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5 Favorite Free Fonts for Interior Book Design

31 August 2015

From book designer Joel Friedlander:

As I said a number of years ago, as publishers “we want our books to be as easy to read as possible while communicating the author’s intent. Style and fashion also play their part in many book designs, particularly in popular niches. The accumulated expectations of 500 years of book readers also come into play. Books are pretty conventional objects, after all.

“Some fonts really lend themselves to book design while others, which look good in a brochure or on a business card or billboard, make odd, unreadable books. Any idiosyncrasy in the type design will be magnified by the repetition of typesetting 75,000 or 100,000 words in thousands of lines on hundreds of pages.

“So the choice of your basic typeface looms large when you sit down to design your book.”

In that article I selected five typefaces that are favorites of mine, and that post has been one of the most popular here ever since.

Now, having spent the last couple of years designing with free fonts to create the book templates at BookDesignTemplates.com, I’ve developed a whole new list. This time, all the fonts are free and licensed for you to use freely, too.

Link to the rest at The Book Designer and thanks to Deb for the tip.

Books in General

70 Comments to “5 Favorite Free Fonts for Interior Book Design”

  1. Thanks for this post! I’m quite impressed at the nuance and great hinting in many of the newer text fonts. I’m going to test two of them today. They also seem to present a very even color field. Really important in reducing eyestrain.

  2. So, what’s the take-away here? To always use a book designer? None of these are standard MS-Word fonts that I can tell. Smells of author-money-hunt from where I sit.

    • I have found his site to have good information. But I see him coming for the era of print where you had to have people with specialized skills before digital. Yeah type is important, but I think that’s a real old school concern from when something printed was a big deal. I want to presentation to be simple and not get in the way of the story. Make it simple to read. Basic design common sense. And you know, print sales for most indies really aren’t something to sink a lot of time or money into. For me, doing a POD version is more vanity than anything. It’s just me wanting a few print copies to give away. I sell ebooks not pbooks.

      • Ebooks are all well and good, but if your work is written for older readers (anyone over say, fifty), then it should be available in print as well. All my own titles are available in both print and all ebook formats and while e-publishing and digital imaging have their own set of special needs, I’m glad I have enough knowledge of print production that I can easily adapt for that purpose. Plus, the design sense and ability honed in the days of print carries over quite well into modern imaging as it was so much more complex and nuance ridden.

    • I think he’s just sharing to help people make better books. “This time, all the fonts are free and licensed for you to use freely, too.”

    • Prpbably not MS-Word fonts, but why would you want MS-Word only fonts ? As far as I understand, the typefaces/fonts are free, so you should be able to download them (for free) and add them to your ebook production for integration in the final ebook version (if “integrated fonts” are supported by the ereader).

    • Deb, you can install fonts on your computer and your programs (such as Word) will pick them up.

      Lots of font designers offer samplers on free sites such as dafont.com or fontsquirrel. You can test out the font, see how you like it, and if you want the full font you can buy it. Most font licenses are inexpensive. I think the most I’ve ever paid was $55. That was unusual. Most of the font licenses I buy run around $20.

      One way to find the perfect font is to set up dummy pages, print them out and compare them side by side.

    • It’s not a money grab. I’m not using a book designer, but I do like their advice (I’ve read more than just Joel) about font-pairing and readability of different fonts. The classic ones have stood the test of time, and will be “easy on the eyes” for the reader. Some fonts work well for print (Caslon, Goudy Old Style), others for the screen (Georgia).

      If you don’t intend to embed a particular font into your ebook, it shouldn’t cost you much to get a family (a set that includes regular, bold, italics). Note that if the font is only going to be used on the cover, you don’t need to pay for an embed license.

      If you *do* want to embed the font into the text of an ebook, head over to MyFonts.com and search for “Ebook license exists.” That will be the most expensive option of any given font license, but that’s entirely dependent on which font you get. Some ebook licenses are free. Fontsquirrel and a couple of others are more places to find some as well.

    • Joel does offer a book designing service (along with some other things, I believe), so he’s offering free advice to educate book designers (even indy authors) to show his expertise.

      I wouldn’t use his services, but only because I have experience in designing books, but I’ve found his advice helpful. It’s detailed enough to draw font nerds into his comments, and well above the common “5 Reasons Why YOU Should Self-Publish” book-marketing posts.

