Typeface Design Reading List
Books on designing typography are difficult to come by. As a niche topic typography books are typically not carried at most major retailers, and even ff there are books about typography it is often about how to use typography instead of how to create it.
This is a list of the best books on typography (★ book are a must read) that will continue to be updated to ensure you have the best resource of books on typeface design out there.
This list will be divided into a few different sections: Introduction to Typeface, which is the best place for beginners to start. Non-Latin Typography, addressing topics in designing for non-Latin scripts, and Technical aspects of typeface design. Some articles may span a few different categories but I will put them in the section where they are best suited.
Introduction to Typeface Design
This section is for people who are interested in learning about typeface design. Maybe you want to learn more about the topic, or you want to begin designing your own fonts. Either way this section will provide you with some books and resources that are great for beginners. They are also books that everyone who wants to be a typeface designer should read as they provide a good foundation in the theory and idea of typeface design.
★ Theory of Type Design by Gerard Unger
This book is a great foundation for the field of typeface design. Gerard Unger was a prolific typeface designer. Unger received his Ph.D. in typeface design and taught at the University of Reading. His book introduces the major facets of typeface design such as spacing, consistency, tools, history, etc.
This book is also a great book for non-typeface designers who want to know more about the field. Unger even recommends that if your mother wants to know what typeface design is that Theory of Type Design is the book to give her. The writing is easily approachable which makes the book a pleasure to read. The examples inside the book are applicable and illustrate the topics nicely.
Letters of Credit by Walter tracy
While Letters of Credit is over 30 years old it is still a great book. This is a great book if you are just starting out as a typeface designer and want to learn the ins and outs of the of typographic terms, history, and design. This book could be considered a predecessor to the Theory of Type Design.
Walter Tracy is a well know typeface designer, who worked for the British Linotype & Machinery Ltd. He designed Times Europa which replaced Times New Roman as the typeface for the Times Newspaper in London England.
Typography A Very Short Introduction by Paul Luna
Luna’s book is a great pocketbook that highlights the important topics in typeface design. It is part of a series of books by Oxford Press. Paul Luna, another teacher at the University of Reading, highlights all the important details of typography. This book spends more time on the historical aspects of history than the Theory of Type Design. Once again this is a great book if you are interested in the topic of typeface design, but it doesn’t provide information on executing typeface design.
★ The Golden Thread by Ewan Clayton
The Golden Thread is the complete and best history of western typography. If you want to learn about the history of typography this is the must-read book. The book is engaging and well written, it covers the complete history of western typography up until digital typography. Ewan Clayton has a fascinating story; he grew up in England and became interested in typography before became a monk at a monastery. After learning the monastery Clayton went to work for Hewlett Packard to help them with their typography.
While history isn’t always the most interesting part of typeface design, though The Golden Thread is engaging, knowing the history of typography is important when designing typography because it provides context for the work as well as helps clarify the nature and evolution of the shapes we use.
The Stroke: Theory of Writing By Gerrit Noordzij
The Stroke: Theory of Writing is a famous book on typography where Noordzij proposes terms to describe different letter shapes based on their relationship to the pen. There have been a few editions and translations of The Stroke, the best translation was the first edition. Since The Stoke is currently out of print it was just announced that the Stroke is going to be reprinted. I will update this post when you are able to purchase this again.
The Elements of Typographic Style By Robert Bringhurst
Bringhurst is an authority of the usage and application of typography. This is a beautifully written book, the language is interesting and beautiful. I highly recommend this as a good book to have as a resource for whenever you are laying out type.
Technical Aspects in Typeface Design
These books and articles address more technical aspects of typeface design. They deal with more specific details in typeface design. They are more advanced and introduce theoretical ideas in typography or specialty skills such as spacing, legibility, or punchcutting.
★ Counterpunch: Making Type in the Sixteenth Century, Designing Typefaces Now by Fred Smeijers
Counterpunch is a quick read that provides the history of punchcutters, and how metal type was created. Punchcutters take a unique approach to typeface design, instead of focusing on the black parts of type they focus a lot about the counters, the open inside of the shape. This provides a unique and useful approach to designing typography. Counterpunch is currently out of print. I will update this when it comes back into print.
Fred Smiers is a famous typeface designer having started a few foundries. He also has cut punches and metal type in the past.
Reading Letters: Designing for Legibility by Sofie Beier
Sofie Beier is one of the leading experts on legibility. Her book Reading Letters is a quick easy read that tells you everything you need to know about legibility in typography. This is a great reference when you want to understand how to make your typefaces more legible.
★ Designing Type Karen Cheng
This book is invaluable. Designing Type straddles two categories as it provides a technical look at each letter in the Latin language which makes a great book for beginners. If you are just starting out and want to design a typeface I highly recommend using this book as a reference. It breaks down each letter making it less intimidating when designing letters.
These books and articles have to deal with designing for scripts that are not Latin. Non-Latin scripts is an emerging part of typeface design as many non-latin scripts have been neglected up till this point. These books and articles deal with problems in designing for other scripts as well as considerations to think about when designing non-Latin scripts.
★ Going Global: The Last Decade in Multi-Script Type Design by Gerry Leonidas
This is a great article that talks about non-Latin typeface design, it's importance as well as where typography is going particularly with relation to design for other languages. Non-Latin typeface design is the largest growing market in typography because it has been an underserved market for so long.
Gerry Leonidas is currently in charge of the Masters of Arts in Typeface Design at the University of Reading. He is also currently the president of ATypeI (Association Typographique Internationale).
The Value of Typography in a Multilingual World by Andreu Balius
This paper provides a good overview of why typography is even more important in our increasingly interconnected world, where people of different languages or who speak multiple languages need better and more typography that function together.
Bi-Scriptural Edited by: Ben Wittner, Sascha Thoma, Timm Hartmann
This book has some great essays about designing typefaces for different scripts, the essays were written by notable experts in each of the languages, Gerry Leonidas writes about Greek. The only thing to be wary of is that while the pictures in the book, while they are beautiful the authors of the articles weren’t consulted when choosing the photographs. This means that the images might not be the best reference of what the articles talk about. Regardless the articles are worth the book.
These are books and articles that are worth a peruse and to know they exist but aren’t necessary for you to read them.
History of the Monotype Corporation By: Judith Slinn, Sebastian Carter, and Richard Southall