3 Typefaces for Books from Adobe’s Robert Slimbach

by | Jan 11, 2016

“Which typefaces should I use for my book?”

That’s probably the question I get asked most often.

It’s also the most frustrating.

After all, I haven’t seen your book. I don’t know what it’s about or who it’s for or how you’re going to produce it.

All of those impress themselves on the decision.

Armed with knowledge of both the book and the audience, you can expect to get a good result from your font review process.

Having said that, like most book designers, I use the same fonts over and over again.

I would guess that I’ve used—at most—10 or 12 text fonts for books over the years.

As it happens, three of my top four are by the same designer, Robert Slimbach of Adobe Systems (where he was a colleague of Carol Twombly).

3 Typefaces in 7 Years from Robert Slimbach

I’ve been working with type a long time, so I actually remember when these typefaces made their appearance on the scene. Digital typography was still pretty new, and fonts were being created and digitized at a rapid pace.

No one over that time influenced my work as much as Robert Slimbach. His type designs had such elegance and economy, without sacrificing an individual character, that the instantly become favorites, and have been ever since.

Starting in 1989 with Adobe Garamond, continuing with 1990’s classic Minion, and concluding in 1996 with Adobe Jenson, it was an explosion of classically-inspired type designs that have stood the test of time.

Slimbach himself is a multi-talented individual. You can find out more about him here: Robert Slimbach (Wikipedia)

Adobe Garamond Pro

“Adobe type designer Robert Slimbach has captured the beauty and balance of the original Garamond typefaces while creating a typeface family that offers all the advantages of a contemporary digital type family.—Fontspring

Like the other faces here, Adobe’s Garamond was reissued as a “Pro” font with the OpenType (OTF) versions, and this has been a great boon for typographers. The number of glyphs (individual letterforms) is vastly expanded, among many other benefits.


Garamond is amazingly versatile, and is my go-to choice for nonfiction, although it also works well for memoirs, particularly long ones that need to be space efficient.

Adobe Garamond Pro purchase/info link.

Adobe Jenson

“Adobe Jenson Pro captures the essence of Nicolas Jenson’s roman and Ludovico degli Arrighi’s italic typeface designs. The combined strength and beauty of these two icons of Renaissance type result in an elegant typeface suited to a broad spectrum of applications.—Fontspring

Many years ago I collaborated on a typeface design based on the same source—Nicolas Jenson (the 15th century printer and “type designer”). It taught me a lot of what I know about type today, and Slimbach’s version has long been a favorite for fiction, memoirs and essays.


Adobe Jenson Pro purchase/info link

Adobe Minion

“Minion is inspired by classical, old style typefaces of the late Renaissance, a period of elegant, beautiful, and highly readable type designs. Created primarily for text setting, Minion combines the aesthetic and functional qualities that make text type highly readable with the versatility of digital technology.—Fontspring

Minion, to me, is the most calligraphic of these three fonts. It shows the strokes of the pen in its lush curves and moderated stroke contrast. It’s got a sturdy, artisanal beauty that can’t be imitated. I’ve used its robust letterforms for both fiction and nonfiction, often with a bit of extra leading (the space between lines) to control the “color” of the page.

Adobe Minion Pro purchase/info link

tbd advanced publishing starter kit

1 Comment

  1. Michael N. Marcus

    You turned me on to AGP years ago. I have been very pleased with it, and I appreciate your advice.

    Amateur book formatters should be aware that there are many versions of many typefaces, including Garamond. They are not identical. Some are free. Some must be paid for.

    Some typefaces with different names look similar, such as Helvetica, Zurich, Swiss, Arial, Univers and Akzidenz. Zurich is the largest city in Switzerland. “Helvetica” comes from “Helvetii,” a tribe occupying part of current Switzerland over 2,000 years ago.

    However, the ornate “Alpine” typeface looks nothing like the other “Swiss” faces. (The Alps are also in Germany.)

    Some typeface names seem to be deliberately deceptive. “Helvetic” is likely named to make people think they are getting “Helvetica.” You can download Helvetic for free while seeing advertising and possibly infecting your computer with a virus. When I last checked, genuine Helvetica (from Linotype) costs $29 for one variation or $693 for the complete set.

    There are even websites offering free (i.e., illegal) downloads of genuine Helvetica and other faces.

    Some names imply a mood or genre. “Harlow” implies glamour. “Asylum,” “Trashco” and “You Murderer” do not. Typefaces named “Goofball” or “Carnival” are probably not suitable for the annual report of an insurance company.

    OTOH, the names of typefaces may not be useful. “Gothic” may mean an ornate typeface like Waters Gothic. “Gothic” may also mean a simple, sans serif face like Century Gothic. By one standard, both of these Gothic typefaces are also roman. By the other standard, only Waters is roman. They both could be considered grotesque — or just one could.

    Some “Grotesk” and “Grotesque” faces are not grotesque at all.

    “Roman” may mean a typeface with serifs. “Times New Roman” (“TNR”) is a “new” roman typeface designed for the Times newspaper in London and first used in 1932.

    “Roman” may also be used to mean type that is vertical, as opposed to slanted “oblique” or “italic” fonts. You can use Times New Roman roman or Times New Roman italic. The “Roman” in “Times New Roman” is part of a proper noun and is uppercased, but when “roman” is used as a description for a kind of typeface, it is lowercased.

    Typography is a complex subject and will not appeal to everyone. But even if you don’t absorb everything, if you are an author — even if you don’t do any formatting — you should try to understand the language of type.

    This posting is adapted from my upcoming book, Typography for Independent Publishers.



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