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Design 101: The Fonts That Would Not Die

Design 101 is an occasional series of design tips for non-professionals designing their own book covers.

We writers are used to saying what we want to say with the words we write.  But when words are on the cover of your book — in the title, the byline, a tagline or blurb — what the words say is no more important than how they say it: the font in which the text is rendered is an important part of the design of the cover as a whole, at least as important as the artwork.

Now, learning exactly how to incorporate type into your designs is beyond the scope of this post.  Mostly, I want to warn you away from some of the worst possible font choices when you start assembling your cover. Ready?  Let’s go:

timesnewroman

Seriously, this is the most common font in the world, thanks to it having been the default font in just about every word processor for the past thirty years.  People recognize it, even if they don’t realize they do, and it implies to them that the book cover on which it appears is actually a term paper that was slapped together at the last minute.

comicsans

No. Just no. This began life as an ugly font (the lines are drawn at weird angle, and the letter spacing and the use of serifs is inconsistent), and its as a free font in most versions of Microsoft Word meant that it was the nearest thing to hand when people quickly wanted to make text a bit frivolous or childlike or “fun.”  It has inspired a backlash of hatred (google “Comics Sans” to see what I mean), to the point that you can’t even use it ironically (whatever that means).

papyrus

At one point, this would have been an acceptable font to use (although there are persistent kerning problems between uppercase and lowercase letters — see the gap between the uppercase “P” and the lowercase “a”?). Unfortunately, it has been so overused — and used poorly (see the kerning note above) — that only amateurs use it now.

impact

Impact used to be a useful font. But again, overuse took it away from us — specifically, its use in thousands upon thousands of LOLcats and other captioned memes.  That association has crippled its use in non-funny, non-internet-self-referential situations, especially in white with a black border.

algerian

Otherwise known as “that royal font.”  This gets used a lot on fantasy novels by self-publishers who don’t realize that it’s (a) not as pretty as it looks at first glance — it’s kind of boring, really, especially because it’s all-caps  — and (b) it’s terribly overused, especially on self-published fantasy novels.

familiarfonts

Here’s a tip: If a font is intimately associated with a media property with its own rabid fandom, the immediate recognition of that font will not help you. At best, your book will be assumed to be a parody of said property (and since all of those properties have plenty of lame-but-unintentionally-laughable self-published ripoffs, why would anyone want an intentionally laughable one?); more likely, yours will be assumed to be one of those lame-but-unintentionally-laughable ripoffs just mentioned.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have several fonts which I installed specifically to make these examples which I now want to wipe from my computer.

Comments

    1. I’ve never been able to figure out exactly what a font license allows you to do, but my overall impression is that the prices are exorbitant, the conditions are very restrictive, and the difference between many of the rent-seeking, commercially leveraged fonts versus a free alternative tends to be vanishingly small.

      And yes, font squirrel is a very useful site!

  1. Yes, horrible font choices! Perhaps, there will be (or is, I haven’t searched), an article with examples of well-used fonts.

    1. There isn’t yet, and probably won’t be; a terrific font for one genre is lousy for another, and the best font choices are specific to the design: the words and the space they take up, the colors and details of the cover image and how the word placement interacts with it, etc.

  2. You forgot Tekton and Scriptina. One is just UG , and the other, overused, especially in romance design. And like papayrus, has some horrible kerning issues if you don’t know what you are doing. Just say NO!

    1. The good news is that I don’t see Tekton all that often (not like the others listed), and Scriptina, while overused, isn’t distinctive enough to identify it from a casual glance or thumbnail.

  3. Yes, thankfully you don’t see it much… But when you do…. UG. Agree to disagree on Scriptina.

    Curious, what is the first “familiar font”? Is it requiem? What is it familiar for?

      1. Are the last two both Star Trek?

        I used to have a Quake font somewhere, that’s another font you can’t miss. Lots of game fonts are very unique.

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