Choosing Typefaces

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

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.