Adobe Garamond in the Harry Potter books — not a character but a font

In an earlier post, I had written a paean to the typeface Helvetica and commented on how aesthetics and design are at last catching up with computer typesetting.

That point was brought home in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which included a colophon celebrating the typeface used for that book as well as the typesetter (also for the two previous books). Here’s what it says:

This book was art directed by David Saylor. The art for both the jacket and the interior was created using pastels on toned printmaking paper. The text was set in 12-point Adobe Garamond, a typeface based on the sixteenth-century type designs of Claude Garamond, redrawn by Robert Slimbach in 1989. The book was typeset by Brad Walrod and was printed and bound by Quebecor World Fairfield in Fairfield, Pennsylvania. The Managing Editor was Karyn Browne; the Continuity Editor was Cheryl Klein; and the Manufacturing Director was Angela Biola

Here’s what Walrod succinctly said in a blog about the process of typesetting the Harry Potter books:

I get the job as word processor files, convert them to XPress Tags, translate them, and pour them into XPress templates. There I add the chapter opening art, finesse any special type treatments, check the line breaks, balance the spreads, and add the running heads.

After each read, I make the changes, rebreaking lines and rebalancing spreads as needed.

Sounds easy? But it isn’t, not when you’re dealing with a lengthy text, artwork and graphics, and a multitude of type fonts for different characters’ writings. There is a site that compiles listings of the type fonts used in the first six Harry Potter books. Book 6, for instance, besides using Adobe Garamond for the text and Able for chapter titles and page numbers, employs Shipwreak Bold, Frankfurter Inline, Flemish Script, Brimley, Dollhouse, and P22 Da Vinci Forward. Whew.

I do have some aesthetic and readability quibbles with the type design. I wasn’t able to read Able easily as the serifs are too pronounced, extend into the next letter or number, and appear blurred. Some of the notes and letters and signs in the Potter books use all caps, which also decreases readability. But Adobe Garamond was a great choice — and the book was a fine piece of typesetting.