Fine Press Ideal point size

kegler's picture

I recall someone along the lines of Bruce Rogers or Dwiggins or Goudy (circa early 20th century US or UK) stating that 16 point is the ideal size for a fine press book. I'm not looking to defend or debate the topic (or what constitutes fine press), but rather want to track down the reference. Does this ring a bell for anyone?

PublishingMojo's picture

Private-press books weren't the primary focus for Dwiggins or Goudy. It sounds like something you might find in Rogers' 1941 Paragraphs on Printing or D.B. Updike's Printing Types: Their History, Forms and Use, from the 1920s. Whoever said it, it's nonsense.

kegler's picture

I’m not looking to defend or debate the topic until I can find the original reference and context. At the point of knowing what the "it" is, then it may be able to be declared nonsense or not.

PublishingMojo's picture

I'm just expressing an opinion. If I'm debating, it's certainly not with you, but with those who insist there can be only one standard of beauty, in printing or in anything else.

dan_reynolds's picture

Matthew Carter said something about typefaces looking best at 16 point during his talk on Bruce Rogers at the ATypI conference in Brighton. I can't remember if he was quoting Rogers, stating his own opinion, or a combination of both. I'm pretty sure that the statement was made while he showed a slide of a Rogers book whose text was set in 16pt, though.

kentlew's picture

Rich --

Sounds like something Rogers would say, as he was more given to such broad pronouncements, generally preferred larger types, and was very much one for fine editions.

However, a quick spin through his Pi: A hodge-podge of letters, papers, addresses, written during a period of 60 years didn't reveal anything specific. Sorry.

-- K.

bieler's picture

In terms of the "fine press book," William Everson did make the claim that 16-pt was the ideal point size. Not sure that I can readily find the reference.


AGL's picture

Oh, there is a optimal point size? I don't have a clue of any reference. But that raises a question, if that is true, that 16 pt. is the optimal size, then, you have to design the book around a 16 pt. typeface of your choice. Being that if the face is condensed, the format will be portrait, a regular squared and a long horizontal face for a landscape format.

Chris G's picture

Apparent size differs, even if the point size is the same, so how can 16pt be optimal?

hrant's picture

Because people who say some single size is ideal also have
firm benchmarks of ideal color, proportions and spacing! :-/

On the other hand, this is certainly not all about beauty or even just taste: a 16 point font simply cannot be easy to read for the human vision/cognition system (unless it's a large book on a lectern).


Paul Cutler's picture



All ideas, theories and statements are subject to change without notice.

kegler's picture

... a 16 point font simply cannot be easy to read for the human vision/cognition system (unless it’s a large book on a lectern).

It is because of statements like this that I’m not looking to defend or debate the topic until I can find the original reference and context.

In looking over Bruce Rogers' book The Centaur Types, which is set in 16pt Centaur, I find it to be extremely pleasing and easy to read so perhaps my vision/cognition system is inhuman.

speter's picture

Let's see if Hrant still believes that 16-point cannot be easy to read when he turns 65.

BruceS63's picture

Sheesh, Centaur wouldn't be easy to read as a 16 pt. text face.

Inventor of the DVD rewinder

kegler's picture

Sheesh, Centaur wouldn’t be easy to read as a 16 pt. text face.

Funny, Bruce Rogers, D.B. Updike, Matthew Carter & others thought it would. I am talking metal type, not digital in this case.
In fact it seems 16 point as an "ideal" is not an uncommon opinion as it follows the Jenson models of the 16th century. Of course there are far too many variables to say any one thing is ideal in any situation. The quote I have been looking for is still eluding me but I have enough constructive feedback (mostly via direct email) to help with the research i am doing. Thank you also Dan, Kent & Gerald.

hrant's picture

I think if you have a font with a small x-height and mucho talus, used in a large book you hold a bit far away, the angle the letters end up subtending on the retina can indeed be good. Because I do believe that's what counts, not half a dozen people's rose-colored vision. Everybody knows type designers can't read. :-)

Also, obviously it depends on the font! Think of fonts designed for small sizes: they look ugly large - in fact they need to look ugly large. And I've noticed that Baskerville cannot really be Baskerville below like 11pt.

BTW, I personally think that fonts (at least those with conventional proportions) look best -which is of course not at all the same thing as easiest to read- at around 40pt (a size the Bentons seem to have used as a good place to truncate optical scaling), because that makes each glyph fill the hi-res fovea to the max at typical reading distances. Above 40pt you actually have to make multiple fixations on a single glyph to see all of it; essentially you never see all of it! (Unless you put it at a distance.)


Miss Tiffany's picture

It could have also been William Morris in his book about fine printing. Which, now that I'm trying, I cannot remember the name of it.

kegler's picture

...Jenson models of the 16th century

I meant 15th century. Don't we have any fact checker here?

John Hudson's picture

Although I think the statement presumes a limited interpretation of 'fine press book', indicating a volume of large quarto or larger size, I can imagine why some might be consider 16pt a kind of ideal. It is large enough to display all the characteristics of the typeface for the connoisseur's delight, but is still a size in which the text is readable.

will powers's picture

Since this has veered off a bit into a discussion of type size, I'll add.

If indeed 16 point is the ideal size for a "fine press" book, then in the past 30 years the dictum is not well honored. For many years I was associated with the late "Fine Print: the review for the arts of the book," and thus I saw many hundreds of "fine press" books. Type sizes for main text ranged from 8 point to 24 point. & this brings us to John Hudson's point. There was a time when "fine press" book did almost by default indicate a large page size, a page size at which 16 point type might work nicely.

But by the early 1970s the world of "fine printing" had widely expanded, and fine printers were exploring all sorts of page shapes and sizes, often dependent on the size of the presses they could get their hands on.

So I think the 16 point declaration was really tied to a certain milieu. & like all milieux, it had to pass.

Personally, I found 16 point to be a great size to set by hand. My short stubby fingers worked too slowly with smaller type. But I could fly through the case when setting 16.

I have no idea where originated the quote Rich seeks. But it do ring a tiny bell.


ben_archer's picture

Hi Rich

Yes this rings a bell – perhaps you're thinking of Goudy's Typologia (1940, University of California Press).

It has an end chapter on Fine Printing, and in the conclusion to the chapter on Legibility he states "...many experiments to ascertain at what distance from the eye any certain size of type should be held as determined by the angle with the retina it subtends, but the shape of a letter, which is more important than its size, receives less attention."

Which makes him sound a bit like Hrant ; )

I'm still trawling through it looking for where he might say anything about recommending 16pt as a specific size, but elsewhere we find

(The page size is 6¾ by 10½ inches)

hrant's picture

> Which makes him sound a bit like Hrant ; )

The old fellows stole all of our best ideas! ;->


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