Typeface Combinations That Work Well for Books
by Joel Friedlander
The text typefaces we use for books can be so quiet you just don’t notice them, although you can see right away that they are full of idiosyncrasies and flourishes if you enlarge the letters.
Display typefaces, on the other hand, announce themselves to the reader in no uncertain terms.
Most nonfiction books use a combination of text and display typefaces, and the interaction between the two is like a harmony of voices—if and only if they are complementary.
In my experience, book designers tend to have limited palettes of favorite typefaces they go back to again and again. I’m no exception. Here are three combinations of typefaces I particularly like. If you don’t know what typefaces to use in your book, I invite you try one of these. I think you’ll like them too.
•Adobe Caslon and Myriad Pro. Two great typefaces that produce beautiful music together. Caslon is a smooth, easy-reading text face rooted in the typefaces of William Caslon, an 18th-century printer in Britain. Myriad Pro is a complete type family with a lovely modern verve.
•Minion and Poppl-Laudatio. Minion is an oldstyle typeface that has a calligraphic look to it. I find that the little flared hints at serifs on Poppl-Laudatio bring out the fun and lively side of Minion, and these two typefaces are a happy combination.
•Adobe Jenson and Lithos. Some people don’t like Lithos, but used with care it has great character and dense color. Jenson, modeled after the earliest humanistic typefaces of the 15th century, is a standard in book typography. Its many eccentricities somehow fall into a beautiful harmony on the page. I feel a lot of dynamism in this pair of typefaces.
Combinations Geared to Content
Ideally, the combination of typefaces you choose will enhance readability and also reflect the tone and substance of the particular book you choose it for.
Each of the combinations shown below was arrived at, after deliberation and comparison with other typefaces, in a collaboration between the book designer and the client.
If your book fits one of these categories, the relevant combination will help you create a reading experience that’s both great-looking and effective.
Electra and Myriad Pro Black for a collection of interviews. Electra for the body type and Myriad Pro Black for heads is a combination you won’t see very often, and one that seems in sync with this kind of book, a compilation of interviews.
Adobe Garamond Pro and Helvetica Neue Condensed for alternative health essays. Adobe Garamond Pro does excellent work here in dealing with a large number of formats requiring different sizes, and in keeping harmony on the page. Combined with the versatile Helvetica Neue Condensed, it creates a look that’s both modern and easy to read.
Warnock Pro and Myriad Pro Regular for erotic stories. Here I used a very classy text face that offers a lot of flexibility when it comes to page length, and a typeface for heads that offers a clear contrast to the text face. Myriad is a beautiful modern sans serif that complements classics like Warnock beautifully.
Adobe Caslon Pro and Fontin Sans for historical biography. A 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 has style and legibility to add to the mix, and a modern sensibility.
Century Old Style and Electra Bold Display for an adventure memoir. Another heavily illustrated book, this one has parallel text streams and an active approach to on-page graphics. I found that the Electra had to be over 20 points to balance the Century, and then the combination works beautifully.
Janson Text and Nueva for a supernatural novel. The design for this novel based on old legends was derived from a template in my archives, allowing me to lower the cost of interior design substantially. Janson Text, used for the body type, is one of the most popular typefaces for books, and Nueva is a lovely and idiosyncratic modern display face perfectly suited to this book.
Adobe Garamond Pro, Chaparral and Franklin Gothic for a self-help title. The design for this book had to accommodate checklists, activities, and the other conventions of the self-help genre. Adobe Garamond Pro is versatile, and Chaparral is used for display purposes because of its no-nonsense, strong look. I used Franklin Gothic for breakout text and subheads to clearly differentiate these elements from the rest of the text.
Selecting Your Typeface Sets
As you can see, each of these typeface combinations produces a different and unique look. To get a look that suits your book, you can experiment with them and/or switch the typefaces around to see what you get, and/or consult Douglas Bonneville’s useful Big Book of Font Combinations.
The more you set up pages and see what kind of impression each page makes, the more likely it will be that your type choices will serve you well.
Joel Friedlander is the proprietor of Marin Bookworks, a publishing services company in San Rafael, CA, that has launched many self-publishers. An award-winning book designer and a self-published author, he blogs about book design and the indie publishing life at TheBookDesigner.com.