A good readable body copy typeface

mhdesign's picture

Help me convince my marketing boss that there is a better solution to making body copy more readable that does not simply involve "making it bigger".

We have a magazine that was set in 10 pt. AGaramond (leading was set to "auto" in Quark - before I started working there). I produced the next issue in InDesign using Bembo set in 9.5 pt. with leading at 10 pt. but set to align to a baseline interval setting of 0.15 inches. It was flush left, ragged right and hyphenations were turned off.

Now, their argument is that because our target audience is anywhere from the 40's and 50's up to the 60'70's male reader, their eye sight isn't so good anymore and they mostly will have several pairs of glasses. So they want larger type so it's easier to read.

My problem is the AGaramond set at 10 pt. just looks too large to me. It reduces the class of the magazine. I believe that there are other settings or even other typefaces (sans serif) that can be utilized for better readability at slightly smaller point sizes that is comparable to the 10 pt. set AGaramond.

Can I get some help with this? Are there any websites out there that discuss this issue and offer solutions?

Many many thanks in advance.

Rani's picture

My boss always gets me to set everything in 12pt. I sneak it through at 11.5 just to keep myself sane.

poms's picture

Ask yourself, what makes Adobe Garamond less elegant, when set in 10pt than in 9pt for example. What disturbes you, is it too bold in your opinion, is it not "quiet" enough, etc.
You can check against with Sabon for example. Which is a bit more quiet, but still elegant and a tick more formal in apperance.

Leading "auto" is quite okay at "normal" width of your textcolumn.
How many words appear in your textcolumn, Tschichold talks about 12 words maximum …
Increase the leading, does it look better, is it easier to read? Or reduce wordspacing, does it look better, when leading is set to 120% (auto)?

Did you print the example textsettings with a good printer – the monitor often "lies"? You're talking about a magazine, in my opinion the typeface here has to set a bit larger than in a book, where the reader reads linear and normally with a reduced distance, if you compare it with the use of a magazine. But surely you can't say - 10pt or 12pt or whatever.


Do you know DTL Documenta or TEFF Lexicon (both are expensive!)? Both are extremely legible and good looking faces. I'm not a big fan of AGaramond (surely i'm a minority here), if it comes to Garamond, i prefer, "the more rough" Stempel Garamond or as i mentioned, the more formal, Sabon – anyway.

mhdesign's picture

poms, I agree with a lot of what you're saying. I should have also mentioned that it's not just the size that bothers me, but also very much the typeface.

AGaramond is just too bland for me and I want a typeface that has a little character to it that sneaks up on you when reading it. I want our readers to want to immediately dive into the text without hesitation, and while reading it (or even after) there can be a letter or number or something that they notice and momentarily think to themselves, "oh that's neat/nice/interesting" and then move on effortlessly in reading. Obviously it also neds to have it's own personality so there's the subtle acknowledgment that they know they are reading our magazine.

I adhered to most of Bringhurst's rules when setting the type. I have the copy set for 2, 3 and 4 columns of text. I'm also switching to left justified. I have my settings at 80/100/120% for allowable/preferred/maximum in InDesign. I'd also love some advice for setting left justified text a better way though. I think I might be missing a few things.

poms, I'll check out Sabon again (looked at it before, it didn't grab me the first time), as well as DTL Documenta and TEFF Lexicon, but if they're that expensive then they may not be an option for me.

mhdesign's picture

Oh yeah, Rani... keep it up!

mhdesign's picture

Nuts. I must have been VERY tired when I made my original post and asked for - sans serif. Um... so no I actually need a serif font. I need a serif font for my body copy because we all know serif is easier to read than sans serif (although Scala Sans is quite nice).

So, carry on... thank you.

