3 Great Typeface Combinations You Can Use in Your Book

by Joel Friedlander on February 19, 2010 · 52 comments

jensonThe typefaces we use for books are a real contradiction. They can be so quiet you just don’t notice them. But if you enlarge the letters, you can see right away that they are full of idiosyncrasies and flourishes.

Display typefaces, on the other hand, announce themselves to the reader in no uncertain terms.

In most nonfiction books, we use a combination of display and text typefaces, and the interaction between the two designs, when they are complimentary, is like a harmony of voices.

3 Great Combinations


Book designers, in my experience, tend to have a very limited palette of favorite typefaces they go back to again and again. They are predictable and reliable. The english language has quirks to it, like any language, and sometimes those quirks create typographic patterns. For instance, a page with a more than average number of “…ing” verbs will have a different “color” than other pages because of the number of lower-case gs.

CaslonMyriad

Click to enlarge

Sometimes latin is used to “greek” text (That’s odd, isn’t it? We use latin to greek text.), but the look you get is deceptive. Latin has many fewer letters with ascenders and descenders—the parts of the letters that rise above, or fall below, the main line of text. This gives a page in latin a much more orderly and linear look than the same typography in english.

Here are three combinations of typefaces I particularly like. If you don’t know what typefaces to use in your book, try these, I think you’ll like them.

Adobe Caslon and Myriad Pro

MinionPoppl

Click to enlarge

Two great typefaces (and with a tip of the hat to Carla King!) that just produce beautiful music together. Caslon is a smooth, easy reading text face rooted in the typefaces of William Caslon, an eighteenth-century printer in Britain. Myriad Pro is a complete type family with a lovely modern verve, and the two together just seem to fit.

Minion and Poppl-Laudatio

Minion is an oldstyle typeface with a distinctive “color” on the page. I find the little flared hints at serifs on Poppl-Laudatio really bring out the fun and lively side of Minion, and they make me smile when I see them together.

Adobe Jenson and Lithos

JensonLithos

Click to enlarge

Some people don’t like Lithos, but used with care it has great character and dense color. Jenson, modeled after the earliest humanistic typefaces of the fifteenth century, is a standard in book typography. It’s many eccentricities somehow fall into a beautiful harmony on the page. I feel a lot of dynamism in this this pair of typefaces.

These three combinations are all san serif bold display faces with text typefaces. There are many other combinations possible, and it’s likely you might use one ornamental typeface in the chapter openings somewhere. But experiment with these combinations. Fine tune them until they sing.

And tell me: What are your favorite typefaces to use together?

Takeaway: Using complementary combinations of typefaces can give your book pages a dimension, color and harmony they might not have otherwise. Use these combinations as a starting point for your own experiments.

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    { 41 comments… read them below or add one }

    Stephen Tiano February 19, 2010 at 2:10 am

    “Using complementary combinations of typefaces can give your book pages a dimension, color and harmony they might not have otherwise.”

    Nice, thoughtful piece. I love these sorts of real-life comparisons, Joel. Never fails to get me percolating on the subject.

    An additional way to go, of course, is for the contrast of distinctly different types. Granted, this is trickier and may not work in a booklength project unless great, good care is taken.

    The Poppl-Laudatio is a very interesting face. Just looking and not visually dissecting, I feel similarities with–but it’s more restrained than–Optima. Nice choice alongside Adobe Jenson, which I just used in a book to good effect. Matter of fact, I used it with the aforementioned Optima. The book is set landcaped, i loaded with photos–kind of a smaller turn on a coffee table book of photoessays–in three text columns. Everyone is thrilled with how this one turned out: author to publisher to … well, me.

    WHich brings me to Adobe Jenson with Lithos. I’m one of those who’s not a fan of Lithos. Especially in a book. Just maybe in purely display pieces, I wouldn’t mind it. But in a book, especially if it were to be one where the Jenson, say, is setting long, long stretches of text, it would be jarring to my eye.

    But this is what’s so cool about discussions like this, Joel.

    I don’t often think of Adobe Caslon anymore, but, you’re right that it looks nice with Myriad Pro (the latter I’ve used with Minion).

    ANyway, thanks for the piece.

