7 New Typeface Combinations for Book Design

by | Oct 12, 2010

On Monday mornings I look over the book design projects I’m working on to get a sense for how the week will shape up. This is a persistent form of optimism I can’t seem to shake. The week never works out the way I think it will, but I keep doing this just the same.

This week I was thinking about typefaces and started to take an inventory of type usage in the projects I’ve worked on recently at Marin Bookworks. I was a little surprised at the end, but I learned something too.

Typeface Combinations That Will Work in Your Book

I was surprised there was so much variety in this list. I tend to return to the same typefaces over and over again, and some are like old friends I’ve shared a lot of experiences with.

Here I want to go the next step. In each of these cases the typefaces had to enhance the readability and reflect something of the tone and genre of the individual work. Each of these combinations was arrived at after deliberation and comparison with other typefaces, in a collaboration between the book designer and the author/client.

If your book is in one of these genres, take a look at these combinations to create an effective and great-looking reading experience for your readers.

7 Typeface Combinations You Can Use

  1. Collection of interviews—This book uses Electra for the body type and Myriad Pro Black for heads. This is a combination you won’t see very often, and one I’ll be writing about in an upcoming article on font combinations for use in your books.
  2. typeface combinations for book design

  3. Alternative health essays—Adobe Garamond Pro does excellent work here in dealing with a large number of formats requiring different sizes and keeping harmony on the page. Helvetica Neue Condensed for heads.
  4. typeface combinations for book design

  5. Erotic stories—Here I used Warnock Pro, a very classy text face that offers a lot of flexibility when it comes to page length, and Myriad Pro Regular for heads.
  6. typeface combinations for book design

  7. Historical biography—This heavily illustrated and annotated history seemed to demand to be set in Adobe Caslon Pro. Display type is set in several variations of Fontin Sans, a typeface that’s got style and legibility to add to the mix.
  8. typeface combinations for book design

  9. Adventure memoir—Another heavily-illustrated book, this one has parallel text streams and an active approach to on-page graphics. The body type is Century Old Style and the heads are Electra Bold Display. I found the Electra had to be over 20 points to balance the Century, but the combination works beautifully.
  10. typeface combinations for book design

  11. Supernatural novel—This upcoming novel based on old legends was derived from a template in my archives. This allows me to lower the cost of an interior design substantially. I then pick typefaces suitable to the specific book. In this case, I’m using Janson Text for the body type, one of the most-used typefaces in book production, and the lovely Nueva for display fonts.
  12. typeface combinations for book design

  13. Self-help—A book embodying the unique worldview of the author, this design needed to accommodate checklists, activities and the other conventions of this genre. The text is set in the versatile Adobe Garamond Pro, and Chaparral is used for display purposes, with Franklin Gothic appearing in break-out text and subheads.
  14. typeface combinations for book design

Every one of these typeface combinations produces a different and unique look. Combined with the typography, the page size and the use of graphic elements, you can mold these looks to suit the genre of the book you’re designing. You can use this list as a guideline, or switch the typefaces around to see what you get.

The more you set up pages and see what kind of impression they give, the more comfortable you’ll be with type design for your books.


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  1. Larry

    Hi, I found this helpful, thanks. I’m planning to write a book and have been doing some sample page layout designs. I’m set on using serifs for headings and chapters, AND serifs for body copy. What are the rules for combining serifs?

    • Joel Friedlander

      Larry, there’s no specific “rule” about using serif typefaces. You can use serif styles throughout the book if you like, (I’ve often done this myself). The test is how your layout ends up looking on the page.

  2. Rikke

    I’ve been reading a lot of your posts and find them very interesting and inspiring.
    I have a question: a book project of mine requires two fonts in the body text: one “normal” and one used for a special kind of dialogue (a very dominant and cold voice).
    What do you think about using two fonts like that?

    – Rikke

    • Joel Friedlander

      Rikke, I’ve always resisted the push to use more than one body text font. Ideally, the writing itself should make abundantly clear who is speaking and the tone (or “voice”) of the various characters. In many cases, relying on a separate font is a kind of crutch to support ineffective writing. Having said that, in some cases (like parallel text streams) there is a use for a second font, and the requirements would be 1) that it harmonize well with the base font, while 2) being different enough to clearly indicate to the reader that something different is going on. I’m working on a post on this subject, so stay tuned.

  3. Jon Rieley-Goddard

    I understand that serif type is considered best for body type, but can you explain why that is?