  3. It doesn’t cost a thing to try and sample your text in a variety of fonts. These fonts are free, and you can swap ’em in an out in Word to sample the variety of legibility, even coverage, etc. I recommend any author producing their own books in either print or in eFormat should do this to find a font that is easiest to read and easiest on the eyes. Your own eyes are a perfectly good judge. You may also find a specific text font in the free list, that conveys a more authentic look for say period/historic fiction, or scifi, etc. I’m always happy to see if the stuff in the freebie tray works!

  4. For those of us who are technically challenged, how does one go about getting one of these into Word? I can download it, of course, but where does it need to go so that Word can find it and I can use it?

    • Kat, all you need to do in Windows is download the font, extract the zipped folder to someplace you want to store the fonts, then right click the filename and select install. The next time you open Word, the new font’s will be among the choices as long as you are out of the default styles. It’s not hard at all.

    • Open the zip file the font comes in and a sample box will open. There should be an icon that says install. Click that and it will install in the fonts folder.

    • If you’re using Windows 7 and up, all you do is:

      1. Download it. Usually it’s in a zip file.
      2. Double click to extract the files. You can extract them to your hard drive or desktop, etc.
      3. Open the unzipped folder. You may see different “documents,” which are the regular, italic, bold, small cap etc. styles of the font. Right-click on each one and say “Install.”
      4. Open Word and begin using.

      • And if that doesn’t work, unzip the files. Open each font’s folder until you come to the files with “.otf” as a file type. Open another window (Windows symbol + E), double-click on your main drive (typically the C drive). Double-click on the Windows folder, then drop the “.otf” files into the Fonts folder.

        (Of the five fonts, clicking on four of them will reveal the .otf files. The Fanwood font folder will show you another Fanwood folder. Click on that will reveal the four otf files (Fanwood Italic.otf, Fanwood Text Italic.otf, Fanwood Text.otf and Fanwood.otf).

        • Wow. I do love PG people! Thank you all for all the fast, accurate, and helpful installation advice. It worked

        • Just to add, since I’m late (as usual). On a Mac, double click the .otf file resulting from unzipping the font file you downloaded. FontBook will open displaying the font. At the bottom left, there’ll be a button that says “not installed.” On the right, a button that says, “Install font.” Click that and you’re good to go. (BTW, if FontBook opens directly to the font instead of the smaller information window, the font’s been installed already.)

    • I’m totally technologically-challenged, and I figured it out in seconds. I chose totally free fonts from a couple of online sources (I always read the licenses and make SURE it’s free for commercial use), downloaded them, extracted, installed. Done. You get prompts. When you reopen Word, it picks the fonts up.

      Ditto the Word for Mac. It’s not a big deal, other than sometimes you have to choose variations of the font (bold, italics, etc)

  5. I tend to favor Adobe Caslon Pro for my bodytext.

  6. Just a word of warning: When Joel said he had to tailor some of the fonts, what that means is that if you don’t know fonts, don’t download and use with abandon. Free fonts are great, but if you don’t understand what the designer is talking about, move on to another font. That said, these are also the kind of fonts that may be good for pullquotes or drop caps.

    • Yes. To be more specific, he says here,

      “Fanwood Text roman and italic are the same as Fanwood but slightly darker and reduced in contrast; I tailored it to increase readability on my Amazon Kindle 3 e-book reader.”

      Certain fonts are too light to be used on an e-reader, so you may have to use the darker, “medium weight” of that font, which is not the same as “bold” — assuming, of course, that the version you have comes in medium weight.

      Some free fonts, for example, Sorts Mill Goudy, don’t allow “medium weight,” CSS styling. This means you have to use a different brand of that font, e.g. Monotype, Adobe, URW, etc. to get one that comes in various weights.

      Otherwise, you have to look for a version of the font that’s designed in the preferred weight to start with. For example, Goudy Catalog is the medium weight of Goudy Old Style).

      Joel also says, of the Rosarivo font, …It is designed to work well in long texts with generous line spacing.” This last statement should be heeded, since you can see from the sample the ascenders and descenders may need more than usual line spacing …

      That suggests that this font shouldn’t be chosen if you’re sensitive to page count. If you don’t want more than 300 pages in your 6×9 book, and the best line height for 12pt Rosarivo is, say, 18pts, then you’re probably not going to make that page count if your book is, oh, 90k words (this is just a hypothetical, I have no idea of the actual math for that font).

