Can walbaum be used successfully as body text?

nolly.1988's picture

I've been looking to try out walbaum in an editorial project for some time but still am unsure of its suitability as body copy? I usually go for the safer options of minion pro, sabon or caslon but have been meaning to try out this beautiful typeface. For arguments sake the type size would range from 8pt to 12pt. I hope someone can give me good advice, thanks.

riccard0's picture

It would be better if you could move the thread (using the Edit link) to the Design or General Discussions section of the forum (now it’s in "Critique › Serif", which is used for asking advice about one’s own typefaces).

Bert Vanderveen's picture

As with all fonts of this type it should by used in fairly large sizes, with a lot of leading (although some cuts of Walbaum are a bit coarser than the original, with less contrast & these are less in need of this). 12 Points may be too small, in my opinion.

Some of the details may be too quirky for the average reader to appreciate (viz k, g, K, R, etc.).

nolly.1988's picture

I noticed the medium weight has less contrast between the strokes but it still might not be suitable for these sizes. I would like to try it out without buying it so maybe somebody has used it at these sizes before. Thanks for your help.

nolly.1988's picture

I've just moved it to the design section, thank you.

kentlew's picture

Which Walbaum are you talking about? There are two general strains out in the marketplace. One is based on Walbaum's text faces; the other is based on display sizes.

I've seen the text version used in books, to fine effect, on a couple of occasions.

nolly.1988's picture

I'm referring to the text face but I'm not exactly sure what the name of it is.

charles ellertson's picture

It's fine as long as you use metal. Otherwise, for offset printing, it's just one more classical font gefuched first by photocomp drawings & then PostScript digitization. In other words, it badly needs redrawing for current printing technologies, save perhaps for print-on-demand books -- I'm no expert on how those inks appear on paper.

Nick Shinn's picture

Storm should give you enough to play with:

nolly.1988's picture

The publication will only be a few copies so I might just go ahead with it. Walbaum 10 pro seems like it would appear relatively sharp at 10px so I may purchase a copy to test it out.

The Realms of Gold's picture

Billtroop's comment here cites Berthold's Walbaum Standard (not Book!) as a rare text-aimed Didone. It's not offered on the Berthold site, but I found it through an ordinary web search.

rs_donsata's picture

I think walbaum is one of the most usable didones, but you still have to handle it with some care. Here you can find a good Walbaum text cut:

Nick Shinn's picture

…but you still have to handle it with some care.

Right. That applies to all didones!
They are a sophisticated tool for sophisticated readers and sophisticated typographers.
Complaining about their “poor readability” is for bumpkins.

hrant's picture

No, it's for trying reduce how much bumpkins torture their readers.

Formal sophistication is often functionally quite unsophisticated.


Nick Shinn's picture

…it's for trying reduce how much bumpkins torture their readers.

As I said, the didone style is for sophisticated typographers—not bumpkins.

If a setting doesn’t read well, the fault lies with the typographer, not the font.

hrant's picture

The fault lies with the typographer for choosing a font with low readability.

To me Didones are not sophisticated at all - they're merely bourgeois.


Nick Shinn's picture

As originally developed, didones were size-specific (as indeed were all styles at the time), and that is the key to their sophistication: their delicacy is fine-tuned to each size, with purposefully small leeway for error in printing. If that takes higher quality, more time-consuming press-work, it may indeed be expensive and hence upscale, bourgeois and aristocratic, but fine printing is not per se class-specific, it is the direction in which technology marches..

If anything, didones were over-sophisticated, as remarked by Richard Austin in his Imperial Foundry specimen of 1819:

“The modern ... printing type at present in use was introduced by the French, about twenty years ago: the old shaped letters being capable of some improvement, it was judged expedient to re-model the alphabet to render them more agreeable to the improved state of printing…”

He went on to address the issue of fragility:

“…for how can it be expected that types cut nearly as thin as the edge of a razor can retain their form for any reasonable length of time, either to produce good work, or remunerate the Printer for his labour?

“The hair lines being now below the surface of the main strokes of the letters, the Printer, in order to get an impression of all parts of the face, is obliged to use a softer backing, and additional pressure. This … militates against all good printing; for in forcing the paper down to meet the depressed part of the face, it at the same time takes off the impression of part of the sides, as is evident from the ragged appearance of printing from such types.”

Surely the difficulty in printing such types properly, and the complexity of their construction (with varying height of different glyph parts, according to their degree of delicacy) constitutes a sophisticated, i.e. complex, design?

The didone style was developed for fine letterpress typography, and subsequently adapted for more general job work and other technologies, in which it does not sit quite so easily. It’s difficult to work with, but not impossible. No risk, no reward.

rs_donsata's picture

Sometimes there are more important things in a design than achieving the highest possible legibility such as the benefits of aesthetic styling.

dezcom's picture

It only needs to be legible enough to be read within the constraints of the project at hand. Every use of a typeface is not a roadway sign. Type is a tool. We use different tools for different jobs. Any tool can be used very badly. If you give me the worlds best scalpel and ask me to perform brain surgery on you, you won't live long enough to fire me or even complain to anyone about how badI am at operating.

Bert Vanderveen's picture

As I stated before, Didones should be used in ample sizes. 16 Pts is on the border…

hrant's picture

Nick, bourgeois and aristocratic are not the same; the former is all pretense. And just because something is more difficult to work with does not make it more functional. The other thing -which Bert alludes to- is that style is appreciable in proportion to size; a Didone is less of a Didone the smaller you get, and below a certain threshold is not a Didone at all.

Héctor: Of course. In fact there's no such thing as "highest possible legibility". But a designer needs to know what he's breaking, how and why. For example in Patria I've made the "s" (among other glyphs) too wide in terms of what I think is optimal readability, but I did so to promote a certain style. That's not the same saying "I made it wide coz I like it and that's all that matters."



Today, learn about the Armenian Genocide.

John Hudson's picture

Hrant: ...a Didone is less of a Didone the smaller you get, and below a certain threshold is not a Didone at all.

I disagree. I have original 18th and 19th Century books in small size Didot types, and they are unmistakably Didone style. I think you are making the mistake of assuming that Didones are characterised by high contrast between hairline and main stems, but that characteristic is itself a function of size derived from a particular construction. The whole point of a Didone is that the hairline weight remains fairly constant independent of size, while the main stem weight varies according to size. So of course smaller sizes have lower contrast, but that is precisely because they are Didones.

Bert Vanderveen's picture

@John: You are right of course, but only in so far that non-metal type lost that distinction… Apart from commendable recent efforts like the ITC Bodoni ‘numbered’ opticals, almost two generations were subjected to one-aspect didones for all sizes.

Another point I have to make: photoreproduction was not very kind to didones and such. The latest technologies in printing, like computer-to-plate and high res setting have made it possible to regain the field lost since the second world war.

Nick Shinn's picture

In the early 1990s, I achieved optical scaling in didone setting by mixing Bauer Bodoni at display and deck size with the sturdier Bauer Bodoni for body text. Later, in 2008, I published Scotch Modern, with several “optical” sizes.

However, the most impressive digital didone must surely be Hoefler’s Didot of 1991, for Fabien Baron at Harper’s Bazaar. Here it is still going strong 20 years later, leveraging the “constant hairline” property in mixed-size display setting, which is a key element of the magazine’s design:

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