    Reply

    betty ming liu February 19, 2010 at 7:10 am

    As a reader, I found this post really interesting. I don’t use Kindle (although I would consider the iPad) but I was wondering if you think these fonts would look as good on those devices. Also curious about your thinking on fonts for blogs/websites — are the design/readability issues the same? Or different?

    Reply

    Joel February 19, 2010 at 11:59 am

    Hey, Betty, thanks for that. Yes, I think these fonts would look good anywhere. Keep in mind these are fonts mostly for book typography, which has pretty specific needs. But long text on e-Readers ought to reflect some of what we’ve learned in this area over the last 500 years. Too often, these devices seem to be solely the product of engineers.

    To be honest, I know little about website typography. I struggled quite a while to come up with a look for my blog that seemed at least readable. I’m mystified why so many blogs are set up in such a way as to be almost unreadable. There doesn’t appear to be any convenient way to use real type fonts outside of what the engineers have allowed us, on the web. Or it could just be my lack of experience. I have looked at Typekit, but haven’t gotten very far in evaluating it.

    As far as readability, I think what we know about how people read is somewhat independent of where they read it. Whether on paper or on screen, very long lines with little space between them are going to cause problems for readers, for example. So yes, I think the rules are basically the same.

    The typeface I’m using on this blog is Verdana, which was designed for screen use, and is quite readable. One of the reasons I chose this Thesis theme for Wordpress was the awareness on the part of Chris Pearson and Brian Clark about typography and how important it is to readability.

    What do you think, is it pretty readable to you?

    Reply

    Christy Pinheiro February 19, 2010 at 9:41 pm

    Hey Joel– I love coming by to see more info about typography and formatting– two subjects that used to seem so boring and, somehow, became interesting to me almost overnight. And Verdana is a great font, I wonder why I never really thought of using it before. I usually use Arial as my default sans-serif, but I may have to upgrade!

    Reply

    Joel February 19, 2010 at 9:58 pm

    Christy, that’s really amazing to me that you’ve gotten into the “nuts and bolts” part of bookmaking. Typefaces are little microcosms, with lots of cultural DNA in them. I’ve been pretty happy with the Verdana because it is readable for a san serif face. But I still wonder what it would be like to be able to typographically design web pages the way I design print pages. Thanks for stopping by!

    Reply

    betty ming liu February 20, 2010 at 7:35 pm

    Thanks for replying! Your Verdana font looks really nice. Maybe I’ll give it a try on my blog too. And I’m going to look into Typekit. Thanks for the tip!

    Reply

    Stephen Tiano February 20, 2010 at 10:16 pm

    Joel, I commented elsewhere that you’d moved me to write just a little about some of my own thoughts on choosing type for book designs. But since this is the piece of yours that actually inspired me, i thought I’d mention it here, too.

    Reply

    Stephen Tiano February 20, 2010 at 10:35 pm

    Here’s something else, old, that I just recovered from my blog’s archive–it was one of the ones I lost when I got hacked into last spring or so. http://tianobookdesign.com/blog/?p=116

    Reply

    Joel February 20, 2010 at 11:40 pm

    Hey, that’s great Stephen. I’m honored I could be an inspiration. Over the years I’ve become hesitant to talk much about typefaces and typography, because it causes most people to “glaze over” pretty quickly. I enjoyed your post.

    Reply

    Joel March 2, 2010 at 10:12 pm

    Stephen, Just released your earlier post above from moderation limbo, sorry about that. I really appreciate your detailed comments. Agreed that Lithos is an unconventional choice, but the sample doesn’t look bad, does it? It would have to be the right book. I used this combination once in a spiritual book and the result was well-balanced to my eye, but it does have limited application.

    I’ve only come back to Caslon recently, and I find it very versatile. Thanks again, Stephen.

    Reply

    Stephen Tiano March 3, 2010 at 12:10 am

    Since I started my blog on book design–I guess either about 3 or 4 years ago, I forget which–typefaces is prob’ly the topic I’ve returned to, in some broad fashion, the most. I sometimes think I go to the will too often with that one. But it’s just so interesting to think, write, and read about. So I’m thrilled you’ve go a continuing discussion going on the subject. Now that I actually know how to resurrect old pieces from my dead, hacked archive, I guess, rather than going strictly in order, perhaps it’s time to raise one of the pieces about types.

