Useful Notes / Fonts
"Font" used to refer to a complete set of characters of one typeface (set of characters that share a common design structure) in a specific size and style. So for a typesetter from 40 years ago, a typeface would be Times New Roman, a font family within it would be Times New Roman demi-bold, and a font within that would be 12-point Times New Roman demi-bold. Since the advent of digital media, the two terms are considered synonymous, particularly since outline fonts are indifferent as to size.
Modern computer fonts are stored in font description files, which contain the information for rendering the font on the screen (or on a printed page). There are several formats for font description files, with Bitmap
, and PostScript
being the most widely used (with TrueDoc
, Embedded OpenType
, Web Open Font Format
being variants that can be embedded in web pages). Bitmap fonts have glyphs as, well, bitmaps, at different point sizes. Most of these have only one bit to tell the system if a specified pixel is used by the character or not. Most systems will allow you to use bitmap fonts at point sizes other than what the font has, but results aren't pretty. PostScript fonts are the first vector-based font, used by printers that supported the PostScript language. The first iterations of Windows
and Mac OS
couldn't actually show them on screen
, so a bitmap version of the font was still needed. Adobe Type Manager, available for Mac OS and Windows, would let you see the fonts (even anti-alias them), but current versions of Windows and Mac OS do this by themselves. TrueType was made by Microsoft and Apple to compete with PostScript and a bitmap font is not needed. (Microsoft and Adobe eventually made the similar OpenType format as a replacement for TrueType.) It also uses a different way of doing curves than PostScript.
In order to correct visually uneven spacing between two particular characters in a font, there is a process called kerning
. It adds or subtracts space between characters. It can be confused with letter-spacing or tracking
, which refers to the amount of space between letters in a piece of text. Tight spacing usually benefits large types, but it has a subjective feeling ("fast talking like in advertising") whereas wider spacing increases legibility of small fonts, and creates an association of a more “objective voice”. In excess, the text can look affected.
And just for the fun of it, here's a handy flowchart for designers◊
. Conversely, if you want to know what that particular font is, try Identifont.com; its success record is often hit or miss, but it's probably the best resource out there nevertheless.
You can, if you wish, make your own fonts; it used to be a rather expensive hobby, but the availability of free tools like FontForge
, Adobe's Font Development Kit for OpenType,
and the Web-based FontStruct
has made it much cheaper. (It is, however, a very tedious process, especially if you're including multiple character sets; don't say you weren't warned when you're having nightmares about botched kerning and splines stretching like taffy off the screen to strangle you.)
Serif: Serifs are embellishments details added at the extremes of the strokes of some letters.
Sans Serif: While serif fonts are more usual in print, sans serifs are widely used online. There is no agreement in which of the two has better readability (facility to read text) and legibility (to recognize characters).
- Times New Roman. A traditionally styled font originally commissioned for newspaper columns, and thus designed to fit the maximum amount of text into a narrow space without sacrificing either readability or aesthetics. Was for many years the default font in most word processors, mainly due to being one the only fonts available by default on Windows, but is still a major standard.note Ubiquitous as a result, especially in non-professional work. Although not really anything special, it does its job with a good balance of readability and economy of space. Used in several books and newspapers. Before the advent of digital typesetting almost all British paperbacks were set in either Times New Roman or the more old-fashioned looking Plantin. Using it on a Web site, however, tends to brand the creator as a noob. By the late 1970s, it had become a traditional partner with Helvetica and Courier in technical publishing, likely influencing Adobe's choice of the three as base fonts for the earliest versions of PostScript.
- Bodoni. A didone (meaning that its stroke widths run pretty consistently horizontal and vertical; the name is a portmanteau of Bodoni and the very similar Didot), this historic font is suitable for posters, headlines or logos, and seems to be particularly associated with print magazines (most notably Time and Elle). The closely related Didot is similar in overall design, but a bit less dense on the eyes; both, however, can be subject to a "dazzle" effect under certain conditions, where the horizontal strokes seem to disappear and the entire line seems to be just a forest of verticals.
- Bookman is a loopy, friendly font with a rather baroque history, dating to the 1858 "Old Style Antique". The definitive modern version, however, was created at ITC in 1975, and is closely associated in US pop culture with the late 1970s and early 80s, especially the swash forms used in many TV show titles in that period. Like ITC Souvenir, using Bookman in a document means making a conscious effort to be retro. Unlike Souvenir, it's highly unlikely that people will want to claw their eyes out reading it, though they may sneak a confused look at the copyright date. The "Bookman Old Style" that ships with Microsoft Windows is closely related, but is a more austere slab serif font with distinctly less loopiness.
- Cambria, designed by Dutch designer Jelle Bosma, is part of Microsoft's ClearType collection along with Calibri and a number of others; it somewhat resembles Bigelow and Holmes' Lucida Bright, but a little narrower and boxier. Cambria Math, its technical symbol extension, is the default, and only shipped, font for the current Equation Editor in Word. Other fonts, such as the Times-like XITS Math, are available for download and sort of compatible with Equation Editor.