    • Joel Friedlander

      Because that’s what most people have grown up with and become accustomed to. In countries where sans serif is more commonly used, serif types are not seen as more readable.

      • Grace

        Hi Joel – I know this is an old post, and thank you! There were scientific readability studies done in the 1980s and there used to be a PDF of a doctorate study about this, that I now can’t find. The reason serif fonts are better for book text is because of the serifs. The serifs give the eye a place to stop, and make it easier for the eye to follow a line of text. Eye fatigue is found to be much greater when reading sans-serif text because the eye “falls off” the bottom of the letters without the guide of the serifs. Without serifs, the human eye has to work much harder to follow a line of text in a large block of text.

  4. David Stong

    Your text says “…illustrated and annotated history seemed to demand to be set in Adobe Caslon Pro…” but the heading in the graphical sample says Garamond and Fontin. It looks to be Caslon by the width of the serifs but they’re close on screen at this size. Is the heading wrong?

    Excellent post.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Good catch. The sample is set in Caslon, but the heading is incorrect and needs fixing, thanks for that.

  5. April L. Hamilton

    Joel –
    Those font combintations look great, but I can only shake my head and sigh knowing none of them would survive the conversion to Kindle (prc), iBook (epub), or most other ebook formats intact—the notable exception being pdf ebooks, but that’s hardly the most popular format. Sadly, font options are still very, very limited where ebooks are concerned.

    Ebook, thy name is utility.

    • Joel Friedlander

      April, how true. For typographers, this can be a bit dispiriting. However, I keep hearing that the next version of the EPUB specification will bring with it much better control of fonts and their appearance on ereaders. Will it happen? A guy can hope.

      Thanks for your thoughts.

  6. Douglas Bonneville

    “‘Become a Published Author’…advisees self-pubbers to use good old Times New Roman for body text and Arial for headings.”

    If they didn’t, half of their submissions would come in Comic Sans for body with Copperplate for headings!

    Adobe Garamond Pro was distributed with several applications over the years, which may have included Illustrator, InDesign, and possibly Pagemaker. If you ever installed any of those applications, you would have gotten their Garamond, which is a great Garamon, I might add.

    For an interesting read, look up ITC Garamond and compare it to Adobe Garamond. The ITC version is nearly universally panned by Garamond-lovers.

    My most recent font combinations article might be of some help in making a decision:

    29 principles for making great font combinations:

    Thanks for mentioning the Font Combos book again Joel! Your blog continues to amaze me. You KNOW how much work you are putting into this, and you KNOW how much more work it is compared to so many other blogs! Great content does not come easy!

    • Joel Friedlander

      Thanks for your thoughts, Douglas. Your book is a great resource for designers and unique in its offering of hundreds of typeface combinations. I prefer the Adobe Garamond to others I’ve tried, although I know some people don’t care for it. But it’s one of the best and most versatile typefaces for book design that we have.

  7. J. Tillman

    Well, of course, I read the articles. But I like to look at the pictures, too. Where are they?

    Re: Warnock Pro, “flexibility when it comes to page length”. What does that mean?

    Off topic, how about an article on page numbers and where they go. There seem to be a lot of options. I noticed (in your drop cap article) that for the chapter start, you put the numbers centered bottom. But the rest of the pages were outside top. I’ll wait for the article. Thanks.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Okay, all the illustrations are in now. If you look at the sample of Warnock, you’ll notice that its x-height (the height of the lower case letters without the ascenders or descenders) is larger than the other samples. And yet this sample is 10 point, the same as the Adobe Garamond below it. This allows you to “shrink and stretch” the copy to fit various page lengths, where a smaller-bodied typeface would soon break down.

  8. Michael N. Marcus

    As usual, you’ve given excellent advice.

    But I’m afraid that with this sophisticated blog audience, you may be “preaching to the choir” which already knows the value of variety in typefaces.

    “Become a Published Author” is a promotional book produced for prospective customers of Infinity Publishing (“the leading innovative print on demand book publisher”). It advises self-pubbers to use good old Times New Roman for body text and Arial for headings.

    Michael N. Marcus
    Create Better Books, with the Silver Sands Publishing Series: http://www.silversandsbooks.com/booksaboutpublishing.html

    P.S. In #2, you recommended Adobe Garamond Pro.

    One of my books uses Constantia for body text. It has shorter-than-normal “oldstyle figures.” I changed typefaces temporarily when numbers have to go along with letters in a term or name. Yale ’12 (with small 12) looks weird compared to Yale ’12 (with full-height 12). I use Adobe Garamond Pro along with the Constantia, because the figures have similar character.

