Classic serif at text size and display?

stephen_k's picture


I'm looking for an elegant serif that works well at around 10pt and also has a display/titling cut for use at about 22pt. I've been looking at monotype's pro version of Bembo however the regular text weight looks a bit fat and clumsy at 10pt (it will be litho printed – no letterpress). The Titling cut is beautiful though.

Anyone got any ideas?



charles ellertson's picture

It may be a generational thing. To me Bembo book looks about right for a 10-11 point text setting. But as an old man, I grew up reading books set in hot metal, printed either letterpress or from stereo plates.

Many Postscript fonts, now printed direct-to-plate offset, look too thin and spindly to me. I can make my argument -- the best font designers of any period look at the letterforms as they print, and adjust the "original" letterforms weight and contrast according to the printed sample -- but we are still talking about a fashion. One man's thin and spindly is, I guess, another's perfection.

Take a look at Penguin books of the 1950s and '60s set in Bembo. How do they look to you?

I will have to admit that I made up a version of Bembo for us to use for text setting, reweighting "regular" Bembo, back in the mid-1990s. Also changed ascenders & descenders, and the contrast of thick/thin strokes, etc. All this two or three ownerships of Monotype ago, when you could still get permission to modify a font from Monotype. So I've never felt the need to use the newer book weight, but it looks pretty close to what we came up with, when trying to match Bembo as printed letterpress by the Stinehour press, from the cast type.

As for other ideas. Just now, I'm high on Espinosa Nova. It is not perfect, and I've reworked it some & will do more for our peculiar taste (with Henestrosa's permission), but as a modern Venetian, I think it one of the best.

natedaub's picture

What about SabonNext from linotype?

It is a very beautiful serif typeface with a wide range of weights.

As for other ideas. Just now, I'm high on Espinosa Nova. It is not perfect, and I've reworked it some & will do more for our peculiar taste (with Henestrosa's permission), but as a modern Venetian, I think it one of the best.

I agree with charles_e, too. Espinosa Nova is very attractive and has quite a few nice variations.

charles ellertson's picture

What about SabonNext from linotype?

If only they'd named it "Yet Another Nice Garamond" & removed Tschichold's name as designer.

Indra Kupferschmid's picture

Font Bureau offers several great and elegant typefaces in text and display variants, sometimes with even more versions in between like Miller Text, Display, Daily, Headline and Banner.

Or search on MyFonts for “optical sizes”.

hrant's picture

It sounds very much like you want Cycles:


Andreas Stötzner's picture

If you look for the Bembonian taste, look at Andron as well. Andron Corpus is optimized to look not too thin in 9…12p setting.
Display cuts available on request.

flooce's picture

Andron is great! A beautiful renaissance old style! Andreas, it seems you have some really nice features of your typeface not published yet. If I remember correctly there are Mid-Caps as well planned for the future?

Cycles is fantastic, if you do are fine with regular, italic and semibold cuts only. The same with Clifford, which comes in three optical sizes, limited to regular and italics.

A very complete renaissance old style is of course Arno. Different design genre: Freight. If you want to play it safe: Minion.

Here is a list of fonts with text and display cuts:

charles ellertson's picture

Question: Do you guys ever look at type printed high-resolution, using an offset press?

IMSLTHO, some of these fonts would (probably) look great printed with a polymer plate, or offset, using repro-negative-plate technology, the printing method they were drawn for. DTP, no.

Not all of them, of course. Miller is an exception, though I wouldn't call it an elegant face. And some I've never tried. The point is, look at how they print with the specific technology you will use. Your somewhat less than humble opinion might be different from mine, that's OK too. Just be sure to take a good, long look at the type as it will be used.

ncaleffi's picture

Charles, this is going slightly offtopic but I'm very much interested in your argument. Could you specify it? In which way - I mean with which printing technique - typefaces like Minion, Arno, Freight, Cycles, Clifford and Andron wouldn't look good when printed? Perhaps you mean they were designed to be printed offset, and not digital?

Andreas Stötzner's picture

Andron […] Mid-Caps as well planned for the future?.

I cannot say honestly ‘planned’. But there is a range of (older) medior PS fonts and some newer incomplete test fonts as well. It’s not just about mid-caps but also about mid-uncials or mid-lowercase sorts. For Andron, medior letters apply at least for Latin, Greek, Coptic and Irish, for Gothic of course. I can’t say when they will see a release.

Do you guys ever look at type printed […] ?

This question seems a little funny to me.
I think a good 600dpi laserprinter is the ever best what can happen to a didital typeface. Yes better than super-high-res offset printing.
Once a book was set in Andron. As the publisher rejected any pre-press concerns the typesetter hat to print out every page (Hundreds) and she did so on a rather poor laser device. Then all those prints were scanned – y e s !! – and the book finally printed from the scanns. – In the end it looked like a re-print of a letterpress-book from the 60ies. ;-) not bad.

hrant's picture

> I think a good 600dpi laserprinter is the ever
> best what can happen to a didital typeface.

