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
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.
Points and Picas and Ems, oh my!
The basic unit of type is the point
, which defines the height of a given glyph's bounding box
(not the letter itself — a holdover from the days of metal type slugs). The size of a point once varied by country, but the Linotype and Monotype machines helped spread the use of Anglo-American printers' points, which were a hair smaller than 1/72 inch, and modern desktop publishing software now defines a point as exactly 1/72 inch, simplifying the math considerablynote
. Depending on the relative height of the lowercase and capitals, the length of the extenders, and the amount of whitespace at the top and bottom of the bounding box, different fonts can appear different sizes at the same point size, so it's not a reliable indicator for apparent size; you'll have to trust your eyes for that.
A related term to the point is the pica
, which is defined as 12 points, or ⅙ inch. While not relevant to consumer-grade apps like Microsoft Word, it's used in the publishing industry to define the physical size of the paper, the text block, etc., and so is a standard unit of measurement in professional typesetting software like Adobe InDesign. Dimensions will usually be spelled out in a combination of picas and points, written in the format "XpY" — e.g., a text column with a width of 16p6 is 16 picas and 6 points, or 2¾ inches.
Also pertinent is the em
, which is a measure of width equivalent to the height of the bounding box at the specified point size. So, for example, 1 em at 12pt size has a width of 12 points (1 pica or ⅙ inch), an em at 18pt has a width of 18 points (1p6 or ¼ inch), and so on. As such, it's useful for specifying dynamic measurements linked to text size, as on websites designed for multiple devices and screen sizes. It's also good for determining the proper indent for a block of text, with 1-3 em being standard.note
Finally, due to quirks in how text is interpreted in web browsers, the most reliable method for getting a specific size of text when designing a website is the pixel
unit, or "px" for short. While pixel density has increased exponentially over the decades, a decision by Microsoft eons ago (back in The '90s
) to make the assumption of 96 pixels per inch (as opposed to Apple's usual assumption of 72 ppi) means that the px measurement can reliably be used to generate type in units of 1/96 of (what the viewport assumes as equivalent to) an inch, making it useful across platforms and devices. By this assumption, a font on the web set at a given number of pixels is generally the same as the same type displayed in a word processor at ¾ that numerical size in points. So 16px on the web is generally the same as 12pt type in a word processor, and so on.
The space between: Leading, Letterspacing, and Kerning
Type isn't just made up of the letters themselves, but the space that exists between them, between words, and between lines of text. Despite being "invisible" to most readers, they define the overall "feel" of a font just as much as (if not more than) the black parts, and designers agonize
over the perfect spacing, down to thousandths of an em. An algorithm now exists
to help take some the pain out of this part of font creation, but plenty of designers, whether out of pride, stubbornness or cheapness, insist on doing things the old-fashioned way.
(rhymes with "heading")note
refers to the space between two lines in a block of text. Generally speaking, shorter lines need less space between them, while longer lines need more. Having no
leading (a.k.a. being "set solid" or single-spacing) means that the lines of text are the same height as the point-size, leaving nothing in between, but unless the lines are very short or the type appears small in general, this is often undesirable.note
Leading is usually indicated by the total distance between the top of the bounding box on one line to the top of the next; so "12 on 14" or "12/14" refers to 12-point type with two extra points of line-space, taking up the equivalent vertical space of 14-point type from the top of one line to the next.note
While it wasn't possible in the days of metal type, it is possible to have "negative" leading (i.e., lines being closer together than their vertical height would normally allow); this can look good in display type and advertising, but you have to be careful that the letters on adjacent lines don't appear to collide, and it's never a good idea for body text.
(defined by the font's metrics
, or built-in space parameters set by the designer) determines how far apart any given letter is from its neighbors. It has default values that are attuned to the font's intended size or use, although it can be adjusted through judicious use of tracking
, which increases or decreases the overall spacing between letters in a text. Tight spacing usually benefits large typesnote
, 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.
, on the other hand, is a special spacing-value between specific pairs of characters in order to correct visually uneven spacing. It adds or subtracts space between just those characters when they appear in sequence, so it doesn't produce a distracting gap (or worse, a collision between letters, which end up overlapping). There can be tens, to hundreds, to thousands
of kerning pairs in a given font, depending on the number of glyphs overall and the designer's level of motivation. If kerning fails to resolve an issue satisfactorily, the designer may need to create a ligature
(a single glyph of multiple letters together) to get around it; combinations of lowercase "f" and a following letter are common due to its prominent overhang.
