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Building an Effective Press Test

Font Bureau’s mantra when working with newspapers is this: a designer must look at type the way his or her readers will see it. Start looking at real world applications as early as possible. Spec the type on your presses onto your standard stock. If you get into this mindset now, there will be no surprises in the end.

Research type on screen, specimen books, or via laser printouts, but understand that quality will vary between each. Once you have some strong candidates, run several column-widths and push them into varying combinations of point size, leading, and spacing. Take these proofs and pass them around, even show them to a focus group. You are about to make some very big decisions that should last your paper a long time.

  1. Test against your current text face. The only way to know if a new typeface is better is to see how it compares to what you’re used to. It really helps to see new and old text faces with the same inking, so putting a press test next to a standard edition won’t necessarily be a useful comparison. Start at zero. When trying out a new text face, don’t apply the same horizontal scale or tracking settings as your current one. Try defaults first.
  2. If your newspaper uses more than one press, test on all of them. You might discover that different presses require different grades of the typeface for your text to all appear to be the same weight.
  3. Proof, adjust and perfect each press test before it goes to press. Spend time on it, because you’ll be using it to make big decisions.
  4. Start at zero. When trying out a new text face, don’t apply the same horizontal scale or tracking settings as your current one. Try defaults first.
  5. Press tests are not just for text faces. Headline faces and especially agates behave differently on press than they do in a laser proof.
  6. Point size is not absolute. 8.5 point in one typeface may look like 8 or 9 point in another. Also, don’t forget that bigger text is not necessarily more readable text.
  7. Keep options realistic. If there’s no chance you’ll change to 12- point text, or run stories in all caps, there’s no reason to put these options on press.
  8. Hyphenation and Justification (H&Js) settings have an enormous impact on readability. Test a variety of settings and see what works best for you.
  9. Plan on printing more than one press test. Some papers have printed four. It helps to reaffirm your choices by seeing them all work together. It also helps to test one attribute at a time. After you’ve decided on a text face, try 6 different point sizes, in increments of 0.1 points. After picking a point size, try several different H&J and tracking settings. One common mistake is to have the hairlines in your text face heavier than the hairlines in your headline face, a mistake only caught when looking at everything together.
  10. Trust your instincts. You know your editors and readers. Will your preferred option for the new text face frighten them? If you’re going to ask the newsroom to accustom themselves to a new copyfit, have a good reason why.
  11. Feel free to contact Font Bureau for testing licences and help with developing your press test. We’ve helped over 300 newspapers through this process.