kinds of mixed feelings about him, his work, and his words.

First, my feeling is that, while his “take” on page design should be required reading, I would never call it “the rules,” because it was just such rigidity in which he expressed himself at times that I reject. But I still think there is benefit to learning the way Tschichold thought books should be designed.

I read a translation of “Die neue Typographie” some time ago. I would love to have read—and to own—a copy of The Form of the Book. Only thing is, the one time I had the spare cash to lay out for a copy—it’s apparently rare and, therefore, priced dearly—I opted to spend $400 on a 30-year old bottle of scotch. No regrets there, but I still would give my eyeteeth for a copy of of The Form of the Book.

Tschichold, I think, is hard to appreciate truly without placing him in context. I do not totally reject his theory that the best text page is unadorned and plain, so that nothing comes between the reader and the author’s words. Consider that he came from a time and place when books were typeset in that heavy, unreadable German blackletter type. Just a horribly distracting—and now all but illegible—way to see printed words. But his leap to the plainest sans serif available to him at the time, Akzidenz Grotesk, although both an improvement and the most practical choice available to him led him down a path that, some years later, Tschichold himself plled back from publicly.

As for his perfect text area proportion, there are many harmonious ratios to set type by. Both Bringhurst’s The Elements of Typographic Style and Designing books: practice and theory by Jost Hochuli and Robin Kinross do good jobs of discussing a whole range of such ratios. Bringhurst pays particular attention to those based on organic, mechanical, and musical proportions. Tschichold likely would have none of this, as much as for any reason, I suspect, as that he didn’t think of them. I mean, this was a man who, when he lectured, did not permit questions.

So I do appreciate him, I just don’t cotton to him. And next Christmas I would like another bottle of 30-year old scotch and a copy of The Form of the Book.

Seems Like Old Times

Add comment May 25th, 2010

Continuing in what has become the busiest year of my life so far, and certainly the most successful in my career as a freelance book designer/layout artist, I am about to begin another “straight layout” job. That is, where I am provided a template and make some other designer’s pages.

This is, you might say, a return to my roots. I worked at least a couple of years doing such book layout work in the early ’90s before I hired on for my first interior design and layout job. I have always felt that starting out in publishing as a proofreader forced me to see, in an unerringly stripped down fashion, how words on a printed page are supposed to look. This, in turn, fostered a nitpicky concern for typography generally and an intolerance for crappy (to use the term of art) wordspacing specifically.

Doing page layout in those beginning years I simply gravitated to a line-by-line scan/search technique with my eyes—that is, looking line-by-line—to find every spot on every page in every book I worked where I might “drive a truck” through the wordspacing because it seemed so wide to me.

I took that feel for typography with me into book design projects. I always try to select types, type sizes, and line lengths that work together for maximum flexibility and efficiency in terms of how a line of type can be adjusted to avoid wide wordspacing.

So it is with a sort of “coming home” feeling that I will begin my first layout-only job in a while.

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I Remember Plato

Add comment March 10th, 2010

I remember  … my first book, actually, seventeen years ago. I started with straight layout jobs; I didn’t begin to design books for years after that beginning. That first layout job was a math textbook. A good fit, as it happened, since I had earned a living as a proofreader—both in-house and freelance—for about fifteen years before that.
A math textbook, before I knew about MathType or XTensions for creating equations, meant a lot of cutting and pasting radical symbols, indicating square roots, combining many characters, and a world of back-kerning.

The autobiography/memoir I am currently working on reminded me of that first math book. Written by a retired physicist, an older gentleman who began life in India, is also the author’s attempt to preserve his native language. What this means—thank heavens not learning Sanskrit—is using one or more typefaces that transliterate the Sanskrit into English.

And so specialized fonts are in order. But there is the additional factor, really a kind of monkeywrench to overcome, of my working on the Macintosh platform—you may have heard me mention this before—and the author and editor working on PCs. This effectively throws us into further translation mode. Even though all three of us have purchased the appropriate fonts, the textfiles I have received to this point, and the printouts I had received until just yesterday, all had accented characters missing or replaced by tiny outlined squares.

