Guidelines for Bold Type in Text
Most typeface families suitable for text use include at least one bold weight. A family’s bold weights – whether they are called bold, semi- or demi- bold, black or ultra – are an important consideration when selecting the right typeface for a job. These weights provide options for creating strong contrast for emphasis; defining typographic hierarchy; and formatting incidentals such as lead-ins, captions, folios, and credits.
When selecting a bold weight for text usage, consider these questions:
How bold to do you want to go?
There are bolds, and then there are BOLDS! If intended for emphasis in running text and for paragraph or bulleted point lead-ins, the chosen typeface and weight must be bold enough to stand out from the body text, but not so bold that it causes a visual disturbance. For captions or credits, make sure the bold you choose is legible at the intended size. If, on the other hand, the boldface will be used for more generously sized folios or other larger stand-alone usages, black and ultra weights might work just fine.
Should you use the same or a different typeface?
Staying within one typeface family for a variety of weights is always safe, but it may be a bit conservative for some purposes. When more contrast and typographic variety are desired, consider using a bold from a different typeface. It can add visual interest, personality, and even spice to an otherwise understated design.
What degree of legibility is called for?
The various bold weights are spaced and designed for different purposes. Some are intended for running text and therefore provide a greater degree of legibility, while others (usually the black or ultra weights) may have tighter spacing and smaller counters, resulting in some decrease in legibility. The black and ultra bold weights are best suited for use at larger sizes, for shorter applications.
When using boldface – whether for running text, captions, credits, subheadings, or other usages – ‘less is more’should be your guideline. By keeping any bold usage brief, it will stand out more, be easier to read, and result in a more balanced, pleasing and effective design.
Last but not least, be sure to check – and increase as necessary – the overall letterspacing of any bold text usage. Most bold weights have progressively tighter spacing than their lighter counterparts and therefore may need to be opened up a bit at smaller sizes for better color, texture and legibility.
- Editor’s Note:Ilene Strizver, founder of The Type Studio, is a typographic consultant, designer and writer specializing in all aspects of typographic communication. She conducts Gourmet Typography workshops internationally. Read more about typography in her latest literary effort, Type Rules! The designer's guide to professional typography, 4th edition, published by Wiley & Sons, Inc. This article was commissioned and approved by Monotype Imaging Inc.