- The Century family, especially Century Schoolbook, are Didone-ish fonts that date from the 1890s, gives a feeling of old books, but today it's more commonly known by lawyers across the United States for being the font the Supreme Court uses—and makes them use if they submit anything to SCOTUS.
- Cheltenham was created in 1896 as a display face, although today its best known use may be as the text font for the immensely popular ...For Dummies series of reference and tutorial books.
- Clarendon. Common in wanted posters (like the "REWARDS" text in ◊) of The Wild West, logotypes and old traffic signs.
- Cooper Black. Created in 1921, but generally associated with The '70s due to its popularity in that era. You might also think of it as the Garfield font, from its appearance on comic collections going back to the beginning of the strip.
- Computer Modern Roman, the LaTeX font. Is a didone type (horizontal lines are thinner than the vertical parts). (It's part of a whole family; see below.)
- The Doves Type is a fairly obscure type, but one marked by a hilariously petty feud between its owners, the principals of a early 20th century London publishing house called Doves Press. The principals, Emery Walker and Thomas James Cobden-Sanderson, had commissioned a rather unique type for the press, but when the venture started losing money and Walker left, Cobden-Sanderson decided to deny Walker the ability to use it under an arrangement a mutual friend had brokered, and proceeded over a period of several months to dump all of the type into the Thames river. Modern typographer Robert Green reconstructed the type from Doves books, and in 2014 hired divers to fish a handful of the actual type out of the location in the Thames where Cobden-Sanderson had dumped it.note
- Garamond and Baskerville (an updated Caslon, a British font used in the American colonies and in historic documents, like the U.S. Declaration of Independence. Still used and highly considered today). They offer formality and elegance.
- Older Than They Think: (1480–1561), (1757) and (1722–1757), respectively.
- Perhaps not surprisingly, Baskerville is used in some editions of the Sherlock Holmes books.
- There are many Garamonds, of two distinct lineages. The first group is based on Claude Garamont's original work, while the second group comes by way of a later designer, Jean Jannon, who worked many years after Garamont's death but created fonts very much in the Garamond style, with a few tweaks (a little asymmetry here, a little intentional irregularity there...). One particularly famous variant, ITC Garamond note is recognizably of the Jannon lineage, but rendered in the ITC house style with high x-heights, it's almost a completely new font in its own right.
- Caslon was a particular favorite of printers in colonial America, to the point that "when in doubt, use Caslon" was common conventional wisdom (it was apparently Benjamin Franklin's personal favorite, for example). Ironically, the intentionally-distressed "Caslon Antique" used to give posters, books, and other things a "colonial" feel isn't actually a Caslon, although the IM Fell types by Igino Marini are based on Dutch types that were directly ancestral to it and have the same distressed look to them.
- Georgia. Has larger characters than Times New Roman, with old-style (or "lowercase") figures. One of the first fonts explicitly designed for computers, emphasizing on-screen legibility. Like Verdana and Comic Sans, was released more or less as free software as part of Microsoft's Core Fonts for the Web initiative, but isn't quite as popular. It might be best known as one of the default fonts on Amazon's Kindle e-readers.
- Lexicon: In his career, Dutch graphic designer Bram De Does has created only two fonts, and they were both masterworks. Lexicon, commissioned for a Dutch dictionary in 1989, is the more famous one, and at nearly US$400 per style, one of the most expensive fonts in the world. If you're a graphic designer and you can get someone to buy it for you, do it.
- Palatino. Classic one, easy to read. It's very likely the best known font created by the great German type designer Hermann Zapf, and in some form has been readily available on every major computing platform since at least the early 1990s. It's a Spiritual Successor to the Garamonds, Baskervilles, and Caslons of the past, rendered as if with a calligraphy pen, and is a bit of a chameleon in that it can do double duty as a text font and a display font. A Palatino Sans exists, created by Zapf and Akira Kobayashi, but it's fairly expensive and has yet to be bundled into any of Palatino's traditional homes; it's a bit of a modernization of Zapf's Optima (see below), which is something of a traditional partner for Palatino.
- Book Antiqua. Suspiciously Similar Substitute. (URW Palladio, which is used on many Linux systems because its publisher made it available for free, isn't "suspiciously" similar, because it was authorized by Hermann Zapf; the same applies to Bitstream's Zapf Calligraphic. As with Arial, Monotype and Microsoft showed no such consideration with Book Antiqua, which annoyed Zapf greatly.) For reasons no doubt long forgotten in Redmond, Microsoft still ships it despite having licensed Palatino Linotype, which Zapf considered the definitive Palatino for all time.
- Souvenir: A blobby mess of a font created in 1914 by Morris Fuller Benton for American Type Founders, but popularized (in a rare Ed Benguiat misfire) by the ITC cut from the 1970s. (The sans serif version, Souvenir Gothic, was a creation of URW++ and isn't nearly as hideous; it also manages to look halfway decent as a monospace.) It was badly overused (redundancy?) in the 1970s and 1980s as a text font and is in many ways the Comic Sans of the phototypesetter era. If you're a fan of that flashy 70s ITC look, use Bookman, or Benguiat, or ITC Garamond. Anything but this. As the saying goes, friends don't let friends set Souvenir.
