If you’ve ever thought, fonts should make a statement, or Comic Sans is more approachable, or cursive letters make romantic book covers, think again. While the intention is right, the result is usually a book cover that stands out in the wrong way. To avoid this common beginner’s mistake, trust the two most important rules of typeface:
Rule 1: Choose a Classic
Tried and true typefaces generate the best book covers. Like every other rule, there are exceptions, but when you need to guarantee results, a classic typeface will serve you best. (Further down the article is a list of recommended choices.)
In over-embellished Monotype Corsiva, the first cover below is frilly and unpolished. It appears both dated and homemade. By changing the typeface to Baskerville, the second of the two book covers conveys authority and looks professional.
Rule 2: Limit Typefaces on Book Covers to One or Two
A single typeface is all you need to design great book covers. Any more than two creates problems of clarity and consistency that can only be solved by reducing the number of variations. When in doubt, stick with one. When combining two, choose a serif and a sans serif. They are usually different enough to create a complimentary look that will work for most book covers.
Below When too many type styles converge on one design, the result is confusing and distracting, not to mention unprofessional. The first of the two book covers mixes four typefaces (Comic Sans, Georgia, Broadway, and Helvetica) to form an unconvincing design that conveys neither the urgency of a crisis nor the seriousness of the subject matter.
The presentation and overall message become more cohesive in the second example, when nearly all of the text is changed to Helvetica (sans serif), and the small list of contributing experts is left in Georgia (serif). Reducing the number of typefaces from four to two makes a big improvement to this book’s cover with little effort, and gives it a chance to compete with other professionally designed book covers.
Always use a Classic Typeface on Your Book Covers
When selecting your cover’s typeface, avoid the unique or quirky, and boldly go with the ordinary. This may sound counter-intuitive, but when you look at the typeface that surrounds us, including that of the most successful brands, what you find is a collection of comforting, familiar, understated fonts. Classic type lends validity to a product, or book, and offers reassurance about what’s inside. Recognizable type eases our concerns about taking a chance on something unknown. It radiates confidence and invites us to trust it. Professional book covers invariably use a classic typeface.
Note Among desktop publishers (myself included), the words font and typeface are often used interchangeably. Technically, however, the two are not the same. Typeface refers to the style, while font refers to a complete set of letters and numbers in a single size and weight. If Arial is the typeface, “Arial, bold, 10 point, italic” describes the font.
A snapshot of some of the most iconic and familiar logos illustrates the point.
Serif vs Sans Serif
Serif fonts are those with small embellishments at the end of the strokes (commonly used for the body text of books or magazines). Sans serif fonts, like the one in this paragraph, have no such enhancement. They both work equally well for use on book covers.
Recommended Typefaces for the Best Book Covers
Of the hundreds of typeface styles in your word processing program, you’ll find only 15 or 20 useful for book covers. Most of them have shapes or adornments that make them unsuitable for professional applications. When it comes type, different doesn’t make it better. The goal should be a simple sans serif font or a familiar serif. Something decidedly on the beaten path.
Next is a list of reliable, classic typefaces that work well on book covers. The list is not exhaustive. You can find many fonts that look nearly identical to those named here. However, you won’t go wrong with these suggestions.
Helvetica, Microsoft Sans, Arial, Futura, Myriad, Geneva, Verdana, Gill Sans, Franklin Gothic, Tw Century, Calibri, Simplified Arabic
Bodoni, Baskerville, Garamond, Palatino, Times, Lucida Bright, Cambria, Minion, Didot, Book Antiqua, Georgia
Book Covers with Two Typefaces
When using more than one typeface, it’s best to select two that are distinctly different, but that complement one other. Avoid combining fonts that are too similar (Calibri and Arial, for example). It will look more like an accident than a design choice.
How do you decide which fonts to pair on your book covers? Choose a serif and sans serif that share similar characteristics. Namely in shape and stroke.
The resemblances may be hard to see at first, but by contrasting and comparing certain letters, the distinctions become more obvious. For example, the shape of a capital letter Q or G will signify if the typeface tends to be more oval or square. The narrowness (or width) of the space inside letters like b or d is also a good indicator of shape and stroke.
Below are examples of compatible pairings for book covers with explanations why.