I will need a complete copy of the manuscript and, interestingly, this job will force me to do something I’ve scrupulously avoided to this point: reading a book through as I work on designing and laying it out. It is now imperative I follow through, line by line and even character by character, typing in every missing character. Without the hard copy it will be a lot like Plato’s example of the distorted picture of reality one gets from observing the world only via shadows projected onto a cave wall.

How I wish these typefaces would just apply upon my importing the textfiles that have been created and worked on with the PC version of the fonts. Hopefully, just that will happen—if not magically, than by something we figure out—before I get too much deeper into this project.

Choosing Type in Book Design

Add comment February 21st, 2010

The use of type in books—choosing and combining it with other typefaces—brings the art vs. craft of book design, compared to typography, right to the fore.

Joel Friedlander writes a thoughtful piece, 3 Great Typeface Combinations You Can Use in Your Book, on the subject, from the matching perspective, it seems to me. I take another look here, from the contrasting end.

Starting with the premise that main body type has been chosen—perhaps by period and/or place, by the look of the typeface simply seeming somehow representative of the subject, or by the type’s appearance running counter to what the book is about—the very next thing is to choose a second face for display and all other non-body text uses.

For instance, last year I did interior and cover design and layout on a book named The Sutton-Taylor Feud: The Deadliest Blood Feud in Texas. It told the story of an epic family feud that began shortly after the Civil War ended and lasted past into the last decade of the nineteenth century. When I first began talking to the publisher about this book the expression “of biblical proportion” came to mind. From that, it was easy for me to start looking at old style serif types. But also cognizant that the time period wasn’t truly back to the old style era, from about 1495 through about 1725, I wanted something that was a more contemporary turn on an old style. Sabon fits the bill, as it is old style but was created by one of the masters, Jan Tschichold, “in the period 1964–1967,” according to Wikipedia.

Given that this book has Texas roots, I decided to go with a typeface that had a Western feel to it for the only non-body text elements of this book that require a display face. In the sample below, that would be the large initial cap, in Rosewood Standard Regular.

Coincidentally, I recently finished another book with historical overtones, and—again, coincidentally—though from a different publishing client, the client was another college press in Texas. This book had a whole different tone from the first. Lust, Violence, Religion: Life in Historic Waco is a sometimes bawdy, always a good read. And I did my best to make it a good- and interesting-looking book.

I chose a typeface for body text that again went with the notion of historical import—a small wink at the aforementioned bawdy character of the essays—Adobe Jenson Pro. When researching this face, the word “elegant” comes up again and again. Jenson is simply beautiful, a revival of Renaissance lines and curves. It gives weight to the subject matter it presents and, again, this seemed to fit nicely with the unexpectedly irreverent storyline (for, history or not, the book reads as entertainingly as any great story).

For the accompanying sans serif—to be used in titles, display heads, and captions—I selected Optima. Not strictly a sans, of course, Optima’s hint of serifs, tapered strokes, and slightly larger x-height than the Jenson all keep with the elegant look I had in mind for this book. Below is a page Lust, Violence, Religion.

These are just two ways to go about pairing, but not exactly matching, type.

I Like What I Like

4 comments February 10th, 2010

I came upon an interesting article the other day, Know your type: Cheltenham. The article describes the history of the typeface family Cheltenham. It reminded me of an exchange I had on one of the typeface aficionados’ forums a year or two ago. I mentioned that I liked ITC Cheltenham and had decided to use it on a book design I was doing at the time.

I must admit right off that I am partial to Old Style type—Did you know “Garalde” comes from bringing together the names “Garamond” and “Aldus”? A few of my favorites are Bembo, Adobe Garamond, Jenson, and, of course, Cheltenham. I especially like that the contrast between thick and thin strokes is not extreme with Old Style typefaces.

When I mentioned hw much I liked Cheltenham on that forum, I heard a chorus of “boos” in pretty short order. Indeed, I don’t remember anything in the way of approval for my choice. This puzzled me.

I made clear I intended to use Cheltenham for body text of the book I had in mind. And as the idsgn piece makes clear, the original Cheltenham font was designed to be “a book type in which legibility would be the dominant element.” As that is the point of good typography, and book design—to make lines of legible and pages of readable type—I still feel very good about the choice. The unique kind of look that stops readers in their tracks might be a good thing for advertising, movie posters, and even book covers; but on book interior pages, it’s just an unwanted and unadvisable distraction.