- Trajan is the film poster font.
- Traktir is another slab serif typeface evoking the look and feel of 19th-century papers and posters. It's bilingual, with both Latin and Cyrillic letters (the latter was often used in Tsarist Russia).
- Windsor is Woody Allen's signature title font. Older American GenXers will also recognize it as the title font for the 1976 Saturday morning cartoon Tarzan: Lord of the Jungle. It dates all the way back to the late 19th century.
Script: Meant to imitate handwriting or calligraphy.
- Antique Olive is a quirky sans-serif that was created by Roger Excoffon in France in the 1960s but has become inexplicablynote ubiquitous in the 2010s, being most closely associated with professional shingles and cheap plastic sale signs on the front lawns of stores. It's named for the foundry that commissioned it, and the O-shaped letters, not coincidentally, happen to be roughly olive-shaped.
- Calibri. In 2010, it became the default typeface in, among others, Microsoft Office, substituting for Times New Roman and Arial. Not recommended for use on Web sites, however, because at the same point size it is noticeably smaller than all of the sans-serif fonts that can be used as a fallback. If you see a printed note hanging up in your office (passive-aggressive or otherwise) and your office, like most, mainly uses Windows, the chances are overwhelming that it was typed in all-caps Calibri.
- Century Gothic. A modern remake of an early-1900s font called Twentieth Century, pre-installed on Windows computers.
- Chicago. The default font for Macintosh computers for System 7 and earlier. Later Mac OSes replaced it with Charcoal, Lucida Grande, and most recently Helvetica (see below).
- Eurostile. Known for its squarish round letters, most iconic in its extended (widened) form. Common on electronic equipment in the '70s and '80s. Still manages to retain a futuristic feel, though some would argue that it's slipping into Zeerust territory.
- Franklin Gothic. Makes sense for headlines and minor design elements. Popular with the U.S. Army.
- Frutiger. Originally designed for use on airport signs, it is notable for being easy to read from a wide range of angles and distances. Quite popular, it has a clean modern look.
- DIN 1451 fonts are very similar, invented in Germany in the 1930s as an industrial standard.
- Futura. Geometric type (therefore a very modern look) used extensively as a general-purpose font. Created by German typographer Paul Renner in the 1920s, but popular throughout the 20th century and still widely available in the 21st.
- Its Bauhaus style is good for a movie set in The Fifties or early-to-mid Sixties and you want to show signage at a research laboratory or tables in a science textbook (even though it is considered more a font from The Thirties, where it may also be found, but more in the context of something high end, like a fine arts publication).
- Futura Bold and Black could almost be considered a separate typeface altogether, as the thicker lines and chopped-off tips on the A, M, V, and W lend them a distinctly informal feel compared to their thinner counterparts. Ubiquitous to the point of being the less-stodgy counterpart to Helvetica, and the font used for the Red-and-White Comedy Poster.
- Avant Garde, initially designed for the magazine of the same name, could be considered a more modern equivalent, or at least a more recent one. It was especially popular in the 1970s and still evokes a feel of that era. Known for its right-angled, tilted alternates for A, M, V, and W (and sometimes Y).
- Gotham. Commissioned by GQ magazine to be geometrical and look "masculine, new, and fresh", though it was purportedly modeled after machine-cut signage from the mid-20th century. Now associated with Barack Obama, whose campaigns made extensive use of it. Its use has exploded since then; most amusingly, it is used in the new logo for DC Comics.
- Helvetica. Designed to be the 'perfect' typeface; meaning it could be used on almost any design or purpose. By the end of the 20th century, it and its clones has been overused by amateurs and professionals alike. This has possibly subverted its original intent of being the least obtrusive font imaginable.
- One of Helvetica's most famous uses was for the lettering of ship names on the Space Shuttle Orbiter Fleet.
- Helvetica is the font used for most things on TV Tropes (when text isn't set to the individual browser default). The monospaced font we have is Courier.
- Arial. Suspiciously Similar Substitute.
- Here is a page about some of the differences between Arial and Helvetica. This is a 20-question quiz for telling apart the two fonts, using well-known logos designed in Helvetica and converted to Arial.
- As a rule of thumb, if you're viewing this page on a Windows computer, it will by default be in Arial. If you are viewing it on a Mac, it is probably Helvetica.
- Univers. The Rival: Both were created the same year (1957) and are extremely legible. Univers has wider letter-spacing. It is also the dominant choice of sans-serif font in British how-to books of the 1960s and 70s, disappearing rather abruptly in the 1980s as UK graphic designers discovered desktop publishing.
- Myriad. Suspiciously Similar Substitute: The author claims so. Although, realistically, it bears more of a resemblance to Frutiger. Years from now, if someone goes looking for a font that just screams 2000s/2010s, there's a good chance they'll pick Myriad, if they don't choose Gotham or Antique Olive instead.
- Lithos is based on old Greek lettering and gives a primitive-ethnic feel. Good if you have a movie set in The '90s and want to show a restaurant menu (particularly a Greek diner). Apple's Skia font has a similar inspiration, but with lowercase letters and less obvious cheeziness.
