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13 Best Typography Books to Level Up Your Type Skills

13 Best Typography Books to Level Up Your Type Skills

Typography is the unsung hero of design. It's easy to overlook, but it makes a massive difference in how your designs are perceived. As legendary designer Massimo Vignelli said, “If you can design one thing, you can design everything.”

And typography is that “one thing” every designer needs to master.

However, learning the intricacies of working with type takes time and practice. That's where great typography books come in handy. They can quickly level up your skills and elevate your designs to the next level.

This post will dive into the 13 best typography books designers should read. Whether you're just starting or are a seasoned pro, these books will teach you something new about the art and science behind beautiful, functional typography.

What Makes Great Typography?

Typography Design Terms

Before we get to the books, let's quickly cover what makes for effective typography in the first place.

Great typography is:

  • Readable: The most fundamental goal of typography is clarity. If readers can't make out your words, then nothing else matters. Typography that's readable turns word recognition into an unconscious process.
  • Expressive: Type also has an emotional dimension. Font choice, size, spacing, and other elements influence the tone and feel of a design. Great typography uses these elements in service of the message.
  • Well-crafted: Typography is part art, part science. Master typographers flaunt an intuitive understanding of form, weight, and composition. Their designs look balanced and “right.”
  • Appropriate: Elegant typography also fits the context. Different projects call for other typographic treatments. Great typography adapts seamlessly to the medium.

Now, let's see how you can develop skills in all these areas with the help of brilliant typography books.

1 – Thinking with Type by Ellen Lupton

Thinking With Type Book

Key Takeaway: This book covers all the fundamentals of typography in an accessible way. It's the perfect starting point for beginners.

Ellen Lupton's Thinking with Type is the quintessential introduction to typography. This book walks you through all the foundational terminology, concepts, and best practices around working with type.

Sale
Thinking with Type, 2nd revised ed.: A Critical Guide for Designers, Writers, Editors, & Students
  • Lupton, Ellen (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 224 Pages – 11/03/2010 (Publication Date) – Princeton Architectural Press (Publisher)

It covers topics like:

  • Typography essentials: contrast, rhythm, hierarchy, letterforms
  • How typographic choices influence meaning
  • Rules for combining fonts and colors
  • Principles for setting effective type
  • Typographic etiquette and best practices
  • The evolution of typographic style and technology
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What makes this book special is Lupton's clear, conversational writing style. She explains sophisticated typographic concepts in simple terms that anyone can understand. No prior experience is required.

If you're just getting started with typography, Thinking with Type needs to be the first book you read. It lays the groundwork and teaches you how to think critically about typography. All the other books build on these core principles.

2 – Stop Stealing Sheep & Find Out How Type Works by Erik Spiekermann

Key Takeaway: This short and punchy book teaches typography through clever metaphors and easy-to-grasp stories.

Erik Spiekermann's writing is as engaging as his typographic work. This quick read is jam-packed with typographic insights delivered fun and conversationally.

Stop Stealing Sheep & find out how type works (4th edition)
  • Erik Spiekermann (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 239 Pages – 09/15/2022 (Publication Date) – TOC Publishing (Publisher)

It covers topics like:

  • The importance of white space
  • How to mix typefaces effectively
  • Why you should aim for “invisible typography”
  • How to achieve the right mood with type

The genius lies in how Spiekermann draws clever metaphors between typography and everyday topics like pets, friends, and office furniture. For example, he compares font styles to breeds of dogs!

These unorthodox explanations stick in your mind precisely because they're amusing and unexpected. By the end, you'll gain a more profound, intuitive sense of typography.

Overall, it's a delightful intro for people turned off by stuffy, technical design writing. The principles covered are timeless, too. Stop Stealing Sheep is well worth a read, even for seasoned professionals.

3 – The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst

Key Takeaway: This hugely influential book deeply explores timeless typographic principles and best practices.

If Thinking with Type is the ABC of typography, The Elements of Typographic Style is the graduate-level course.

Robert Bringhurst's classic text establishes the standard typographic reference system designers use today. It's shaped the work of a generation of typographers.

