...The Tech's Blog
A blog by Paul (Jack) Daniels, of all things technical being an independent publisher and some things not.
Mon, 02 May 2011 23:25:47 +1000 885 views

When it comes to designing covers, there's no shortage of things you should and shouldn't do. I'm only going to talk about fonts today and more specifically, I'm going to talk about fonts you should not use, no matter how pretty you think they are.

You will notice one characteristic about all the fonts I'm about to present - they're stylised, that is to say that they have rather unique characteristics which makes them appealing for particular genre or trying to make your title/text seem unique, sadly everyone else thought the same thing and the fonts are now the cover equivalent of using Microsoft Clipart.

Numero-uno, "Papyrus" - it is a nice font, gives a lovely Egyptian feel but it's perhaps the most used stylistic font out there, it appears on so many book covers that once you've been alerted to this (like now) you'll find yourself seeing it crop up everywhere, I've even seen it on DVD slips now!

Now rapidly following is "Morpheus", a gothic/dark looking font (Dark11 follows close behind), with some interesting mixed caps and aggressive cuts. I actually used Dark11 about 18 months ago for the original Tree of Life covers but we did it for the 'T' and used the more normal characters for the rest of the text.

Quickly rising up now is "Requiem", it has the look of a standard roman/serif type font but with "random blotches" on it, except they're not random, they're part of the font and everyone else using it will have those blotches in the same places, much better to use a normal roman font and add your own blotches/defects as an overlay.

Finally the odd one out... Arial. It's not so much that Arial is a bad font, rather it's just that it takes you back to Windows / Word too strongly, there's no shortage of other good fonts out there, just avoid this one as a matter of safety.

Please note - this is just a short list of fonts I do not suggest you use, the common element in them all is that they're used too widely and have too much style in them which cannot be made appropriately unique, so when you pick a font that you think looks great, take some time to check to see who else uses it.Now a lot of you are probably looking to stove my head in, thinking "Who cares if someone else uses those fonts, they're great fonts!", the trouble is that all the above fonts have very strong signature characteristics (unlike normal serif/sans-serif every day fonts), the stronger the signature characteristics of a font the more likely that people are going to remember them, a bit like multiple people using the same stock art photo on their books and trying to be unique, or turning up to a dinner party wearing the same exotic dress as three other people. Making your cover unique is hard work and it has to cover more than just the artwork, it has to involve the typography as well - fancy fonts seem like a quick way out but they simply are not, it's a false economy.Here's a quick pick of some covers that I really do like, a lot, of which are not profoundly complex, they use very normal fonts but they do it well.

Daniel Arenson's "Firefly" was perhaps the first indie cover that really grabbed me. It's a very simple cover but it is full of wonderfully captive aspects. Notice that he's used simple serif fonts but was smart and overlaid "Firefly Island" with the firefly glow element to make it a completely unique combination.

Victorine Lieske's "Not What She Seems" is another simple but very effective cover. The clean text gives you the information you need and those eyes just grab you and finally the knife sets up the scene for what the book is going to be like.

To show I'm not completely hateful of fancy fonts (goodness no, I used them myself on Tree of Life), we have Katie Salidas's "Pandora's Box", which uses a slightly fancy font for the title but again, she's gone and added a good element of uniqueness to it with the smoke effects so that in the end, it looks fancy, is readable but isn't going to be replicated amongst twenty other books (Nice artwork too from PhatPuppy).

Comment #1
Good list. I think Papyrus is one of the most over used font in EVERYTHING digitally created. To me, simpler is always better...I perfer Helvetica for a lot of things, though most people would argue that that font is over used as well.
Posted by Peter Saint-Clair at Mon, 02 May 2011 23:58:56 +1000.
Comment #2
Thanks lots for the helpful advice! I like to keep my art compositions clean and well-organized. This makes sense for font also.
Posted by Marsha A.Moore at Tue, 03 May 2011 01:18:56 +1000.
Comment #3
I have to disagree with the Pandora's Box font--I can't actually READ that font/title on the book. ) It probably looks great on a paperback, but in thumbnail or the size you displayed, these old eyes can't make it out!!And your covers are awesome, but I've said that before.!
Posted by Maria at Tue, 03 May 2011 02:20:10 +1000.
Comment #4
I loved the post. Thank you. I also shared it w/ my cover designer, who agreed with your assessments.Thanks!
Posted by Catrina at Tue, 03 May 2011 04:42:13 +1000.
Comment #5
While I strongly agree with this post, I also strongly disagree on using Pandora's Box as a good example. To begin with, it isn't very legible when I read the thumbnail above I thought it said "Pandora's Bee" - I still don't see BOX in that. While the effects are fantastic, I just hate the font used.I also think that you should list BLEEDING COWBOY on your list, because I have been seeing that EVERYWHERE since I started this Self-Pubbing venture.
Posted by Ronnell D. Porter at Tue, 03 May 2011 12:32:51 +1000.
Comment #6
I am SO glad I stumbled upon your site. I am currently reworking all my book covers. I will definitely insure I make my fonts unique.Thanks,Christopher David Petersenhttp//christopherdavidpetersen.wordpress.com/
Posted by Christopher David Petersen at Tue, 03 May 2011 13:12:27 +1000.
Comment #7
Pandora's Box? I thought it said Pandora's Bee! I was kind of intrigued until I realised my mistake.
Posted by Ben White at Tue, 03 May 2011 13:19:41 +1000.
Comment #8
@Ben Now that would have been an interesting title.I agree that the size of the title on "Pandora's Box" is perhaps a tad on the small size for thumbnails (looks great on fullsize), my main focus for its inclusion was the manipulation of the font with an external element (eg, the smoke)
Posted by Paul Daniels at Tue, 03 May 2011 13:42:17 +1000.