Choosing Typefaces

A start­ing point for the age-old prob­lem of choos­ing a house face

Perpetua from Flickr
Per­pet­ua from Flickr

In the let­ter­press world, the choice of type­faces was a very big con­sid­er­a­tion.  Remem­ber that today we can down­load new faces and use them imme­di­ate­ly.  In let­ter­press set­tling on one face meant a large out­lay and phys­i­cal space occu­pied by type­cas­es and lead type.  It was no sim­ple mat­ter to adopt a new house face once all that mon­ey had been spent.

Print­ers sel­dom had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to start afresh so this arti­cle is some­what ide­al­is­tic, but all print­ers were encour­aged to have a sys­tem or a house approach to types.  This arti­cle is based on a Novem­ber 1957 arti­cle in Print in Britain, and is unusu­al because it was­n’t based on the self-inter­est of any one founder or com­pos­ing sup­pli­er (like Mono­type or Lino­type).  The arti­cle assumes a small­er print­ing works where there could not be an end­less sup­ply of space or cap­i­tal to spend on type.

The first con­cern is around the class of work that the print­er would under­take and we can clas­si­fy our small print­er in to one of three groups –

  • Class A: All round small job­bing: com­mer­cial work, adverts, shops and trades­men’s print­ing
  • Class B: Pro­fes­sion­al-class job­bing: brochures, leaflets and more ambi­tious than Class A
  • Class C: Fur­ther devel­oped job­bing: an exten­sion of Class B that might include colour work or some books

We also need to know whether the print­er has cho­sen to be a Mono­type house or a line-cast­ing house (using a Lino­type or an Inter­type).  The faces avail­able on each of these sys­tems was dif­fer­ent.

The Monotype House

Class A Printer

The rec­om­men­da­tion here is that because Times New Roman (Mono­type Series 327) is so ubiq­ui­tous, it does need to be includ­ed but should not be first choice.  An old face design like Imprint (101) might take the top slot in 9, 11 and 12pt.  The Gill fam­i­ly (262) would come next con­sid­er­ing the many vari­ants that might be used with­in this fam­i­ly and the fact that it can be sup­ple­ment­ed with dis­play faces.  Start with 6, 8, 10 and 12pt.  Final­ly, Times New Roman should be bought in 8, 10 and 12pt with 6pt an option for small adver­tis­ing work.  The rule here (and for all oth­er faces) is to get ital­ic, then small caps, then bold if need­ed.

Class B Printer

The empha­sis here is on the pro­fes­sion­al approach and so the choice of faces changes slight­ly.  Know­ing that this work is to pro­duce more last­ing items (like brochures) rather than the throw-away cir­cu­lar the approach is a lit­tle more clas­sic.

The rec­om­men­da­tion is to use Baskerville (169) instead of Imprint (in sizes 8, 10, 12pt).  Plan­tin (110) (in 8, 10 and 11pt) would be used in lieu of Times.  Plan­tin is rec­om­mend­ed because of its ‘august’ appear­ance when well-lead­ed and its econ­o­my of space when need­ed.

Gill is used again for the sans serif face.

Class C Printer

The Class C print­er will also need to be able to tack­le some book work, and we rec­om­mend Bem­bo (270) in 10, 12 and 14pt to sup­ple­ment the Class B list.  One word of cau­tion here, the ital­ics and small caps will be crit­i­cal in this work so need to be seen as inte­gral with the pur­chase of the roman.  Bold might be bought at a lat­er stage.  This print­er might also buy Times New Roman as a fifth choice.

The Linotype or Intertype House

With a slight­ly more lim­it­ed range of faces, there is per­haps less scope to dis­cuss the var­i­ous com­bi­na­tions.  One con­sid­er­a­tion is the faces to be duplexed that’s to say which two faces should appear on each matrix.  Some faces had no relat­ed bold so a bold from a sim­i­lar face had to be sup­plied.  For most work the ital­ic (rather than the bold) was best to be duplexed with the roman.

Class A Printer

  • Times (with ital­ic and small caps) 8, 10, 12pt
  • Granjon (with ital­ic and small caps) 9, 11, 12pt
  • Metrob­lack No. 2 (per­haps with Metro­light No. 2) 6, 8, 10, 12pt

Class B Printer

This print­er would keep Metrob­lack as the sans serif but use some more tra­di­tion­al faces:

  • Granjon (with ital­ic and small caps) 8, 10, 12pt
  • Times New Roman (with ital­ic and small caps) 9, 10, 12pt
  • Plan­tin (with ital­ic and small caps) 8, 10, 11pt

Class C Printer

  • Granjon (with ital­ic and small caps) 8, 10, 12pt
  • Plan­tin (with ital­ic and small caps) 8, 10, 11pt
  • Cale­do­nia (with ital­ic and small caps) 8, 10, 12pt

With a fourth face of Pil­grim (10 and 12pt) and a fifth for book work of Min­er­va (8, 10, 12pt).

Display Types

Types larg­er than 14pt are classed as dis­play types and are usu­al­ly used for head­ings rather than body text.  The choic­es here expand depend­ing on the house.

Monotype House

The Class A print­er is rec­om­mend­ed to get the com­pan­ion dis­play sizes for his basic selec­tion: so Gill and Times in dis­play sizes.  Spread­ing fur­ther Head­line Bold (595) or Per­pet­ua Titling (258) might be used.

The Class B print­er might use Alber­tus (481) and maybe Rock­well Bold (391).

Print­ers in Class C will need Per­pet­ua for head­lines, chap­ter open­ings and dropped cap­i­tals in book work.

For all of these groups, a use­ful script would be Klang (593); but this will need to be con­trast­ed with the rest of the piece.

Linotype or Intertype House

Again, we have the issue around a more lim­it­ed num­ber of faces.  Some faces also had vari­ants or sizes miss­ing in the series.  For the Class A print­er, Cen­tu­ry Bold, Metromedi­um and Granjon should be used, with Pab­st Extra Bold as a fourth choice.  Class B print­er should use Mem­phis Bold, Plan­tin and Times New Roman.  Print­er C should use Min­er­va Bold and Scotch Roman No. 2.

Because line cast­ing hous­es typ­i­cal­ly includ­ed a Lud­low machine, Lud­low faces in sizes 36 to 72 should be reviewed: Tem­po Heavy, Bodoni Bold, Franklin Goth­ic, Caslon and Gara­mond are can­di­dates.

Founders’ Types

Regard­less of the house approach to type­set­ting, some more exot­ic types could be employed that have been bought from type­founders.  This list should be strict­ly lim­it­ed, though, con­sid­er­ing the expense and space that these less-used faces would need.

From Stephen­son, Blake the rec­om­men­da­tions are: Grotesque No. 9 and ital­ic; Chis­el, Old Face Open and Franch­esca Ronde; along with an antique face like Con­sort (or Antiques No. 3 and No. 6 from Stevens, Shanks).

Con­ti­nen­tal founders’ might sup­ply Mis­tral, Sap­phire Ini­tials, Stu­dio, Hol­la, Paris Weiss and Stop.