Uses of Bold Type in Text
Bold typefaces, as companions to regular text weights, did not become fashionable until the mid-19th century. Although it is hard to imagine today, the original fonts of Baskerville, Caslon, Garamond and Bodoni did not include bold weights. Bold type grew out of the Industrial Revolution and the birth of advertising. In fact, the first popular bold typefaces were display designs intended to be used at large sizes to grab the reader's attention. It was only later that bold designs were regularly added to typefaces used to set text copy.
Bold typefaces can go by many names: demi bold (sometimes just “demi”), bold, extra bold, and black and ultra. As the names imply, their stroke weights are incremental degrees heavier than the basic roman or medium weight of a typeface. Their primary use in text copy is to provide emphasis or establish a typographic hierarchy that conveys relative ranking of information. In this context, bold weights clarify content.
Typical Text Uses
Bold weights of type can easily establish priority. Typographic hierarchy is about creating different levels of importance through typeface choice and text arrangement. Used sparingly, different typeface weights (and proportions) can guide the reader through long or complicated documents. Think of the various typeface weights as graphic road signs: a few, well-placed, will help the reader navigate the content. Too many will distract and confuse.
Headings are often set in bold type, as are subheads and page numbers. “Jump Lines” – short messages to the reader at the end of a column, explaining where the text continues –, are also frequently set in bold type. In addition, if used sparingly, bold type on a page adds a touch of graphic diversity to otherwise monotone pages of text copy.
Things to be Aware of
As visual punctuation, bold type is more commanding than italics or a point size change. Because it does stand out, however, too much bold type on a page can be distracting and even disruptive to the reading process. For this reason, italics are normally used in running text when more than a couple of words are to be emphasized.
Some typeface families have relatively subtle gradations in change from one weight to another. In these designs, a jump of two weights may be advisable to create an obvious contrast.
When working on an Apple computer, select heavier weights of typefaces from the font menu, not the style bar. If the font weights are not linked, or if there is no bold font, a digital embolding will result. This looks more like type dipped in chocolate than like a professionally drawn variation on the basic design.
On computers using the Microsoft® Windows® OS, bold typefaces can only be accessed through the style bar or menu.
- Allan Haley is Director of Words & Letters at Monotype Imaging. Here he is responsible for strategic planning and creative implementation of just about everything related to typeface designs. He is also responsible for editorial content for the company’s type libraries and Web sites.
- Prior to working for Monotype, Mr. Haley was Principal of Resolution, a consulting firm with expertise in fonts, font technology, type and typographic communication. He was also executive vice president of International Typeface Corporation.
- Mr. Haley is ex officio Chairman of the Board of the Society of Typographic Aficionados, and past President of the New York Type Directors Club. He is highly regarded as an educator and is a frequently requested speaker at national computer and design conferences.
- Mr. Haley is also a prolific writer, with five books on type and graphic communication and hundreds of articles for graphic design publications to his credit.