- Neutra Display is a recent retro-style (roughly mid-20th century) font that has begun to take off among designers who want something a bit more distinct than Futura. Features a distinct low center line, which extends to the entire lower-case set as well as letters like "E" and "R".
- Optima is likely Hermann Zapf's second best-known font after Palatino; although a sans serif font, it borrows the varying stroke widths of typical serif fonts. Although it's most strongly associated with the 1960s, it's never really gone out of style, and generally makes a nice companion font for Palatino, especially since the much newer Palatino Sans is fairly expensive and rare. (You might also find it under the names "Zapf Humanist" from Bitstream or "URW Classico"; both are Zapf-approved copies.) Its most famous use is probably on the U.S. Vietnam Veterans Memorial, where it is used to list the names of the war dead.
- Roboto. The "Android font" as of Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich). Released for desktop systems by Google in 2012; it's gradually developed into Google's corporate identity font and is the standard web font for YouTube and Google+.
- San Francisco is the second Apple font by that name; the first was a ransom note-style typeface designed in 1983 by Susan Kare for the original Macintosh and shipped until System 7 came out, while the new one was designed for the Apple Watch and replaces Helvetica Neue on OS X 10.11 and iOS 9. At a quick glance, it looks very much like Roboto, although on closer examination there are significant differences. A monospaced version, apparently developed for macOS 10.12 Sierra and iOS 10, shipped at Apple's June 2016 Worldwide Developer Conference, buried deep inside Xcode 8.
- Segoe. As "Segoe UI", the Microsoft user interface font for Windows Vista and 7, along with Microsoft Office 2007 and 2010. A slightly-different version of Segoe is the font for Windows 8 and Windows Phone. Considered a Suspiciously Similar Substitute for Frutiger and Myriad.
- Trebuchet. Designed in 1996, and named for the medieval siege engine. TV Tropes uses Trebuchet in a few places, including the "Resources" and "Tropes By" sidebars and the Tropes and Forums links along the top.
- Verdana. Sans serif counterpart to Georgia. Both were created by Microsoft. Tahoma is a narrower, more tightly-spaced variant also created by Microsoft. Although Matthew Carter, its creator, was commissioned to expand the font's repertoire over the years, and those versions are commercial, the first public version of Verdana was released more or less as open content in a (successful) attempt to expand the number of standard fonts available to web designers, so it's available in some form or another on nearly all platforms. (Unfortunately, Comic Sans was part of the same release, and is equally ubiquitous because of it.)
- Replacement Scrappy: Some felt that Ikea lost part of his identity when Verdana, in 2009, replaced Futura as the default font for their catalogs.
- Johnston: An early "humanist" sans-serif font, designed 1916 by Edward Johnston for the London Underground, designed to be clean and modern but also friendly. Very useful for signage, rather like Frutiger.
- Gill Sans A very similar humanist sans-serif font, designed in 1928–32 by Johnston's student, Eric Gill. Also used for signage, as well as many, many YouTube videos (it's a default title font on iMovie). It is used for signage and identification purposes by many British institutions, including the Church of England and The BBC.
- Both Gill Sans and Johnston are seen as quintessentially British modern fonts; seeing them show up is a reasonably good indication that whatever is using it is connected to contemporary Britain.
Monospaced: Each character occupies the same amount of horizontal space.
- Comic Sans MS. An informal script font for funny stuff, purportedly modeled after the hand lettering of comic book artist Dave Gibbons. Generally considered The Scrappy of fonts both for a tendency to be used inappropriately (one article says it's shown up on everything from storefront signs to gravestones), and for being not very high quality even for what it is—it was never even meant to be used in print at all, but as the word-bubble text spoken by an early predecessor to Microsoft Office's talking paperclip. In bitmap form, at small sizes, it doesn't look half bad.
- Monotype Corsiva. To add a casual feeling to invitations, personal cards and short sponsored texts.
- Kuenstler Script and Snell Roundhand. Highly formal, based on elaborated calligraphy from the 17th and 18th centuries.
- Kaufmann, Mistral, Dom Casual (which has a freehand effect similar to Comic Sans) and Brush Script. Casual script typefaces (they emulate informal handwriting). Very popular in advertising and entertaining magazines.
- Dom Casual peaked in popularity in the mid-'50s to early '70s, when it was (over)used much as Comic Sans is now. Today it's most often used when a "retro" look is desired.
- Segoe Print. Another font introduced in Windows Vista and Office 2007, presumably meant to displace Comic Sans as the informal/faux-handwriting font of choice.
- Maiandra GD is a font based on an early example of Oswald Cooper’s hand lettering in an advertisement for a book on home furnishing in the early 20th century, which was itself based on examples of letterforms from Greek epigraphy. Similar to Comic Sans without falling into Its Popular, so It Sucks mentality; Maiandra can be used in many of the places where Comic Sans would actually be appropriate without inciting "RAWR COMIC SANS!" rage.
- Anonymous TrueType and Anonymous Pro. Initially designed for Macs, these got exported to other operating systems. Popular with coders and some developers, they have a very clean look. Often overlooked because of compatibility issues.
