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How To Make an eBook:

An Amateur Typographer’s Guide To Fonts!


o, you’ve got this story you’ve written, and you want to share it with people. PDF, EPUB, webpage, whatever! You’ve got a format worked out and it’s time to slap your text into it. Problem is, text needs a font. But that’s easy, you think. You can just grab one of the ones that came with your computer, and bada bing bada boom, you’re set, right?

NO! No. Gods, don’t do that.

We only say that half-jokingly. There are actually a lot of legal, aesthetic, and readability concerns that go into font usage, both for commercial and personal usage. We want to make it easier to help you consider your needs and pick the perfect font to accompany the typography of your project.

But first things first. What exactly is typography?

Well, typography is the art and technique of rearranging type — ie, words on a page. Or a screen, in this instance. If you’ve ever fiddled with the HTML for website text, or changed fonts on an essay, congratulations! You are already an amateur typographer.

At the end of this, we’re going to nudge you toward some places with fun, free fonts to check out. But before we do that, we’re going to go over types of fonts, font file formats, and typesetting. That way, you know what you’re looking for and how to make it work in whatever projects you have planned.

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Text Fonts

A text font (sometimes known as a body font or a plain font) is a font designed to be easy to read in long copy blocks, i.e. paragraphs. This kind of font draws little attention to itself. If you’re skimming a news article or reading a book, most or all of the text you’ll be reading will be in a text font. Times New Roman, Arial, Helvetica Neue, and more examples out there are easily found in your nearest word processor.

Some of these fonts have more stigma than others — Comic Sans. But some are also easier on the eye than others — also Comic Sans!

While a text font is supposed to be optimized for readability, the actual readability of any given font can vary. The way you format and typeset a font will also affect how readable the text is, but we’ll dip into typesetting later.

Under most circumstances, we recommend against using a text font for titles or other decorative details. Compared to a display font, text fonts are very plain, and they won’t garner much interest or awe from your audience. We also recommend against using the default fonts in your system. Most of them are licensed for personal use, but we’ll talk about licensing later. The text font we’re using for this part of the website is an OpenFont lisence serif known as IM Fell Greater Primer. It’s a mouthful, but it has a nice texture!

Display Fonts

As opposed to text font, a display font is designed for decorative use, usually in large headings or in logos. Some of them can get very ornate. Others are more minimalistic. Either way, some aspect of the font should be unusual enough to draw the eye.

The biggest rule of display fonts is to not use them for your main body text.

We’re not saying that to cramp down on your creativity — we’re saying it because, practically speaking, it’s a bad idea. Since they’re designed with a big-picture focus in mind, they’re often completely unreadable at smaller sizes. And even the ones that are readable tend to be distracting in a way that plain text fonts aren’t. Many of the most maligned fonts in the world — Curlz MT, Chiller, Jokerman — are simply system default display fonts that get misused as body fonts too often. Or, they’re misused through overuse.

Either way, we’re going to recommend against using system defaults in your projects again. Most default display fonts are geared toward informal personal use. Think “mom puts together invitations for her son’s birthday party,” or “seven-year-old writes her first horror story” type of usage. Perfectly good uses! But not suited toward a professional setting, or a project with its own artistic identity. The point of a display font is aesthetic precision, and you won’t achieve that with defaults.

We’ll talk about finding and installing fonts at the bottom of this guide. You can see that in the headers for our site, we choose to use another lovely OpenFont called Fondamento.

Spend a moment admiring Fondamento. It’s beautiful.

Have you done that? Good. Let’s go over some other kinds of fonts.

Serif Fonts

There’s a lot of specific terminology for the parts of a character in a font — descender, crossbar, filial, ligature, etc — but those are for people deep in the weeds of font design. As an amateur typographer just trying to slap some words on a page, the only one you really need to know about is the serif.

A serif is the slight projection finishing off the stroke of a letter. Like this!

The word 'serif' done in a serif font. There are circles around the serifs on the letters.

As opposed to something like this. See? No serif. A non-serif font. It reads 'non serif left font.'

Fonts that have serifs are called serif fonts, easy peasy. Most fonts in this world can be divided into serif fonts, and sans serifs.