The Elements of Typographic Style
  • Bringhurst, Robert (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 352 Pages – 09/27/2004 (Publication Date) – Hartley and Marks Publishers (Publisher)

This book covers:

  • The history and evolution of type
  • In-depth lessons on spacing, layout, and composition
  • How to design beautiful typographic rhythm and proportions
  • Numerous case studies of exceptional typographic pieces
  • Guidance for mixing typeface styles and genres

Bringhurst takes you deeply into the fine details most designers overlook. For example, entire chapters are devoted to hyphens, dashes, and the humble paragraph.

The focus here is craftsmanship. Bringhurst will refine your typographic intuition and make you a better judge of quality typesetting. His teachings are as relevant today as when the book was first published in 1992.

This is a must-read to master the nuances separating good and exceptional typography. The lessons found here will elevate your work for years to come.

4 – Type Matters! by Jim Williams

Key Takeaway: This compact, portable guide unpacks how typography shapes reader perceptions and emotions.

Jim Williams brings decades of typographic experience to this handy pocket guide. It highlights critical ideas about the influence typography wields over readers.

Sale
Type Matters!
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Williams, Jim (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 160 Pages – 05/01/2012 (Publication Date) – Merrell Publishers (Publisher)

Some highlights:

  • How typefaces project different personalities and emotions
  • Principles for choosing the right fonts for the job
  • The impact of letter, word, line spacing and length
  • How kerning, leading, indents, and alignment trigger different responses
  • The power of contrast and drama in typography
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Williams' background in advertising shines through in the book's focus on the subjective, emotional aspects of typography. He gets you thinking about how readers intuitively react to design choices.

This is a great pick-me-up reference guide for when you need inspiration. It squeezes big ideas about typography's role in visual communication into an accessible package.

5 – Detail in Typography by Jost Hochuli

Key Takeaway: This book uses gorgeous visual examples to reveal the hidden details of masterful typography.

Jost Hochuli's Detail in Typography zooms closely and examines the subtle ingredients of great typographic design. It's all about cultivating an appreciation for the “invisible” choices that separate good and bad typesetting.

Sale
Jost Hochuli: Detail In Typography (english Reprint)
  • Jost Hochuli (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 70 Pages – 12/30/2015 (Publication Date) – Editions B42 (Publisher)

With the help of 200+ instructive visual examples, you'll learn:

  • How masters use spacing, scale, and weight for emphasis
  • The right and wrong ways to hyphenate words
  • How to pick the best fonts for each task
  • Specialist techniques like optical kerning and hanging punctuation
  • The impact of paper, texture, and colour on type

Page after page, you'll gain insight into the meticulous care and craftsmanship behind exceptional typography. This will hone your eye for detail to maniacal levels.

Focusing on these micro design choices, Detail in Typography develops skills that apply to all aspects of visual communication.

6 – Typography Referenced by Kathryn Henderson

Key Takeaway: This comprehensive guide covers the A-Z of typographic terms, concepts, and techniques.

Consider Typography Referenced your one-stop cheat sheet to typographic terminology. It covers hundreds of critical terms in alphabetical order.

Sale
Typography, Referenced: A Comprehensive Visual Guide to the Language, History, and Practice of Typography
  • Hardcover Book
  • Henderson, Kathryn (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 400 Pages – 02/01/2012 (Publication Date) – Rockport Publishers (Publisher)

This book is jam-packed with valuable references on topics like:

  • Typographic measurements and units
  • Classification of type styles, fonts, and formats
  • Rules for combining and modifying type
  • Principles of hierarchy, contrast, and legibility
  • Guidance for setting perfect type measure

The writing is a bit dry compared to other books on this list. However, the coverage is comprehensive and concisely presented.

This is the perfect reference to keep on your desk. You can quickly flip to the relevant entry whenever you need a quick refresher on typographic concepts. It's a fantastic resource for beginning designers.

7 – Just My Type by Simon Garfield

Key Takeaway: This witty book blends typographic history and trivia into one delightful read.

Part history, part design commentary, Just My Type takes you on an amusing typographic tour across centuries. Packed with fun trivia, Garfield brings the quirky world of type alive.

