Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Beauty of the Printed Word

aving spent some years in the publishing industry, I remain appalled by the quality of printed books. The industry wonders why nobody is reading books...while at the same time constantly reducing the quality of the physical item to a point where you'd be better off printing it yourself on a dot matrix printer.

While that is somewhat of an exaggeration, my spirit behind it is not. If you want to know how a book should look and feel, find one printed around the turn of the century - the 20th century - or earlier. A similar sized book will weigh more due to the higher quality paper. If you're lucky, you'll find hand made marbled end paper just inside the covers. There may be gilding on the cover and spine, and gold gilding around the edges of each page. And when you open to a printed page, you're sure find a typeface that will make you smile.

Typefaces, popularly known as fonts, continue to get more and more boring, and the ones Microsoft gives you for free are becoming more and more overused.  The art and magic of the printed word is dying, and less attention - if any - is being paid to the choice of type used for a particular work.  Here's some examples from just one book I own that illustrates what we're giving up.  This is from The American Annual of Photography and Photographic Times Almanac for 1892 of Scovill's Photographic Series (click to enlarge):

There are some amazing type foundries out there that still produce beautiful fonts.  One of my favorites is P22, a type foundry that is reproducing, and at times embellishing, some beautiful fonts from the days of past.  Then, to make things even better, they've categorized them by time period, art style, and type style for easier browsing.  A favorite of mine is Nicolas Cochin - an interesting font where they adjusted the ratio between the cap height and the baseline, making the font look taller and sleeker and more elegant.

And now a few discerning individuals are bringing the art back to the web.  Not long ago, only the system or browser fonts were available for plain text web pages, and web designers were forced to go outside that box using Flash or some technology hack.  Now we've got companies like Typekit which allow for more beautiful fonts to be used on plain text on sites.  And in the spirit of that, I've applied some new fonts to this blog - did you notice a difference?  Perhaps not, but then again you've been so bombarded with font monotony that you can't help it.  If you want to read about the fonts I use, click the icon at the bottom right corner of this window.

So go out there and buy some fonts and let them be your signature - your individual expression of who you are.  They won't bite and they'll make everyone else around you quite happy.


1 comment:

  1. I am disappointed that you should have gained no comments from such an excellent summary of the current trends in 'printing'. But there several of us who share your views and indeed the same sources for faces. I used the Cochin in lead and now have it on the computer.
    As they say - Al;l power to your elbow.
    And thanks from an auld guy.