Sans Serif Fonts

Yep, you guessed it. These are fonts without serifs; literally, “sans” means “without.” Comic Sans is the most infamous example of this, and other examples include Arial, Comfortaa, and Calibri. Pretty basic stuff. As opposed to serif fonts’ more classic look, sans serifs (usually) lend a more modern feel.


You might recognize italics as “when the font go do a slanty thing like this,” but actually, not every slanted font is italic. True italics are derived from a style of slanted cursive handwriting developed in the 15th and 16th centuries. A font with true italics has sort of . . . a second, secret font, specifically for italicized text, where certain characters will take on a different appearance.

See here the difference between the “a” character in Book Antiqua, Fondamento, and Bodoni MT Black;

Three different fonts, written as 'a versus a.' The first 'a' in each font is not italicized, and has a little hook shape over a squat letterform. The second 'a' is rounder and has no overhook.


An oblique is like an italic, but instead of having altered letterforms, the original letterforms are simply slanted. As a rule, serif fonts will usually have an italic font, whereas sans serifs are more likely to just slant what’s already there and call it a day.

Most people will just call obliques “italics” anyway, and “italicize” is still the verb you use for applying the slant to oblique fonts. There isn’t a practical reason for teaching you this distinction. We’re just a font snob!

Three different fonts, written as 'a versus a.' The first 'a' is normal and the second is slanted. Otherwise, both are the same.


A roman usually refers to the basic version of a font. Not italic, not an oblique, and not a fancy blackletter, but just the default. A lot of people call them “regular” fonts for this reason. Romans, like obliques and italics, come in a variety of weights. Some weights you might encounter out in the wild include light, medium, semi-bold, and bold. This refers to how thick the designer has made the characters. Light is the thinnest, bold is the heaviest.

Handwriting fonts

Fonts designed to look handwritten. These have a wide range of appearance and use. Some are more fanciful, imitating a meticulously-written cursive script, while others imitate plain print, or a child’s messier hand. Depending on the font, these could be intended for either display or body text. Plenty of stories use handwriting fonts for written poems or letters included in the story.

Blackletter fonts

This is a bold, decorative style of font designed after the lettering used in medieval manuscripts. Fraktur fonts are blackletter. Personally, we enjoy using blackletter scripts for fantasy projects, if they fit the general aesthetic-of-time-period. Berry Rotunda is blackletter, and a gorgeous one at that! A lot of blackletter fonts can be difficult to read, so they usually skew towards display rather than body fonts. Consider these if you want a medieval feel for your project.

Monospace fonts

This is a font where the characters each take up the same fixed amount of horizontal space. While there can be some awkwardness in trying to make thinner letters like “t” take up the same space as something wider like “m,” monospaced fonts were necessary for typewriters, which needed to move a fixed amount of space for each letter typed. They’re also commonly used for typesetting computer code, as they’re helpful in a context where a single missed letter can make a difference. The fixed character size was also useful back when graphical limitations were a concern.

Using a monospace font for your project might be a good idea if you want to call back to either of these technological eras. Typewriter monospaced fonts are often brought into noir fiction.

Accommodation Fonts

We came up with this term off the top of our head, but maybe other people use it too. An accommodation font is designed in a way that can help a reader with a visual impairment or reading disability, such as dyslexia; this is usually done by making each letter distinct from one another other via varied lineweights and shapes. Comic Sans can function like this for a lot of people, but OpenDyslexic was explicitly created for this purpose! Perspicacious is also designed primarily for ease of readability. And braille fonts could be considered accomodation fonts too.

Accommodation fonts have to conform to specific principles to function the way that they do, which means that they’re aesthetically limited. If an accommodation font doesn’t suit your project, you can always play with the spacing, sizing, and alignment of your chosen fonts to improve readability. That’s a function of typesetting.

But before you can play around with the way a font displays, you need a font to display in the first place. Let’s go over file types.