    Reply

    Joel March 3, 2010 at 10:17 am

    Stephen, I hope you do bring “back from the dead” your posts on type and typography, I’d love to read them and I’m sure others would as well.

    For me, being able to indulge my lifelong interest in type here on my blog has been wicked fun, because there’s a community of interest and I love interacting with people about this stuff. I’m sure I will continue to go “back to the well” on type and typography as long as I’m writing. That and making pizza, but that’s a subject for another day. Thanks again for your contributions.

    Reply

    Douglas Bonneville March 8, 2010 at 10:09 am

    I have a love-hate thing with Lithos, but pairing it with Jensen actually works pretty well – given the right content of course.

    I did big post on font combinations a few months back you might enjoy:

    http://bonfx.com/19-top-fonts-most-preferred-by-graphic-designers-from-around-the-web/

    If all goes well, I’ll also have a “font combinations” iPhone app approved very shortly that lets you play with pre-tyepset examples of header and body copy samples of about 50 different fonts.

    For beginners and non-designers, I’ve discovered that getting typefaces paired up can’t be daunting.

    Reply

    Douglas Bonneville March 8, 2010 at 10:10 am

    Woops. Wrong link above! I did 2 posts…the first one was my own research into what fonts designers liked the most. The second post was about creating combinations from those popular fonts (sorry!):

    http://bonfx.com/19-top-fonts-in-19-top-combinations/

    Reply

    Joel March 8, 2010 at 11:48 am

    Douglas, that’s okay, two posts are better than one!

    Thanks for the link to your terrific article, very helpful. I guess because I’m pretty strictly limited to book typography these days, my font selection has been whittled down to the book faces I enjoy using the most. The Lithos pair was a bit provocative, I’ll give you that, but in the right place it really does work. Really enjoyed your blog posts, thanks for stopping by.

    Reply

    Douglas Bonneville May 4, 2010 at 6:55 pm

    A brief follow up on the “Font Combos” app. It’s now in the App store ready for review or purchase:

    http://bonfx.com/font-combinations-app/

    Happy font combining!

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander May 4, 2010 at 7:22 pm

    Thanks, Douglas, nice job! I just bought it, I can see lots of time spinning through the combinations. What fun.

    Reply

    Roger C. Parker July 24, 2010 at 8:35 pm

    Dear Joel:
    I’d like to encourage you to continue offering “suggested combinations,” as this is obviously a popular topic. This is a topic that comes up a lot.

    I’d also like your opinion on typeface choices and layout suggestions for designing landscape-orientation e-books, i.e. e-books designed to be read on screen.

    Thanks for the specimen examples you provided. I like the combination of Frutiger and Minion, but I am going to try your Poppl-Laudatio recommendation tomorrow!

    Best wishes–Roger

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander July 24, 2010 at 8:52 pm

    Roger, thanks very much for the suggestion. I think your idea is a good one, because almost all book design is done in tall columns of type which are, most of the time, much easier to read than wide columns of type. But since many ebooks—particularly PDF ebooks—are done as landscape, I think this deserves an article of its own.

    Reply

    Douglas Bonneville September 19, 2010 at 11:55 am

    As a bit of follow up for this article, I wanted to mention another I posted last month on the topic:

    29 principles for making great font combinations

    http://bonfx.com/29-principles-for-making-great-font-combinations/

    Hopefully someone can find something useful from the list to apply to their next book design project.

    Reply

    Gary Taaffe May 10, 2011 at 4:26 pm

    Hi Joel
    Talk about timely – I love your blog. I’m on the verge of self-publishing the first in a series (Urban Hunters) of five books, and have been agonising over my choice of fonts. My story is for young adults, is based around a thirteen-year old Aboriginal boy transitioning from the bush to the city in Australia, is light-hearted and full of fun and adventure. I was interested in your Minion and Poppl-Laudatio combination, being light-hearted, however I have to say that I’m wondering if your Adobe Jenson and Lithos combination might not be more appropriate. I’m new to this and struggling with the intricacies. What do you think? Do you also have any suggestions for a cover font that might be appropriate? Thanks for your help.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander May 10, 2011 at 9:48 pm

    Hi Gary, glad you’re enjoying it. Minion is great and easy to use, it almost always looks good and is highly readable. The Lithos may or may not work with your book depending on the book itself. You could substitute Myriad Pro Black if you need more flexibility.