- Courier. Looks like typewriting, because it was designed for the IBM Selectric typewriter line. The font of choice for screenwriters; nearly every guide to writing a screenplay says to use this font. 12-point Courier was also the font used by the US Department of State until 2004, when they switched to 14-point Times New Roman. Also great for plain text e-mails, code, and rageface comics. Courier Prime is an attempt to create a prettier, more screenplay-friendly version of it.
- OCR-A. Bar code or credit card font. Was created in 1968 to be easily recognized by computers. It has a retro-futuristic look, so it's also used in advertising and display graphics.
- OCR-B: Also for optical character recognition, but has a less technical appearance.
- Lucida Console is the typeface used in the blue screen of death in Windows XP and Windows CE, as well as the default font for Notepad. It's also the only font that can replace the default one in the Command Prompt. In other platforms there is Lucida Typewriter.
- Consolas, a favorite among programmers because of its clean look, especially when text anti-aliasing (ClearType in Microsoft land) is used. Strangely, it did not replace Lucida Console as the default font in Notepad.
- Fixedsys is a very old console-based font. Unlike almost everything above, Fixedsys is not TrueType; the characters are encoded as pixels rather than lines and curves. Was the default font for Notepad on older versions of Windows, and still finds use where terminal programs are involved.
- Agency FB. A narrow, geometric font recognizable for its open capital "R". Popular in recent years for video game logos, including the Battlefield and Red Faction franchises.
- Bank Gothic. A small-caps font with a simple, geometric design. Popular as a logotype for anything that needs to convey "serious business", particularly for subheadings. As noted above, used as a substitute for Eurostile in works that are Typeset in the Future.
- Impact. Considered amateurish, it's good for making lists or standing text out. White-with-black-border Impact is used in an awful lot of image memes.
- Haettenschweiler: An alternative. It's used in the Joytube.com "Concentrate Plus" game.
- ITC Machine can also substitute for Impact, although its angular letter forms tend to give more of a "sports" vibe.
- French Clarendon. Apart from Clarendon, this variation was used in the wanted posters to highlight a word or phrase. Just like its sister font, it's an archetypal "Wild West" font.
- Playbill is based on French Clarendon.
- Paratype's Rodchenko is the archetypal, hammy, totalitarian SФVIЭT PЯФPAGДИDA PФSTЭЯ font. It is not to be confused with a much older font by the same name that is particularly associated with graphic design in the 1970s; astute viewers of Boston-based movies might note it as the font used on Boston Police cars until the early 2000s. This Rodchenko is also known as Futura Black and was designed by Paul Renner as a companion to the regular sans-serif Futura; in turn, it's not to be confused with Braggadocio, which was based on Futura Black but is a little wider, a little blobbier, and a little newer (1930s vs 1920s).
- Another "Communist-style" font is "Truth", named after the Soviet Communist Party newspaper "Pravda" ("Truth"). Other Pravda-derived fonts, however, are much more subdued and ordinary-looking.
- Serpentine. Used a lot in the 1990s and early 21st century by brands that wanted to look hip and edgy, most notably the James Bond franchise.
- Papyrus. Ancient-looking font. While not a particularly ugly font like Comic Sans, it's generally associated with New Agers and people with absolutely no sense of design. James Cameron used it for the Na'vi subtitles in Avatar and got razzed for it. A lot. This xkcd strip recommends its use for trolling font geeks.
- Rickshaw, Buddha, China Doll, and numerous other "wonton fonts". Commonly used to convey an Asian, Chinese, and/or Japanese atmosphere. Even so, they still get regular use, particularly from lazy designers or small businesses out to emphasize their Asian-ness.
- Bernhard Antique was created by ATF typographer Lucian Bernhard in 1912, and tended to be used rather heavily in the 70s and 80s to give kind of a cozy, "homespun" look to books in the phototypesetter era. It's still used here and there (a slightly modified version called Bernard MT Condensed (without the rough edges of the original) is a default install on Windows 10), although it doesn't really work unless you're trying to be self-consciously retro.
- Broadway, created in 1927. Popular with works set in the 1930s.
- Curlz and ITC Viner Hand seem to have become the stereotypical typefaces for the goth subculture.
- Lobster by Pablo Impallari is a script font that seems to have become common for restaurant and bar signs as well as many, many product labels. It was designed to take full advantage of Microsoft and Adobe's Open Type technology, including numerous ligatures to make it work more like cursive writing, and seems to be mainly used to give a sign or document a neo-Retraux feel. Because it was released as a Google Web Font and is free for anyone to use, it's become very popular. Perhaps too popular.
- Motter Tektura, created by Austrian designer Othmar Motter in 1975, is an interesting case. Although it's very familiar (particularly to GenXers from the US) from several brands, most notably Apple, Reebok, and Mead Trapper Keepers, it appears that Motter never authorized a digital version. If you find one, therefore, it's probably a recreation.
- Neuland (especially Neuland Inline) is best known as the Jurassic Park font, and is occasionally used to evoke images of the jungle and savannahs of Africa. It isn't necessarily a bad font, but be careful how you use it; at best, it comes off as clichéd, and at worst, slightly racist, like the "wonton fonts" mentioned above. Phosphate Inline is a popular and slightly less hackneyed substitute.
