Typography & Formatting

November 15, 2019

Finding the Perfect Font: Electra

William A. Dwiggins designed Electra specifically to be used for extended text in print form. Even more specifically, it was designed to be used in books. A perfect typeface for self-publishers. It’s a neutral typeface that can be used for almost every project, but still has a spark of personality. Electra is not a revival or modeled after the older typefaces. It’s a modern design, produced in the late 1930s, but timeless and strong enough to stand side-by-side with the Garamonds and Baaskervilles.

Electra handles different sizes extremely well. Meaning if you need to lower your page count, you can drop the font size by a full point (or more) and not risk damaging the readability.

Classification: Transitional

Traits: Neutral, but lively. Sparkling. Clean. Elegant. Flowing. Graceful. Crisp. Subtle.

Efficiency: Average.

Page Specs: 6 pages (1650 words)
All of the typefaces in this series are set using identical (same font size (11), leading (14), trim size (5″ x 8″), and margins) settings on a sample chapter so it’s easy to compare a typeface’s efficiency with another typeface. In all fairness, it would be highly unusual to use identical settings for all typefaces.

Best Genre Fit: All fiction and some non-fiction. I prefer to use it with lighter fiction, but it was used to set Jurassic Park.

Voice: Modern yet classic

Best Quality: It was designed specifically for books. Dwiggins designed books (among many other things) before typefaces and created a typeface that served multiple masters. It complements the author’s words, meets the rigid needs of book design, and delivers an enjoyable experience to the reader. And… you’ll be hard-pressed to find a project that it won’t work in.

Recommended Versions: There are basically four versions: the original, the revival, the knock-off, and the rip-off. Electra (Linotype), Parkinson’s Electra (Linotype), Transitional 521 (Bitstream), and Prensa (Font Bureau). If you have it in your budget, either the original or Parkinson’s. If you have Adobe Fonts, use Prensa. If you’re on a tighter budget and have your heart set on Electra, go with Transitional 521.

Stephen Coles pointed out that there is another revival, one that is likely closer to Dwiggin’s original plans for Electra. LFA Aluminia (there’s a link in the comments) came about after Parkinson’s Electra, but was designed by Parkinson. And best of all, it’s $75. That’s not $75 per font, but $75 for the typeface (Roman, Oblique, Cursive, and small caps – no bold, but that isn’t normally a problem for a novel). Okay, I’m going to have to go play with this new toy after NaNoWriMo2019. I see a post about Aluminia in the future.

Alternatives: Fournier.

I have a bias when it comes to Electra. Electra is my favorite typeface. It’s Minion on steroids except specifically designed to be used in the body of print books. I genuinely don’t believe there is a better serif out there, but that is my opinion and completely subjective. There is very little Electra can’t handle. Which is actually an important consideration. Electra is one of the pricier typefaces. The entire Electra family costs $234 or you can buy individual fonts for $35. Even the knock off (Transitional 521) is $75 for 3 fonts or $29 each. However, you will be able to use it for just about every project. 

The brilliance of Electra is that it works in every setting because of its design. You can set a romantic comedy with it or a sci-fi thriller and it won’t look out of place in either book. The characters are expressive, but do so without taking anything away from the words. Because of his experience as an artist then a book and cover designer, Dwiggins understood the importance of a typeface’s voice. He intended Electra to be both neutral (could be used for any book) and yet still warm and full of personality (no one can call Electra boring). Electra is both timeless and modern without being old-fashioned. Because of this, it is ideal for just about any book. Just as typefaces such as Baskerville and Garamond have been around for centuries and are still used today, Electra will probably be one of those typefaces that is used for generations to come.

If you write across several genres, but want a single typeface, Electra is for you. If you want something that leans toward the neutral but isn’t boring, use Electra. While I wouldn’t use Electra for straight non-fiction, it can be used with narrative non-fiction.  

Electra and Dwiggns continue to inspire current type designers. Techniques and principles he brought to type design in the 20th century are still being used in the 21st century. If you’re interested in learning more about Dwiggins’ influence, check out this article.

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3 Responses

    1. Okay, you’ll have to excuse the fan-girling out that you actually posted a reply! I did my own little interpretation of Kermit running around screaming with my hands in the air when I saw your comment. For the indie-authors out there, this is like having Nora Roberts swing by to point out that I missed an obligatory scene.

      I edited the post to add a bit about Aluminia (and will probably add more if not give it its own post as I play around with it). Thanks for bringing it to my attention!

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