Minimum size for body copy

Doing a little research. Would appreciate input from all of you masters of print: What do you recommend as the minimum size for body copy? Please share by 1) typeface, 2) weight and 3) color (if applicable). Some typefaces to get you started — Akizidenz-Grotesk, Avenir, Bodoni, Caslon, Claredon, Franklin Gothic, Frutger, Garamond (ITC Garamond), Gill Sans, Gotham, Helvetica, Univers.

Pacific Northwest

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There are many factors to cosider in the choice of a type size for text copy:

1. Size and format of the page.
2. X-height of the type face (height of the lower case characters without ascenders and descenders). In general, if the x-height is greater, you can utilize those faces for text at a smaller size and still be comfortably read.
3. Audience for which you are designing (are they very young, or very old?).
4. The resolution of your imaging process. If the ability to hold fine detail is good, you can use smaller size characters.

My suggestion is to look at similar work and find out what has been successfully done in the past and follow suit with your own work. I print both full-size and miniature books, so my text copy runs from 4pt. to 12pt, in general. I feel comfortable using 10 to 12pt. on a standard (5x8-6x9 inch) page size with ample margins. If the page size were increased, 14pt. might be appropos.

John H.

First the finish product sets the type size. 9 or 10 point is the best type size for the everyday book or newspaper.

If, the readers that going to read your product is older than the average read, 11 to 12 is best.

Also, type used for major reading, Serifs type face is the best, as the reader will not want to read solid color of Sans serif.

The length of the line is important also. Gill Sans, Gotham, Helvetica, Univers, are great types, but should be limited to printed forms, tickets, and other everyday printing items.

Bodoni is hard to read as it has thin strokes.

Hope this help.

I would recommend you read any of a number of books on this subject. My preference (as well as many others) would be The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst. Not really an easy enough thing to go online and ask how to do in a forum.

Sure, you could go online and ask ‘What size and leading should be used for a page set 40 lines deep, 30 picas wide in Caslon?’ but if you read up you’ll be able to make the decision no matter what the variables are. It will always depend on the shape of the page, the typeface(s) being used, the format and the purpose.

i believe that you should have both public and ‘dogmatic’ opinion to form you own, but there are good references on this thread. also, eric gill’s ‘an essay on typography’ might be good reading. check for typography and letterpress printing books. emil ruder’s ‘manual of design’ is a great reference too. sorry if didn’t stick to the subject.


I’m trying to decide which typeface/weight/size to get my hands on first. The DIY press I’ll be working with will print up to a standard postcard size (4.5” x 6”). I anticipate that my initial projects will be personalized stationary, cards, invitations. The twelve mainstay typefaces I listed above are at the top of my list, but I have to start with what I can afford/be resourceful. Yup, Bringhurst’s book was part of my studies. Was hoping your daily adventures/experiences in the shop might shine some light on the topic, though. Definitely shooting for readability v. legibility.

Since the majority of the faces you have chosen are modern computer generated faces it would lead one to believe that you are planning to use photopolymer to generate your printing image. If this is the case, you have no reason to limit yourself to the list you have given, but have the online resources for nearly any face you would wish to use. Half of the faces you have chosen don’t have much of a letterpress history, but some excellent books have been written about the ones that do. The writings of Daniel Berkley Updike, Stanley Morison, Eric Gill, Alexander Lawson, Jan Tschichold, and Hermann Zapf immediately come to mind. Type can be used in so many ways, it is really going to be up to you to try different types and layouts to become more comfortable in its use.

Personally, I spent so much time using Gothics or san-seriffed types, that I have pretty much purged my shop of them, and have gone to using Old-Style, Uncial, and Blackletter faces. But then I only have metal types and do not currently use photopolymer.


Also: ITC Garamond?

ITC - the monotype imaging company. I’m rehabbing from a spinal injury, which had an impact on my ability to design on a computer. Have an interest in staying in design despite the injury and working with movable type is a great way to gain back motor skills — two birds with one stone. I apologize for my ignorance; thanks for schooling me. It’s a whole different world from what I was learning in school.

If your interest is in movable type then you have some limitations as to availability, but there are some great types out there to be had. Do you have a sense as to the point size(s) you are looking for? Obviously hard foundry type is the best investment, and you can take a look at the stock that Dale Guild Type Foundry has to offer. N A Graphics in Silverton, Colorado has some Dale Guild cast type in stock, some which was cast a while ago. The best choices of faces are from the stock of D. Stempel in Germany cast by Rainer Gerstenberg. All these contacts can be found in the Briar Press Yellow Pages. As for Monotype faces, M&H in San Francisco probably has the largest catalogue, but I’ve had great service from Quaker City Type as well. Again look in the Yellow Pages here for more contacts.


to pandm and others

When I first read this, I thought it was intended that printing books would be the aim; seems my guess was wrong.