- Westminster was created in the 1960s by British font designer Leo Maggs and based on the style of the MICRnote characters used on checks. Until digital page layout became the norm in the late 1980s, it was known to most people as the "computer" font, although if used today it's more likely to invoke a feeling of mimeographed zines and musty library books that should have been weeded out years ago.
- Wingdings and Webdings. A series of Microsoft dingbat (symbols instead of letters and numbers) fonts. Not to be confused with the Unicode symbols, these fonts use symbols mapped to actual keyboard letters (such as J for a smiley face).
It's been a trend since the 1980s or so for fonts to be designed as coherent families, usually with serif, sans-serif, and monospaced variants, and sometimes with display versions as well. Font families have existed for a long time, since printers first combined italic and upright glyphs in the same documents and wanted them to look right together, but Donald Knuth's Computer Modern family was the first modern one and still the most overwhelmingly comprehensive (due to it being implemented in a fashion best described as "excessively flexible").
- Adobe Source, while not Adobe's first open source font project (that would be Utopia), is certainly their most ambitious. Intended, at least to some extent, to show off the capabilities of OpenType technology, the joint successor to both TrueType and Adobe Postscript Type 1 formats, the family includes three sets of Latin-script core fonts (Source Code Pro (monospace), Source Sans Pro, and Source Serif Pro) as well as a large number of non-Latin scripts including Hebrew, Devanagari, and CJK.
- Computer Modern (mentioned above) and its nearly-identical update Latin Modern were created for METAFONT, an early digital font rendering program that Donald Knuth (better known for his ''The Art Of Computer Programming" series of books) created to complement the TeX formatting package; however, they've been long since converted to PostScript, TrueType, and OTF formats for wide use, and expanded to include numerous character sets. They're loosely based on older versions of Century (as was commonly used in textbooks up through the mid-20th century), but also come in many, many forms of serif, sans-serif, and what can only be described as a blocky, charmingly antiquated monospaced form. (The original METAFONT source contained something like 60 different user variables, and Knuth noted that one of the reasons METAFONT didn't succeed outside the TeX world was because type designers didn't appreciate being forced to be mathematicians just to make a font.) Computer Modern and TeX were created because of Knuth's dissatisfaction with existing typesetting facilities for mathematical and technical writing, a field it still excels at.
- Cormorant by Christian Thalmann is a fairly large family of variants on a basic Garamond design, redrawn specifically for use on ultra-high-res ("retina") screens. It came out in 2015, making it by far one of the newest fonts listed on this page, not to mention one of the more interesting ones stylistically.note
- DejaVu (and its ancestor, the Bitstream Vera family) is one of the most popular open source font families; it's used on many free operating systems and is constantly updated to keep up with changes in the Unicode standard (which mostly involves adding emoji these days). Apple's console font Menlo is a slight modification of DejaVu Mono to increase readability on a computer screen.
- Freight is a fairly large family by Joshua Darden, used, among other places, by Facebook in some of their branding, and as the main text font for most Gawker sites.
- Liberation and Croscore are two very similar families derived from Ascender by Steve Matteson. Both are open source; the Croscore variants are used by Google Chrome as exact metrical replacements for Times, Helvetica, and Courier but are essentially completely different designs. There are also two Crosextra fonts, Carlito and Caladea, which Chrome OS uses to replace Microsoft's Calibri and Cambria fonts. Not to be confused with
- Linux Libertine and Biolinum, which are a pair of fonts designed from the ground up as an open source font family. Libertine is meant as a replacement for Times, while Biolinum is essentially a somewhat more casual Optima. Libertine is the font used in TOW's logo, replacing Hoefler Text.
- Lucida by Charles Bigelow and Kris Holmes is very widely known due to one of its sans serif variants, Lucida Grande (also mentioned above), having been used for years as a system font by versions of Windows and Mac OS X. Lucida Console is also a common monospace font for coders, while Lucida Bright (an improved form of the original serif Lucida) was created for Scientific American magazine and has shown up sporadically on both Mac and Windows since the 1990s, as well as a good number of versions of Java. Closely related are the Luxi family (designed for the X11 Unix windowing system) and the True Type version of the Mac OS New York font, both of which were also designed by B&H.
- The Microsoft Cleartype family (aka the "C series" or "the new Office fonts") is a set of fonts designed to show off Microsoft's ClearType rendering engine; the above-mentioned Calibri is probably the most common one, along with Cambria, Candara, Consolas, Constantia, Corbel, and Cariadings. They're standard with Windows since Vista, and with all versions of Microsoft Office; all except for Cariadings can also be had for free with some of Microsoft's Office-related utility software.
- URW Nimbus isn't so much a font family in its own right as a series of clones of Times, Helvetica, and Courier; unlike the Croscore fonts, however, the Nimbus fonts are virtually identical to their ancestors. They were released by URW for the GhostScript printing software package and are common on Linux systems and Windows systems where the owner can't afford to license real Helvetica. (In fact, the GhostPDL package that GhostScript is part of includes a treasure trove of high-quality Latin alphabet fonts, almost all of which are similar or identical to popular fonts like Arial, Bookman, or Univers, but not all of them are fully open source-licensed, so look it over twice before you distribute any changes you make to them.)
