Elements of Typographic Style


A guiding philosophy of type

Here’s a reader favorite from 2003. – MF

For a long while I’ve been looking for an expert who could guide me through the complex world of typography. I didn’t need another artsy typographical design book. I wanted a reliable friend who could introduce me to the philosophy of type and then also practically guide me through the jungle of fonts to ones that work best. Mr. Bringhurst is that guru. Under his apprentice I understood for the first time how to architecturally shape a page with text, as if I were building a house. I figured out when to kern, or not. Now I find myself drawn back to his study every time I need to craft a book, a webpage, or format a report. The wisdom and experience in this book is astounding. It’s for anyone who makes words visible. That’s all of us. The book is regularly updated. Blessings on Bringhurst.

-- KK 05/24/17


Too little kerning is preferable to too much, and inconsistent kerning is worse than none.

Choose faces that will survive, and if possible, prosper, under the final printing conditions.

Bembo and Centaur, Spectrum and Palatino, are subtle and beautiful alphabets, but if you are setting 8 pt text with a laser printer on plain paper at 300 dpi, the refined forms of these faces will be rubbed into the coarse digital mud of the imaging process. If the final output will be 14 pt text set directly to film at 3000 dpi, then printed by good offset lithography on the best coated paper, every nuance may be crystal clear, but the result will still lack the character and texture of the letterpress medium for which these faces were designed.

Some of the most innocent looking faces are actually the most difficult to render by digital means. Optima, for example -- an unserifed and apparently uncomplicated face -- is constructed entirely of subtle tapers and curves that can be adequately rendered only at the highest resolutions.

Faces with blunt and substantial serifs, open counters, gentle modelling and minimal pretensions to aristocratic grace stand the best chance of surviving the indignities of low resolution. Amasis, Caecilia, Lucida, Stone and Utopia, for example, while they prosper at high resolutions, are faces that will also survive under cruder conditions lethal to Centaur, Spectrum, Linotype Didot or almost any version of Bodoni.

Start with a single typographic family