  7. I used Rosarivo, one of the fonts he mentioned, in my paperback. It was in the book design template I purchased from Joel.

    • Me, too. I used the Balance template for my print version. At $37, it was a bargain, as far as I was concerned. Came out looking great and certainly far better than anything I could have done on my own.

      • I feel the same way about the cost and how it looked. I used Bomber and bought the multi-book version when he had a sale almost two years ago.

  8. I’ve installed both Crimson and Rosarvio, and sampled them, but still went with Adobe Garamond Pro.
    Maybe when I’m redoing things I’ll go back; I liked both of the new ones.

    ET Correct spelling.

  9. I always use Adobe Garamond myself, but I never say no to a freebie font. Thanks 🙂

  10. People are talking about embedding fonts for ebooks, but
    A.) KDP recommends NOT embedding fonts in your book, and
    B.) when I tried anyway, the embedded font still defaulted to whatever Kindle display font I selected on my Fire.
    So how are you embedding fonts for ebooks?

    • There was a problem with KDP stripping fonts. I was asked to produce ebooks for the newspaper where I work, and I had to go several rounds with Amazon over the font-stripping. I discovered the tech team had no idea you could make an ebook with something other than Microsoft Word; they didn’t know about Sigil.

      Once I explained about Sigil, the tech team was able to fix the problem. I’ve uploaded a second book a week ago, and so far, so good. Give it another try.

    • Also, in the guidelines, I never saw that KDP said NOT to have custom fonts. They just want you to have fallbacks. That is, you can say you want the main text to be Alegreya, a custom font, but you have to allow readers to use Bookerly or Lucida if they want.

      It’s possible to code the book so that the reader can’t choose what font they want to use for the main body of text, e.g., you can code it so they can only choose Alegreya, and not Lucida or Bookerly, and that is what KDP is against. They seem to be okay with you using a specific font for headings or captions, etc. It’s the main body of text where the reader needs to have choices.

    • Kathlena, I don’t recommend embedding fonts for the body text for a number of reasons. It’s pretty much a waste of time and file space, but the biggest problem is special character rendition which can go wonkers on you.

      But, for special touches such as headers or maybe a sign or special note, the trick is to use .ttf formats (True Type) NOT .otf (Open Type). I don’t know why Kindles have a problem with .otf formats, since most read them just fine, but while tablets will open on the Publisher Font, no problem, the eink readers will use the defaults and the reader has to know to select the Publisher Font. That doesn’t happen with .ttf formats. Many .otf fonts can be converted into .ttf format (google it–there are free converters).

      To keep the body text from defaulting to a sans serif font on older Kindle models when in Publisher Font mode, declare a serif font family in the body text.

      • Thanks, Jaye. I did also read several places that embedded fonts can cause problems. I’m using plain-Jane Times New Roman, but wanted a san serif for text messages in the story (which I’ve actually seen done in Amazon-pub books) and Comic Sans for a flyer. I’ll check to see if they’re .ttf fonts.

        To be honest, I’m just uploading Word files, since I’ve never had any problems this way and KDP asks for Word files, anyway.

        • For Kindle v.1 and v.2 (and maybe Keyboard, but I think it was fixed for most of the Keyboards production run), embedded fonts used to cause serious problems — they’d show up as black boxes or whatnot instead of as letters.

          This was actually a software problem, and was fixed for the book builder with an upgrade of Kindlegen. However, the common wisdom of book designers at the time was that ALL embedded fonts caused problems and you should NEVER do it.

          It was no longer true, but the then-gurus of ebook design taught the burgeoning self-publishers of the day never to EVER use an embedded font, because it can “cause problems.” Many of these self-publishers repeated this advice, and the people they repeated it to repeated it, and so on and so forth.

          A lot of people giving this advice aren’t even aware of what “problems” these embedded fonts actually cause; they just know they cause problems and so they tell others not to embed fonts.

          Not to say there are NO problems with embedded fonts, but using them in a limited capacity is fine.

      • “special character rendition which can go wonkers on you”

        I discovered this when I had used special characters for foreign words in a book. Not just the usual accents over letters, but umlauts and long marks over vowels. Most fonts can handle the simpler accents (such as you find in French words), but replaces letters with rectangles with more complex marks. Replacing them required another go-round and delayed publication a week.

        Learned my lesson.