Left The shape of the ovals formed inside the Q’s and the b’s is similar in both Baskerville (serif) and Myriad (sans serif).
Left In Garamond (serif) and TW. Century (sans serif) the G’s are both circular and somewhat wider than the G’s below them. The h’s also share similar arches.
Left The blocky letters of Mongolian Baiti (serif) and Helvetica (sans serif) have similar shapes and styles. The d’s have plump, high arches, and the strokes of both G’s are so complete they almost close.
Left Note the placement of the leg in the R’s of Palatino (serif) and Gill Sans (sans serif). The similarities of the lower case g’s speak for themselves.
Typeface for Children’s Book Covers
The only exception to the classic typeface rule is for children’s book covers. While a classic choice often works well (see Olivia below), fun and playful letters can appeal to younger eyes. This doesn’t mean it’s okay to go heavy on cursive or other illegible font. The rules of typography and type still apply.
Olivia This cover uses classic typeface, in a large point size, with lots of contrast to create a bold design. Note the cover layout also follows the Rule of Thirds and Preferred Diagonal Scan (see Rule of Thirds & Diagonal Scan for Book Covers)
The Monster Princess Cursive or script, in addition to other exaggerated typefaces such as Curlz, should be used sparingly. A small amount is usually enough to create the desired effect without compromising legibility. In this example, cursive is reserved for a single word: Princess. You’ll find this strategy used often on professionally designed book covers.
Dinosaurs Lover Underpants Most of the playfulness of the title words comes from the position of the letters, rather than the typeface. Here, the letters are adjusted up or down to create the appearance of movement in the words.
Case and Weight
Letter case refers to the difference between capital and lower case. On book covers, a combination of cases helps emphasize words and separate different text elements. For example, most blurbs use sentence case, while the key words in the title are often found in all caps.
The most useful weights for book covers are normal, boldface and italics. As with other rules of typography, less is usually more when it comes to case and weight variation. Reserve italics, boldface, and all caps for specific words where they will make the most impact.
Upper and lower case letters in normal weight are comfortable and familiar to read. They neither SHOUT like all caps nor accentuate like italics.
All-caps are easy to read on a thumbnail and are especially useful in large point sizes for KEY WORDS in the TITLE.
Italics are a great way to set off quotes, endorsements and blurbs on your book covers. Avoid italics in bold, however. They can be difficult to read, especially in smaller point sizes.
Small caps are less intrusive and make a good alternative when all-caps are too strong. Avoid placing small-caps in italics or bold; they become difficult to read.
Recommended for Book Covers:
Italics Upper Case
ITALICS ALL CAPS
Italics Small Caps
bold lower case
BOLD ITALICS ALL CAPS
Italics and Boldface
Used for an entire sentence, italics suggest thoughts, spoken voice or authority, which is why they often used for quotes and blurbs on book covers.
When used for just one word, italics express a specific quality. “She would never do that”, for example, is different from “She would never do that ”.
Italics also reduce the mass of less important words such as articles and conjunctions, particularly in the title, and can be especially useful for allowing keywords more prominence on book covers.
Unlike italics, boldface words attract the eye, whether or not the viewer is actively engaged in the text. This makes it ideal for emphasizing key words in the title, or words the reader may be looking for.
Below A bad combination of case and weight undermines the first layout and weakens the first of the two book covers. Words within a single sentence appear in small caps, all caps, and lower case. Several words are italicized for no apparent reason. The inconsistent weight makes the title a chore to read. Finally, the all-caps text, at both the top and bottom, fails to recede into the background the way it should and distracts the eye from the title.
For the second version, the quote on the top is taken out of all caps and placed in italics. The challenge created by the long title is solved by emphasizing and minimizing words and phrases based on their importance. Italics are also removed. Text at the bottom is changed to upper and lower case, reducing its volume and prominence.
That’s all for now on choosing typeface and font for your book covers. Thanks for reading!
Next Article: Type: Point Size for Book Covers
Previous Article: Layout Part 2: Beyond the Rule of Thirds
Other articles that may interest you:
- Type: Contrast & Legibility
- Kerning and Leading: Spacing Letters and Lines
- Book Cover Copy: Front and Back
- Copy Placement: Where do the words go?
By Stacie Vander Pol