    Now for the strange part: Adobe Garamond Pro does not appear in the typeface dropdown menu in Word, and I have no idea where I got it. Even the Microsoft techies can’t figure it out.

    The dropdown menu provides “regular” Garamond, but not Adobe Garamond Pro. Figures in regular Garamond appear to be one point shorter than in the Adobe version of Garamond.

    If I highlight the Adobe face, Word properly identifies it, but won’t let me compose more text with it.

    I’ve developed a work-around. If I copy even one character in Adobe Garamond and paste it into another place where I need that face, I can change that character into the character(s) I need.

    Do you know how I got the phantom font, and how I can make it a real one?

    • Joel Friedlander

      Hey, that’s a weird one, Michael. I think you would need a Windows guru to figure that out, and I abandoned the good ship MS years ago. I also find it interesting that you don’t like the “oldstyle” figures. These are intended to blend well with lower case letterforms, while the “lining” (full height) figures are intended to go well with capitals. But fonts have used the lining numbers for so long that we now think they are “normal.”

      • Michael N. Marcus

        I first noticed oldstyle figs, and small caps, probably in BusinessWeelk mag about 15 years ago. It took me a long time, but I have come to accept the oldstyle figs, but am not comfortable with small caps being used for acronyms and abbreviations. The small caps can make one “lettered” company, like GM, seem less significant than Subaru when both names are in a list. I once re-did a chapter with small caps in appropriate places, but I had to deal with so many compromises, I ultimately gave up on the project.

        Oldstyle figs are quite common now. They’re even in the default font on my blog, so I deal with them every day, and I’ve been I do find the short fig jarring when part of a term with happy with Constantia in about four books I’ve done.

        I do find short oldstyle figs jarring when they are next to full-height letters as part of a term or name, so I’ve been patching in Adobe Garamond in those few cases.

        I find that book formatting involves lots of choices. Faithfully following rules can create weird text. If someone is using a style that requires numbers above nine (or ten) to be in numerals, like not spelled out like lower numbers, we can have aberrations like “from nine to 11.” My rule is to use the same format when the numbers are nearby, resulting in “from 9 to 11” or “from nine to eleven.”

        • Joel Friedlander

          I really like the fact that you think about these very small details and take the trouble to come up with your own “rules.” That’s part of the essence of self-publishing, in a way.

          The small cap treatment, like the oldstyle numbers, is to integrate better with running text. So if you’re doing a list you might well revert to the lining style. For instance, in doing tabular composition for tables and charts, it’s better practice in my opinion to use all lining figures. Oldstyle looks very odd in these uses.

        • Swift Loris

          Your rule for dealing with number aberrations is actually what Chicago Manual of Style recommends for such situations, but it’s a little more complicated. It prefers the choice “from 9 to 11”: If the style requires that one number be a numeral in a particular category of items, numerals should be used for all items in that category “in the immediate context,” meaning paragraph or series of related paragraphs.

          I have a similar situation with “phantom” fonts in Word: It identifies Palatino if it’s used in a document I’m editing, but Palatino doesn’t appear in the drop-down font box. I can use it if I copy it, but otherwise I can only use Word’s Palatino Linotype. Strange.

          • Joel Friedlander

            Thanks for that added detail from Chicago Manual, Swift. Appreciate your contribution.

    • Michael

      My best guess would be that at some point, someone sent you a Word document with font embedding turned on, and Adobe Garamond Pro came with it. Then you copied something from that document into a new document, and AGP tagged along.

      I don’t know any way to move an embedded font to the system fonts directory. Out of curiosity I opened up a .docx file with an unzipping program and found a fonts folder inside, but the files in it are .odttf files rather than .ttf, and Windows doesn’t recognize them. (I tried renaming the extension to .ttf, but no dice.)

      Thinking on it some more, I imagine this is deliberately hard so that people can’t obtain commercial fonts without having purchased them. I have Adobe Garamond Pro on my system but I’m not certain how it got there. I have purchased and use a number of Adobe products however, so I suspect it must’ve been installed by one of them. Possibly InDesign CS4, as I believe it came with a number of fonts.

      • Michael N. Marcus

        I do have several Adobe programs, so it’s possible that one of them, or a copied document, was the source of the phantom face.

        It’s strange that there has not been a pop-up from Adobe urging me to purchase their Garamond, and even stranger that MS Word recognizes the face when I highlight one character, and then allows me to generate unlimited characters in Adobe Garamond after clicking on just one.



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