Free Tools for the Beginning Book Designer

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.

Entry Filed under: free tools,from previous blog,tools,typefaces

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