With hundreds of fonts available, choosing the best font for print, and the right one for your book can feel daunting. But it doesn’t have to be. The key is to keep your approach simple and minimal. It doesn’t take lots of font variety to make your book look fantastic.
History of Typography and Typefaces
Western culture’s connection to fonts goes all the way back to the invention of moveable type by Joannes Gutenberg. The first font was called Blackletter, and it was made to resemble the work of 15th century scribes. Over the next few centuries, we accumulated hundreds of fonts, or typefaces, by variation. As a result, we’ve inherited a great catalog of classics we continue to use.
Later, more modern typefaces appeared all over Europe, and contemporary ones like Helvetica and Futura are some contemporary favorites. These modern typefaces are known as “sans-serif”, which means the endpoints of the letters are missing the flags and pedestals that older typefaces used.
The invention of personal computers had two effects. Firstly, the original digital screens couldn’t render serifs clearly, so even as monitors grew clearer and more powerful, sans-serif typeface became the convention for digital work. Secondly, personal computers gave the ordinary person a chance to wield various typefaces for themselves in order to add mood and extra meaning to the written word.
Today, sans-serif fonts like Helvetica, Arial, and Futura are used in design and digital work, while typefaces like Garamond, Times New Roman and Century have serifs that guide the eye along print pages. Serif typefaces are used for text-heavy print, as well as for an air of formality.
Choosing the best font for print has become a common dilemma.
A good place to start is looking at other books like yours to get a feel for typefaces common to your genre. For example, sans-serif fonts are often used in comic books and magazine headlines. Serif fonts, on the other hand, tend to be used in poetry and novels. That’s probably because they are known for being the easiest print font to read. However, these are only trends. Don’t forget that you’re free to break from convention in your own creative work.
Once you find a print font that works for your genre, ask yourself 6 questions:
1. Does it match?
Typography best practice is to stick to one font family. Too many typefaces make your work chaotic and sometimes confusing. One or two different print fonts are enough for a project. Consider one for body text and one for headlines.
2. Is it the right font size?
Traditional printing uses 10-12pt font for large text blocks. The font size for headlines balances wanting large text with the convention of keeping headlines to one or two lines. Subheadings should be about 10 points larger than body text.
3. Is there space?
Margin is everything. The more text you have, the more margin you need. Thinner columns are easier to read, especially when separated by plenty of white space.
4. Is the font too crowded?
Your leading (vertical spacing between lines of text) should be ample, especially if your book has a lot of text. Don’t hesitate to increase the space between lines of text to make your work more readable.
5. Am I shouting?
Avoid using Upper Case treatments as much as possible (all capital letters). Sentence case creates a calm flow for the reader. If you’d like to use fully upper case phrases, consider using it for headlines only.
6. Can I see the font?
Black and gray font on white pages is the most legible. After that, it’s white text on black pages. Rule of thumb: The greater the contrast between text and background, the clearer it is.
The typefaces you choose and how you choose to use them is entirely up to you! That’s the exciting part. The really tough part is consistently sticking to your system and style choices. A professional look comes from unity and uniformity. If there is variation, it’s done purposefully and systematically.
Following these tips will help you choose the best font for print. But there are no hard rules about choosing a font and how to use it. If you’re more concerned with creativity and less concerned with legibility, you can play with your options. The important part is to find the best font for print that you like and use the power of typeface to help you make your point.