First step is to define the circumstances, what kind of print result is desired.

Then I would advise consider the resources; I produced an 8-page item using a manual typewriter with worn-out characters [I typed each line twice to get enough shape to the letters] and hand-inked (with pen) headlines using plastic stencils, mainly to show it could be done; computers and computer printers were scarce then. Page size was A4.

Next suggestion: Find as many examples of the style of printing you are wanting to produce, form an opinion of the success of each piece, and determine what makes the work look good, what is effective. [As an example, if it was to be a book, I would suggest go to a public library, critically evaluate about 60 books, then decide what should have been done to improve their legibility and make it possible for readers to assimilate the information. There are horrible examples of book-printing everywhere.]

Read (if you can find it) a description of the Mergenthaler Ionic typefaces, very enlightening. Also the story of Bell Centennial.

Some of us believe that eyes see the white space around the characters, not the black strokes of the symbols. When I send a letter as a communication using my computer and a computer-printer (Xerox-style electrostatic imaging, using a black powder), I use 13 point New Times Roman, with 3/10 white space added between the characters; if possible, I justify the lines, doing some minor work to make the spacing between words nearly uniform throughout the text. About 10% extra white (leading, pronounced ledding) between lines adds to the legibility.

I can read down to 2-point, but if you want others to read do not use less than 10 point; in my country some typographers use type which is simply not legible, and I have some entertainment guessing why; one example is something like 5 point, on a screened (grey) background. Another is lower-case New Times Roman, about 8 or 9 point, reversed (white on black).

Do NOT use idiotic typefaces; recently I saw a typeface in which the lower-case e looked like a mirror-imaged figure 3; and I receive a newsletter in which the capital B does not have the vertical bar; disconcerting.

Now to the awkward item: I still recommend the writings of Colin Wheildon, who did research while working for a service organisation for motorists; he wrote pamphlets to their “captive” members, then did some surveys to test what the members of the organisation had remembered; his guru, lecturing at a university in U.S.A., said this practical testing of typography was ground-breaking. I wrote some months back about this work, and it was severely criticised; so if you get one of his books, you may need to conceal the front cover with a design of your own, of even an opaque paper; the original cover of Col’s book may have been designed to show what not to do. His earlier paper was titled Communicating or Just Making Pretty Shapes?

I guess that those who have given comment may be interested in the outcome of the choices made by pandm, and the degree of satisfaction with the result. May we hope to hear from pandm?


P.S. It is not possible to proofread from the screen of a computer monitor; it is also not possible to proofread your own keyboarding. — A.

Of course you’ll hear from me :) I may not respond to everything shared (remember, typing is a bit of a challenge right now), but I am taking it all in. I’ve read in other posts that you all appreciate it when us newbies do our homework v. getting everything spoon fed and there’s a lot to delve into here (my hands can only take so much at a time, though). I’m big on books and appreciate the recommendations, If you have any on Nook that you’d care to “lend” to me, please do!

Pandm, I wasn’t asking what ITC was, I was suggesting you check out a few different digital cuts of Garamond. Maybe I’m being a snob, but man alive is that a terrible digitisation.

It has finally become normal practice for type designers to release font families that capture the nuances that exist between different cut sizes of a typeface.

The difference when using a family that has actual display and book weights, compared to older fonts based on a single size, is night and day.

to kimaboe

Thank you; you have explained an aspect of typography; digital typesetting, using one master fount for all sizes gives a result which is not the superior style with changes according to size, as you describe, but economic factors sometimes dominate! As mentioned somewhere, Times Roman was probably designed as a 10-point face, but pressed into service for other sizes. I am still learning things which should have been taught during my apprenticeship (65 years ago). Recently I found a description of the parts of type faces; is the closed part of a lower-case e or lower-case a b d g o p q called a bowl? While this part (the bowl?) may be big enough in large point-sizes, it can be too small in sizes below 8-point.


There are some really good examples of designers who are taking classics and remaking them with more respect to the original look and feel of the metal typeface and its many sizes.

One such example is Christian Schwartz’s revival of Neue Haas Grotesk, shedding years of poor translations as the original metal typeface morphed into Helvetica Neue.

I am lucky enough that my current academic institution has a partnership with Monotype ( giving us discounts, so I could afford to buy some weights even on my student budget.