    • This is what happened to me. I wanted to use an already-available MS-Word font in my document to send to the Kindle, to distinguish an IM conversation from a face-to-face. I already used italic TNR for something else, so I wanted a third option.

      Kindle reverted it to plain TNR no matter what I did. Any remedy for this?

      • I checked Jaye’s suggestion about using True Type fonts (I was). I think the next step will have to be contacting KDP support to see if this is possible without getting into coding. I can make software do a lot, but I’m no coder.

  11. I used Alegreya in my last print book and loved it. I’m not sure I’d use it in an eBook, however.

    For eBooks, I wouldn’t usually recommend using embedded fonts, with a few exceptions. In general, most people set their general text to a specific default font (such as the newly released Bookerly) because they like\have an easier time reading books in that font. But if you use a specific font sparingly (such as for a section that requires a monotype font, or for a title font used in chapter headings and the like) it adds color and doesn’t annoy those readers who are set in their specific font.

  12. Like some other people, I wouldn’t recommend embedding a font in an ebook. As a reader, it pisses me off when publishers do that for the body font. I want the font that I want, that works best for my old eyes and my ereader, thank you very much! (Doesn’t bother me for the display font, for chapter headers/names, etc.)

    As for print books, I’ve always felt that font choice is as much art as craft. The wrong font makes you angry. Trust me on this one. So choose your fonts carefully, get the one that “feels” right, not the one that some designer tells you to use. (Not suggesting that Joel would push the wrong font on someone. Other designers? Not necessarily as conscientious.)

    • For my first print book, I followed a professional book designer’s “free advice” and used Book Antiqua with a particular template. That turned out to be a mistake.

      The punctuation all looked funny, and even at a smaller-sized font it looked like a large print book. It wasn’t so horrible that I felt the need to redesign the whole book (changing the font would change the font size; changing the font size changes the widows, orphans, and overall page count; changing the page count would change the cover; etc., etc.), but I resolved I would do better next time, using my own eye for design and skills (I actually learned layout and computer-aided design in college; I was ten years rusty, but I did have training).

      When I did my second, the only template I used was the one for the dimensions of the book cover. When it came time to picking a font, I selected a paragraph from the book and printed it out a dozen times, using a different font for each copy. Ran a blind test among a dozen people I knew (mostly friends and family). Ended up with one of my “free font” options — namely, as I said above, Alegreya. I loved it, and the book looked so much better. All by NOT listening to that “professional book designer” a second time.

  13. This reminds me of a book I read a few years back which really incorporated fonts well. Check out The Knife of Never Letting Go (http://www.amazon.com/Knife-Never-Letting-Reissue-bonus/dp/0763676187/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=), you can see some examples if you look inside the paperback version, but you’ll have to take it on faith that it’s more than just a gimmick through the book.

    Looking inside the ebook version, it looks like the special fonts were lost, which I find a bit sad. Not sure you’d get the same intense feel from some sections later in the book – when the noise gets overwhelming, you can see it on the page because everything overlaps – which is basically what noise is.

    Unfortunately use of typography dropped off as the series progressed, but it was still a fun read (YA), and the ending wasn’t terrible; which is probably slightly above average by today’s standards, by my measure…

  14. Am I the only one who thinks that most of the current obsession of the internet and hipsters everywhere with fonts is mostly hot air? There are some obvious decisions that need to be made (serif vs sans, proportional vs monospace, weight), and some silly-looking fonts that are obviously not appropriate for book text. Beyond that, as long as you select a reasonable-looking, easy-to-read font with no silly characters, then I seriously doubt most people (99.9%) much notice or care about nitty-gritty details. Typeface design has always struck me as a half-assed pseudoscience that practitioners think is both a science and an art.

    • People (mostly designers and graphic artists) get tired of looking at fonts. I know I do. Does this affect most people? Nope. Probably not. There are definitely typefaces that are more readable at certain sizes than others. I prefer a larger x-height font with a bigger line-height, but for the most part, you are right. Its about as scientific as current fashion. Its just about what’s currently hitting the fashion-maker’s tastes.

    • …I seriously doubt most people (99.9%) much notice or care about nitty-gritty details.

      99.9% of people don’t notice anything at all about design…consciously. Reaction to design takes place mostly outside of consciousness, but that tends to make it more significant rather than less.

