5 Favorite Fonts for Interior Book Design

by | Aug 31, 2009

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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353 Comments

  1. Alistair

    Serif fonts are generally preferred for extended text-sized reading. It turns out that there are good reasons for this: it’s to do with the science of how our brains actually read text.

    When we’re kids learning to read, we start by learning the individual letters and then by learning how they are used to construct words: c-a-t spells cat.

    But the human brain excels at figuring out how to take shortcuts. Once it knows the steps necessary to carry out a particular activity, it soon works out how to shorten the process. Pretty soon, as kids become more experienced with reading, they no longer need to construct words by reading the individual letters: your brain soon starts to recognize whole words — and even entire phrases — at a glance.

    As adults, we forget that once we needed to read c-a-t to come up with ‘cat’. Yet, even as experienced readers, we sometimes stumble on the same problem as kids, for example, when we see a word that we don’t yet know. This often happens with specialist terms and proper nouns such as unusual names of people and places. Then we might find ourselves once again examining the individual letters to construct syllables and eventually the whole word. I guess most of us have encountered this at one time or another, and it’s a reminder of how efficient our brain usually is.

    So what has this to do with serif fonts? The answer is that the serifs serve two functions which help the brain as it scans all these words and phrases.

    The first is that the serifs themselves help tie individual letters into distinct visual groups (words), making them easier for the brain to scan. This is especially so given that (a) the spaces between words are not large, and (b) in justified type, we also have to deal with letter-spacing (which pulls the individual letters apart, making it more difficult for the brain to scan them in groups).

    The second is that in serif fonts, the individual letter forms are more distinct and this is particularly significant with certain characters. For example, in sans fonts, and especially at text size, a lowercase ‘l’ can be difficult to distinguish from an uppercase ‘i’ or even the number 1. Same too with a cap O and the number 0, which tend to be much more distinctive in serif fonts.

    None of this matters much when type is large and short. It becomes more important with extended text at normal reading size. And if you’re a self-publishing author, the final call is yours, of course. It’s not my intention to tell you, or anyone else, what they should or shouldn’t do. I just thought it might help to explain why the decision is not purely one of cosmetics.

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Alistair, well said and a clear explanation, thanks for your comment.

      Reply
  2. Natalie Tran

    Howdy Joel,

    First of all thanks for the great fonts.

    Do you know about Gardenias? If yes then can you please let me know what font they have used? I would also like to use it but can’t find it anywhere?
    Is that Thunderstorn? https://fontsio.com/thunderstorm-font-free/
    Very hope that you going to answer my question.

    Thanks

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Hi Natalie,

      I don’t know what “Gardenias” refers to, sorry. If you have a sample, that would help.

      Reply
  3. emma

    Aharoni Bold Font Family unfastened typefaces is a contemporary basic display didone appropriate for large headlines in magazines, websites, and posters. This carries a classy but elegant Aharoni bold and Aharoni ambitious stencil. Consequently, it is good to use Aharoni for emblems, packaging, branding or huge signs to your favorite eating place.

    Reply
  4. Olivia Noah

    Hi Joel,

    First of all thanks for the great fonts but i would like to ask something.

    Do you know about Gardenias? If yes then can you please let me know that what font they have used? I would also like to use it but can’t find it anywhere?

    Waiting for your response. Thanks

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Olivia, I don’t know what you’re referring to: What is Gardenias? A book? I only know it as a flower.

      Reply
  5. Douglas Smith

    Hi Derek,
    Thanks for all of your great information. I have one question though:
    Do you think it might be ok to use Gill Sans in the entire body text of a non-fiction book?
    I don’t see anyone using sans fonts in body text, but I prefer it to the normal, standard body texts.
    Just curious what you have to say about this.

    Thanks again!
    Douglas

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Hi Douglas,

      Answering for “Derek” I would say go ahead and set a few pages and see how it looks. Gill Sans would work for some books where the text is light, but for full-page, running narrative, it might be fatiguing for readers who are used to reading such material in serif faces.

      Reply
  6. Rue

    Has anyone ever read the movie cover version of the Duff? What font is used in that novel? I want to use it in my novel. Font size will also help.

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Rue, if you could find and post the “movie cover version” I’ll try to identify the font.

      Reply
      • Rue

        I have a picture of the page with the font but I don’t know how to send it.

        Reply
      • Rue

        @JoelFriedlander
        I know that. Thats why I said that I couldnt send the page with the interior.
        Can I have your email so I can email you the page?

        Reply
        • Rue

          Plus Ive tried identifont and it took too long and still didn’t give me the correct font

          Reply
  7. Patrick

    Back around 1970 was a book published – very philosophical in such a way as to appeal to the beatnik mind of the day – and it was printed in a kind of flowing Chancery-looking font so as to look hand-lettered. The writing was good,and intriguing on its own merit, and the font was such that nobody wanted to, or possibly could, read the book quickly. Of course, now some time has passed, and I have no idea what the book was. Might anyone here have an idea?

    Reply
  8. Michéal

    I’d have said Fournier instead of Electra (https://www.myfonts.com/fonts/mti/fournier-mt/ – perhaps my favorite serif after Caslon) as well as Century Schoolbook. Other non-essentials would include Cloister, Granjon, Baskerville, and Sabon. But these 5 are great!

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Michéal, Fournier is a beautiful font, and I really should use it more. Electra isn’t very well known by folks who aren’t book designers, but it has a special place in my font drawer. It may not be as universally usable as Fournier, but its unique style lends itself perfectly to narrative works.

      Reply
  9. Leslie

    Electra is too light and spindly now as a digitized version.

    Reply
  10. C. JoyBell C.

    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
    • Vinita

      Hi guys, great blog. I am writing a 40,000 words text only smart thinking book to print on Demand via Amazon/ Kindle reading.

      Are you able to suggest a font that is modern and very readable enhancing simplicity over style please?

      Also should I use different fonts for headings/ subheadings?

      I have a lot of subheadings in the chapters. e.g. 20 chapters in all where some chapters may have 5-10 subheadings.

      Reply

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