The differences are subtle, but its display weights are beautiful at larger sizes, wheras most digital cuts of Helvetica look stale and clunky when compared to work that was done using earlier, non-digital, versions of the typeface.

An interesting article on the subject of digitizing from printed materials and typeface revivals in general:


To pandm and kimaboe and all in between

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
Wonderful! Wonderful! Wonderful!

If the objective of the work is communication, this is the way to go. And especially, putting the typeface through its actual course until it meets the reader’s eye. Now I realise the importance of ink spread. [It is important to consider the paper on which the work is to be printed; rough newsprint, smooth paper and glossy smooth paper give quite different results; try reading sans-serif on the glossiest paper, under incandescent light!] I especially liked the short comment on road signs; this can be linked to how many characters the traveller can take in while moving very quickly.

The reduction of spacing between characters (in large sizes, from about 24-point upwards) was done by the computer inside the VIP which we had in our first system of cold type, and I believe the spacing between words should be increased slightly when all-caps lines are typeset. Our national newspaper “The Australian” has some form of adjustment to the spacing of text; I find it a little too tight, I would like about 15% more for the minimum space between words; there is also an adjustment in that, if the inter-word space would be wide in normal setting (in short-measure columns), the inter-character space is slightly increased to keep the inter-word space more nearly uniform; I use this in my deluxe type-setting on a computer (digital type-setting), but also expand or condense the typeface, by as much as 3%; it is an enormous amount of added keyboard work, and must be left till after proof-reading.

Even in my early days (1980s) of the church news-letter, I found a line length of about 61 characters was about right, although it was partly limited by other considerations. By the way, my foreman at the newspaper gave me (verbal) permission to use the 202 typesetter to produce headlines for the church paper.

Australia had a monthly magazine which was very well regarded world-wide in its field; it started in 1939, but three or four months after the designers took over and “modernised” its appearance without regard to the readers, publication ceased circa 1996, but not before some vitriolic comments were published. It was a typographer’s nightmare!

The comments from people in the sections above my effort (from pandm to kimaboe) are just what is needed for newbies.


If I remember my lessons from 60+ years ago, the closed portion of the lower case letters is called the counter. The counter in the lower case e is the smallest.
I have some three dozen pieces of 4pt type. I can tell the letters with a magnifying glass.
I can’t imagine any practical use for type that size. It would really need kiss inking and the hand of a fine printer to print that type and not fill the counters.
We have disclaimers printed on the back of the tickets issued at parking garages (do you call them car parks?) and they are printed in about 6 point type. Obviously hard to read for those who even bother.

Good discussion
My thoughts go back to basics. I learned of MBO someplace along the line. Management by Objective. What impression do you wish to make with the reader? Who is your reader? I was taught that type was generally not to be seen by the reader. Only the printer looks at the letters and the type face. The reader is to see words and phrases and put them together quickly in her or his brain to receive the message.
One can use some ugly and inappropriate size type and set it with inappropriate spacing and line length and use three other type faces on the same page. That will draw the readers eye to the actual type because it interferes with easy reading.
Gothic faces are clean and read easily. As a printer, I do not favor them. Rather I like a bit more character and thus prefer Roman faces.
Without looking, how many people do you suppose can tell you whether the newspaper is printed with a Gothic or Roman face? That is if they know what those terms mean.
Also, how many printers who know how to measure type size can tell you the size of newspaper body type.
Most will only know that it reads easily because it is an easy reading face of appropriate size. They just hadn’t given it any thought before.

Thanks for the help, folks. Really appreciate it!

Bowls and counters are not exactly the same thing. A bowl is evident in the design of the character however it is produced (pen, graver, screen), but a counter is part of the manufacturing process of relief type. The closed part of an “e” has a counter but not a bowl, and on the other hand some counters only exist as supporting “shelves” outside of the character and are not seen in the printed sheet.
Counter comes from counterpunch. A hand punchcutter first drove in the counterpunch, then formed the character around it. But even in pantographic mat-making there are counters that are formed to support the character, some inside, some outside.

I’d suggest reading Stanley Hlasta’s “printing types and how to use them”, a very readable book on this very topic… Which size and what measure works best for dozens of faces, including the best titling faces to pair them with.


I only came in here because of the Hlasta reference. Oh, yeah. My fav.

Seriously, the digital typeface has to work with letterpress printing from photopolymer plates, right?

You can go as low as 4pt with the right face. Adobe’s Utopia would nail that easily.

Main thing; line length, leading, word spacing, h/j. Work it out until they are right. Lot easier on the computer than in real life.