5 Favorite Free Fonts for Interior Book Design

by | Aug 31, 2015

2021 Update – Check out the best free fonts of 2021 here!

Book design begins with typography, and the biggest typographic decision you’ll make in designing a book is selecting the text typeface.

As I said a number of years ago, as 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.”

In that article I selected five typefaces that are favorites of mine, and that post has been one of the most popular here ever since.

Now, having spent the last couple of years designing with free fonts to create the book templates at BookDesignTemplates.com, I’ve developed a whole new list. This time, all the fonts are free and licensed for you to use freely, too.

Here are five free typefaces that have become new favorites, and which will work well in your books too. You’ll find links to the source of the fonts with each listing.

(All samples were typeset in Adobe InDesign in 17 point type on 21 points of leading and enlarged 200% for these illustrations.)

Let me know if you have a free text font you love that doesn’t appear here, I’d like to hear about it.

  1. Gandhi Serif – Designed for the Librerias Gandhi S.A. de C.V. chain of Mexican bookstores, this font has an oldstyle look that lends itself superbly to all kinds of literary works. Gandhi Serif creates a smooth book page, and was the basis for our high-density template design, Pulp. Here’s a sample: Get Ghandi Serif here

book typography

  1. Alegreya – Designed by Juan Pablo del Peral, “Alegreya is a typeface originally intended for literature. Among its crowning characteristics, it conveys a dynamic and varied rhythm which facilitates the reading of long texts. Also, it provides freshness to the page while referring to the calligraphic letter, not as a literal interpretation, but rather in a contemporary typographic language.” Alegreya’s stylish versatility works well in our Thrilling children’s book design as it does in the Focus nonfiction design. Here’s a sample: Get Alegreya here

book design

  1. Fanwood – Designed by Barry Schwartz. “Fanwood is a carefully crafted serif typeface with a flavor of classic roman typefaces. The font package includes roman and italic styles, both optimized for the screen. It’s an excellent typeface, making for a pleasing reading experience, including in headings and body copy.”—Smashing Magazine. We’ve used Fanwood’s elegant typeforms in our Legend and Premise templates for Adobe InDesign, and you can exptect to see more of this lovely font in the future. Note that the download package includes both the regular Fanwood, and a varaint called Fanwood Text, about which the desinger says: “Fanwood Text roman and italic are the same as Fanwood but slightly darker and reduced in contrast; I tailored it to increase readability on my Amazon Kindle 3 e-book reader.” Here’s a sample: Get Fanwood here

book design

  1. Crimson Text – Designed by Sebastian Kosch. “Crimson Text is a font family for book production in the tradition of beautiful oldstyle typefaces. (It has lots of) little niceties like oldstyle figures, small caps, fleurons, math characters and the like… Crimson Text is inspired by the fantastic work of people like Jan Tschichold, Robert Slimbach and Jonathan Hoefler.” Crimson is a workhorse book font that we’ve used in more of our templates than any other: Affection (children’s), Brittania and Leadership (nonfiction), and Crimson (fiction). Here’s a sample: Get Crimson here

book typography

  1. Rosarivo – Designed by Pablo Ugerman. “Rosarivo is a typeface designed for use in letterpress printing. It is an elegant and luxurious typeface (that) works especially well in delicate editorial design. Its letterpress origins mean it has a lighter color than a typical Roman text type. Its features include carefully designed serifs, gradual stroke and marked contrast, calligraphic and humanistic forms, and large ascenders and descenders. It is designed to work well in long texts with generous line spacing.” This last statement should be heeded, since you can see from the sample the ascenders and descenders may need more than usual line spacing, but the slightly eccentric design of this face worked quite well in both our Balance and Bomber fiction templates. Here’s a sample: Get Rosarivo here

book fonts

 

If you’d like to see full-page samples of any of these fonts, check out the corresponding templates in our template gallery. On each of the template’s detail pages, you’ll find a link to a full-size PDF showing you actual book pages made up in each font.

So what are your favorites? Got one I haven’t discovered yet? Leave me a link in the comments, thanks!

tbd advanced publishing starter kit

41 Comments

  1. Leo

    Questions. There are several other quality free serif fonts for web design, but are they okay for book interiors? Most mimic Adobe paid fonts.

    Below’s the list. Have you typset any of these? Just curious.

