5 Favorite Fonts for Interior Book Design

by Joel Friedlander on August 31, 2009 · 389 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

  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

  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

  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

  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
    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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    { 340 comments… read them below or add one }

    Duncan Long September 3, 2015 at 5:55 pm

    Make that “classic typefaces become” (rather than “because”). Of course proofing is important, too, right?


    Duncan Long September 3, 2015 at 5:29 pm

    I do both book illustration work and layout of books. And there really are “different hats to wear” in terms of one or the other type of work. Ideally the illustration and typeface will compliment each other, and if a guy knows what he’s doing, the artwork can actually make the lettering stand out and be more easily read.

    Type selection is also critical. While sometimes a typeface needs to add a little genre flavor to a cover (say with a science fiction story, fantasy, action-adventure, etc.), I find there’s a tendency for clients to want some over-the-top typeface on a cover that just draws too much attention to itself.

    Ideally typefaces are like seasoning: If they call too much attention to themselves, they’re not doing their job. They should be pretty much invisible and easy to read, so a potential buyer is captivated by the vision and story of the book. Readers (and buyers) aren’t going to purchase a book because of the “golly geewhiz” factor of the type.

    Classic typefaces because classics because they are useful work horses. Sometimes new and different is needed. But think long and hard before you get too wild with your type selections or with their colors.


    Ahmadaf September 3, 2015 at 9:10 am

    Hi Joe,
    I really like the font you are using in this website, a clean design with minimum detail. And its’ proportionality of the height and width. But it seems it’s not included in your list. Could you please let me know the font is?
    thank’s a lot


    Ahmadaf September 3, 2015 at 9:13 am

    Sorry, I mean the body font. I love it very much and want to use it in my website. Thank’s


    Joel Friedlander September 3, 2015 at 12:54 pm

    Ahmadaf, the font is Verdana.


    Ahmadaf September 3, 2015 at 3:47 pm

    Thank you Joel. Sorry for incorrect name.
    I wrote down side by side in Ms Word. I found it bigger and take more space than Helvetica, and moreover than arial. I imagine when they printed the articles. But it looks perfect here. This website has a perfect composition, so neat. The web title font, I love it too.


    Jackie Weger September 2, 2015 at 1:06 pm

    Thank you, Joel. I really appreciate this article. I am not tech savvy. I hire cover artists. I beg for print/Fonts on the cover that is visible. Title and author name in clear solid fonts and NOT sucked up into curlicues or fading into the colors in the cover. When I ask and ask for this, the artist goes ballistic and fires me as a client. Tell me how to handle that.
    I pay for these covers. I have two covers I won’t use. I well know the value of a cover that captures the essence of a book.


    Richard Sutton September 3, 2015 at 8:24 am

    Jackie, here’s a simple thing that might help, too. Artists… more specifically, illustrators, brought in to “do covers” may not have any design training or even a designers eye. They are illustrators, with a completely different set of tools and approaches to what is basically, a marketing project. Book covers are marketing tools, and need a designer’s eye, or an author’s eye that has learned a thing or two, to be effective. Many genres need illustration, but many do not, and if you don’t have the budget for original illustrative material AND a designer’s expertise, at least go for some design sense and good typography for your titling. Most Indies are learning exactly the way you have, that artist and designer are different job descriptions.


    Jackie Weger September 3, 2015 at 2:47 pm

    Thank you, Richard Sutton. I do have the budget for a decent cover. I do pay for those. You are correct a book cover is a marketing tool. I know it. The person I hire says she has a degree in design. She takes courses often. I just cannot get the artist to use a font that is visual at first glance. Which often, is all we get on a book. Money is NOT the issue. Font is. I find cover designer and cover artist are used interchangeably. thank you so much for your input.


    Stephen Tiano September 3, 2015 at 3:42 pm

    I’m sure it’s disheartening to be “fired” by someone you’ve hired. But, on the other hand, it proves that the designer you hired understands that you’re very clear on what you want. I must say that, as a book designer myself, the very first part of any project–after I’ve asked my usual set of questions to get a feel for the book–is to suggest types I think would work for both the interior and the back cover/spine/front cover. And I work at that with the client, narrowing them down to the ones we’ll use (usually one serif family and one dans serif family; rarely, also a flourish-y font if the material cries out for it). But it makes my job immeasurably easier when the client has a clear idea if what they want to convey an some feeling about the types they think will help with that. We don’t always immediately agree, but it gives us a starting point to work out the best book we can.


    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.


    Stephen Tiano July 7, 2015 at 6:45 am

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


    Rosalind Minett July 7, 2015 at 6:46 am

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


    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. :)


    Anna Dobritt March 30, 2015 at 7:18 am

    Would these fontsw cuase problems with people that have Dyslexia?


    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.



    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.



    Mitesh Take February 15, 2015 at 7:50 pm

    Very useful discussion. Thanks.


    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.


    Adrian February 27, 2015 at 5:52 pm

    Thanks for your advice Stephen. Much appreciated.



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