The extended ascenders and shortened descenders are, in fact, odd-looking in an interesting way; and it was good enough for the New York Times. But that was the original Cheltenham, also known as “Chelt.” By the time of ITC’s digitized Cheltenham, the x-height was increased noticeably to make a most readable type. A classic was adapted and made far better for book interiors.

What I Know About Columns, Part I

3 comments January 23rd, 2010

Goes back to the structure of a page, what the text area looks like in relation to the size and proportion of the sheet of paper the page gets printed on.

I know … sounds like I just launched into another surefire cure for insomnia. But when knowing this stuff matters, well, hell, it matters.

First, I want to say once more in this space that my knowledge of all things typographical comes to me in two distinct ways: from my study—i.e., reading—and from my own work at solving the issue of how to put large amounts of words on many printed pages. Although I continue to read anything new about book design and typography that I get my hands on, my foundation remains these three books:

  • Bringhurst’sThe Elements of Typographic Style
  • Hochuli and Kinross’s Designing books: practice and theory
  • Hendel’s On Book Design

And, again, I add on to everything I have read and every layout I have ever doped out or followed (when supplied a template by a client) with each new working out of the issues each new project presents. But over time a rough “order to the universe” revealed itself and, for me, it goes as follows.

One-column is the ticket for fiction and straight text without any kind of art. Non-fiction, especially textbooks, with display material—equations and scientific formulae, for instance—are also particularly suited for the one-column page. 65 to 68 characters, studies show, are about the maximum number for readers’ best comprehension. And about 26 to 30 picas work best for line measure. So the trick is, then, to work out the size of a particular typeface that gives you those 65 to 68 characters on the line length you decide to go with.

Ample white space—margins—also helps readability. Leading, the space added on to type size to give the measure from one baseline of type to the next, also affects white space and readability. I remember reading some time ago that the using larger amounts of leading was trending. And so I began to experiment. I had originally earned that adding 20% to the type size was the rule of thumb for figuring out what leading to use. So, for example, 10 point type would be set on 12 point leading, and 11 point type on 13.2 points.

The piece I read that spoke of this new trend made fun of it, saying something to the effect that book designers then were falling all over themselves to use larger and larger amounts of leading. Truth is, of course, a limit should only be based on how things look on the page. And you realize that limit by seeing when enough is enough and the type just looks badly set. Myself, I’ve recently used 10/14 and 11/15 with results that I like a lot.

Not every typeface you work with will look good in the size and leading combination that suits another typeface. That is why one-size-fits-all templates are not the economical panacea that some book design mills claim.

Next time: the two-column page

My First Typefaces

Add comment March 22nd, 2009

The first typeface I used, once I had a laser printer and no longer relied on dot matrix output, was Avant Garde. Two things about this sans serif type stuck me: its interestingly large x-height and the fact that it was not Helvetica.

This was back in 1989, long before the movie, the hoopla, and the inevitable backlash against Helvetica (the typeface). Tired of it after a dozen years of mostly math and science proofreading, I had seen enough Helvetica to last a long, long time.

A geometric sans, Avant Garde’s strokes seemed to run thinner than Helvetica. This makes for a page lighter in color and a kind of artiness in type that I had never noticed before.

The second typeface I cottoned to was the serif Palatino. To my eye—and this continues to hold to this day—Palatino possesses an easy elegance. This is likely not an unusual observation and I am not alone in my admiration of Palatino, as if it is one of the ten most used typefaces, according to Wikipedia.

Unlike many newcomers to computer typesetting—I never cared for the expression “desktop publishing”—I knew enough not to use every font in my arsenal in a single document simply because I could. In that respect my proofreading background served me well, helping me make good judgments (for the most part) about how words should look on the printed page.

Maybe because of that, I ran Avant Garde and Palatino into the ground. Probably a whole year passed before I even tried the other typefaces my LaserWriter IInt came with. None of those others hit the spot the way the first two had.

And yet all these years later, I find it fun that the choice of a typeface for body text can be determined by a client’s asking me to find a serif type with a lowercase g that, looked at sideways, suggests a pair of eyeglasses.

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