Typefaces and fonts

You’re going to need some nice typefaces and nice typefaces cost money son!

May I start this article by saying that I’m not one hundred per cent sure what the difference is between a typeface and a font. I believe typeface refers to a type family (such as Helvetica), whereas a font is a specific member of one (such as Helvetica 45 Italic). Anyway, it’s not that important — it’s something designers will debate endlessly, when they’re not boring you rigid with the specs of their new MacBooks.

What can’t I use the fonts I get with my PC?

The answer is, you can, but there are a couple of serious drawbacks with doing this:

  1. They’re not really very nice. Do you really want your publications to look like the MS Word documents produced by your boss’s secretary?
  2. The pre-installed Windows fonts don’t come in families, which you’re really going to need for long publications

Let me expand more on my second point. If you’re typesetting a long publication, you’ll want your chapter headings in a large, heavy font, your subheadings slightly smaller and lighter, culminating in your body copy, which will be the lightest and smallest of all. Now, Windows’ Times New Roman and Arial fonts don’t give you this option. Worse still, you can’t really hit the bold button on the Quark control panel, because it doesn’t give you a true bold font. (I made this mistake early on and got a bit of a shock when the proofs came back from the printers.) Although confusingly, at least on a PC, hitting the italic button gives you the true italic face.

Which fonts to buy

Now, of course, I can’t give you any advice on this. It’s going to depend on a few things.

  • If you’re taking over from an external designer, then it’s pretty easy as you’re just reproducing a standard template
  • Your organisation may have corporate guidelines on this kind of thing. My organisation’s design guide recommends Helvetica, Frutiger, Garamond and Times. I do bend the rules a little bit (there are several variants of these) but I do follow the spirit of the guidelines
  • If your organisation does not have design guidelines, then it’s probably time to get a professional designer in, to design some templates and draw up some design rules for you to follow

TrueType, PostScript or OpenType?

This a slightly baffling subject, but if you’re on a PC, you’ll want to buy TrueType fonts and if you’re on a Mac, you’ll want to buy PostScript. These types of fonts aren’t generally compatible with each other. If you’re swapping files with an external designer, you’ll obviously want to ensure you’re using compatible fonts. If you’re working alone and sending PDFs to a printer, then it doesn’t matter as long as you’ve embedded them correctly in the PDF.

OpenType fonts are a fairly recent development and are compatible across platforms (they’re also the most expensive). So, in theory, Mac Quark users and PC Quark users could swap files, although you might well have to buy one set of fonts for yourself and one set for your designer. I genuinely don’t know how painless (or painful) this is — QuarkXPress for PC and Mac are a lot more compatible than they used to be, but you’d have to ask someone who regularly does it.

Where to buy fonts

Fonts are available from companies such as Adobe, Linotype and ITC. When I was buying them, many searches tended to end up at fonts.com, who seem to be the biggest font distributor on the internet. Fonts certainly aren’t cheap — if you’re buying for a design studio it’s more cost-effective, as the licenses allow you to install them on several machines. If you’re a one-man band like me, you’ll just have to take a deep breath and put your hand in your pocket.

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