      • Exactly. People may not consciously know the rule not to pair sans serifs together and serifs together, but they do know that it looks “wrong” to put Ariel and Gill Sans together, or Times New Roman with Garamond. A viewer may not know that the font category is called “blackletter,” but they will get confused or annoyed if it’s used for a design that’s supposed to invoke Japan or the Middle East or ancient Greece.

    • You’re absolutely right. Fonts don’t matter at all.

      Oh. Wait.

      • Yeah, until you try setting a page in Cooper Black Ital and then trying to read it in 12 point over 14 point leading (led-ing, from the ancient craft of hammering type into foundry frames for letterpress), blah, blah, blah… there are more ways to go wrong with type than to go right.

      • @Meryl– OMG!! 😀

      • Oh my 🙂

      • Good one, Meryl!

      • Come on, now. I never once said fonts don’t matter. I said that they’re not the esoteric pseudoscience/art they’re made out to be.

        • I was going to respond with a short lecture on how you completely misunderstand the craft of typography–note the word “craft”, because that’s what font design is–but you know, I think I’ll pass. It’s late, and I’m tired.

          • I’ll take this one, Meryl.

            Beyond that, as long as you select a reasonable-looking, easy-to-read font with no silly characters, then I seriously doubt most people (99.9%) much notice or care about nitty-gritty details. Typeface design has always struck me as a half-assed pseudoscience that practitioners think is both a science and an art.

            Horse shoeing has always struck me as a half-assed pseudoscience, I mean as long as you cover the hoof with something, then I seriously doubt most people (99.9%) much notice or care what type of horseshoe is used.

            Solar passive design has always struck me as a half-assed pseudoscience. As long as your house has good insulation then it doesn’t take much energy to control the internal temperature, amiright? I seriously doubt most people (99.9%) much notice or care if a house has an appropriate orientation, thermal mass location and capacity, blah blah.

            “That subject that I don’t really know about? I don’t really see what all the fuss is.”

            Art and science aren’t what you are doing, they’re HOW you are doing it. It doesn’t much matter whether anyone else thinks the “what” is relevant.

            • That’ll do, MrTroy. That’ll do.

              • Mr. Troy;
                As someone who lived in an honest to God adobe home for twenty years in New Mexico, I can vouch for the reality of solar passive design. It works, and when done properly saves a lot of money/energy and makes a home much more comfortable both in winter and summer.

                Typography can be like that, in that you may not need to know all the nuance, but if it works for the reader, then the designer (or author) chose well.

            • Farriers don’t have a thousands-strong online community telling me not to use that one Microsoft-made horseshoe because “horses wearing it won’t be taken seriously.” I also really doubt they try to convince horses that some shoes are “warm” while other are “cold,” all while backing their assertions up with absolutely no empirical studies. Anyone can make unfounded assertions about their work of course, but I don’t see why typographers get a pass on this–and they do, at least in the online community.

              I’m almost certain that there are empirical studies proving the effectiveness of passive solar design.

              • There is a difference between an actual typographer and someone you read online who says s/he knows something about fonts. I don’t know what communities you’re talking about because you haven’t linked to any. But there is no lack of uneducated opinions on the internet.

                I spent decades in the typesetting and desktop publishing worlds. I know how much work and craft it takes to produce a well-typeset piece, whether digital or print. You seem to be confusing people like me with the ignorant crowds who hate Comic Sans because they think it’s fashionable to do so.

                Feel free to laugh at those people. But do some research and learn about actual typography before you slam an entire craft because you don’t know enough about it.

                • Besides Meryl, aren’t there times when Comic Sans is absolutely perfect for a given use? One word which isn’t used much any more when it comes to selecting a font is “appropriateness” It’s a mouthful, but it’s one I learned through lots of trial and error back in the days of marker pens! LOL!

                • I happen to love Comic Sans, and yes, there are times when it is perfectly appropriate to use. Most people who hate it are not typographers. They’re bandwagoners.

    • That’s mostly true for body text. You want something simple and readable that won’t strain the eyes over many pages.

      But when you get into covers and the like, playing around with lots of different fonts is fun.

      The art and science behind typeface is really fascinating if you’re a nerdy kind of person. I think it’s cool. 😉

  15. I think some people are more sensitive about fonts than most (that applies to everything: music, books, food, drink). I’m not a designer, but I love the look of things, so I’m more interested in fonts (a newspaper environment helps).

    Most people would know the difference between sans serif and Omar Sharif, but they’ll know something looks “wrong” about a badly set page.

  16. You must mean Omar Serif, right?

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