- The PT font family by Russian foundry ParaType (main designer Aleksandra Korolkova) was commissioned by the Russian government to provide a unified font family covering all the languages of the Russian Federation, in both Cyrillic and Latin letters; it's available on many Linux distros as well as OS X. It comes in mono, serif, and sans-serif, and in multiple weights for various layout purposes. note
- Rotis, by Otl Aicher, is probably best known in its semi-serif form, for which it's a somewhat popular logo font, but it comes in several other variants that vary by stroke weight and serif design.
- The Thesis family by Luc(as) De Groot (better known under its individual font names, TheSans and TheSerif) were designed as and commonly used as corporate identity fonts.
Finally, a few well-known…
- Ludovico Arrighi (Italy, 1475–1527) was, if not exactly the creator of italic type, one of its pioneers. A great many italic styles even today are based to some extent on his work, and he also remains influential in hand-lettered calligraphy.
- Ed Benguiat (United States, born 1927) worked for the International Typeface Corporation as both type designer and graphic designer. In addition to ITC Benguiat, he also created ITC Souvenir (based on a WWI-era original), ITC Bookman, and a number of logotypes including those of Playboy, Sports Illustrated, Estée Lauder, and a good number of 1970s movie posters. If you see a font that makes you think U.S. 1970s schlock, there's a good chance Benguiat had a hand in it, unless it was Herb Lubalin's work. House Industries sells five of his font designs as the "Ed Benguiat Collection".
- Morris Fuller Benton (United States, 1872–1948) was the head designer of American Type Founders and created, revived, or otherwise popularized over 200 typefaces, of which Century, Franklin Gothic, Hobo, and Cheltenham are probably the best known.
- Giambattista Bodoni (Italy, 1740–1813), who along with colleague/rival Firmin Didot created what are now known as the "modern" or "didone" style fonts.
- Matthew Carter (United Kingdom/United States, born 1937): Creator of the ubiquitous Verdana screen font for Microsoft, along with other well-known fonts like Georgia, Bitstream Charter, Bell Centennial (the phone book font), Skia, and the Greek version of Helvetica. Probably wishes he created Myriad, since his fonts are otherwise ubiquitous in modern culture.
- Vincent Connare (United States, born 1960): Created Comic Sans for Microsoft and is possibly the most hated type designer alive. Also created Trebuchet, which isn't so bad but has been overshadowed by the rather slicker Verdana.
- The Didot family of France, printing pioneers active from the 17th through 19th century. Their eponymous font is named for Firmin Didot (1764–1836), who was also known for creating the stereotype, which originally referred to what we'd now call a printing plate.
- Adrian Frutiger (Switzerland, born 1928): Creator of Univers, Avenir, and the eponymous Frutiger, the last of which was ancestral to (among others) Microsoft Segoe and Adobe Myriad, the latter of which very likely might be the defining font of the early 21st century. His OCR-B font is a common stylistic choice for movies with techie or spy themes.
- Claude Garamont, who came to fame in 1541 for "les Grecs du Roi", an influential Greek typeface commissioned by King François I of France to print bibles; the Garamond family of fonts is based on his work and named for him, although some Garamonds are based on the later derivatives created by Jean Jannon decades after Garamond's death.
- Eric Gill (United Kingdom, 1882–1940): Best known for Gill Sans, and also being a creepy incestuous jerk.
- Pablo Impallari (Argentina): Creator of numerous free/libre fonts for the Web, most notably Lobster, Raleway, and free versions of Franklin Gothic, Caslon, Baskerville, and Bodoni.
- Susan Kare (United States, born 1954): One of the pioneers of pixel art design and the creator of most of the bitmap fonts for the early Macintosh. Chicago is arguably her most famous.
- Herb Lubalin (United States, 1918–1981): Creator of the Love It or Hate It ITC Avant Garde font, and, like Ed Benguiat, a major influence on the type design of the 1970s.
- Aldo Manuzio (Italy, 1449–1515) was the actual inventor of italics, as well as the person responsible for the modern use of the semicolon. The company Aldus, which created the first mass-market desktop publishing program PageMaker, was named for him.
- Steve Matteson (United States, born 1965) has been closely associated with computer typography for quite some time, having been the creator of Google's Croscore and Droid families, Microsoft's Segoe UI and Andale Mono families, and the infamous Curlz MT display face.
- Max Miedinger (Switzerland, 1910–1980) created an intentionally dull, unassuming font called Neue Haas Grotesk that, with a few tweaks and some genius marketing, went on to become the ubiquitious Helvetica.
- Paul Renner (Germany, 1878–1956): Best known as creator of the Futura font, a bit of a spiritual ancestor to Helvetica et al.
- Robert Slimbach (United States, born 1956): Creator of Minion and Utopia (one of Adobe's first free software fonts), and along with Carol Twombly, Myriad.