Sale
Just My Type: A Book About Fonts
  • Garfield, Simon (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 384 Pages – 09/04/2012 (Publication Date) – Avery (Publisher)

You'll learn little-known factoids like:

  • Why Adidas and Puma have almost identical logos
  • The goof behind early “ransom note” fonts
  • Stories behind fonts like Helvetica, Comic Sans, and Times New Roman
  • How the invention of italics came about
  • The evolution of the ampersand symbol
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Garfield skips formal lessons and technical jargon. Instead, it's a lesson by entertaining storytelling. This engaging read will leave you looking at the text in a delightful new light.

Consider it a palate cleanser in between more serious typography books. The trivia here will make you a star at your next design cocktail party!

8 – Designing with Type by James Craig

Key Takeaway: This classic text takes an aesthetic rather than a technical angle at mastering typography.

Our final selection examines typography with an artist's sensibility. James Craig's Designing with Type focuses less on rules and more on developing your intuitive typographic taste.

Sale
Designing with Type, 5th Edition: The Essential Guide to Typography
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Craig, James (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 176 Pages – 05/01/2006 (Publication Date) – Watson-Guptill (Publisher)

Craig shares timeless wisdom like:

  • How to pair and contrast types for powerful effect
  • Principles of composition, hierarchy, and visual flow
  • The impact of colour, scale, and weight on typography
  • How to develop your flare and style with type
  • Using unusual formats, custom lettering, and handmade elements

You'll find as much inspiration and food for thought as practical instruction. This book enlarges your vision of the expressive possibilities of typography. It will help you blend science, craft, and artistry more fluidly.

And that's our list of the very best books to master typography! Each uniquely teaches the craft. Read them together to become a well-rounded typographic thinker.

9 – Designing Type by Karen Cheng

Key Takeaway: This book teaches you the anatomy and construction of individual letterforms so you can design your fonts.

Most typography books focus on using existing typefaces. But in Designing Type, Karen Cheng shows you how to draw and design fonts.

Sale
Designing Type
  • Cheng, Karen (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 248 Pages – 10/20/2020 (Publication Date) – Yale University Press (Publisher)

The book covers:

  • The strokes that make up letters and numbers
  • Tools and techniques for precision drafting
  • How to maintain consistency across letterforms
  • Best practices for spacing, kerning and leading
  • The artistry of stylizing and modifying letters
  • Taking letterforms from paper to digital fonts

Cheng builds up your understanding of letterforms, starting with simple strokes. You'll intimately know each letter's curves, lines, and anatomical details.

Even if you have never fully designed your font, the deep process taught in Designing Type will make you an expert in modifying and refining type. This is a one-of-a-kind typography book.

10 – Layout Essentials by Beth Tondreau

Key Takeaway: This book combines type, images, and graphic elements into cohesive page layouts.

Once you've mastered individual typographic elements, you must learn how to bring everything together in page and screen layouts. That's where Beth Tondreau's Layout Essentials comes in.

Sale
Layout Essentials Revised and Updated: 100 Design Principles for Using Grids
  • Tondreau, Beth (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 208 Pages – 01/08/2019 (Publication Date) – Rockport Publishers (Publisher)

It teaches concepts like:

  • Compositional principles to lead the viewer's eye
  • Strategic use of grids and columns
  • How to balance type, white space, and visuals
  • Maximizing visual hierarchy and impact
  • Adapting layouts for different formats and sizes
  • Developing your style through layout
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With the help of instructive diagrams and samples, this book trains your eye for practical typesetting. You'll learn to make strategic layout choices that enhance readability and purpose.

Any complex design project relies on a skilful page layout to tie all the pieces together. Layout Essentials is the guidebook to creating cohesive typographic designs across every medium.

11 – Type Rules! by Ilene Strizver

Key Takeaway: This handy guide focuses on essential, practical typography tips you can apply daily.

Rounding out our expanded list is Type Rules! – a back-to-basics primer on typography best practices. Seasoned designer Ilene Strizver boils down the most vital “rules” into a fun, bite-sized reference.

SaleBestseller No. 1
Type Rules: The Designer's Guide to Professional Typography
  • Strizver, Ilene (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 320 Pages – 11/04/2013 (Publication Date) – Wiley (Publisher)

It dishes out tips on topics like:

  • Choosing fonts with personality
  • Sizing type for readability
  • Achieving the right typographic colour
  • Mixing and matching fonts
  • Adjusting leading and line lengths
  • How much to kern and track
  • Handling widow and orphan lines
  • Formatting bulleted lists and tables
  • Setting large type sizes for impact

The advice is concise and practical. This is the perfect field guide to refresh your memory on typographic etiquette whenever needed.