Choosing (or making your own) fonts
Choosing the right typeface for the job can be a tricky business, particularly when you're not limited to the styles that normally come preinstalled on modern PCs. A good knowledge of the history and societal connotations of different typefaces, as well as that of the text itself, is essential. But if you're absolutely stumped for ideas, here's a handy flowchart for designers◊
. Conversely, if you want to know what that particular font is, try Identifont
. The success rate is often hit-or-miss, but they're probably the best resources 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.)
Tropes relating to type and typography:
Types of... type:
Serifs are embellishments
added at the extremes of the strokes of some lettersnote
. They were characteristic of the earliest non-blackletter typefaces in European printing, and typefaces with serifs are still used. People writing for the page rather than the screen tend to choose serif typefaces, based on the belief that the serifs help the eye follow the text more easily.
To ease identification, serif types are usually broken up into subtypes based on their features. Terminology and the precise number of categories varies, but in general we have:
- Old-Style or Renaissance: The types of the European Renaissance, spanning from the late 1400s to the late 1600s. Generally split into two phases:
- Humanist: The earliest printed serif fonts, making a break with the earlier Blackletter tradition (e.g. the Gutenberg bible). More-or-less codified by the work of Nicolas Jenson c.1470, it is a close copy of the formal book-hand then in use by scribes in Venice, with mild line contrast as though written with a broadnib pen held at a shallow angle. The crossbar of the lowercase "e" sits at an angle, and the whole thing feels more "written" than "designed". Italic type doesn't exist yet.
- Garalde or Aldine: Named after printers Aldo Manuzio and the later Claude Garamont, both of whom established models that numerous others followed. First used by the Aldine Press in printing a book by Pietro Bembo about a trip up Mount Aetna around 1500, it features a lowercase "e" with a horizontal bar and overall more regular proportions and details. Line contrast is low-to-moderate. The French old-styles in the manner of Garamont and his contemporaries continue this theme, gradually becoming more formalized and distinct from writing. Italic type exists (also first printed by the Aldine Press), but at the time is completely independent of the upright (roman) style. The major contribution in French old-styles is the use of slanted capitals to flow with the italic lowercase; previously, only upright (roman) capitals were used apart from swash (calligraphic) initials, which were usually written in after printing.
- Transitional: A maddeningly imprecise term that deals with a "transition" from the "old-style" Renaissance typefaces to the so-callednote "Modern" faces of the industrial age. In general, the stroke angle goes from diagonal to upright or nearly upright, under the influence of the handwriting of the period using the pointed pen. There is greater contrast from thick to thin, and a greater influence of geometry. Because the term is so vague, it's often broken down into two subgroups:
- Baroque or Dutch-taste: The types of the Enlightenment, characterized by the work coming out of the Low Countries during the 17th and early 18th century, particularly Amsterdam and Antwerp. The overall style is similar to the 16th-century French models, but is more condensed and has a darker overall impression, influenced by the blackletter styles still prevalent there. These types were brought to England by Dr. John Fell in the early 18th century, influencing the subsequent work of William Caslon. Italic type is starting to be used in combination with the roman, but only tentatively.
- Neoclassical or Réalist: Coming in for a relatively brief period in the late 18th century, these types reflect a growing obsession with geometric purity, with types designed with a ruler and compass rather than by eye. Contrast is much more pronounced than before, and italic types more closely resemble their roman counterparts, being more readily intermixed. Key output from this period comes from John Baskerville and William Bulmer in England, along with Pierre-Simon Fournier in France. Technical improvements in ink and punchcutting allow much sharper corners and thinner strokes on type, and in combination with smooth, bright white "wove" paper, there was a belief among critics that reading them for long stretches would cause blindness. Others were more enthusiastic; Benjamin Franklin actually wrote to Baskerville, praising his work. "Scotch Moderns", first produced in Scotland, are sometimes placed here, and sometimes in the subsequent "Didone" category, having a mix of traits from both.
