Hit the Books: True to Type

Even if you are making an image-heavy Photo Book, you will probably use captions, titles, or subtitles to help define your photos. The legibility and arrangement or design of this text is a crucial part of your book’s design and has a big impact on how people experience your images. Here Dan Milnor shares some best practices and tips on how to use typography effectively to enhance your work.

1. What is typography? 

Typography is the art and technique of arranging type to make language or data legible, readable, and perhaps most importantly, beautiful or appealing. This involves using things like different typefaces, different type sizes, as well as the spacing between letters.

2. What is the difference between typeface and a font? 

A typeface is a family of fonts comprised of a set of individual fonts that all share similar characteristics. Each font of a typeface has a specific weight, size, slant, etc.

3. Why is type or typography so important to book-making? 

Typography is just one of the main ingredients in whatever creative meal you are making. Let’s take a Photo Book for example. Type is a huge part of a successful photography book. It might not be the main ingredient, but it is very important regardless and can make or break the viewer’s ability to completely understand your message.

4. If I am just starting out how many fonts or typefaces should I use when I’m designing my book?

Well, there is no hard and fast rule for typography, but my advice would be to start with two fonts. Three at the most for your entire book. What you don’t want is type soup, where there are too many fonts, or fonts that just don’t make sense for your work.

5. What do you mean type that doesn’t make sense? 

One of the mistakes I commonly see is someone designing an entire book using a typeface that doesn’t have any relation to their work, or the feel of their work. For example, I see a lot of books where the font used is whatever was at the top of the dropdown menu. For me, that’s not good enough. You must consider your typography with the same critical eye that you use to consider your photography or your page design. All of these pieces work together, and if your images are strong but your type is weak, or the wrong size, or the wrong density (color) then it won’t work to support the images. It will only detract.

6. Where can I find different fonts? 

There are websites that allow you to view fonts and download them under a varying set of agreements. Some are entirely free for whatever use you can dream up, while others suggest a small donation for the designer of the font. You can then choose your fonts, install them on your computer and use them for your book-making needs. Just make sure you follow the protocol for their usage.

7. How do I know if I’m using the right font? 

This is a great question, but one that requires a bit of thought on your end. When you choose a typeface, you need to determine if it offers the range of fonts you need or desire. Does it have a bold? A semi-bold? An italic? And equally important, does the font have the right feel. Is it a serious feel? Strong? Angry? Typefaces and fonts have character, and your job is to match the character of the type to the character of the rest of your book.

8. What is spacing and why should I care? 

Again, spacing is something that often gets overlooked by new book-makers, but it is a key part of things like legibility, so it must be considered if you are going to make your best book. Keep in mind that spacing means the distance between lines of text, like single spacing vs double spacing, but it also means the spacing between individual letters, to achieve the most pleasing and readable result.

9. What is the difference between serif and sans serif fonts? 

Serif fonts use small lines at the end of the characters while sans serif fonts eliminate these small lines. Popular serif fonts include Times Roman, Courier, and Palatino. Popular sans serif fonts include Helvetica, Arial, and Geneva. There is no real right and wrong here. It will all depend on your particular book and your style, but if you are stuck try mixing one serif font with one sans serif. Choose one as your primary font and the other as your secondary.

10. How do I know when I’ve got the right type? 

First of all, the overall look of what you produce has to feel right. I know that sounds arbitrary but it’s a large part of knowing when you are on the right path. Also, is the type legible? Are the sizes large or small enough to read correctly? If you are changing the density of a font, does it still look good? Does the color add or subtract to the overall feel? And why are you using that specific color? Does it come from one of your images, or is it a color that is specific to your project? And finally, can you justify the choices you have made?

11. Bonus Question: Can I take chances with my typography? 

Yes. One of the best Photo Books I’ve ever seen used a typeface, and a font, so small it was almost impossible to read, but it forced the viewer to really engage with the book by bringing it as close as possible. Also, I’m designing a book right now that will require the reader to use a magnifier to read any of the written copy. So, don’t be afraid to take some chances with typography. Print one copy, learn from it, and carry on.

Share your thoughts and comments on typography below. Or, put these tips into practice by making your own book.

 

 

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