Over the years, I’ve mellowed out. Out of my own insecurity I used to be such a cynic about everything. Maturity has tempered my hypercritical tendencies in most areas, except for printed worship aides. I feel my ears turn red when I find songsheets printed in Comic Sans or when I find saddle stapled booklets with low resolution scans of music that is questionably reimaged. I feel my jaw lock like the breaks of a Hyundai Elantra in an inch of snow when I find a worship aide with no reprint permission acknowledged anywhere. In an effort to avoid these cringe-worthy moments, I’ve created a guide to better worship aides.
First, whether you own a copy of the music or not, a printed worship aide requires a reprint license. This ensures that composers, lyricists, editors and publishing companies receive just compensation for the time and talent they spent to create your music selections. Even if you’re just reprinting text, a reprint license is necessary.
There are different kinds of licenses available, based on your particular needs. You may need an annual reprint license if you reprint regularly, but you might need an event license for a conference or retreat.
The authoritative resource for Catholic reprint licensing is OneLicense. When I had some questions about a license for a conference, they were very helpful. Pricing is based on the size of your group which keeps this affordable for everyone.
Up until October 2018, I designed my worship aides on word processing software. I upgraded to Adobe Creative Cloud last fall. While I love it, the options are endless, and for me, that translates as more variables, more opportunities for typographical narcissism (hours wasted admiring an awesome layout no one else cares about, accompanied by autologous back patting…) and more rabbit holes. Adobe InDesign is amazing, but it is overwhelming, and a stuffed crust slice of pizza for an ego that warrants an afterschool Hot Pocket at best.
Most word processing software can execute the simple functions that are needed to create a nice looking worship aide. If you’re on Windows, stick to MS Word. There is little that Publisher can do, that Word cannot, and Publisher is difficult, if not impossible for collaborators to open if they are using MS Word.
Pages is Mac’s native word-processing platform. I used it to create an 8-page spread for the Diocese of Metuchen last fall, right before I graduated to Adobe. Pages is easier to use than Word and it supports a crisper, cleaner layout. I especially liked how I was able to input images with precision, manipulate them, and tweak the drop shadows for more tasteful effect.
If you’re working on a system where you don’t have access to either platform, Google Docs is a possibility– but it’s not my first choice. While Google’s cloud-based word processing app makes it possible to edit from anywhere, it doesn’t export consistently to PDF. Line spacing in Docs doesn’t translate into PDF, and sometimes, this affects page counts. Despite Docs’ lack of suitability for multi-page booklets, it’s still great for single sheet worship aides, especially when an updated look is desired. The entire Google Suite supports a variety of free, open-source fonts which are respectable alternatives my teen-mass circa 2008 fallbacks of Impact and Courier New. Speaking of which..
Best Fonts for Worship Aides
Over the years, I’ve witnessed many font-weddings end in an illegible typographic divorce. The secret to a long-lasting font-pairing is a serif body text with a sans-serif heading. I love Alegreya Sans, with Alegreya, but this always means rescoring everything, as none of the major Catholic publishers print the Alegreya family. In the past, I’ve used Courier New as body with Impact as either all caps or all lower case when I wanted a hipper look. I’ve played with Helvetica as a heading, but I couldn’t get used to worship aides that looked like a dysfunctional NYC MTA bulletin. A few times, I felt like bringing the Lucien Deiss aesthetic back, and paired Century Gothic with Century Schoolbook. Unfortunately, I did such a good job of it that it didn’t look vintage, and it just looked dated.
After years of tinkering, I’ve settled for the quintessential fan favorite: Times New Roman for the body with Optima in the heading. Times New Roman is consistent on nearly every platform and it is very easy to read. Optima can be downloaded through Adobe TypeKit if you don’t have it, or you can download a free alternative, called Oregon LDO, and increase tracking slightly.
If all these font pairings are too much, stick to a single typeface, and create contrast by varying cases and weights. Although my friends might not disagree, Times New Roman can be manipulated to create sufficient contrast between headings and body. Palatino is a crisper serif font with the same variability. I’m reluctant to admit that I used Garamond for many years, but I’ve seen it abused so if you do decide to go for it, maybe increase each paragraph/heading style by 1 point.
•Avoid Comic Sans. That’s like proclaiming the Gospel in clown-face.
•Go for a minimum of 12 points for hymn & prayer texts.
•Avoid mixing more than 2 fonts.
•Never use drop shadows on body text.
Keep It Simple
It’s not always neccessary to design a saddle stapled booklet for major liturgies. I was recently in collaboration with a group who spent hours to design a worship aide that was 40 pages, full color. It was beautiful, and because they spent so much time putting it together, in good conscience, I couldn’t ask them to scale back the full book, nor did I want to go into the file and convert it to black and white. The best printing estimate was over $3/copy, we had reduce the total amount of printed copies to three participants per book. Subsequently, I had to scale back my designs for the other two worship aides, so that my client’s printing stayed within budget.
Unless it’s a billingual Liturgy or something completely out of the ordinary, a double-sided sheet of legal paper is often enough for a crisp, legible worship aide. A good worship aide is not a complicated layout that requires expensive software. Rather, it is what it is:: an aide to worship.
I’m more than happy to talk more about this, explain how I export more complicated files, and share more hacks. Let me know in the comments below. Have you ever prepared a worship aide? What fonts do you use? What software? What tips do you have that could benefit the FontFam?