- Modern, Didone or Romantic: The quintessential types for fashion magazines, epitomized by the work of Giambattista Bodoni in Italy, the Didot family in France, and (to a somewhat lesser extent) Justus Erich Walbaum in what is now Germany. Everything adheres to strict geometry, with a clear vertical axis to all letters. Serifs are barely-there hairlines, with abrupt transitions between thick and thin strokes. There are ball-shaped doodads on the ends of lowercase "a", "c" and "r", and the capital "R" has a wide bowl and a bendy tail that ends in a vertical curlicue, a feature also present in the exit strokes of the (equally rigid) italic. Bold type also starts to appear during this period, first as the ridiculously bold "fat face"note , and later toned down for more subdued emphasis. By the end of the 19th century, there is a pronounced backlash against these types, with the Arts and Crafts movement and adherents such as William Morris advocating a return to calligraphic roots, and American printer Theodore Low De Vinne commissioning the Century series with lowered contrast and heavier strokes.note
- Slab serif or mécane: A style that grew out of the 19th-century "Modern", except with all strokes (including serifs) readjusted to more-or-less equal width in monoline, mechanistic fashion. Subtypes are Clarendons, with smoother transitions between the serifs and the main strokes, and Egyptians, with mechanical, sharp corners. Originally conceived as type for headings and ads, it eventually found its way into more traditional roles, and the 20th century saw it following similar trends to sans serifs, giving rise to geometric (e.g. Memphis) and even humanist (e.g. PMN Caecilia) varieties.
- Glyphic or flared serif: Reminiscent of letters cut into stone, as in the original "Roman capitals" found in monumental inscriptions. The criteria are almost entirely based on the shape of the serif, which leaves it open to interpretation; while Trajan (based on actual Roman inscriptions) is undoubtedly a member, some would put even Optima (traditionally thought of as a sans serif) in here, along with a good number of decorative or titling faces not explicitly based on stonecarving. It's kind of a catch-all category.
OK. So with that out of the way, here are some of the most well-known serif types:
- Bodoni. A textbook "Modern" typeface (meaning that its stroke widths run pretty consistently horizontal and vertical; it's also called "Didone" in a portmanteau of Bodoni and the very similar Didot, described below), employed by Giambattista Bodoni in Parma, Italy, in the late 18th century. It's commonly seen on posters, headlines or logos, and seems to be particularly associated with haute couture. The high contrast between thick and thin strokes can lead to a "dazzle" effect, however, where the horizontal strokes seem to disappear and the entire line appears to be a forest of verticals. For this reason, choosing the right style for the intended size is absolutely essential, and the version bundled with most PCs is not suitable for body text.
- 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 (essentially an update of its hot-metal version to be metrically compatible with the ITC incarnation), but is a more austere slab serif font with distinctly less loopiness. Bookmania by Mark Simonson attempts to distill the better aspects of the typeface by combining the structure of the original Bookman with the over-the-top loops and swashes of the phototype era; how it's used is up to the discretion (or lack thereof) of the typographer.
- 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.
- Caslon is a style of type first made by William Caslon I in London in the early 18th century and carried on by his descendants.note His style was heavily influenced by "Dutch-taste" or "Baroque" old-style types, then popular in the Netherlands, which had a taller lowercase and a darker, more condensed appearance on the page, influenced by blackletter. Caslon was eventually eclipsed in popularity by the types of John Baskerville and then by the so-called "Modern" types, but they are still heavily associated with colonial-era America, and modern revivals remain popular in printing. Adobe Caslon is among the most common (because it comes with Adobe software), but others exist; Big Caslon, meant for headings and other large print, comes standard with macOS, while Williams Caslon Text attempts to match the feel of 20th-century metal revivals. ITC Founders Caslon, meanwhile, is meant to capture the look of the type printed letterpress, imperfections and all.
- Caslon's types (and their imitators) became so ubiquitous in the British Empire and its colonies in the New World that it was basically the default: "When in doubt, use Caslon" was common conventional wisdom, and the U.S. Declaration of Independence (the printed broadsides colonists actually saw, and not the handwritten version signed by the Founding Fathers) was set in it. 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 typesnote that were directly ancestral to it and have the same distressed look to them.