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Computers and other digital devices can display fonts in a couple of different ways. The oldest way to display fonts digitally was with bitmapping. With bitmapped fonts, each character is made out of pixels. A computer can load them very quickly. But, because each character is essentially a fixed image, every font file comes at a fixed size. These work just fine for some projects, but we wouldn’t recommend them for EPUB files. EPUB formatting is meant to be flexible, prioritizing a reader’s ability to alter the text to their needs — and that includes scaling fonts up or down for personal readability.

Whatwe recommend instead is a vector font. Each character is drawn from an outline, and this allows for the font to scale up or down without needing a new file for every point size.

Vector fonts come in a few different file types;

TTF (TrueType Font) — TrueType is a basic font file type created by Apple and Microsoft. They work pretty well, but they come in with a few limitations; you won’t need a separate file for every point size, but you will need separate files for different styles, such as bold and italics.

Personally, we’re a weirdo who likes seeing what we have all laid out, so we prefer TTFs.

OTF (OpenType Font) — OpenType is an elaboration on TrueType. OpenType can contain multiple styles within a single file, and they can contain all sorts of other alternate swashes and characters too.

Usually, OTF files are more convenient for use in designing and publishing software! But not for Scribus, which is one of the programs that we’re going to show you. For a few different reasons — one being the way that Scribus handles bold and italic text — we recommend TTF files for that program.

WOFF (Web Open File Format) — This is a compressed, web-exclusive version of the previous formats. These fonts download quickly when you open up a website. WOFF fonts are not able to be installed on your computer, so don’t plan on using them to design ebooks unless you’re hosting your ebook directly on a website.

There are also a lot of other highly specific and fascinating font file types out in the world, but since they’re also not relevant to Making Us Some Books, we’re going to skip right over those. Now that you know what you’re working with, we can lay out some final considerations to keep in mind while you decide what fonts to put in your project.

divider Choosing Your Fonts divider

Readability and aesthetic are two of the most crucial aspects of book design. Readability enables your story to smoothly serve its proper, practical function, while aesthetic allows you to explore your vision and draw your reader into it. A key factor in both of these aspects lies in font choice.

Here are a few principles for deciding the best fonts for your project;

Amount of Fonts

Different projects will take different amounts of fonts. A small, simple project could scrape by with just one. A project with a lot of moving parts might take as many as five or six.

However many fonts you choose, consider how they look side-by-side. Most projects do well with just two or three fonts that compliment each other. We typically choose one display font for titles and chapter headings, one basic body font for readable text, and maybe one symbols font on PDFs for flourish accent details. We don’t recommend using a fancy symbols font to decorate EPUBs, because we’ve been informed that a screenreader will read the font as the letters that the symbols are connected to. That can be confusing for the reader!

If your story has a lot of in-universe messages, like letters or emails, you could also choose a font specifically for those messages to help distinguish them from the surrounding text.

Remember; the more fonts you use, the more effort you’re going to spend on coordinating and formatting them all.

Aesthetic Resonance

Consider your source material when looking at display fonts to pair with your project. Futuristic text on a rustic fantasy story, for example, is a no-go, but there’s more to this than just genre-matching. The little details can really make or break your book’s aesthetic, which is an important component in helping your readers understand what the story is about. If you’re writing a space-opera with a 1920s aesthetic, maybe look for fonts from the 1920s. If your story is set in Germany, consider Germanic fonts.

And in this same vein of thought, careless choices can mislead readers. When we were new to book design, we almost made the mistake of using a Gaelic-styled font for Shadow Herald, a dark fantasy story with no particular Gaelic history or references therein. This risked giving the wrong impression to readers. So, we switched our main display font to Fondamento, which has a more neutral flair and won’t imply a nonexistent cultural connection like that.

To Serif, Or To Sans Serif?

Many typesetters and font enthusiasts will tell you that a sans-serif font is often well-paired with a serif, and vice versa. It can provide a nice visual contrast!

Taking into account the previous advice though, some projects might do better by just sticking to one kind or the other. Since sans serif has a more modern association, it could feel out of place in a genre like historical fiction. And certain futuristic genres feel best without serifs.

Font Weight & Color

Pay attention to the density or “color” of your fonts; i.e. font weight. “Lighter” fonts with thinner characters and wider letterspacing is often easier to read, but going too light can be hard on people with limited vision. “Darker,” more dense fonts make for more striking titles. It’s worth noting that a block of text can be made lighter by putting more space between lines, letters, and words, but that’s a matter for typesetting.