Stefan H's picture


You might wanna try ANZIANO, DELICATO or TAROCCO? All of these serifs are made primarily for body copy. They have proved to work in various books and magazines.
Tarocco is on the verge of being released as OTF with redrawn OSF for all weights and a set of ornaments. Have a look yourself and let me know if you have further questions;


mhdesign's picture

Stefan, those were some very nice typefaces that you pointed out. Even if not for this project, I want to get those families for some other project.

elizabeth, that was a fantastic font at that link, and I'll probably contact them to request it, but my only concern is that it being so large that it won't allow for very much room for copy. Nonetheless, I'm going to look into it.

William Berkson's picture

Michael, I think your boss is basically right about too small type, and you should listen to him. If I'm doing the math right, 10 pt Adobe Garamond has about the same x height as 8.5 point Times New Roman.

Kevin Larson, reading scientist at Microsoft, mentioned here on Typophile what seems to be a reasonably good, if old, test which found that most people prefer to read at 11 point. [I think it was book type, but I'm not sure.] David Berlow mentioned a recent survey of newspaper readers which gave a range of 8-11 point. Now both these surveys are of limited use as they don't refer to x-height, which is the more significant issue.

And they don't mention other important variables. For example, roughly speaking if you have a shorter measure and more leading, smaller type is more readable than at longer measure and less leading.

In sum, I would suspect that 10 point AGaramond is only going to work even passably in a narrow, multi-column setting, similar to Times at 8.5 point.

Also with Times at 8.5 point you are starting to push the lower limits of readability, which is going to be more of a problem for older readers.

The blanket advice 'use 12 point' is ignorance speaking, as 12 point may well be too big, depending on other factors. But if 'Make It Bigger' (title of Paula Scher's book) is the usual amateur mistake, I think that making it too small is a common designer mistake. The reason is that the white space is going to free you to make your design look better. But try reading it!

The age factor is also important, depending on the age of your readers. Here from a web site on newspaper design:

"The aging of newspaper readers has been cause for concern for experts like Mario Garcia, who has redesigned more than 450 newspapers worldwide during the last 25 years. 'I now use 10 point text uniformly on all projects, knowing that we have an increasing number of baby boomers who need reading glasses, and they are likely to be readers for another 30 years or so.'"

Note that Garcia was talking about newspaper type, like Times, with a large x-height. So if you are talking about Times at 10 point, you are talking Abobe Garmond at probably 11.5 point. Which to my old eyes sounds like something I would be happy with!

ps. The 18 point plus stuff for those with seriously vision impaired is very important, but it doesn't apply to normal aging, without any special problems.

mhdesign's picture

I hear ya William, and I'm slowly coming around to the same conclusion. However, I'm not one of those designers who loves small type, because I don't and I think readability is the first priority here. My goal was to make it more "normal-sized" type. The way the magazine was set before I came on board was more on the amaturish side but that may not have had as much to do with the type size as I originally thought. I'm re-evaluating the margins, gutter widths, and yes of course leading and word spacing.

I might be able to live at 10 point text for now, but I'll have to continue to tweak the other settings as well. I think my biggest problem with the whole scenario is everyone else's (at work, not here) closed-mindedness to hearing that there are other factors that affect readability besides type size.

I think I can keep Bembo, which has slightly thinner lines than AGaramond, and will help me not have such bulky looking body copy. I will be looking at going to a different font eventually though.

Miss Tiffany's picture

You might also consider switching to Garamond Premier Pro which was designed at several optical sizes. Adobe Garamond used to be a typeface which I associated with elegance. But, it just isn't the case anymore. It is a very nicely designed Garamond, but it grade school stuff when you consider Garamond Premier Pro and the optical sizing. It is all in the details.

pattyfab's picture

Adobe Garamond and Bembo both have relatively low x-heights which makes them look elegant, I agree, but they can be hard to read at small sizes. Remember that font size is relative, Perpetua for example is kind of tiny and you'd need to set it at 11 points to match most 10 point fonts.

I'd suggest you find a body font that has a slightly higher x-height and perhaps a more condensed shape and then add some lead. You'll satisfy the older folks (I know about this, I had a boss for years that always wanted the type bigger for his tired eyes, and then I remember showing my portfolio to an art director who asked me why I always used such large type) and maintain an elegant airy feel.

