• Type Selection

  • When choosing a type family for setting a book, we need to take both a microscopic and a big picture view of our choice.

Legibility is the focus when choosing a typeface for a long publication. We’ll choose an Old Style serif type family designed for such an application. There are times when you can use a sans-serif for a long document, but not in a fiction novel. Our choice needs to have a large compliment of OpenType features such as ligatures, small caps, old style numerals and alternate glyphs.

We want to make sure the colour of the page is uniform. Type size, width and weight as well as leading has a large bearing on this.

There’s on old adage by typesetters that says, When in doubt, choose Caslon. So let’s avoid Caslon (and Garamond) altogether. There are many great alternatives out there.


Properties to Seek Out

The features below are not all required, but they are good to have. It all depends on context.

Grimm's Pages Type Properties

We’ll need to do research to know which typefaces are suitable for a long fiction text, like Caslon, but not Caslon.

Measuring Type

Not all 36 point type measures 36 points!

Type Measurement

In this figure, we have two serif typefaces set at 36pts. Look at the huge difference in apparent size. The one on the left has a small x-height. It also has a very small body hight relative to the point size.

How to Access These Features

Ligatures should appear automatically in InDesign. If not, go to the paragraph style > Basic Character Formats > Ligatures.
If you want 1/4 to look like ¼, go to the paragraph style’s OpenType features, then turn on Fractions.
Old Style Figures
If you want old style numbers, go to the paragraph style’s OpenType features, then choose Figure Style Tabular Oldstyle.
Put your cursor in a text frame. Go Type Menu > Glyphs. Double-click on the ornament you want.

Stick with Old Style

We’ll mostly keep to Old Style typefaces for book page design. Remember, Old Style serif typefaces have these characteristics.

Classification Old Style

The bar on the e is horizontal. Their serifs are bracketed. An inclined axis. If you want to choose something that’s not Old Style, please pass it by me. Some humanist serif typefaces may also be acceptable.

Fine Serifs & Noise

Avoid typefaces that appear too noisy on the page. This is an example.

Text that's too noisy

See in the enlarged word how each glyph has very pronounced angles. This makes the text noisy at regular reading type size. This is definitely something to avoid for a long document like a fiction novel.

Modern typefaces have very thin serifs. Also, the thick-thin contrast is too great.

Text with skinny serifs

See how the block of text looks like a spider walked all over our page with ink on its feet? That’s not a good look. Printing a long document such as a fiction novel is done with black ink only. When the serifs are so fine, they risk not being printed at all which is also frowned upon.

More on Stylistic Elements



Ornaments are actually glyphs that are part of a font. The simplest way to choose one is to select a font, then open the glyphs panel to get a list. A majority of fonts don’t have ornaments. They’re a lot of work for the typographer to design.

Depending on the context, ornaments can create a visual break in reading and enhance the appearance of our pages.



Stylistic alternates can add elegance or ease-of-reading to our text. Conversely, we need to careful that they’re not more of a distraction.



Ligatures can ease flow when reading. As with alternates, they can be distracting.

Old Style Figures

Old Style Figures

Old style figures, also known as non-lining figures are shifted relative to the baseline. These figures add style and legibility to numbers. There’s more differentiation between digits.

By the way…

This is what I meant by distracting ligatures.

Distracting Text