- The Century family, especially Century Schoolbook, are Modern-ish fonts dating from the 1890s, with heavier lines and reduced contrast as part of a backlash against "feeble" Didone models, while taking into account some of the first studies regarding legibility. True to its name, Century Schoolbook evokes older books for beginning readers — especially the Dick and Jane series — 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, as well as being the main typeface for New York Times headlines, alongside Franklin Gothic.
- Clarendon. Common in wanted posters (like the "REWARDS" text in ◊) of The Wild West, logotypes and old traffic signs.
- Cooper Black. Created in 1921 by Oswald "Oz" Cooper for American Type Founders, 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. It was technically just the heaviest weight of a typeface that looked decidedly more conventional at the lighter end, but nobody remembers them.
- 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.)
- Didot is a style first used by the Didot family in Parisnote , and one of the chief members of the "Modern" (a.k.a. "Neoclassical" or "Didone") genre, along with Bodoni. Most of the tropes that apply to Bodoni also apply here, although the Didot types were generally quirkier, some styles even including a bizarre reverse-looped "g" that only the most faithful revivals bother with. Once again, the proper optical size for the purpose is absolutely essential, and the version bundled with most PCs is unsuited to body text.
- The Doves Type is a fairly obscure type, but one marked by a hilariously petty feud between its owners, the principals of an early-20th-century London publishing house called Doves Press. The principals, Emery Walker and Thomas James Cobden-Sanderson, had commissioned a 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 type designer 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: Typefaces based on the work of Claude Garamontnote , whose types cut in Paris during the first half of the 16th century set such a high bar that they replaced Aldus Manutius's original types at the Aldine Press in Venice, and were imitated in and out of France well into the next century. There is a more "sculptural" quality to the letterforms compared to Italian predecessors, along with some intentional irregularity in the mix, most noticeable in the varying slant of the italics (designed by Garamont's contemporary, Robert Granjon). Good for setting a classy, readable text with an "old world" flairnote . Note, however, that the name "Garamond" has been applied to a great many typefaces of widely varying quality. You can't go wrong with Adobe Garamond or (the slightly modernized) Garamond Premier, however.
- 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.
- 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. Miller, by the same designer, is its sibling designed for print rather than the screen.
- Jenson: Based on the granddaddy of all roman types, cut by Nicolas Jenson around 1470. It's particularly notable for its lowercase "e" with a slanted crossbar, which was done away with by the later Aldine roman used by printer Aldus Manutius. Since italic types didn't exist during Jenson's time, it's usually paired with an italic based on the work of Ludovico degli Arrighi and his influential handwriting manual, published half a century later. Adobe Jenson, though common due to its inclusion in Adobe software, is only one of many Jenson revivals. As a rule, however, the many historical quirks mean there tends to be a very thin line between "masterful interpretation" and "kitschy novelty". Centaur, designed by Bruce Rogers in 1914, is considered among the very best. Another, Catull, is the basis for the old Google logo before it switched to a proprietary font.
- Lexicon: Dutch graphic designer Bram De Does created only two fonts in his lifetime, 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.
- Minion: The "boring" book font. Designed by Robert Slimbach for Adobe in 1990, it's meant to be a workhorse book typeface in an updated Garalde style. Think Garamond or Bembo, but without any attention-drawing eccentricities, allowing it to fade completely into the background. Since its debut, it has been used in countless books, owing both to the strength of its design and to being bundled with Adobe software. Though it may not always be the best choice depending on time period or subject matter, it does its job exceptionally well. Its use may, however, suggest a lack of effort on the part of the designer because of its status as a "default" font in professional typesetting.
- 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 though 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.note 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; as yet, it's probably unlikely to displace 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.note
- Perpetua: A popular serif typeface by Eric Gill, the creator of Gill Sans (see below). A finely serifed type with an almost inscriptional quality (fitting, since Gill did stonecarving and sculpture in addition to his calligraphy and type design), it has become popular for fine printing and elegant headings. Though originally designed as a body text face for books, its delicate lines (accentuated in the digital version) make it somewhat less suitable for this purpose than Gill's own Joanna, which is similar but more sturdily constructed.
- 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.
- Times New Roman: A traditionally-styled font originally commissioned for The Times of London and thus designed to fit the maximum amount of text into narrow newspaper columns 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.