    Covers are another matter entirely. Since they usually rely on images, it’s difficult to give a recommendation.

    Reply

    Gary Taaffe May 10, 2011 at 10:09 pm

    Thanks for your reply, Joel.
    What do you mean by flexibility? In what ways might the font need to be flexible for say, an ebook? And I realised after I asked the question that you would probably need to see the artwork to comment on a cover font so no worries about that. Thanks again.

    Reply

    Johnny Gritz May 28, 2011 at 9:33 pm

    I know this site is directed towards self-publishing, but I was wondering if you have any recommendations for those of us in the academic world that must submit thesis that are required to be 1.5 or double lined spaced. The above mentioned fonts read terribly in this format, and are obviously not designed with this in mind. Are there any fonts or layout tricks that would be more sympathetic to this style of presentation which you could recommend?

    Reply

    Sundar September 20, 2011 at 5:32 am

    The standard computer modern fonts if you use Latex/Tex. Otherwise, I’ve had great success with “Helvetica” for a thesis I supervised a year ago.

    Reply

    Bob November 3, 2011 at 1:48 pm

    I like 14-pt bold Comic Sans in Mango or yeller for paragraphs and 9-pt Bodini cursive bold for headings. Can’t be beat.

    But that’s just me.

    Say, how come my books are returned at an alarming rate?

    Reply

    James Preston November 8, 2011 at 2:10 am

    Hi Joel,

    thanks for all these posts. I am self-publishing, but I am the OCD type and I want my work to be PERFECT!! So this website has been the most helpful site of all thus far.

    I can’t believe how few Book Typefaces your regular computer has. In fact, I have none worth using on my Macbook. Instead I am having to buy online and am trying to figure it which is best (as I don’t want to overspend). The most affordable option looks to be Janson.

    Which brings me to a point about this post… you have labeled Janson as “Jenson”. I would imagine this to be an error?

    Also, what about Minion as a typeface for a book? A couple of websites seem to encourage it but you don’t list it in your top 5 on another post?

    Thanks again for the great website. So, so helpfuL!

    Reply

    Stephen Tiano November 8, 2011 at 3:08 am

    Um, no, Dave, the Jenson is labeled correctly. Janson is quite a different type, with a larger x-height. Janson is a serviceable text face, but has nowhere near the elegant beauty of Jenson. Look at samples of each–the same bit of text, if you can–side-by-side or one after the other–and you’ll see it immediately.

    That’s one of the things of being a typophile, you realize pretty quickly that what your machine comes with is hardly the stuff for making great books (although, I must say, the Palatino and Avant Garde fonts that I loved on first site when I got my first Macintosh in 1989 still have attractive qualities, tho’ I’m not likely to ever use either in a book these days). As I’ve written numerous times on my blog about book design (http://www.tianobookdesign.com/blog), aside from my very first type purchase–the Adobe Garamond and Futura families as a Christmas gift to myself in 1989 or 1990–my first real start t a typeface library was a collection of fonts Adobe included with the Illustrator 6 upgrade on CD. Out of the dozens of type families included, I’ve definitely used a number of them over the years.

    And, yes, Minion is a terrific typeface for book body text. I’ve teamed it with Myriad in the past, among others.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander November 9, 2011 at 10:27 am

    Thanks, Stephen, for weighing in on the Janson/Jenson confusion. Your blog is a great read for anyone interested in the day to day work of a book designer.

    Reply

    Stephen Tiano November 9, 2011 at 10:36 am

    Thanks, Joel. You’re definitely one of my first go-tos when I’m looking to read about the biz, book design, and typography. As for Janson/Jenson, at least the whole “real Garamond” debate hasn’t arisen. You know, Granjon, Garamond, which is more like the “real” Garamond. That’s why a book like Tracy’s Letters of Credit makes such a good read.

    Reply

    Chris Almeida February 9, 2012 at 4:08 pm

    Hi Joel,

    Have you posted any blog on ideal font size for trade paperback books? I have seen a wide variation of font sizes and as we know increasing font size will increase page count. But decreasing will also decrease readability. What is your preferred font size?

