Looking for a nice condensed but readable font for hymnbook project.

craichead's picture

Hey kids... New here in these parts...

Working on a hymnbook project where the pages are small... 5.5 x 8.5 (inches that is...)

Have been using Helvetica (about 9px) but need something in the same vein... clean, sans serif, easy on the eyes... but less spread out.

A few fonts i'm looking at:

Univers Standard Condensed

Brown Gothic

Helvetica Standard Condensed

ITC Franklin Gothic Standard Condensed

EF TV Nord 1

So... can those of you patient with a typonewb help a brutha out?


cerulean's picture

I like Yanone Kaffeesatz. And it's free!

crossgrove's picture


I think you need to get farther away from Helvetica to really make your small pages readable. Helvetica has the disadvantages of very closed letters, very static, similar forms, and very tight spacing. Overall it works better at sizes above 12. For a hymnal I suggest something more humane, open spaced, and comfortable. Good candidates:

Eva, Fresco or Versa from Ourtype,

Clifford Six,






Stone Serif

or, if you have a lavish budget, Lexicon, with short or long descenders.

Each of these suggestions has several qualities that can help you. They are all economical because they are low-contrast, have large x-heights, are slightly condensed, are very clear and crisp, or possibly all these. Since point size is completely relative in type (10 looks like 7 in another face), you have to adjust the size of your type until it hits the sweet spot where it's clearly readable, yet still conserving space. This is something only your eyes can tell you. So you might be able to set Stone Serif or Albertina at 8 point, but you might have to set Lexicon or Columbus at 10 for the same clarity and comfort.

Notice also that I have suggested both serif and sans faces. There are several sans faces that present ideal clarity at small sizes, and several serif faces that also perform at these small sizes (5, 6, 7 point). Not all serif faces, nor all sans faces can do this job. Generally, the typeface has to be designed specifically for that purpose in order to perform well.

In any case, getting away from the unfortunate qualities of Helvetica will be an advantage.

John Nolan's picture

I second Clifford: I use for it play scripts in the same half-letter format as your hymn book, and it works very well... but I use Clifford 9, not 6.

Spire's picture

If you're set on sans serif, how about Myriad Condensed?

craichead's picture

Crossgrove - Brilliant. Once I get the time I'll go through all your suggestions and sample them... Beautiful stuff. One of them... can't remember now looks like it would compliment the font I'm using for the title text: iona regular - a celticky font.

John - Clifford seems like a good candidate... Good to know you're using it in a similar fashion... Though when matching text to music, sometimes (most-times!) you don't have the luxury of evenly spaced words... so we'll see.

Spire... I suppose I'm not totally "set" but that was my initial gut. Some of the suggestions above may pull me in the serif direction though ;)

Work flow question in terms of sampling all of these fonts... One nice thing about veer.com is that they have a lightbox where you can sample... I could not find the same feature at fonts.com, etc... Just curious if I'm missing something here... I suppose I could take screen shots and line them up in photoshop or such... just wondering your expert thoughts on that.

All the best guys... and thanks for the needed advice.

crossgrove's picture

Many of the foundries have a type tester or preview tool. Everyone calls it something different, from "try me!" to "letter setter", or sometimes it's just part of the sample pages like on fontshop.com ("generate sample").

Unfortunately not as many foundries offer PDFs with small text, which would help you more in deciding. It's nearly impossible to get a sense of a font's performance in small sizes from a 42-point screen image.

Two I forgot: Freight Text, and Legacy Sans/Serif. Some recent releases from ITC and Monotype have PDFs you can print for a better idea.

Generally you can find PDFs and other testing tools if you snoop around. I understand if you need to set aside time for that.

I will send you a printed Beorcana specimen if you contact me thru the typophile contact link.

craichead's picture

A response from a friend of mine who's a musical engraver:

"I think I have to agree with some of the responses to your post on the typophile forum. A low contrast serif font will read much easier at small point sizes. I am a huge fan of sans serif fonts but after working with a guy who studied typography religiously, I came to really appreciate the font designers (of legitimate fonts) and the care they put into making a particular font work for specific uses.

I have always liked Stone ITC as someone mentioned. The serifs have a smaller softer profile which makes it seem more like a sans font. Myriad Condensed is also a nice font--as someone else mentioned. I think I would go for the serif font though for a more professional printed look. Just my two cents though."

Thought I'd include it here for the sake of this thread. Thanks for all your help... I'm going through and testing most of the fonts mentioned.

akma's picture

The Episcopal Church Hymnal 1982 used a very light Baskerville, and I can scarcely make it out, especially in typically murky church lighting. For me (and perhaps many other users), the labor of reading words and music at the same time makes legibility a paramount concern -- please, please run some tests in unfavorable conditions with bleary-eyed older users, to make sure your project (however handsome it may be in bright light, to youthful eyes) doesn't end up unusable to a large proportion of the congregation.

Gary Long's picture

Relato is slightly condensed; I was pleased with the way it performed in a poetry collection I typeset last year. There is also a sans.


desktop's picture

Whenever I need a small legible font I use any of Joe Gillespie's MiniFonts. MiniSerif and MiniTime are both excellent serif fonts at small sizes.. They look great and they won't break your bank account.

Oh, and right now he's running a special; bundles of MiniFonts at a great price AND each bundle comes with PC and Mac versions of the fonts at no extra cost.

Spire's picture

Whenever I need a small legible font I use any of Joe Gillespie’s MiniFonts. Gillespie’s MiniFonts. MiniSerif and MiniTime are both excellent serif fonts at small sizes.

Those are nice, but they're TrueType renditions of single-size bitmapped fonts. They're not designed to be used in print (unless you're trying to emulate the look of a low-resolution display).

craichead's picture

Funny enough... I did a survey of the fonts I had on my computer and I came across Chaparral Pro. I really like the look of it, a bit casual for a serif which I like. When I compare it to other hymnbooks it does look slightly thinner which could be just the laser printer I'm using... Would it be tacky to use the semibold variant? The semibold is then a bit thicker than the hymnbooks I'm referencing but then again it might perform well on old eyes??? of course it all depends I know and without you all seeing the finished product it's hard to say...

Perhaps the question should be... Would Semibold be ok as main lyric text or do folks mostly use semibold for items that you would otherwise bold such as perhaps a title but didn't want the heavy full bold...

This has kinda turned into a nice thread! Perhaps it'll help the next person researching fonts for musical engraving.



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