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What is the right typeface for text?

For text that's smooth, clear and readable,
the operative word is medium.

Text type is more common than any other. Text makes up the acres of gray in books, magazines, reports, and hundreds of other documents. When reading is the primary goal, it's the designer's job to ensure that the text is smooth, flowing and pleasant to read. The hallmarks of good text type are legibility and readability. Legibility refers to clarity; it's how readily one letter can be distinquished from all others. Readability refers to how well letters interact to compose words, sentences and paragraphs. When evaluating the choices, the operative word is medium...

1. Pick a typeface with similar character widths
For the smoothest appearance, an alphabet's characters should have similar widths. Reading has a natural rhythm, an alphabet such as Futura (below, top) with widely varying character widths disrupts it.

widely varying widths Futura Light
similar widths Times New Roman

2. Medium height-to-width ratio
We identify letters by their physical characteristics - stems, bars, loops, curves and so on; the clearer they are the more legible the letter. As letters are compressed (or expanded), these features get distorted - diagonal strokes, for example, become quite vertical - and so are harder to identify.

medium and compressed

3. Medium x-height
The x-height of a type-style is the height of it's lowercase characters. The larger the x-height, the denser the type will appear. You want medium - usually tall or short x-heights are better suited for speciality projects.

medium xheights

x-height variations
Incredibly, all four typefaces are the same point size! For text, avoid the extreme on each end.

xheight variations

4. Look for small variations in stroke weight
The best text faces have stroke weights that vary somewhat, which make converging lines that help the eye flow smoothly. But avoid extremes. Modern styles (below left) vary too much; at high resolution their beautiful, super thin strokes disappear in a dazzle. Sleek geo-metric styles (below, right) vary little or not at all, so are too uniform.

bauer bodoni - futura medium

5. Watch out for mirrors
Geometric typestyles are so uniform that their letters are often mirror images. For text, this is not idea - the more distinct each leter is, the more legible whole words will be. Look for typestyles that don't mirror.

mirrored type

6. Avoid overlarge counters
Counter are the enclosed spaces inside letters. Avoid typestyles whose counters are very large in relation to the stroke weight. In the case of Avant Garde (below), note how much greater the space inside the letters is than the space outside! This will slow the reader; set in text (bottom), Avant Garde looks like swiss cheese!

itc avant garde

itc avant garde

7. Avoid quirkiness Typographic sprites are fun to look at and great for heads, but in text they wear out their welcome fast. Why? The extra swashiness gives the eye too much to follow and is very tiring.

belwe

belwe

Recommended Text Faces
While many typefaces meet the requirements of legibility, readability and beauty, the following are popular:



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