5 Favorite Fonts for Interior Book Design

by Joel Friedlander on August 31, 2009 · 379 comments

There’s no bigger decision you make in designing a book than picking the body typeface. A book by its nature is a long reading experience, and as book publishers we want our books to be as easy to read as possible while communicating the author’s intent. Style and fashion also play their part in many book designs, particularly in popular niches. The accumulated expectations of 500 years of book readers also come into play. Books are pretty conventional objects, after all.

Some fonts really lend themselves to book design while others, which look good in a brochure or on a business card or billboard, make odd, unreadable books. Any idiosyncrasy in the type design will be magnified by the repetition of typesetting 75,000 or 100,000 words in thousands of lines on hundreds of pages.

So the choice of your basic typeface looms large when you sit down to design your book. Here are five typefaces that have become favorites and which will almost always look great in your books too. You’ll find links to the vendor of the fonts as well.

  1. Garamond – Named after the famed 16th-century French “punch-cutter” or type designer Claude Garamond, many versions of this old style face exist. The one used most frequently now is the version designed by Robert Slimbach for Adobe. It’s known for its graceful, flowing style and humanistic elegance. Here’s a sample:
  2. Get Garamond here
    book-design-type-sample-garamond

  3. Janson – Designed by the Hungarian Nicholas Kis in the 17th century, the design was mistakenly attributed to the Dutch printer Anton Janson. It is a strong and elegant face with marked contrast between thin and thick strokes, and may be the most popular text face for fine bookmaking. Here’s a sample:
  4. Get Janson here
    book-design-type-sample-janson

  5. Bembo – Bembo, another old style typeface, was based upon a design by Francesco Griffo, who worked for famed early printer and publisher Aldus Manutius in Venice in the 15th and early 16th century. It was a clear attempt to bring the humanist script of the finest scribes of the day to the printed page, and served as the chief inspiration to Claude Garamond, among others. Bembo has a classic beauty and readability that are unmatched.
  6. Get Bembo here
    book-design-type-sample-bembo

  7. Caslon – One of the most popular text typefaces of the 18th and 19th centuries, Caslon was designed by William Caslon in England in the early 18th century. An old-style face modeled on early Dutch originals, Caslon has an appealing irregularity and creates a distinctive texture on the page. Many people recognize Caslon from its extensive use in textbooks. Here’s a sample:
  8. Get Caslon here
    book-design-type-sample-caslon

  9. Electra – A 1935 design by the prolific type designer D.W. Dwiggins, Electra creates a distinctive “color” and evenness on a printed page. It’s inventor said he wanted Electra to excel at setting down warm human ideas, to endow it with a warmth of blood and personality. Here’s a sample:
  10. Get Electra here
    book-design-type-sample-electra
    Although it would be easy to fill a book with samples of great text typefaces, it’s also true that many professional book designers could, if necessary, limit themselves to just these five fonts and continue to create great—and greatly varied—book designs, for years to come.

    So when it comes time to select the typeface for your next book, choose one of these five and rest assured that you have made a great selection.

    Those are my favorites. What about yours?

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    { 330 comments… read them below or add one }

    Rosalind Minett July 7, 2015 at 5:58 am

    Sorry, Joe. I really like Georgia. It’s clear and easy on the eye. I feel I have to use Times NR for e books, but dislike it myself.

    Reply

    Stephen Tiano July 7, 2015 at 6:45 am

    I’m curious, Rosalind, what makes you “feel” you must use Times New Roman?

    Reply

    Rosalind Minett July 7, 2015 at 6:46 am

    Guess I’d been advised that when converting to epub format.

    Reply

    C. JoyBell C. April 1, 2015 at 8:50 pm

    I actually really like Bell MT. It’s a font that feels joyous and open on the page. I use it in some of my books when I want the pages to feel that way for the readers. In other books, I have used Garamond, Perpetua and Centaur. Garamond when I want the message of the written words to come across simply and concisely; Perpetua when I want the message of the written words to come across timelessly; and Centaur when I want that message to carry an air of mystery. And this is my personal family of fonts that I have built over the many years of my being an author. :)

    Reply

    Anna Dobritt March 30, 2015 at 7:18 am

    Would these fontsw cuase problems with people that have Dyslexia?

    Reply

    Adrian February 27, 2015 at 2:00 am

    Dear Joel,

    Thanks for your articles. I learn so much from them. In your article “5 Great Fonts for Book Covers” you mention League Gothic as one of the five you advise. Do you have any thoughts as to which font for interior book design (body text) works best if League Gothic is used for the book cover and chapter headings? Many thanks in advance.

    Cheers,
    Adrian

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander February 27, 2015 at 10:33 am
    Adrian February 27, 2015 at 5:51 pm

    Thank you Joel. The references are very informative.

    Cheers,
    Adrian

    Reply

    Mitesh Take February 15, 2015 at 7:50 pm

    Very useful discussion. Thanks.

    Reply

    Stephen Toano February 27, 2015 at 3:58 am

    There are different ways to go about pairing serif to sans serif fonts. One way is to match, the other to contrast. I would first consider a large x-height serif, say, the ITC Benguiat family. Or here’s a free one, Antic Didone Regular. But with free fonts, you wasn’t to see what you have to do for variations, like italic and bold. Also whether they have a really complete set of characters. Then there’s the opposite tack as an option, contrasting the large x-height of League Gothic with a noticeably smaller x-height. And that’s all before considering whether to match or contrast the thickness of strokes. But you get the idea. I actually blogged some on my blog on book design, http://www.tianobookdesign.com/blog a while back on this process of matching and contrasting types.

    Reply

    Adrian February 27, 2015 at 5:52 pm

    Thanks for your advice Stephen. Much appreciated.

    Cheers,
    Adrian

    Reply

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