Ten features for topnotch text fonts

Most features for improving the legibility of typefaces are not yet scientifically proved and most of them are more a question of readability – the typographical treatment of text – not a question of the typeface’s design. Anyhow we would like to introduce you to some features you should look for when choosing typefaces for text.

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(1) Sturdy shape

When it comes to small text, a fragile typeface with wonderfully thin elements will break apart. Better use a textface providing sturdy shapes. As well a font with a balance of a low contrast in stroke – to keep thin elements not too fragile – and some visible contrast at all – to keep up with the readers common habit for known textfaces.

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(2) Large x-height

The x-height is one of the most relevant value for increasing the reading comfort. Within the x-height most of the lowercase letters are organized, and lowercase make the majority of most text. So it’s the fonts task to increase the x-height for maximum visible lowercase, especially for small point sizes or captions.

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(3) Open apertures

Speaking of increasing the visibility of letters in small point sizes: Open apertures are a good feature for keeping the letterspace inside the glyphs visible. So having open counterforms prevents the text from becoming hard to read when readers eye is uncomfortable with recognizing self-contained letters.

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(4) Clear shapes

Small text will blur details that sometimes are necessary for distinction of shapes. Furthermore connecting strokes will blur to dark spots. So adding exaggerated details and implementing ink traps will improve the typeface for text sizes and maybe give some nice character for large headlines.

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(5) Even color

A text is not defined by its single letters, more important is an even  greyvalue when regarding the impression the whole block of text. Ink traps and modulated stroke thickness will help to give each letter the  right grayvalue to not come forward or to descend in the pattern of text.

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(6) Optical harmonisation and rhythm

Reading means to let the eye jump from letter to letter, from word to word. This flow will get disturbed when a shape can’t be recognized or some letters are too wide in comparison to others. To keep smooth reading experience it is necessary to have an recurring rhythm of the letter’s stems and whitespace, stem and whitespace…

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(7) OpenType feature for oldstyle figures

Keeping up with rhythm: Most text is characterized by the dancing descenders and ascenders. Applying oldstyle figures via OpenType Feature will help to keep up with the dancing rhythm. Much better than blocky lining figures.

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(8) OpenType feature for small caps

Integrating a word set completely in uppercase will always give a noticeable interference to text. Uppercase will stick out as block of too huge letters. Better activate “Small Caps” or “Small Caps From Capitals” to turn text to nicely scaled and modulated smaller versions of the uppercase letters.

If you are into Adobe’s GREP: to turn all words with more than one uppercase letter into smooth small caps, search for “[A-Z]{2,}” and apply the formatting “OpenType All Small Caps”.

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(9) Distinctive italic

Beside using small caps, for emphrasting short segments of text without making them stand out bold and loud the italic is a great choice. Make sure the shapes of the italic, or at least the angle, is distinctive enough to show a clear differentiation of the text element you want to denote.

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(10) Test in context

Whatever people – like we – tell you about features for improving legibility, ultimately trust your eyes and see how typefaces perform in layout. We would be happy to receive a request for a Pensum Pro Demo font.