Your go-to Typeface?

For those of us who cannot spend hundreds, or thousands, of dollars on dozens of typefaces, we must choose our favourite or most utilitarian fonts that work for a number of projects.

Do you have a go-to typeface (or two) that you feel you MUST have in your collection to work with?

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I’ll probably butcher the quote, but Bill Dwiggins said it best with: “What typeface to use? What typeface to use? The Gods refuse to answer. They refuse to answer because they don’t know!”

It always has and always will be a personal preference based on taste/experience/style/etc. - all of which can evolve and change with time.

Many years ago I chose Goudy’s Deepdene as my “house” face. I’ve printed two books and countless other pieces with it and it still looks to me the best of the readily-available book faces which also serves well for general work. I have other faces, some chosen to work nicely with Deepdene, but I still return to the “house” often.


When I was just a little twerp (maybe 18 years old), I was able to get my hands on a couple cases of 12pt. ATF Garamond which was sufficient for setting a few pages of a book at a time. I never looked back. Garamond is and always has been my very favorite typeface.

I remember complaining to a college instructor that the only typeface I had in any quantity was 12 Pt. Garamond, and he (Harry Duncan) replied that he could be completely happy on a desert island with 12 pt. Garamond, and could use it for text, display and all.

Now I have many sizes, Roman, Italic, and Bold, for the Ludlow, so I’m not going to run out of Garamond anytime soon.

The type face for any job or publishing house is based on what the shop prints. If you do book publishing any good Serifs type face is best.

If you do job printing, names, business cards, invoices, newspaper ads, etc, any sans serif face is best.

Use a type faces that has a large family, roman, italic, bold and bold italic. That way your work will look uniform.

Also, the type of stock you print on is also important. Do not use a type face with think strokes, like Garamond.

Some type faces look great on coated stock, and others look better on uncoated stock.

This is a tough question. While not exactly answering your question directly, I’d recommend the following process to a person just acquiring type:

1. buy a run of serif’d type (various sizes). Start with roman, then add italic, then bold. Stick with the same face, adding sizes and weights. Ask yourself if you prefer oldstyle, transitional, modern, and go from there to select your house face. Sizes 14-30pt are best, and most readily available from existing foundries, but you could also go to 12, 14, 18, and 24pt. A run of 4-5 sizes in roman, italic, and bold is sufficient for most work.

2. add a sans-serif run in sizes 8-24 for business cards and basic job work. You need the 8 and 10pt for business cards. One weight is sufficient, two weights is ideal (regular and bold). You probably won’t use the oblique/italic much, so put off buying it until later.

3. add a run of script face for wedding/social invitation work. 14-30pt is good.

4. add a run of blackletter for formal invitations. 18-30pt is generally sufficient (3 sizes)

5. augment with various titling faces (optional)

6. augment with decorative faces. (optional)

Most beginners buy randomly, a single case of this, a single case of that, often in decorative faces that have little long term use. It is a lot of fun, but you end up with a lot of type you use infrequently. Having multiple weights and sizes gives you considerable flexibility. All told, this will take you years and cost you thousands, but the end result is worth it if you are patient enough to buy over the years with a long term view.

To your question more directly about what face I think is indispensable:

Regarding serif’d faces, I’ve always thought that the faces derived from the work of Nicholas Jenson were the most beautiful. These include the Cloister Oldstyle and Cloister Lightface from ATF, the Eusebius faces from Ludlow, and the Centaur face from Monotype. These are Venetian old-style, all have wide ranging weights and italics, and all are still available from various foundries today. ATF did Cloister in two weights for rough/dampened and smooth/dry printed papers. I don’t much care for the modern faces like Bodoni with their high contrast between thick and thins, but some people find oldstyle faces dull. Viva la Difference.

As to what has historically been the most popular typeface, I recently viewed a web page that had listed the number of each set of matrices monotype had sold for each particular face, indicating which had been the most popular in the last century. I wish I could find that and post a link, perhaps others remember seeing it and can post the link here. While you might think you don’t want a common typeface, there are advantages. First if you are buying used type, the most popular will be the most widely available, allowing you to add to your run of type more easily. Second, these were popular for a reason, most people found them beautiful and requested them from their printer.

I started with Garamond, then added Cloister. Both are used frequently. I’ve since added others, but Garamond was my first love and Cloister has an elegance about it that the letterpress process makes even more pronounced. Both are oldstyle, both wear well. One French, one Italian in origin, both exceptional. Other honorable mentions go to Caslon, Perpetua, Kennerley, and Bulmer.



Since the original post specifies there aren’t hundreds or thousands of dollars to spend, metal type can not be intended; to get a run of any face from any typefoundry will be hundreds of dollars and even thousands. They must be thinking of a minimal digtal purchase.

Jhenry, Harry Duncan was the name of the printing teacher at Weymouth Vocational High School in the 1950’s (a little before i went there). Garamond was the first face i bought in the early 60’s, i couldn’t afford the price of american type at $12.00 a font, so i bought most of my type from Quaker City Type in Pennsylvania, he still sells type today, i only paid 4 or 5 dollars a font back then. Dick G.

Centaur, Arrighi, Garamond, Cloister, Goudy Old Style.

When in doubt…

I thought the reason Quaker City type cost less than other Monotype foundries was that their fonts were smaller, suited to hobbyists rather than jobbing printers. Today, still, ATF type (Dale Guild) costs more than Monotype-based type, but a foundry like M&H is closer in price to Dale Guild than is Quaker City. But M&H’s selection is much larger. Much.

Parallel, Quaker City used to sell type fonts by the pound (i think) i seem to remember buying 10 pound fonts from them. Dick G.

When I was starting out in letterpress I went to John Barrett’s Letterpress things in Chicopee MA. He sold me 3 full-font job cases of Garamond italic from Saturn Press in Maine. (24,30 & 36 PT)The cases were so loaded that I could barely get them into my car! I divided them into 2 cases and that was the base for my type collection. I have since added a 12 & 18 PT font of Garamond italic, along with a few point sizes of Sans Serif. I also have some 24 PT Wedding Text that I like to use for fancier work. Last year I purchased a Table top Guillotine cutter and included in the deal were two type cabinets full of type from the defunct Graphic Arts department at Greenfield (MA) High School. Included was a ton of various Goudy typefaces in different point sizes. I love Goudy and use it quite a bit, but alas, the students weren’t too keen on distributing their type well at the end of their class. A lot was either damaged, mixed in with other typefaces or ended up in a 50 pound box of pied type. I started to go through the pied type but realized there are also typefaces mixed in that I don’t have. I don’t have a lot of free time to go through it all so I will be cleaning it, removing the brass & copper thins and bringing it to my local Monotype guy to swap for some half-strength fonts of Goudy to beef up my cases.
To sum up - I like the Garamond italic or Wedding Text for fancy work and the Goudy or Sans Serif for the more utilitarian work. Best of luck


Paper Stone Printing
Steve Nartowicz
P.O. Box 137
Chesterfield MA 01012