If you mean that 600dpi laser is enough, that's not true (for a text face).
The minimum is 1200dpi (and it still requires experience to "interpret").


charles ellertson's picture

Charles, this is going slightly offtopic but I'm very much interested in your argument. Could you specify it? In which way - I mean with which printing technique - typefaces like Minion, Arno, Freight, Cycles, Clifford and Andron wouldn't look good when printed? Perhaps you mean they were designed to be printed offset, and not digital?

First of all, I haven't used all the typefaces you mention. And I feel OK publicly criticizing, if that's what it is, a large publisher like Adobe, but not the smaller ones.

You should know that pretty much all through the 1990s, the offset plate was burned by using negatives. And for a good part of it, the negatives were made from a positive, the typset "repro" -- the negatives were only directly imaged in the late 1990s.

At each photographic stage, the type usually picked up weight. There were reasons why the repro was "overexposed" and the negative "underexposed."

Well, good type designers adjust the weight and contrast of their letterforms based on what they see when the type is "printed"; is used as intended. So, going back to metal, the punch was inked & pressed into paper to see how the ink flowed, and the punch adjusted accordingly. Same with photocomp -- adjust the letterforms so the weigh and contrast are what you want when eventually printed.

Now take away the slightly everexposed repro and underexposed negative; you can make the plate directly from the computer file. But the type gained weight and the contrast was affected by those now-gone portions of the workflow. Nor could the printer compensate when making the plate, because the ever-present images were now in the same file. If you "darkened" the type when making the plate, the dotgain on the images would go through the roof.

All this within the life of Type-1 postscript fonts, which were not changed as printing changed. The printed type was clearer, but thinner. About half the distance between a regular and a medium. And by the way, those old Type-1 fonts became the new OpenType fonts, usually with no adjustment to the weight and contrast. Look at a book set in Minion about 1994, and compare it to a book set in the same Minion today. And printed offset, not "digitally."

So I spent a week going back to the old Type-1 Minion multiple masters fonts to make new OpenType versions, with new weights for our work. BTW, I did talk to some type people at Adobe about this. They said the created the medium weight for bookwork. And I know people who agree -- problem is, they're people who do art books, always printed on coated papers, where the inkspread is less. To my eye, Minion medium is right on the edge, OK for coated sheets, but too heavy for uncoated. I think what we came up with will work for either. This from looking at printed books.

None of this touches on "digital printing," it is all within the offset world. I'm no expert on digital printing, but the little I've seen has the letterforms heavier than even the old offset printing, with repro-negative-plate. Closer to 1200 dpi laser printing. And no wonder. That will probably change fairy soon, who's to say?

I do think two, or maybe three weights can cover text for most forms of printing used today -- 2012. It's just that the type we have hasn't been tailored for them. YMMV.

flooce's picture

Funny enough, although I am not a professional in the graphic industry, I did print Cycles offset. And I did print the same content with a digital print (I assume laser) as well at the same printer (first batch). I don’t really remember the comparison between them, one was thinner, and more rich in contrast, the other a bit more heavy, but both looked good to me. Maybe could be a bit heavier, but I am no expert to judge that. If I find the samples again I could take pictures of it.

However dark text fonts are very en vogue, probably as a result of the problem you explained.

ncaleffi's picture

Thanks for the very informative explanation Charles. I agree that most of the earlier digitizations of types born in the metal / photocomp era lack in "presence". I usually set books printed in offset (and sometimes digitally) and I have experienced that, besides the kind of paper, the results also depend on the printer's settings. Sometimes, unfortunately, the black is too grayish. As for the difference between offset and digital print, here are a couple of shots where one can see how, in offset print (second image), a typeface tends to be "heavier". That said, it's hard to get, even in a nicely printed offset page, the same look of a letterpress printed page.

charles ellertson's picture


Yes, the ink matters too. We have a small-run book printer in the States who esp. uses grayish inks, and did so even back in the days before ecological concerns affected ink and solvent choices.

The saving grace with this is the eye adjusts to what is "black" fairly quickly, so the reader is probably less affected than us as examiners. Too thin is an entirely different matter. There are typefaces I just can't read after 5:00pm, when my eyes are tired. The type simply floats off the page.


Yes, with letterpress, the ink is pushed outward, and if you use a strong loupe, you can see almost a black ring around the outside of the printed letterform. Offset printing gives more even black; if there is a concentration of the black, it is in the middle of the strokes.

