A Little Knowledge is Dangerous

11 point Garamond Pro top, 11 pt Palatino bottom
11 point Garamond Pro top, 11 pt Palatino bottom

A little knowledge is dangerous. I assumed, stupid me, that a font size in points was a consistent measure across all fonts of their vertical space on the line, of the height of the characters. And so foolishly, although I’d thought “I really need to do this” on several occasions, it was not until this morning–with everything just before being ready to send off to the printer and stay on target with my deadline, that I did what I should have done six weeks ago.

Slow Road Home I chose to print in Palatino (Linotype–a variety not among choices on CS3 of Adobe InDesign.) It has a reputation as a very readable font, and I chose a font size of 11 and to use a lot of white space to make it a readable, peaceful looking book.

Other things I’d read suggested Adobe Garamond Pro got good marks for readability. And it is with this font style and THE SAME point measure as the last book that I have been working so hard with my graphic designer person to set up the book. I stupidly assumed 11 point was 11 point.

As they say, STOP THE PRESSES. All 11 point fonts are NOT created equal. Look for yourself.

So the readability of the book, the page count of the book, the layout on every page of the book especially with pictures and such–everything would be changed to move to Palatino (or increased AGPro to something like 13 point) at this stage.What do I do?

Anybody out there with concrete information on how widely accepted Adobe Garamond Pro might be for older readers, which I figure is my demographic?

I guess this is the kind of OH CRAP moment better to happen now and delay the book by some weeks or months than to have 500 of them with font too small to read. Or is it? I really need any wisdom the collective blogosphere can muster, and I need it SOON! Forward this to your printshop techy friends, will you? I’m dead in the water. Maybe I’m okay. I need to have my peace back (so maybe a 4th cup of coffee might not be the best idea right now?)

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. For 90% of books, any of the following fonts are excellent choices:

    * Palatino Linotype
    * Book Antiqua (tends to set tight, so you may have to loosen it up a bit)
    * Georgia
    * Goudy Old Style
    * Adobe Garamond Pro (tends to have a short x-height, so it might seem too small in typical sizes) DUH!!!
    * Bookman (the name sort of gives it away, doesn’t it?)
    * Century Schoolbook (tends to be a bit wide, creating extra pages)

    Typically, book designers will develop more than one design for each book’s interior, using different fonts, sizes, and leadings. They should typeset a few pages of the actual manuscript and print them out with the same page settings they plan to use in the final book (e.g., 6″ x 9″ pages). This allows the client to compare them side-by-side and evaluate them for readability and overall look. (DOPE SLAP!!)

  2. Personally, I like garamond in 9-11 pt.
    I would print it out and look at it that way.
    On screen, larger type is required, but in print, you can use much smaller sizes than you think.
    Business cards are set using less than 8pt type pretty regularly.

    Of course, this is coming from someone who doesn’t require glasses, so by all means, print it out and decide for yourself.

  3. Oh Fred. Palatino is one of the largest serifs and Adobe Garamond Pro is one of the smallest. No wonder you got knocked sideways. Have you defined paragraph styles? Easy enough to switch over if so, but a bear otherwise and Do Not Be In Any Hurry to get it to the printer…

    You can use much smaller sizes than you think especially if you use a larger leading (interline space). I would never go larger than 11 pt Palatino but 10/13 or 10/14 is nice. I love Garamond but it’s quirky and very wide for its height in certain letters…

  4. I like the Palatino better — it’s easier for these old tired old eyes to see. The font size that you used in the example is good.

    I’ve asked a friend who lays out newspapers to have a look. I’ve also asked Stephen Taino (@StephenTaino) on Twitter to give you an opinion. He’s a book designer.

  5. Yes….please, the Palatino……or even a little larger…..yes, I am one of those readers that loves large print for reading…….If I ever ordered a Bible, it would be one of those in large print……….But it’s your project, go with what you like, and what works for printing, etc.


  6. Fred, there’re many ways to come at this question. One simple answer is that whatever you like might be considered appropriate. But more realistically, whatever suits your audience is the way to go.

    Interestingly, I just blogged about Palatino. And, in fact, I’ve blogged on a number of occasions about choosing typefaces during the book design process. You might want to take a gander at some of my extended thoughts there: http://www.tianodesign.com/blog.

    But I’ll give you some fast ideas here and now.

    First, you can forget about the same point measure occupying the same line space. Each typeface is designed individually. Then, too, there’s the additional issue that all faces suitable for long text are not monospaced types–that is, the space between words is not always exactly the same, but will adjust for a number of reasons, both automatic and typesetter-controlled.

    You’re on the right track with either Palatino or Adobe Garamond Pro. Myself, as I wrote on my blog the other day, I find Palatino overused. So, while I still use it for my typed correspondence–other than email–and invoices, I wouldn’t use it for a book. (Garamond, too–in all its varieties–is also very popular, but it is an elegant, easy-on-the eyes type.)

    Now, on the one hand, you simply need to use a type (and a page design) that presents your words cleanly to your readers. You can have the greatest book in the world, but if the typesetting irritates readers’ eyes, you’ll lose at least some readers. In fact, as people browse the book, trying to decide whether to buy it, if the layout (including the typeface) is tough on browsers’ eyes, you’ll lose buyers. To a lesser extent, a boring layout and/or font might also lose you buyers. And–not to leave this (I think) very important consideration out–if your layout and/or font choices are too interesting and eye-catching, you could lose readers because they’re distracted from what you’ve written.

    Now, as Pica notes above, you’re considering two typefaces that really do contrast in ways that affect space. I’m not sure what other types you might have at your disposal, but some other nice ones to look at are Bembo, Scala Pro, Stone Serif, Sabon, and Dolly.

    10/12 was a standard body text size/leading, but the tendency is to go a little larger now–like 11 point for type size–and as large as you can go before it doesn’t look good for leading. Of course, you should still look at specific types in each situation.

    I recently used 11/14 of one type for a book and then, right after that, 12/15 for another.

    Bookman, I think, is rather boring ; and New Century Schoolbook is ideal for–as its name suggests–children’s books.

    It’s inexact, the process, both an art and a craft. There are a number of good books that, if you’re going to pursue publishing books other than your own, are worth investing in. I’d start with Robert Bringhurst’s The Elements of Typographic Style and Rich Hendel’s On Book Design.

    Or you could hire me, got to Hawaii for a few weeks and come back to printer-ready files of a mighty fine looking book.


  7. The Garamond is a nice font, but it needs to be a little more than 11, from my point of view…which is that of the older reader. I don’t like being chained to a special reading lamp and a magnifying glass. I like to take my book out to the porch. I do wear reading glasses, but even so it is much pleasanter (less painful!) to read the larger type, such as the Palatino 11.
    Take your time…don’t rush…enjoy the process. Birthing a baby goes at its own pace.

  8. Stephen Taino told me on Twitter that he posted a long comment that needed moderation. You might want to check your comments that need moderation. He’s a professional book designer, and I’m sure what he says will be valuable to you.