More Typography Resources

With over a dozen brilliant books covered, you're equipped to build rock-solid typography skills. For even more guidance, here are some additional typography learning resources:

  • Online video courses: Lynda.com, Skillshare, and YouTube offer many typographic principles and techniques tutorials.
  • Type foundries: Many font providers like Adobe, Monotype, and FontShop publish excellent typesetting guides.
  • Typography apps: Apps like Typewolf, Typecast, and Fontjoy let you test drive and experiment with type interactions.
  • Magazines:ย Print and online publications like Eye Magazine, Steven Heller's The Daily Heller, and Typographica offer inspiration and commentary.
  • Graphic design books: More general graphic design books have excellent typography theory and practice chapters.

Now you're fully equipped to become a typography pro! Enjoy the journey.

Now Let's Cover Some FAQs About Typography Books:

What are the main types of typography?

The main types of typography include:

  • Serif – fonts with small lines or ornaments at the ends of letters, like Times New Roman. Serif fonts are usually easier to read in print.
  • Sans Serif – fonts without serifs, like Arial or Helvetica. They have a clean, simple appearance.
  • Script – fonts designed to mimic handwritten pen or brush writing with flowing connected letters.
  • Display – decorative font styles for titles, headlines, and large-format use, not body copy.
  • Monospaced – fonts where all characters are the same width, valid for coding.

What are the principles of good typography?

Some fundamental principles of good typography include:

  • Readability – The copy needs to be legible and easy on the eyes. Avoid overly decorative fonts in long blocks of body copy.
  • Consistency – Stick to one or two font families across a piece. Use a logical hierarchy between headings and body.
  • Contrast – Add visual interest by playing with variations in size, weight, style, or colour. But don't go overboard.
  • White space – Leave sufficient spacing between letters, lines, paragraphs, and page margins. White space improves readability.
  • Context – Choose fonts and formatting appropriate to the medium and audience. A formal corporate report will use very different typography from a kid's birthday invite.
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How do you choose fonts for a design project?

Tips for choosing fonts effectively include:

  • Select 1-3 complementary fonts at most per project
  • Match the font's personality to the brand or message
  • Use a font pairing guide to find fonts that work well together
  • Pick a simple, readable font for a long-form body copy
  • Use bold, visual fonts and large sizes for titles and headlines
  • Ensure fonts work across print and digital formats where needed
  • Cater to your target audience – older readers may prefer serif body copy
  • Run some test prints or check font rendering on the screen to avoid undesirable quirks

What is kerning, and why does it matter?

Kerning refers to adjusting the space between pairs of letters in a word. With proper kerning, the letters appear evenly spaced. Overly loose or tight kerning can disrupt readability and the visual flow of a line. Good kerning also helps convey the unique form of each letter, compared to uniformly spaced type.

How can you use typography to establish hierarchy?

Some ways to indicate typographic hierarchy include:

  • Size – Use increasing font sizes for headings, subheads, body copy, captions, etc.
  • Weight – Make titles bold or black and body copy regular or light.
  • Color – Apply a distinct color for headings vs. body text.
  • Style – Use stylistic cues like italics, underlines, and ALL CAPS to differentiate elements.
  • Space – Add more space above and below critical headings.
  • Position – Place headings at the top or in the visual centre.
  • Simplicity – Keep body copy simple while making titles more decorative.

Conclusion

If you take only one lesson from this piece, let it be this: dedicating time to learn typography deeply will pay off enormously for your design skills.

Typography often acts subtly, but its impact is tremendous. It influences how quickly people can process your content and the feelings it evokes.

The books above offer countless insights into this craft that shapes everyday communication. Use them as inspiration to keep honing your typographic abilities. Great typography is a lifelong pursuit!

Last update on 2024-07-23 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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Stuart Crawford

Stuart Crawford is an award-winning creative director and brand strategist with over 15 years of experience building memorable and influential brands. As Creative Director at Inkbot Design, a leading branding agency, Stuart oversees all creative projects and ensures each client receives a customised brand strategy and visual identity.

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