Type suggestions for ancient religious text

_savage's picture

This post is related to this one, but Typophile is probably a better place to ask this question.

I'm looking for a type or pair of types for a book, so it should be legible for larger portions of text. The book contains ancient Buddhist sutta text (in English) interspersed with commentary and explanations. The books has a very shallow structure, only chapter headings. The sutta text and commentary should be distinguished.

Originally I thought Caslon for the sutta text because it's an old and legible type, but it may be too heavy? The reading experience should flow and feel airy and comfortable. Then I looked for a good pairing, hence this post :-)

If you look at the original post, there are a few type proposals. But I am curious to hear the opinions of the community here? Thanks!

quadibloc's picture

The commentary should be readable too.

Since Times Roman is so ubiquitous, it might be felt to show a lack of respect. Century Expanded and Baskerville are possible choices for the commentary.

For the text, Garamond or Bembo are old and legible, and more appealing to the modern reader than Caslon.

Caslon was, at one time, the standard for text, the way Times Roman is now, but unless you carefully choose the right Caslon, you could run badly astray. Acceptable Caslons for modern-day body text work include: Williams Caslon, Imprint, and even Adobe Caslon.

These, though, are just very general suggestions, in terms of common fonts you might have handy.

For the text, if I were going to indulge myself, I might go with Nicolas Jenson SG (or here) which is a revival of Eusebius by Ludlow, one of the most accurate revivals of the original Jenson type.

To go with that for commentary, I'd be tempted to be really radical, and go with Bitstream's News 706, the currently available version of the newspaper face Aurora. If you want sans-serif, Univers is good for body copy, but I'd encourage you to consider Optima instead. Or just be less radical, and go with Century Schoolbook.

Another option is Palatino. As long as the text and commentary are different in point size, that it isn't distinctive enough from Nicolas Jenson SG to be mixed with it in some ways shouldn't be a problem.

Palatino for the text and Century Schoolbook for the commentary is another possibility for the kind of look I'm thinking of.

On the other hand, looking at some Google Web Fonts that I liked recently, one could use Rosarivo for the text and Asul for the commentary.

_savage's picture

Thank you for the suggestions! I quite like the Nicolas Jenson SG type, it has a hint of old-style, almost medieval to it which might make it a good candidate for the old sutta text. On the other hand, the News 706 suggestion is great, it looks wonderfully round and soft and, due to the large x height, airy. Unfortunately there's no "light" version of it.

I'd like to try a Jenson SG Medium with a News 706 Light Italic.

Good idea about Google fonts, I'll poke around there as well. The only challenge I had in the past when working with old sutta text are Pāḷi specific characters with diacritics. Often times, the font I try doesn't provide for all the letters that I need...

Té Rowan's picture

You're not the first one with that problem. A Buddhist monk in UK (I think) created a few solutions, but whether they'll suit you is a quite different Sheila.

http://www.softerviews.org/ (Bhikkhu Pesala's font output is somewhere in here.)

quadibloc's picture

If one wishes to make an optimum aesthetic choice of typefaces for the English translation of the text itself, and the English-language commentary... one might have to resign oneself to using a different font for the translated text and the original Pāḷi text, since the number of fonts giving comprehensive coverage of that language is likely to be limited, and their support of the Latin alphabet may also be an afterthought.

But this should be obvious common sense, so I suppose I've just misunderstood your intentions from your post. Hopefully there will be enough of a choice of adequate Pāḷi fonts to allow that part of the document to also fit in with your vision (I'd choose the Pāḷi font first, so that suitable typefaces for the rest of the document could be chosen that would also harmonize with it).

I've noticed that one of the fonts is missing from the site given above, so one can also try this site, which also has a face resembling Palatino with Pāḷi characters.

I can't seem to see any Pāḷi characters in those fonts in Character Map, however. Here are some other recommendations:


Odd, this one, also highly recommended for typesetting Pāḷi, is specifically for romanized Pāḷi. Perhaps another misunderstanding on my part.

Ah; like Sanskrit, Pāḷi is often recorded in whatever Indic script is used locally, even if external scholarly translations standardize on Devanagari for Sanskrit. Maybe you need to Google for a Sinhala font with Pāḷi support (or support for conjunct characters, needed for both Pāḷi and Sanskrit) if your project was as I understood it after the language was mentioned...


Here you are. Download before Russian tanks create connection problems. (Actually, while they have a Sinhala font, their Pāḷi font is also for Latin transliteration.)

According to this page,


though, only one font, a commercial Mac font, offers extensive conjunct support for the Sinhalese script.

Sindre's picture

This typeface (mine) supports transcription of Pali (and Sanskrit), and fits your description well. It is also not something found on your random computer.

It pairs well with its own italic (which is very independent from the Roman), and also very well with Evert Bloemsma's Legato.

Very, very few retail typefaces support Latin transcription of Indic typefaces, but I take great interest in antique and small languages, and make sure they are supported in my typefaces. The support is out-of-the-box, by use of the Unicode Extended Additional block, and not combining diacritics (though the typeface supports them too).

_savage's picture

Thank you for your opinions and all the links! :-)

To clarify: all the text is in English language, the sutta translations are in English as well as the commentary explanations of them. Both, sutta text and commentary are mixed, depending on wherever comments are required within the English translation of the sutta text.

However, due to the difficulty of translating some of the original words from Pāḷi to English and keeping their original meaning within the translated English context, some of the Pāḷi terms are literal; they are then explained in the commentary following a Pāḷi passage. For example, "taṇhā" or "samādhi" or "pratītyasamutpāda" are such terms.

What I am looking for now is a type (or two, if paired) that is legible and fitting to the subject. Quadibloc made a nice suggestion in the initial post.

What I have not quite figured out yet is if I should us one type and use a medium/bold for sutta text and normal/italic/light for the commentary text, or should two separate but paired types be used. In the end, everything needs to be comfortable and convey a notion of softness and lightness.

Sindre: Thanks for the Satyr link, it does look nice and there's a light Legato, it seems.

quadibloc's picture

According to the Wikipedia article on Pāḷi, the TeX Gyre fonts as well as some other common open-source fonts have the necessary diacritic characters for Pāḷi, but that still leaves you with a limited choice, and so going to Monokrom - apparently all their typefaces support an extensive collection of Latin alphabetic characters, but their page only lists native language support, not transliteration support - could well be a very good idea.

_savage's picture

Thanks Quadibloc, I've got the TeX Gyre fonts installed. In the end the best I can do is play around and narrow down the choices until I find type(s) I like and that support all of the diacritics.

I just wanted to start with the "like" part, and then compromise... ;-)

quadibloc's picture

Well, Goudy Bookletter 1911, an open-source version of Kennerley... since it is open-source, you could add the diacritics yourself and redistribute the result. It has a code page issue that interferes with using it with WordPad, so you could fix that too while you're at it.

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