William Berkson's picture

Charles, on the grey of offset printing, I've compared old letter press printed print and modern offset under a 50X magnification. The letter press looked black with white lines (the print was on rag paper) running through it. The offset looked like a uniform granite, a mottled mixed gray and white dots. So it seems that the dots originating in the rasterizing process are still there in offset printing. The grey, if I've got it right, is not just from the ink but the rasterizing-offset combination. It might be an improvement if someone invented a better process for digital and offset print, with either greater dot density, or a second hit over the first, which would exactly fill in the holes. That would increase apparent blackness, without changing the ink.

I should also mention my own Williams Caslon Text, which was designed to remedy the excessive lightness of many digital fonts, and hit the right balance between apparent darkness against the page, and enough white shining out within and around the characters. I've seen it work both on coated paper (Boston Magazine) and uncoated (the recent Foliomania!, published by the Folger Shakespeare Library, with their exhibition on first folios.)

flooce's picture

I realize that I misunderstood the problem, that when you talk about the “color” of offset, you guys really mean the brightness-level of the ink, but when speaking of the “color” of a typeface it is meant how thick the strokes are and if there is much or little contrast in stroke-width. So offset actually makes the letters “bigger” in comparison to digital print, but the ink itself is not so dark (as in letter press)? Thanks for your comment Williams, that made it clear for me.

charles ellertson's picture


No, I use "color" they way you do.

I think the "color" of a digital press, those I've seen anyway, is heavier than with an offset press. With digital printing, the letterforms are thicker, fatter, less distinct than with an offset press. I've seen several books printed both ways, and side by side, I can tell the difference at 3 feet, with my glasses off.

William Berkson's picture

Florian, there are both issues. I commented on both, and failed to note the difference. There is both an issue of the physical blackness of the letters on the printed page, and the visual "color" of the text, which has to do with the design of the letters—width of the strokes, and how they vary, the size of the counters and spacing, etc.

As Charles notes, there can be an interaction between the two. One font may work well on rough paper, and fail on coated paper and visa versa.

Charles, has printing direct to plate also made any significant difference as to how typefaces work on paper?

kentlew's picture

> Charles, has printing direct to plate also made any significant difference as to how typefaces work on paper?

Bill — I believe that is precisely what Charles was describing in his 17 Jan 2012 — 6:56 am post about the elimination of repros and negatives.

Some gain has been lost.

William Berkson's picture

Thanks, Kent. I read that but I wasn't sure it was referring to the same thing. When doing Williams Caslon Text I had that in mind, so I figured if anything err on the side of darker color. I tested it then with output from an image printer on "RC Paper," which at that time a local place could do. That has just the gain of the direct image, without the next step of offset. I was hopeful that it would work out, but admit I held my breath when I saw the first copy of Boston Magazine, and then, thank goodness, was able to breathe a sigh of relief.

hrant's picture

I'm so upset that RC-paper (AKA Velox) printing is nearly impossible to find now.


charles ellertson's picture

There are really two things going on here.

The first is an aesthetic one, "What does a good typeface look like?" Part of this is fashion. The original poster asked for good looking "classic" serif fonts for text and 22-point display. And he found Bembo (I'd guess the book weight) a bit fat and clumsy at a 10-point setting. Now that's not how I see Bembo book. In one way, that's no big deal, we just disagree.

The second is a typeface that doesn't work as its designer intended. That is a big deal; it's a disappointment. We've all had that kind of disappointment, and probably will again, but it's nice to avoid when possible. That's why I say "test the type all the way through to its intended use."

More subtle is in between, where the designer gets exactly what they intended, but a significant number of users say "I wish it were a little XXXXXer".

There is another kind of in between; as I read what I've written, someone could take the words to mean you need a different weight for each use, for each type of printing technology. I don't think this is universally true. But there are a number of fonts that lie on the edge, like, say, Merlo.

Take Merlo. There are a couple designers I respect who feel it is very nice. And I, and some other designers I respect equally, find it a bit too heavy; we just can't get it to work set over 10 points.

Now is this just fashion? Just personal taste? We say we want the same things out of a typeface, and yet in the event, wind up disagreeing. OK, that does happen. But in my small world of offset printed books, a bit of poking showed a difference: the people who liked Merlo were by in large also people who design mainly art books, books that will be printed on coated stocks. The people who though it a bit too heavy designed mainly texts that would be printed on uncoated stock.

I found this out by accident; I finally saw Merlo used with a book printed on coated paper. My reaction was "Wow -- I like this."

So sometimes there is an explanation, and those are good to find; because we learn from them. With the above perspective, I can *usually* weight a font so it lies in the middle, and will work on either kind of sheet.

That's one big point, I think. There are a number of fonts that lie on an edge; they're so close to not working well that the size set, or the ink used, or the paper, or, or, or can create a problem. Often enough, some subtle adjustments can remove many issues.

(Of course, I'm long past the Pollyanna stage -- there is also disagreement where sometimes somebody's clearly wrong ...) ;-)

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