What is a newspaper typeface?

Ramiro EspinozaRamiro Espinoza Posts: 483
edited August 2016 in Technique and Theory
Hi there,

I am interested in reading / researching about what is currently understood as a 'newspaper typeface'. In your opinion, what are the (technical and aesthetic) features that make a typeface optimal for newspapers? Can you recommend good books or articles on this subject?
Also, what are the fonts that you think constitute the archetype of a 'newspaper typeface'.
Thanks in advance.

PS, I've found this book to be useful: Historia del periódico y su evolución gráfica, by André Gürtler.



  • not an expert or anything but things that come to mind are ink traps, saving ink.
  • Mark SimonsonMark Simonson Posts: 711
    edited August 2016
    Also, one of the common characteristics is efficient use of space (high character count for a given area relative to type size), so they tend to be fairly compact and dense, designed for tight line spacing.
  • Cory MaylettCory Maylett Posts: 35
    edited August 2016
    I was the design director at a daily newspaper for several years, so I'm somewhat familiar with the issue.

    The choice of a newspaper typeface involves aesthetics, personality, legibility and all those other considerations that, really, apply to most any project. What makes a newspaper different is also having to consider the high-speed web press printing and cheap newsprint.

    Newsprint is highly absorbent, so dot gain is a big factor. Dot gain, in case you're unfamiliar with it, is the tendency of ink to spread out a bit as it soaks into the paper. This isn't a huge problem with headlines, but for body copy and smaller text, like credit lines, a regular weight typeface can start looking like a rather inelegant bold version of itself where counters begin to fill in and delicate subtleties disappear.

    Newspapers are typically printed on high-speed web presses that are optimized for volume instead of quality. Ink coverage is also optimized to accommodate paying advertisements. For example, a full-page, solid-color ad might cause the pressmen to dial back the ink coverage to prevent ink set off onto other pages in the signature, but this also has a tendency to lessen the amount of ink laid down on those other pages. In other words, a very light typeface at small point sizes can almost disappear into an illegible ghost of itself. Similarly, a typeface with large differences between thicks and thins can simultaneously have thick strokes bulking up due to dot gain while having the thin strokes and serifs almost vanishing.

    These aren't huge considerations for headlines, and newspaper printing quality has improved enormously over the past few years. Even so, it's still important to use sturdy, highly readable faces that can hold up under this kind of abuse. As already mentioned by AbiRasheed, ink traps come in useful for mitigating the effects of dot gain blurring. Also, newspapers are meant to be read, of course, and people can be very fussy about what typefaces they've gotten used to in their newspapers. As a result, the typefaces used on anything but artsy, feature pages tend to be more conservative and less experimental, as Stephen mentioned.

    For what it's worth, at the paper where I worked, we used Franklin Gothic for headlines, cutlines, bylines and similar things. The standard body face we used was Nimrod.
  • Spatial efficiency has been mentioned but particularly I think of stunted descenders. 
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,013
    Indeed, short descenders are advisable for body text.
    Both because narrow columns of auto-justified text (and in newspapers body text is almost always justified) can easily create rivers and islands (ascender-descender accretions), and because tight leading is de rigueur—in North America the standard size of web rolls has decreased, along with circulation and profits, as a cost-cutting measure, and therefore the pressure is on for maximum copy-fitting.

    Body text sizes are generally larger in North America than in Europe, again putting pressure on maximizing character count.

    Also, the trend is for a more magazine-like like quality, both in terms of content (as TV and the Internet have usurped news immediacy), and print resolution. Therefore, size-specific (“optical size”) fonts are useful, for matching the degree of fine detail in heads, decks and body.
  • Rob McKaughan focused on newspaper typefaces in his dissertation about pattern language in type design. Try to get hold of that or read about it here
  • edited August 2016
    That lecture above seems to slowly fade into relativity/fontbullshit territory: our fonts are optimized for everything. And honestly, I don’t think the duplexing is particulary successful.
  • This is more based on commissioned font projects for newspapers.

    Would consider fonts designed for a newspapers when approaching a redesign. The font seems to encapsulate a newspapers: brand, audience, readers etc. Then the other side is fonts are not just for print anymore, they are embedded on various digital platforms.

    If you look at font designs for newspapers, either the font has to solve a problem in print and in digital form, while at the same time work towards the vision of editor, director or design team.

    When designing a font for Newspapers it seems the font not only has to support the redesign of the layout, must test the course of time and not become phase out in a short amount of time. I say that if you look at a font/typeface for newspapers they become the newspapers identity.    

    Here are some related links for the redesign on the Independent Newspaper, it's a nice to hear from a Editorial Designer and Type Designer on their view on the importance a font can have towards the design of a newspaper.


    Matt Willey

    Henrik Kubel

    Links on Times 

    Dan Rhatigan on Times and newspapers

  • Not sure how far you can generalize from one example, but Gerard Unger designed Swift's outlines to be able to withstand slight compression or extension to accommodate whatever-it-takes copyfitting in newspapers. That was clearly widely practiced at least by the clients/end-users he had in mind in the 80s and 90s, and I would guess still is?
  • Ramiro, I made a work on newspaper type for my postgraduate course in Buenos Aires. 


    First part is a sinthesis of the book by Gürtler that you have mention, with some personal insight and this paper from Victor Gaultney: http://gaultney.org/jvgtype/wp-content/uploads/BalanLegEcon.pdf

    I hope you find it useful.


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