- Carol Twombly (United States, born 1959): During a relatively short career at Adobe, Twombly created Lithos and Trajan, as well as collaborating with Slimbach on Myriad.
- Hermann Zapf (Germany): Creator of Melior, Optima, Zapf Chancery, Zapfino, and perhaps most famously Palatino, and an early pioneer along with Donald Knuth in digital type design. Died in June 2015 at the age of 96.
And a few companies (there's a lot more where these came from):
- American Type Founders
- Bitstream (now part of Monotype) was one of the first foundries to specialize in digital fonts. They had a huge library of both original fonts (Charter and Vera were among the first popular free software fonts) and authorized knockoffs.
- The Greek Font Society produces a decently large catalog of Greek and Greek/Latin fonts. Their GFS Artemisia font is essentially Times as rendered in the style used by most Greek fonts.
- GUST is primarily a Polish TeX user group, but they're also known for their type work, including the Latin Modern and TeX Gyre series (based on and enhanced from, respectively, the Computer Modern and URW GhostScript fonts), as well as some of their own creations like Antykwa Poltawskiego and Iwona.
- International Typeface Corporation: Started in 1970 to capitalize on the invention of phototypesetting and now a brand belonging to Monotype. Their signature style was flashy, chunky letterforms that didn't work so well in books and magazines but looked great on ad copy and signs.
- Linotype: Best known for their famously complex and popular typesetting machines that would cast metal into a "line o' type", Linotype survived the disintegration of typesetting as a specialized trade to make big investments in digital typography, and they're still one of the biggest names in the business.
- Monotype: Formerly Linotype's biggest competitor in hot metal type, now its owner. Somewhat notorious for design theft; their Book Antiqua clone of Palatino outraged Hermann Zapf, probably even more so given that Zapf had authorized copies under different names with two other foundries.
- URW++: One of the early specialists in digitizing older type. A set of their fonts, donated originally to the GhostScript project, have been adopted among Linux users (as well as broke Mac and Windows users) as free alternatives to some of the most important fonts out there. Their Ikarus font editornote , first created in the mid-1970s, was one of the first and, through the 1990s, most important digital font editors available.
Advertising and Corporate Identity
Many brands develop close associations with fonts.
- Times New Roman is so named entirely because it was commissioned by The Times of London in 1931. It still uses a variant today; probably the only thing that could possibly incense the normally level-headed Times readers would be if they abandoned the Times font family for something noticeably different.
- BMW today is inextricably linked to Helvetica, and has been for quite some time now.
- Volkswagen has used Futura for decades. They manage to make it look clean and friendly.
- IKEA also had a historic association with Futura; this was nixed and switched to Verdana, which caused a small outcry among fans of IKEA and Futura.
- The BBC uses Gill Sans for its logo and corporate identity.
- The London Underground has used Johnston (from which Gill Sans is derived) for a very long time; the rest of Transport for London followed suit when it was formed in 2000.
- In contrast, most American subway systems use Helvetica. Most notable are probably the New York City Subway and Washington Metro, which both use white-on-black signage throughout their systems.
- Helvetica—a documentary about typography.
- American Psycho: Despite what Patrick Bateman may tell you, there is not a font called "Silian Rail"—his card appears to be Garamond. Van Patten's "Romalian type" appears to be Didot. Bryce's card is Helvetica, Paul Allen's is Copperplate Gothic.
- Thursday Next: In the Bookworld, different fonts are regarded as different languages.
- Type:Rider is a mobile game devoted entirely to the history of typography and fonts, even going as far back as the age of cave paintings.
- Undertale, similar to Helvetica mentioned below, has two skeleton characters named Papyrus and (Comic) Sans. Almost everything written or said by them is done so in their respective fonts, unlike many other characters who instead share the same font. There is also the enigmatic W. D. Gaster, whose speech/writing is also done in a unique font - in this case, Wingdings (which seems to be where his initials are derived from - incidentally, "Aster" is also a font).
- College Humor has created two shorts based on fonts, Font Conference and Font Fight. Different fonts are personified by different actors, assuming personas suggested by the font names. Thus Comic Sans is a superhero, Wing Dings is a mental patient able to speak only using the names of symbols ("diamonds candle candle flag!"), Futura is a time traveler from the future, Century Gothic is a goth, etc.
- This McSweeney's piece.
- If you're using Mozilla Firefox, a handy add-on to tell what fonts are used on a Web page is fontinfo; highlight and right-click on text to use it.
- An interesting kerning exercise can be found here.
- The sing-alongs on The Beatles used Folio Bold to display the lyrics on all used songs except "I'll Follow the Sun".
It also provides examples of:
- Discredited Trope: For professional print design, most of the default Windows fonts and their Mac equivalents fall into this. However, they are very common in Web design because of their high compatibility rate with most browsers.
- To overuse and misuse script fonts, especially Brush Script.
- Though the newer CSS 3 tricks, like @font-face and embedding sites like Google Fonts, allow the use of any font to be use on the web.
- Font Anachronism: For when fonts are used in the wrong time period either by mistake, by oversight, or on purpose to evoke a certain era while engaging the general audience.