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When book designers or typographers talk about the “color” of a page of type, they don’t mean the colors printed on the page. In fact, this term often comes up in discussing purely black and white typographic layouts.
In this case, “color” means the overall gray tone of tall column of type that constitutes almost all book pages.
Different kinds of type color can be achieved through a variety of tools at the designer’s disposal:
- Font selection can be critical, because font designs vary in their relative “darkness” even in regular weights depending on how thick the individual letter forms are.
- Fonts also vary in their set width, which describes how closely together the letters are spaced in the font’s design. Tighter set widths create darker pages since there’s more black ink on the page when letters are closer together.
- Line spacing (or “leading”)has a big effect on type color since the more space there is between lines, the lighter the page will appear.
- Non-text elements like page numbers and running heads can also have a big influence on the overall color of the type page.
Examples of Type Color on the Book Page
Let’s look at some samples. These are all set on a 6″ x 9″ book page with standard margins.
Here’s a generic book page with only a page number (this is a “drop folio” meaning the page number is at the bottom of the page). This sample uses the Filosofia font, an elegant oldstyle design.
The type is set 12/16, which means it’s 12 point type with 16 points between lines, as measured from the baseline of one line to the baseline of the next.
This yields a typical page as far as the color of the type column. Watch what happens when we simply add a little space between each line. In this case it’s 12/18. The 2 extra points amount to 1/32 of an inch, but make the entire page much lighter.
And if we expand the leading to 12/20, the entire color of the page changes:
Here’s an example of the exact same page set in Adobe Minion Pro, 12/16. Minion carries a little more weight than Filosofia, can you tell?
One of the most popular typefaces for book design is Garamond. This example is set in Adobe Garamond Pro in the same 12/16 specification. Garamond, while a bit lighter than Minion, also has a narrower set width, and you’ll note this page, even though it has the same number of lines, actually fits about 2 lines more copy in the same space than the Minion sample, since this font is more space efficient. This makes Garamond a great choice for long books, or where space is at a premium:
On the other hand, here’s our page again, set in Cochin, a font more often used for headings. Note the very wide set width and relatively short height of the lowercase letters (this is the “x-height”). Wide fonts like this can work for books where the text is sparse, like a book of photos with captions, or inspirational quotes. Here, although we still have the same number of lines, less copy fits on the page, and the overall color of the page is quite different from the Filosofia, Minion, or Garamond samples.
Finally, adding a running head can subtly shift our perception of the color of the page. This is the Garamond page with a typical running head.
Is type color something to be concerned about? That depends on what kinds of books you’re publishing, and what your readers are looking for. But it is something to keep in mind if you’re doing your own page design, and something I always consider when creating new book designs.