    1) Libre Baskerville (similar to ITC New Baskerville)
    2) Cardo (similar to Bembo Book)
    3) EB Garamond (similar to Adobe Garamond)

    Cheers, and thanks in advance for your help,
    Leo

    Reply
  2. madhi

    hi,
    I’m planning to use Source serif pro for body text and Cooper hewitt for headings. Both typefaces are free, and I would like to know your opinion on these fonts.

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      madhi, Source Serif is a fine font but might not be suitable for book design because it lacks an italic version, and that’s used in most books. If your book doesn’t use any italics, it should be fine. Cooper Hewitt is a versatile sans serif face that should work well. Good luck with your book!

      Reply
  3. Jeanne Felfe

    I’m curious which font is used in the Fling template?

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Jeanne, Fling uses Gandhi Serif and Snell Roundhand.

      Reply
  4. Ann

    Hi Joel and other designer colleague, thank you so much for the article. I read the comments bellow and notice that one that talks about the problems at printing some characters in Crimson typeface, i would like to know if anyone had already used it after that and if you found the issue was fixed. I would like to use that type in a magazine.
    Regards.

    Reply
  5. omar

    Hi Joel, I downloaded the GANDHI FONT from font squirrel and there is not license agreement EULA available inside the folder downloaded!

    Reply
    • omar

      Sorry! Found it!

      Reply
      • Joel Friedlander

        Glad you found it Omar. On Fontsquirrel.com, each font has a “License” tab where you can examine the licensing restrictions for that specific font.

        Reply
  6. Alex

    Comic Sans MS

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Comic Sans. NOT suitable for use in trade books, unless you are publishing comic books, in which case, go for it.

      Reply
  7. Laurie

    Joel,

    A quick comment about Crimson Text. I found it thanks to this post, and fell in love with it. I used it in my book, but was devastated when I found that the printed proofs had a weird problem with italic d characters (they print as garbage). The problem doesn’t show up with laser printing, on screen, on PDF, on CreateSpace’s interior viewer, etc. At first I thought it was a software problem at CS — and apparently they did, too (so they sent me repeated mailings of print proofs — three sets with same problem — which made me want to cry!).

    After searching all sorts of ways, I finally stumbled upon a post on CS’s boards from 2014 that explained that there was a newer version of Crimson than the one offered on Google. I was using the one you linked to, from FontSquirrel, but I noticed that their Crimson page states that the font was last updated on 2010, so I’m hoping that using the newer version of the font, which I got from GitHub, will solve my problem. I’m still waiting on new proofs, with fingers crossed.

    Thought you might want to look into this — or at least that my comment here might save others some time.

    Thank you for your excellent blog. You share so much useful info, I really appreciate it.

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Laurie,

      Thanks for that. We had also noticed problems with Crimson in one of our templates, but with the bold version, so we actually removed the font completely from all of our pre-designed book templates when we rebuilt them earlier this year. I’ve changed the download source in the article to the GitHub version, thanks for the tip.

      Reply
  8. Cindy

    I really like Crimson Text and downloaded it, then found Pete Masterson’s recommendation to use oldstyle figures in body text,which Crimson Text doesn’t have. My book is a house history so lots of numerals: dates from 18th, 19th and 20th century as well as people’s ages, and house addresses. My trim size is 7×7 (blurb.com photobook). At this point, I’m leaning toward Alegreya. I use some italics in the body text, and my index uses bold, italics, and three entries in bold-italics.

    I have found your website really helpful. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Leslie

      Crimson does have old style figures and I use them in all the books I typeset. You can access them in InDesign.

      Highlight text or select text box
      Go to Character palette
      Select OpenType palette
      Select desired figure style (located at the bottom of the palette)
      To change the default figure style in InDesign, select a style before opening a new document. This default will apply to every new document you create until you change the setting again.

      Reply
  9. Emma Frost

    Hi Joel, love your website, and the blog posts are awesome. I have several books underway, different genres. The one I am getting out first is a self help book, so I am looking for easy to read text and non jarring headings. I am currently going with georgia for the text, I find it nice and easy to read, and I was using Verdana for the headings, but I am thinking Gothic League. I have that on the cover page, so am going for consistency. Do you have any thoughts on that?

    Reply
    • Emma Frost

      League Gothic I mean.

      Reply
      • Emma Frost

        I have just switched to Roboto Bk on the advice of one of my previewers.

        Reply
        • Joel Friedlander

          Emma, Roboto is a much better choice than Verdana but you might also look at Roboto slab, it adds some nice emphasis.

