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Printing Industry Exchange ( is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Commercial Printing: More Intriguing Facts About Fonts

Here are a few more facts and suggestions regarding fonts, a topic about which volumes could be written.

More Type Distinctions

“Regular,” “Bold,” “Semibold”–the list goes on. The best way to acquaint yourself with the font choices available to you in InDesign (or any other page composition software package) is to select “Font” under the “Type” menu and review the pop-up font listing menu (or you can do the same thing if you have a font management utility such as Suitcase).

In InDesign, you will see an “A,” an “O,” or a “TT,” or maybe even another designation. These indicate Adobe, OpenType, and TrueType fonts (three popular font formats), then the name of the font family (such as Helvetica), a sample (actually the word “Sample” in the specific typeface), and then an arrow. Touch the arrow with your mouse pointer, and you will see a list of the faces available within the fonts (such as regular, italic, bold, and bold italic).

Personally, I find the families of type (such as Helvetica) with the greatest number of typefaces to be the most useful in designing a print book, brochure, large format print, or whatever. One of my own Helvetica type families includes the following:

  1. Light Condensed
  2. Light Condensed Oblique
  3. Medium Condensed
  4. Medium Condensed Oblique
  5. Bold Condensed
  6. Bold Condensed Oblique
  7. Black Condensed
  8. Black Condensed Oblique
  9. Black
  10. Black Oblique

As you can see from the listing, this particular family of Helvetica type (and there are many other families of Helvetica) starts with a light version and works its way through a medium, bold, and then black version. If I want to stay within one font family in a print book, for instance, I can provide various levels of emphasis, or contrast, by choosing a lighter or darker typeface from the same type family. At the same time I can give the print book a unified appearance by staying within one family of type (for the heads, subheads, text, captions, sidebars, etc.).

In this particular type family, all of the Helvetica fonts except for the last two are condensed (narrower than usual). I have other Helvetica font families that contain regular, italic, and bold versions of Helvetica without any condensing of the typefaces. Personally, I like the condensed Helvetica fonts because their narrow width allows me to include more words in less space. The same character count in the standard, non-condensed type might be the difference between a 120-page print book and a 150-page print book (i.e., this one design decision could save a lot of money over an entire press run while still providing an attractive, readable print product).

Always Use the Actual Typeface

Many computer applications allow you to highlight a word and then select an icon to make it bold, italic, or regular (or “roman,” which is the traditional name for regular). This is usually available in the Style menu. Resist the urge to do this. It’s always best to highlight the text, go into the actual Font menu, and choose the specific Helvetica Bold typeface (or any other typeface). Otherwise you may notice font substitutions when you get the actual type back from your commercial printing supplier (the proof or the printed document).

Kerning vs. Tracking

Here’s another definition and distinction. Page composition software will allow you to tighten up (or loosen) the spaces between letters to improve the readability of text. When you do this to a block of copy, this is called “tracking.” When you tighten up a pair of letters, it’s called “kerning.”

More specifically, this is a useful tool to use when you have pairs of letters like “AW” or “AV,” particularly when they are set in capital letters. Due to the shape of the two letterforms, there is often too much space between them. Kerning allows you to tighten this up, which improves readability and gives a more professional look to the typography.

Extended Character Sets

Known by various names, the extended set of characters available in some type fonts will include letters with accents (umlauts, the cedilla, etc.), ligatures (sets of two letters traditionally run together such as “fl” or “fi”), fractions, swash capitals (capital letters with a script-like flourish), superscripts, and subscripts. You may also need to add a trademark or copyright symbol to your print job, or even a degree symbol if you’re referencing a temperature, and all of these would be located in this extended character set as well.

Access these “glyphs” (which is the traditional name and also the name used by InDesign) through the “Window” / “Type and Tables” / “Glyphs” path.

Handing Off Fonts to Your Commercial Printing Vendor

When you send your InDesign file of your job to press, also send copies of your fonts (screen and printer fonts) to your printer in order to avoid possible font substitutions, which could reflow copy in your file.

Another way to ensure the accurate printing of the fonts is to hand off a PDF of the file with all fonts “embedded” (included within the PDF). Your file will print exactly as expected.

If you’re designing a poster, or another job with minimal text, your third option is to convert the text to outlines (go to Type menu, then use “Create Outlines”).

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