Sunday, June 18, 2017

Fonts in Barrett Photo Books

My knowledge of typography is fairly sparse. I have picked up a few things here and there in classes and other readings.  I've learned enough to know it is an important element of book / page design and that I don't know nearly enough.  That said, I have settled on a few design guidelines that I think make sense and I try to follow. I'll try to lay them out here, for my own reference at least.

Font Selection

There are an unbelievably large number of fonts available in online book composition tools.  Using more than a few is normally a mistake. Multiple fonts tend to be visually confusing, though not until the physical publication is in hand. I strive to use no more than two or maybe three in a composition.  When I use more than one, it needs to be for a reason, such as title and body font.

In my most recent publication, covering our New England / Canada cruise, I used three fonts:

  1. Times New Roman - A very popular serif font.  This font has stood the test of time for use in body text, where the serif's can make for easier, more comfortable reading (or so I have been told).
  2. Verdana - A modern sans-serif font designed to be easier to read at small sizes on low resolution screens than the traditional Helvetica. It results in longer blocks of text at a given font size.
  3. Arial - A simple, compact sans-serif font. It is used extensively in PC software and is very similar to Helvetica, without needing a Helvetica license.

The list of fonts above, is shown using each of the three fonts, almost.  Times New Roman is actually shown in Times as the Blogger software doesn't offer Times New Roman, they are different, but very hard to tell apart in actual use. The listing does give an example of the effect of mixing fonts.  

I don't use Helvetica as my sans-serif font as it is not available on AdoramaPix. Most likely because of the license fee issue. 

Times New Roman is by far the most common font used. I like it for body text and sometimes headers,

Verdana was limited to small captions where I wanted better readability in a small font.

While I used three fonts, I restricted Arial to page numbers which I wanted to be very small and compact.  It is the most compact of my fonts so It is what I used for the tiny text.

Font Size

Font size can be varied tremendously. Typically varied one point (1/72 of an inch) at a time.  This leads to the temptation to pick locally optimum sizes.  The one that looks just right in a particular spot and is unique to the page.  A proliferation of sizes leads to what will appear as an amateurish creation.  Having a set of standard sizes and uses helps to make the book look professional.  Different sizes for different purposes are fine, but a header on one page should be the same as a header on the next and so on.  This leads me to want to pick the right size for each type of text block. 

Picking the "right" size for a photobook can be a bit complicated.   When viewed on screen the fonts usually appear smaller and harder to read than when printed.  A normal printed page might have 6 to 8 lines per inch This translates to 12 point font for 6 lines per inch, or 10 point font leads to about 7 lines per inch, assuming tight line spacing.  The complication is that AdoramaPix's software definition of size is independent from the size of the book; the finished size of the book is a huge modifier on font size.

When I set text to 10 point size, I end up with about 6 lines per inch when printed in the large format (9x12).  The line spacing is fairly loose, so the font is pretty accurately sized when printed large.  The smaller versions change this entirely.

Here are the font sizes I used in the Canada book:
  • Front Cover Title - 60pt Times New Roman
  • Front Cover Sub-Title - 36pt Times New Roman
  • Spine - 38pt Times New Roman
  • Section Titles - 60pt Times New Roman
  • Section Description - 16pt Times New Roman
  • Descriptive Text Block 10pt Verdana
  • Back Cover Fine Print - 8pt Verdana
  • Page Numbers - 8pt Arial

None of these printed "too small," in hindsight, the Section Descriptions could easily have been 14pt. 

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