Classic font ideas for collection

Austin Duggan's picture

Several years ago I read Douglas Hofstadter's essay in Metamagical Themas about the near impossibility of AI researchers being able to encapsulate the subtleties of font. Since then, I've had a profound appreciation of typeface. Unfortunately, I'm still a beginner in all of this. I'm about to publish a collection of short stories, essays and a bit of poetry. I would like to get opinions as to what sort of classic serif I should use. Would it be advisable to use different fonts for each section of the book? I've perused the forums and so far have found all sorts of stuff. So much, in fact, that I feel it might be best to narrow my field of play. Any help will be greatly appreciated. You can find excerpts from the book here: Thanks. This site is awesome.

Nick Shinn's picture

the subtleties of font

Font isn't a collective noun.
That's like saying "the subtleties of guitar".


As you are an inexperienced typographer, I would suggest imitating a setting you like as being the most productive approach.
If you have trouble identifying the typeface used, ask at Typophile.

Make sure that the fonts have old style figures as default, and that you are able to set true small caps -- and that these are large, as small caps go (i.e. noticeably larger than x-height), which will benefit the acronyms in your text.

Would it be advisable to use different fonts for each section of the book?

No, because it's best to let the readers make up their own minds about what distinguishes the writing in the different sections, rather than coerce them.

Austin Duggan's picture

I'm looking at Photina MT now. Yes, I am a bit over my head, as I don't know what any of the jargon means. MT, SC... all of that stuff is Greek at the moment. Thanks for your help. I plan on using the rest of the week to figure out at least the basics of font designators. Any references? Links?

Florian Hardwig's picture

Hi Austin,

‘MT’ is just an identification code of the font’s manufacturer, MonoType.
SC is for Small Caps. Learn more about Style Abbreviations.

Austin Duggan's picture

Thanks! I've found some great fonts. I never knew they'd be so expensive. I'm turning my attention to independent designers at this point so if anyone has any recommendations please let me know.

Nick Shinn's picture

Mac or PC?
What layout application?

Austin Duggan's picture

PC. I'm using Word, unfortunately.

Don McCahill's picture

> Would it be advisable to use different fonts for each section of the book?

You could, but this is fraught with dangers. For instance, a subtle change in font might just come across as an error, or confusing to a reader. However, I can see the possibility of it working. I think you should have an experienced designer with strong typographic skills working with you if you did go that way.

Nick Shinn's picture


I repeat my recommendation about old-style figures as default.
For small caps, you need a separate small-caps font, not Word's faux effect. OpenType fonts which contain small caps are no good, as Word doesn't support them.

These two things--old style figures and small caps--are the most obvious determinants of "quality" typography (assuming you already have curly quotes happening).

Also in Word, you should turn on kerning, which is off by default.

Austin Duggan's picture

Well, I was using Times New Roman, which as the name suggests does not use old style figures. The only font I have available and like that uses old style figures is Georgia. But the capital letters look a bit too symmetrical for my tastes and often encroach on the lower-case letters. I also don't particularly like the O. I don't know the technical term, but I prefer the O to have a slight slant.

Austin Duggan's picture

Also, in order to get around 68 characters per line, I have to shrink it to a size 10, which looks a bit squashed as compared to Times New Roman. My eyes hurt.

Nick Shinn's picture

This Verdigris package will do nicely.
It's a robust new text design in the classic style.

$159 is not really expensive for a family of two weights, roman and italic, with small caps, and three kinds of figure.
You will get a lot of mileage out of it: it fits the bill for your set-up, and the professional tone you wish to project.
Heck, you might even get into ffi- ligatures!

Dan Gayle's picture

If you like an O that has a slight slant, that means you are looking for something "oldstyle." Palatino, I think, might fit what you are looking for. It is generally regarded as one of the masterpieces of 20th Century type design, and is particularly well-suited to fine book typography like you are talking about.

And the best thing is, you already own it. You should already have Palatino on your system, either under the name Linotype Palatino or "Book Antiqua."

But that doesn't address the small-caps, oldstyle figures question, but there is a solution that is equally as cost-efficient.

You can get a free, and completely legal, small caps/old style figures version of URW Palladio, AKA Palatino, at the Comprehensive TeX Archive Network (CTAN) in Postscript format. (Only if you're using Windows XP. Vista doesn't do Postscript fonts.)

If you're interested and you can't get the postscript thing to work, message me off board and I'll email you a copy that I converted to Opentype. (Which is also legal due to it's license. Yay URW!)

Thomas Phinney's picture

> (Only if you’re using Windows XP. Vista doesn’t do Postscript fonts.)

Sure it does. Vista comes with WPF (which is an optional extendion for Windows XP), and WPF apps can't see "PostScript" (Type 1) fonts, but there are very few important WPF apps out there.



Dan Gayle's picture

Oh, my bad. It should work then.

Nick Shinn's picture

particularly well-suited to fine book typography

Palatino has a very distinct personality and has been widely used for all kinds of literature, often poorly.
Those connotations reflect poorly on its use for more distinguished work.
The related Aldus, with more "bookish" proportions, would be more suitable.

JCSalomon's picture

 There's also TeX Gyre Pagella, which comes in OT format. Some consider the TeX Gyre fonts to be legally iffy, though.

Dan Gayle's picture

Let's start another thread about the Gyre fonts, because I've been wondering about them.

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