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Top 5 Fonts for Book Design (and One More)

Contrary to what was expected a few years ago, printed books are not about to disappear, so it's better to know how to produce them.

The secrets of good typography were unknown, but the mysterious power of a good story was evident. Books were favorite objects long before it was dreamed that they would one day be designed.

In fact, books were loved even before you could read them (that smell of ink and paper!). The discovery of reading — that alchemy of letters coming together to reveal words, unravel phrases, and tell stories — transformed THE BOOK into the sacred of the sacred. It remains the same to this day.

When learning to read, many did not realize that part of the ease with which they turned pages in early “adult” books, without images and with flowing text, was due to the quality of the typographic composition - a light grid with good line spacing and character adjustment, well-planned margins and, above all, good typography.

At that time, readers often didn't understand that, regardless of how well a narrative ended and how captivating the characters might be, if the layout of a book lacked quality, it could lead the reader to abandon it in the first chapter. Copies of “Doctor Zhivago” in certain editions were often left unfinished, mainly because the font was small and poorly chosen, resulting in a dense and unpleasant block of text. One could speculate that complexities such as an abundance of foreign names also played a role, but that didn't bother readers when browsing through more modern and better-designed editions of similar books. Was one author an inferior storyteller than another? Maybe, but that's not the crux of the matter. What often happened was that unfortunate layout choices led readers to abandon books prematurely. And that essentially says a lot.

“... regardless of how well a narrative arc is solved and how engaging the characters are, if the layout of the book is not good, the reader may be tempted to abandon it in the first chapter.”

With the huge range of free and paid fonts available, designing a book can pose a challenge. The question arises: should we adhere to the traditional path or opt for a bolder approach? It's crucial to keep in mind that while creativity and originality are important, ensuring easy reading should always remain a top priority in book design. My advice when faced with the imposing blank page is simple: Don't reinvent the wheel. If a specific method has brought success before, learn from it, listen to the voice of experience. For classic typographic compositions, choose classic fonts. And for many, including myself, that means serif fonts. They never disappoint.

“... creativity and originality are important, but when it comes to book design, easy reading should always be at the top of our concerns.”

Here are five fonts that are reliable and preferred choices for creating simple and elegant layouts, ensuring optimal readability from first to last page. Not only are they functional, but they also have a captivating aesthetic. What more could one ask for?

1. Baskerville

Baskerville is a serif font that has won the admiration of many, including countless enthusiasts in academic environments. Praised for its remarkable legibility, even at smaller font sizes, it became a frequent choice for art history essays during these academic years. Surprisingly, despite being created in 1750, this fountain displays a remarkably modern and elegant appearance. Baskerville creates visually appealing and easy-to-read pages, perfectly combining a fusion of traditional and modern elements, making it an ideal choice for works of fiction. Its versatility goes beyond purely textual content; it finds its place in titles, posters, and book covers. However, it is in the typographic composition that its exemplary qualities really stand out. Although offered in several variants, the regular, bold, and italics versions are sufficient for most needs. Simplicity is key, and Baskerville's excellence speaks for itself...

Thanks to John Baskerville for this enduring source!

2. Garamond

The classic of the classics, or, in reference to a French font, to “La crème de la crème!” Garamond has a distinct quality that reflects its French origin. Looking at the capital G evokes the essence of the quintessential Claude Garamond, exuding effortless sophistication and abundant charm. The italics, in particular, evoke an undeniable “Oh, la, la!”

Garamond was one of the first fonts to become adept at identifying itself within a block of text. Most of the books that adorn the shelves are composed in Garamond. Have a look. Opening a book defined in this font always evokes a pleasant and comforting feeling, even if the exact reason is not immediately apparent. Renowned for its versatility, neutrality, and simple beauty, Garamond delivers consistently flawlessly. Ideal for large volumes with 400 pages, the font offers six pesos in the Adobe Garamond Pro version, with no excuse not to use it consistently. Many designers and typographers follow this example.

3. Sabon

The 1960s brought not only social revolutions, psychedelic patterns, and timeless music, but also significant advances in typography. In the world of fountains, Sabon holds a status similar to what “Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band” means to The Beatles in music. The magazine “Rolling Stone” considers Sgt. Pepper's to be the best album ever produced, and in a comparable way, Sabon earns its place among the 5 Best Sources of All Time for composing books. After his involvement in the New Typography movement that originated at the Bauhaus, the German typographer Jan Tschichold, who had become one of its most prominent supporters, later returned to his roots, creating what is considered to be one of the most elegant reinterpretations of the Roman style.