Dante is a nice font that has a higher x-height. Sabon, Columbus, Electra, Spectrum are all nice too.

Bruce's picture

If you settle on Bembo, and the budget allows for it, look at Bembo Book which is available in OT and was redone to more closely approach the warmth of metal Monotype Bembo. Given what you have said above, you may prefer the thinner, lighter color of the older digital Bembo but for me the new Bembo Book is much easier to read as text type. In all the years that digital Bembo existed, I actually never used it -- seemed too anemic to me -- so it was use metal or choose some other PostScript face. Now that the Bembo Book is out I'm much happier.

mhdesign's picture

Miss Tiffany:
Hmmm... Garamond Premier Pro looks like a great redesign of the font. I'd much rather be using that than Adobe Garamond (AGaramond). Thanks for pointing that one out.

It's interesting that you say that, because I thought Bembo did have a decent x-height. I guess not? But the thinner line weights that I liked so much before are what I think is killing it now. I think I may have to go back to a heavier typeface after all.

As you read above, I think I may not settle on Bembo after all. The thinner, lighter color of the font may be what's hindering readability for me. I'll be looking at justification, hyphens, and leading as factors as well though. But, if I stick with Bembo then I'd definitely try to pitch Bembo Book since it does look like it was better designed for text.

ben_archer's picture

Michael, just be thankful that it's not 12pt ITC Garamond they're insisting you set it in ; )

You mention Scala Sans a couple of posts back; Scala itself is a superb text face that works at small sizes – as I'm only just finding out.

mhdesign's picture

Hahaha... I hear ya ben, good point. I'm not a fan of ITC fonts as they always seem condensed no matter what typeface it is.

I hear a lot of good things about Scala, and it's definitely one of my contenders. I also really like Caecilia as a text font, it's set very well in REAL SIMPLE magazine.

pattyfab's picture

Bembo does have a decent x-height but it is a little on the wide side - which wouldn't work for narrow measures IMO.

I agree re Scala as a text font, really nice.

What sort of magazine is this?

Nick Shinn's picture

Michael, why does this have to look elegant and readable to you?

Why don't you just do what your boss asks, and design for the reader/consumer/target audience, or can you only design to please yourself?

Surrely the design challenge is to make big look classy?

There are often posts on Typophile from designers complaining about the arbitrary and unprofessional criteria of clients, based on their personal preferences, but in this case it's the other way round.

TBiddy's picture

Why don’t you just do what your boss asks, and design for the reader/consumer/target audience, or can you only design to please yourself?

Maybe not the way I would've said it, but I agree. I've had to design for a large-print magazine before...its a set standard. Being a designer is about solving a problem— your aesthetic opinion should be second.

Being a good designer is about sometimes working within the constraints and parameters defined by your client. That's where the creativity can be. This isn't about what you like.

My grandma sure as hell doesn't care about what the font looks like, she just needs to be able to read it.

GraphicFuzz's picture

I just finished a magazine set in Tarocco, 10pt (see Stefan's link above). Looks great on text-heavy pages, not played out like Minion and AGaramond, nice range of weights, and the italic is simply beautiful. Retains it's character and lets the text speak for itself. Perfect for what I needed, well worth the money.

(edit - sorry, missed your post above saying you'd consider this font and others for a future project)

Nick Shinn's picture

Maybe not the way I would’ve said it

Wait till you graduate to the reading-glasses set ;-)

sconnor's picture

I usually tell clients that they may not need to make it bigger-- but I do agree with them that it *might* be hard to read. Then I say something like, "Yeah, the linespacing is probably a little too tight." And then we add more lead and maybe .25 pt and everyone's happy. Unless someone is blind, usually, it's not the size but the leading and line length that makes it hard to read.

This works with clients.
Marketing people, though, are different. Little, yellow, different.
So, it may not work for them.

Nick Shinn's picture

Unless someone is blind, usually, it’s not the size but the leading and line length that makes it hard to read.

You, too, will change that opinion once your near focus starts to recede.

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