Typography & Formatting

November 15, 2019

Finding the Perfect Typeface: Bembo

Bembo is a legible typeface perfect for print books and very familiar to UK readers. The Roman is modeled on the Renaissance types of Griffo (from Venice), and the italic received its inspiration from Tagliente’s types, also from Venice, but 100 years later. There seems to be a love hate relationship with this typeface. Either you love it and put up with some of the valid criticisms (the digital version isn’t as substantial as the metal) or you hate it and exaggerate all its faults. For me, I love saying the name and I love the ease of which it flows across the pages of a book.

Classification: Old Style

Traits: Elegant, refined, leaning slightly towards neutral, not fancy, serene, versatile

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: (Lighter fares) Action, Adventure, Science Fiction. Fantasy

Voice: Elegant, but discreet

Best Quality: It’s popular and used enough to be recognizable, but not overused. Plus, there’s a free version available. My guess is this typeface is completely underused by indie-publishers and would be a good way to stand out from the others while not sticking out from traditionally published books.

Recommended Versions: Bembo (Monotype), Bembo Book (Monotype), and ET Book (MIT License)

Alternatives: Arno

I have a soft spot for Bembo. I love seeing it in use in the wild and thuroughly enjoy reading any book set with Bembo. However, it isn’t without its problems. The first, and arguably biggest, is the pushing leg of the capital R. When the typeface was digitalized, the pushy R made it as the default instead of the alternate. In later versions it’s fixed, but I happen to be partial to the pushy R. Bembo Book addresses some of the criticisms about Bembo being less substantial in digital than metal, but I still prefer Bembo.

Bembo performs excellent in less dramatic and lighter books, but can also handle the weight of more serious books without having the literary weight of Baskerville. In Formatting for Print, I said that if I could only use one typeface for the rest of my life, it would be Bembo and that’s still true (although, I’ll be honest, Electra is edging closer). One reason I love Bembo as much as I do, is it has personality without completely overpowering the words on the page like some typefaces can do.

Bembo and Dante are close cousins. While I wouldn’t pair them together, I would consider using both in a branding system where lighter books are set with Bembo and more dramatic books set with Dante.

The entire Bembo family (8 fonts) is available for $199 and Bembo Book is availble for $189. Or, you can use the version available for free under the MIT License.

To see how playful Bembo is, watch this video. It’s well worth the three and a half minutes.

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