When you read a book, is the designer's font choice the first thing you notice? Unless you are a real type fanatic, probably not. That's a good thing. Because if the font choice immediately jumped out at you and said "look at me" then it was probably the wrong font for that book. Keeping in mind that these are general guidelines, not hard and fast rules, the best fonts for books are:
- Serif or sans serif.
That is, the body of the book is not the place for blackletter, script, and decorative fonts. In some cases, they might work for chapter titles or the table of contents, but not for the main text. You generally won't go horribly wrong with most of these classic serif or classic sans serif choices.
If you're trying to replicate something from the age of Gutenberg, you might want to use one of the historically-based Blackletter fonts. But that's not a font most people would be comfortable reading in a book.
For most books, the best font is one that does not stand up and shout at the reader. It won't have an extreme x-height, unusually long ascenders or descenders. or overly elaborate letterforms with extra flourishes. While a professional designer may see the unique beauty in each typeface, for most readers the face is just another font and they probably wouldn't even know that it wasn't the ubiquitous Times New Roman or Arial. In most cases, that's a good thing.
Avoid monospaced fonts such as Courier or many typewriter fonts. The uniform spacing between characters makes the text stand out too much. The exception would be in other text elements such as chapter headings or pull-quotes where you might want a more distinctive font.
- Clearly Legible at 14 Points or Less.
Actual font size depends on the specific font but most books are set at between 10 and 14 points. Decorative fonts are generally not as legible at those sizes.
A good book font can be made even better with the use of ligatures, kerning and tracking, and careful attention to line lengths, and hyphenation.
The space between lines of type is just as important as the specific typeface and point size. Some typefaces may require more leading than others to accommodate longer ascenders or descenders or to avoid the appearance of gray pages. However, more leading can lead to more pages in the book. It's a balancing act with some book designs.
"One rule of thumb suggests adding about 20% or around 2 points to the point size of your text as a starting point for adjusting line spacing. Less is generally too crowded." Setting Leading in Desktop Publishing Software
Specific Book Font Selections
The lists presented at these sites represent the opinions of numerous designers, typographers, and book publishers. They provide a great resource for finding the perfect fonts for you next book project.
- Top 10 Typefaces Used By Book Design Winners
From the Font Feed 2008 archives, you'll find such well-known serif faces as Minion and Adobe Garamond as well as a few sans serif faces like Din. In addition to explaining some of the choices, the article also presents alternative font selections in a similar style.
"We ordered catalogs from the last three years of the show and tallied the typefaces used. The results won’t shock you — each of the top ten is a tried-and-true classic. Yet there is so much more great type out there begging to be used for academic text and titling. So, along with the champions, I’m recommending a few less common alternatives that offer just as much readability, function, and beauty for today’s books and journals."
- What Font Should You Use For Your Book?
This article by publisher Walt Shiel has some general guidelines for selecting a font and lists seven specific fonts including Palatino Linotype and Bookman.
"You may run across some books with more unusual font choices, but there are often good reasons for it. Maybe the book is a humor book for which the designer chose a lighthearted font, for example. Such decisions should be made with care and thoughtful consideration for the effects on readability"
- 5 Favorite Fonts for Interior Book Design
Discover why Joel Friedlander at The Book Designer likes Garamond, Bembo, and three others.
Some fonts really lend themselves to book design while others, which look good in a brochure or on a business card or billboard, make odd, unreadable books. Any idiosyncrasy in the type design will be magnified by the repetition of typesetting 75,000 or 100,000 words in thousands of lines on hundreds of pages."
Related Font Choices For Book Designers