Literally changing the color of your text can help too. When a display font is darker than we’d like, we sometimes reduce its visual impact by making it a shade of gray, or another color instead of a solid black.

(By the way, if you want to print in grayscale, you should design in grayscale too.)

And this is usually better advice for designing a book cover than an interior, but please don’t put any font on a low-contrast background color, no matter how pretty the colors look together. Light pink text on a yellow background, for instance, can be nigh impossible to read. Converting your layout to black-and-white for a quick contrast check will help you notice if the text is blending in too much with the background.

Font License

Yep, fonts can be copyrighted, just as other kinds of art can be! And we alluded to this earlier, but we’ll say it again; the default fonts on your computer are not necessarily licensed for commercial usage. Now, licensing is complicated, and we’re honestly not an expert on every single license type out there. There’s a lot of them! But, the most important details are as follows.

Some fonts are free-to-use for personal purposes, like resumes, private letters, and non-monetary art projects. Others are 100% free-to-use, meaning that they are licensed for commercial use as well; you can sell art projects that you make using that font (like books), so long as you do not try to sell the font file by itself. Some font licenses ask you to credit the creator when you use them. Other fonts need you to purchase a license to the font before you make any use of it first. This is easy to ignore in an era where pirating files is as effortless as it is!

Honestly? As a small creator, the chances of someone noticing an improperly licensed font in your project and getting you in trouble over it is very, very unlikely. Under other circumstances, we’d whisper a little “yar-harr-harr” into your ear and let you decide what that means.

However, your average font designer is not a megacorporation. It’s kind to respect the licenses they choose for their art.

So, where do you find good fonts with free-to-use licenses?

If you want a non-pirated font with the proper license, and also don’t want to download any viruses along the way, then be cautious about “free font” sites. Fonts downloaded from reputable places will include the license in with the font, and also tell you what use licence applies before you even download the file. To help you along your way, we’ve compiled some safe resources for font-finding right here;

  • DaFont: This is THE place to get display fonts. All fonts on DaFont are free to download, and most of those fonts on DaFont specify what license they have, ie, whether you can use them for commercial uses or not — though some fonts are abandoned-and-salvaged, and don’t have any license attached to them. That’s pretty equivalent to “use however.” In any case, the search system on this site is phenomenal and lets you search by liscence type. We can’t recommend it enough.
  • Google Fonts: Google fonts is a surprisingly useful resource. Many sites focus on display fonts, but if you need a basic text font, you can find some solid choices here. Every font has an “About & License” tab that you can click for usage information. Most, if not all, operate under an Open Font License, which means 100% use. This page here is a good visual reference for a smaller selection of google fonts, should the vast sea of them give you choice paralysis.
  • Fontspace: This is a pretty safe and well-known place to get fonts. Like DaFont, it’s more useful for display fonts than basic text. Every font has the use license status displayed before you even go to the individual download page, and the search bar lets you limit your results to just commercial-use fonts if you would like.
  • FontRiver: Lots of lovely, mostly display-oriented fonts on this site. Almost all of them have a “Free for Personal Use” licence on them, meaning that if you’re working on a project that you don’t plan to make any money off of, like a school project or personal art, then it's a fabulous resource. The licence of these fonts should be listed in the page for each.
  • Divide By Zero: A collection of free retro display fonts made by Tom Murphy 7. This site includes a how-to for downloading and installing fonts, and even a tutorial for making fonts if you want to try your hand at it!
  • OpenDyslexic: We mentioned this earlier, but we might as well mention it again. This is only one font, but it’s a helpful option.
  • If you search “fonts” on places like tumblr, you’ll find a fair amount of people making fonts just for fun that would be happy to have their creations see some use. Again, be cautious with your link clicking, and check whether the designer is allowing commercial use if you want to put your project up for sale.

Our other miscellaneous tips for font-hunting is to keep an eye on what file types are being offered. If you’re using TTFs, pay attention to whether or not the font you’re downloading is just a basic version of a font, or if the font files include italics and different weights.