    Chris

    Reply

    Stephen Tiano February 9, 2012 at 5:05 pm

    Chris. there’s a certain amount of “it’s relative” to “the ideal type size.” I mean, it does make a difference what typeface. By and large, however, 10- or 11-point is what I use and what I most often see. I’ll say this, the trend is definitely to more generous leading. I gone as much as 10/14 and 11/15. But with the right types! You can go smaller–in some cases, much smaller–for reference works like dictionaries and such. But aside from that, I’d say 10 or 11.

    Reply

    Chris Almeida February 9, 2012 at 6:33 pm

    Hi Stephen,

    Thank you for the reply. You see, we just received our book back from our typesetter. Beautifully done I must say. The only issue is that she used Garamond 11pt and although on the resulting pdf and sample print out it looked fine, when we received the proof for the book, the font looks much smaller than other trade paperbacks we have seen. We even compared the content with other books (same trim, same paper weight) and yet, it still looks really small. Not sure how big to go. I am thinking 12pt.
    So I was just trying to find out more about the “norm” but as you mentioned, there are many variables.
    Thank you for the clarification.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander February 10, 2012 at 9:49 am

    Chris,

    You might also want to take a look at this article:

    Book Design: Don’t Get Confused by Typeface Point Size

    Reply

    James Preston February 10, 2012 at 1:36 am

    Hi Chris,

    I agree with Stephen… 10-11pt is the industry standard for top paperbacks. It also depends on the type of book you are printing. Is it a novel (often set at about 10pt) is it a non-fiction biography? Etc. I find 12pt and higher for your average 160pager paperback looks a little too unprofessional for my liking. If you stick to 11pt you can’t go wrong. If your typesetter selected it, and they’ve chosen Garamond (a decent font!) then I would trust them. You also might want to consider the fact that it really is 11pt? If it is looking smaller than 11, maybe it is 11pt on a larger page size and they shrunk each page with its text on it, instead of just the paper-size. Print out 11pt Garamond on a piece of regular paper and compare it with your proof.

    Good luck!

    Reply

    Stephen Tiano February 10, 2012 at 2:16 am

    Then, too, some settings of Garamond–there are debates, too, as to which Garamonds are most like the historical typeface; some say Granjon is more accurate, etc.–seem to have smaller x-heights than others. Perhaps compare the versions of Garamond out there. I use the extended Garamonnd Premier Pro collection from Adobe–I got it free as a “thank you” from Adobe when I upgraded something or when I bought my first Creative Studio collection, CS2–tho’ plain Adobe Garamond Pro (along with a Futura set) was the first typeface buying I did for myself back in 1989 or ’90 (they were part of a Christmas gift I got myself, still single, that year).

    Reply

    Chris Almeida February 10, 2012 at 6:43 am

    Hi James,

    Good point. I recall getting a warning regarding the trim’s fit but wasn’t sure how to check for that.
    Where do I check for trim size on a finished pdf file?

    Stephen,

    I believe she is also using Garamond Pro. I have the set myself since I am a graphic designer. That is a must have.
    I am more into graphic and web design hence my questions regarding the print side of book design. I am yet to crack InDesign open.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander February 10, 2012 at 9:53 am

    Chris, if you have Acrobat you can open the file and look at File/Properties. In the first tab at the bottom of the screen Acrobat will report the exact dimensions of the file.

    Stephen makes a good point that there are many versions of Garamond from different foundries and designers, so “it depends” on which version your designer is using. I’ve typeset many books in Adobe Garamond with success, and it’s widely used by lots of book designers.

    Reply

    Chris Almeida February 10, 2012 at 10:16 am

    Hi Joel,

    Thank you. It seems it was indeed the page size issue. It shows as 5.75 x 8.75 instead of 5.5×8.5. So chances are the shrinking was the actual cause of the fonts showing so small on the proof.
    I’ve contacted my typesetter and passed on the information. Thank you all who replied for the great and useful information.

    Reply

    Donna Benton May 31, 2012 at 9:23 am

    I am compelled to write that I found this article delicious and rather exciting!! And thank you.

    Reply

    Victor Chen September 6, 2013 at 2:50 am

    hello can help me to choose the right font for a sport book, it’s about 300 pages with illustrations, book size is 7.5 by 9 in.

    Reply

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