Evoking memories of Garamond, Sabon is often perceived as romantic, feminine, possibly due to the clarity of its modern lines and its pleasant reading. However, it's important to note that clarity and delicacy are not unique to women. Still, Sabon remains an excellent choice when dealing with dense texts.

If you're working with a substantial amount of text, Sabon it's always a reliable option!

4. Caslon

If Garamond is the French font par excellence, Caslon stands out as the greatest representative of classic British fonts. Considered the first original English font, it was created in 1722 by William Caslon and gained such popularity that it crossed the Atlantic, becoming the font used when printing the first Declaration of Independence of the United States. Remarkable, isn't it? Although it experienced periods of lower popularity, it never truly went out of use. Embraced by the Arts & Crafts movement in the 19th century, it remains a favorite among many designers who appreciate the seriousness it gives to the text, instantly conveying a sense of gravity to any page. Despite its lack of frivolity, Caslon can be used with confidence because its 18th century elegance remains timeless and has adapted perfectly to the 21st century. Adobe's new version, Adobe Caslon Pro, performs excellently on digital media while maintaining its enduring charm.

5. Goudy Old Style

This list already includes French, English, and German fonts... now comes the American! There are numerous Goudy fonts, but here we are specifically discussing Goudy Old Style — perfect for lengthy... and perhaps less engaging texts. This modern font was created by Frederic Goudy For the American Type Founders in 1915. Its primary characteristic is its remarkable lightness! Drawing inspiration from the Italian Renaissance, a prevailing influence in early twentieth-century United States typography, this font embodies Goudy's extensive exploration of sixteenth-century italics, which he greatly admired. Perhaps that's why, even in its regular version, it seemingly possesses an airborne quality... Italics, undoubtedly beautiful, but I particularly appreciate the clear tone of an entire text page. Even with closely spaced leading and kerning, a strikingly attractive text block can be effortlessly achieved with this Old Style essence! It's almost mandatory to give it a try at least once. It's No Surprise That The Renowned Harper's Bazaar magazine was originally set in this font.

This list already includes French, English, and German sources... now comes the American one! There are numerous sources for Goudy, but here we are specifically discussing the Goudy Old Style - perfect for long texts... and perhaps less engaging. This modern font was created by Frederic Goudy For the American Type Founders in 1915. Its main feature is its remarkable lightness! Drawing inspiration from the Italian Renaissance, a predominant influence on early twentieth-century American typography, this font incorporates Goudy's extensive exploration of 16th-century italics, which he greatly admired. Perhaps that's why, even in its regular version, it apparently has an aerodynamic quality... Italics, undoubtedly beautiful, but I particularly appreciate the clear tone of an entire page of text. Even with close spacing and adjustments, a remarkably attractive block of text can be easily achieved with this Old Style essence! It's almost mandatory to try it at least once. It's no surprise that the renowned magazine Harper's Bazaar was originally composed at this source.

6. Bonus Font, Rongel

And now, in an out-of-the-box choice, let's add one more font to the list. First, a confession: we have never used this font ourselves, but we admire it a lot... from a distance. Rongel is a font created by the Portuguese designer, Mário Feliciano. We First Encountered It In Portuguese editions Of Zadie Smith's books “On Beauty” and “Swing Time,” designed by Henrique Cayate's atelier, and... what can we say? It was love at first read!! It is a Spanish-inspired font brimming with charm. Solid, elegant, and incredibly playful, it boasts whimsical details to discover. Rongel generates bold, attitude-packed, and highly expressive pages while maintaining that classic tone of a serif font. We love reading pages set in Rongel... or perhaps we simply adore Zadie Smith. Most likely both! We are eagerly awaiting the perfect project to give it a try. If you're tempted to get to know it better, you can explore it Here:

Now that you know our preferences, why don't you share yours too? What fonts do you like for classic books? Any of these? What book have you read recently with a very good layout? Or, on the contrary, did they give up reading something because it was terrible? How do you choose the right font for each project?

Let's swap Ideas!

Copy editor: Kathryn Kruse
Design & DTP: Spice. Creative Seasoning

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