And if you really like the font, many designers are open to being tipped.

Installing A Font

Finally! You’ve picked out some fonts, and you want to figure out how to use them. Except that, they’re just kind of sitting on your desktop, and you’re not sure what to do with them now?

Okay. So.

Right-click the font file and click “install.”

That’s it. You’re done.

Or at least, that’s how it works with Windows 10. Other systems may differ, such as Windows 11, where you can click the font file to open it and click the install button inside the display window. Depending on what kind of system you have, you might have to look up an install procedure. You should also be able to find a font directory somewhere in your system. You can use that to view or delete fonts at your leisure; we also keep a separate library of fonts on our desktop for easy reference, sorted by use license.

And now that they’re installed, you’re undoubtedly going to have some questions about how to make them look nice.

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Most people know that they can alter a font’s size or color in word processing programs, and they know how to add bold and italics. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. In the right program, you can also change the spacing between letters, words, lines, and paragraphs.

“Why would I need to care about that?” you might be wondering. “Whatever spacing the font already has should be fine, right?” Not always. Consider that font designers are flawed human beings, like everyone else. Sometimes, a font designer makes a mistake. Sometimes, a designer has to make a few bad fonts before they figure out how to fit everything together. And sometimes, the designer’s aesthetic preferences are form over function. As a result, not all fonts come with usable default spacing.

It all comes down to readability. You might encounter a gorgeous font, and then wince when you drop it into your ebook, because some flaws that didn’t show up in your “sphinx of black quartz hear my vow” preview are now staring you right in the face.

For example, thicker fonts can make the letters harder to distinguish from one another, and might benefit from increased letter and word spacing. Maybe a taller font looks strange with the default line spacing. Or, maybe your font has awkward, uneven spacing for specific letters, like uppercase “V.” That one is a little harder to fix, actually; you might need a different font if one that turns out to be the case.

These are all flaws to keep an eye out for as you mull over what fonts to use. But don’t despair if an otherwise perfect font has sub-optimal spacing; you might be able to tweak it in-program if you’re dedicated enough. Many things that can be done on an HTML webpage can also be done on Sigil! And Scribus has some thorough styling options for your paragraphs too. We’ll teach you this in their respective tutorials.

You can also choose how to align your text. Industry standard is justified text, which is how this webpage is formatted. This means that the ends of the lines all line up with each other evenly, and the spacing between words expands and shrinks to accomodate. The other option is ragged text, where the line ends don’t match up, but the spacing between each word is perfectly consistent.

Folks with dyslexia tend to prefer ragged text, because the consistent spacing is easier for them to read. Anxious folks like us prefer justified because the neatness is reassuring! And the consistent line ends help keep us on track. Different strokes for different folks.

Another thing to consider is indentation. Good indentation helps break up big walls of text and lead a reader’s eye down to the beginning of the next paragraph. A lot of webpages choose not to indent their text, but indentation is the standard for novels. However, the beginning paragraph of a chapter or a section is not indented in most works; having a flat opening paragraph makes a centered chapter title look nice and even, and that makes it looks more professional.

So, in short summary, these bare-minimum principles will usually make your book readable to the average person;

  • Set the linespacing for your base text to 1.5 or double-spaced, or to a visual equivalent.
  • If applicable, set your normal text style to automatically line break after each paragraph. (Not always an option in Scribus.)
  • Indent each paragraph except for the first in a section.
  • When showing a break between scenes, use a centered divider of some kind instead of an empty line.
  • If you’re working with a smaller font, consider sizing it up a little bit.
  • Make sure the text contrasts strongly with the background.

For a solid visual example of how to format for readability, we recommend Solaria’s page on dyslexia-friendly spacing.


here are also a couple fancier moves you can pull too. You see that big, cool letter at the beginning of this paragraph? That’s called a dropcap. Dropcaps can add a classy touch to your project. While we dropped one in for demonstration here, they’re best when used sparingly — once at the beginning of a section, such as at the start of a chapter.

Since the “how” of doing all of these things is going to differ between programs, we’ll cover that in the individual guides for both Scribus and Sigil.

See you there!