Need font for book to be printed on letterpress

David Perry
David Perry Posts: 23
edited July 2018 in Font Technology

I need to choose a body font (serif) for a book that will be printed on letterpress.  My experience has been with offset and digital printing only.  The book will be printed using plates made from an InDesign file rather than being typeset in metal.  

Most new fonts were designed for offset printing and/or digital screens, and many revivals of classic faces have been updated in ways that may not work quite so well in metal.  So I will be grateful if people can suggest good text faces that they have used successfully on letterpress.

The book is a reprint of a memoir from the early 20th century, printed in Bodoni or something similar.  I'd like to reflect the original if possible, but am open to various suggestions.

Edit: I meant to post this in Typeface Design but accidentally put it in Font Technology, and I don't see a way to change this.


  • Theunis de Jong
    So your are looking for a digital font that will make your text look like it was typeset with metal, right?

    Fractions, kerning, character substitutions, ligatures, swashes, and old-style numbering did not only appear after the introduction of digital type. In fact, lots of OpenType's features came about to mimick more of what was possible with hand-set type, not the other way around.

    Anecdotically (one may want to refresh my memory on this), the largest non-western text publisher in France only fairly recently switched from metal to full-digital input, because before, the requirements of their work could not be faithfully reproduced on a computer.
  • John Hudson
    John Hudson Posts: 3,060
    edited July 2018
    One of the most interesting projects along these lines is the Rialto typeface, which was designed in the mid-90s by Lui Karner and Giovanni de Faccio. It had separate versions for offset and letterpress printing. Alas, the currently available digital version from Cast Foundry only seems to include the former. It does, however, have both text and titling cuts.
  • John Hudson
    John Hudson Posts: 3,060
    So your are looking for a digital font that will make your text look like it was typeset with metal, right?
    No, David is looking for a font to be output to polymer plates for letterpress printing. So the printing technology is the same as for metal type, only the typesetting is digital and the output is printing plates rather than a lock-up of metal sorts. While printers have used a variety of digital typefaces for output to polymer plates, the results are often too dark, especially at text sizes, because the digital fonts lack the characteristics of metal types that were designed for letterpress. For best results, one wants special versions of the types made for this production method, which is why Lui Karner created Rialto with a letterpress cut for his Fischbachpresse in Austria, and why Stamperia Valdonega has special versions of Mardersteig's types for this purpose.
  • Jens Kutilek
    Jens Kutilek Posts: 349
    John’s explanation reminded me that I was quick to brag, but missed the chance to explain why I think FF Hertz works well in plate printing ...

    I designed the ‘Book’ weight to be quite dark on the page. On e-ink displays the type tends to thin out, and a strong Book weight counteracts that effect. I drew a Light weight in which both the hairlines and the main strokes are thinner than in Book, but the spacing of the two fonts is identical. So effectively, together with the Regular weight interpolated halfway between Light and Book, you can switch between these fonts without text reflow, picking the weight that looks best for a specific output method.

    (The bolder weights’ spacing is also identical, but the hairlines stay the same as in Book there, so they are not ‘true grades’ like Light and Book.)

    This is the Light weight with the Book weight in light grey:

    Identifont has a list of fonts with grades, but there are more, e.g. Hoefler & Co has Chronicle and Mercury.
  • Andreas Stötzner
    Many digitalisations of the 1990ies of classical typefaces proved to appear too light in offset print, because they were made along the model of metal types rather than that of prints. So if you choose one of these you may well end up with a good result in letterpress printing.