          Reply
  10. Laurie Fagen

    Interesting that all the font styles you note are serif — yet the font used in the WEBSITE article, the post comments, etc are san serif Arial or something.
    ???
    What is the latest thinking between serif and san serif fonts for reading ease? I much prefer the clean look of a san serif font …

    Reply
    • Jeff Heikkinen

      Conventional wisdom as I understand it is:

      Sans for the Web.

      Serif for lengthy body text in print, but sans is good for headings and other text that’s likely to be read in short bursts rather than lengthy stretches. Apparently the serifs aid readability in (reasonably high-quality) print but just muddy things up at the lower resolutions of most screens.

      There is disagreement about this and some evidence that readability is really just a matter of what you’re used to, but I think what I said above is the most common view.

      Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Laurie,

      Jeff has summed it up well. And the font used on the blog is Verdana, which was specifically designed for high readability on screens.

      Reply
  11. Jeff Heikkinen

    Interesting choices, considering that for a big project of mine – a role-playing game – I was long wavering between Crimson and Alegreya. I went with Alegreya because Crimson had some odd behaviours in Word that I couldn’t get rid of, though in Indesign (where it really counts) it was fine. Alegreya also has more glyphs, some of which have come in handy, but maybe its best feature is that there’s an accompanying sans serif typeface, Alegreya Sans, designed to go with it, which I really like the look of. So I’m using Alegreya for body text and the sans version for headings and sidebars, and I think the result looks great.

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Sounds like a good solution, Jeff. We had problems with Crimson, which is too bad because it’s a lovely design.

      Reply
  12. Jim M

    Well-timed article and informative, as usual.

    I’ve started to use EB Garamond a lot and I’m considering using it for a book layout. It’s an open source project to recreate the original Garamond from the 16th century. Modern Garamond fonts probably made tweaks for good reasons, but the book is a fantasy novel and I like the old-world look of the font. I have noticed letter collisions though (ie, “fl”), but I’d fix that with kerning. Should I be opting for a more finished font? Some of those in your article look great.

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Jim, in book typography, my feeling is that anything that gets in the way of the reader, no matter how “artistic” or “allusive” it is, is undesirable.

      Reply
      • Jim M

        Henry, thanks for the explanation! I’m definitely a typography neophyte. It seemed odd to me that someone wouldn’t notice that in designing the font. Now it makes sense.

        Reply
  13. Chajm

    Renaissance style fonts. Nice. I had a quick look (on amazon).
    Looks a bit like “La Gioconda” or “Canto Roman”…

    Reply
  14. Henry Hyde

    HI Joel, great post as usual and thanks for the tiops on those delightful fonts.

    A site that Alice and others may find useful when identifying fonts is Identifont https://www.identifont.com

    Reply
  15. Joel Friedlander

    Alice, I have no idea but if you could post a clear sample I bet we could identify it.

    Reply
  16. Alice

    Thank you for supplying this list! I do have a question. What font is used in Fifty Shades of Grey?

    Reply
  17. Josh Mitchell

    Bembo is one of my favorite interior book typefaces. There’s a free Google version called “Cardo” – it looks pretty good, I think.

    Any Bembo fans out there? https://www.google.com/fonts/specimen/Cardo

    Reply
    • Rob Siders

      raises hand

      Only in certain types of books… generally period novels. Bembo was a popular choice in printed matter for a long time and using it for body text can, for me, close the look on a book’s brand.

      Reply
  18. Tessa

    How do the designers of fonts that are offered for free get paid? I am always skeptical of free stuff on the web (although I know there is good stuff out there, these fonts included!) because I am not sure how that works. Also, several of these fonts do not have a bold version . . . surely in an entire book you would have at least one instance where you’d need to use bold (whether for a heading, etc.)?

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Tessa, there are a lot of reasons designers make fonts available for free. One of the best statements about this is on the League of Moveable Type’s site (where Fanwood comes from) part of which says, “It’s not always about the money, sometimes it’s also about making a contribution to society, and in this case, the design community. We want more people to look at it like that: like they have a responsibility to do something good for their peers.” Go here to read the entire page: League of Moveable Type Manifesto.

      Regarding styles, I only require roman and italic versions for a body font. Although having a bold version can be handy, I never use bold within the body of a book, and usually use a different font for heads and subheads.

      Reply
  19. Jessica

    Great resource, thanks Joel!

    Reply
  20. Alan Drabke

    This post makes it crystal clear, you need Joel’s help to close the gap between self published and professionally published. Thanks Joel!

    Reply

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