- Trajan: The film poster font. It’s based on the lettering found on the 2nd-century Trajan Column in Rome, which defined what we think of as “Roman letters” (or at least the capitals) today. Because of that stately heritage (giving it the same sort of gravitas as a deep-voiced narrator of a movie trailer), it became the font of choice to set the titles on posters for films of epic scale… but as time went on, usage creep saw it become more and more genre-neutral, until it began to be seen on posters for just about any movie. It probably doesn’t help that it’s one of the fonts that come bundled with Adobe software.
- 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, but is more commonly remembered for its use by the hippie counterculture of the 1960s and '70s, as in the Whole Earth Catalog.note
While serif fonts are more usual in print, sans serifs are widely used onlinenote
. There is no agreement in which of the two has better readability (facility to read text) and legibility (to recognize characters) in general.
Sans-serif types were invented around 1816, first appearing in a specimen book by William Caslon IVnote
, but gained acceptance only gradually, taking off around the turn of the 20th century. Since then, several different styles have proliferated:
- Grotesque: Also referred to as "gothic" (which referred to all sans serifs until other genres started appearing), these are the result if you take the serifs off a Didone typeface, equalize the stroke widths and simplify the details a touch. The letterforms are generally "closed up", with small apertures, and strokes ending in somewhat haphazard angles. Capitals are wide and relatively uniform in width. Capital "R" tends to have either the bowed Didone leg or a straight leg seemingly straining under the weight of the bowl; lowercase "g" can be single-story, as in Akzidenz-Grotesk (1897), or double-story, as in Franklin Gothic (1904).
- Geometric: A trend that burst onto the scene in the late 1920s in Weimar Germany, based on the radical typographic experiments at the Bauhaus. Epitomized by Futura (released by the Bauer Type Foundry in 1927), the lowercase is based largely on geometric shapes (circles, squares and triangles), while the capitals are modeled after Roman monumental inscriptions. The boom in geometric sans serifs during The Roaring '20s and The Great Depression goes hand-in-hand with the Art Deco aesthetic of the same time period. Ironically enough, the country that gave rise to geometrics soundly rejected them during the 1930s, as Nazi Germany promoted the use of the overtly Germanic blackletter script instead.note Geometrics in general are useful for evoking the Art Deco era, but the most iconic examples are overexposed, so it helps to hunt for something less ubiquitous than Futura or Kabel.
- Neo-grotesque: A reaction to the postwar return to popularity of grotesque sans serifs among Swiss designers, neo-grotesque designs like Helvetica and Univers take the turn-of-the-century grotesques and iron out the quirks in the name of cool, understated rationality. The overall look is similar to previous grotesques, but more uniform in structure, with strokes tending to terminate horizontally or vertically wherever possible. While neo-grotesques arose through the Swiss design movement of The '50s and The '60s, they've been ubiquitous ever since, with Helvetica in particular becoming a part of the typographic "furniture" (pun intended). There are still non-Helvetica standouts (witness Roboto and San Francisco just within the past few years), but the entire genre is literally everywhere.
- Humanist: In contrast to the Didone basis of grotesque sans serifs, a humanist sans takes its basic structure from the Renaissance typefaces of the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. They first arose in the early decades of the 20th century with typefaces such as Johnston and Gill Sans, but they weren't codified as a separate style until after World War II, with the advent of Syntax, Frutiger and others. The lowercase "g" is often (though not always) two-story, and the overall letter shapes are closer to calligraphy, sometimes with pronounced differences in stroke contrast, as in Optima. This style is much favored for informational signage due to its good legibility and is generally more useful for long-form text than other types of sans serif.
It's also not uncommon to see blends of different sans-serif styles, such as a geometric-grotesque (such as Proxima Nova
), or a humanist-geometric (cf. Avenir
), but these are the basic styles. With trends over the past few decades of designing a sans-serif companion to new serif types, it's not inconceivable to encounter "transitional" (humanist-grotesque) sans serifs as well, but they're generally lumped in with either "humanist" or "grotesque" depending on which way they lean.
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.
- Avant Garde, initially designed for the magazine of the same name, is a geometric typeface designed to be "edgy" and "hip" but has lost that feel from overuse thanks to its inclusion in the PostScript standard. 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).
- 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.
- Chicago. The default font for Macintosh computers for System 7 and earlier. Later Mac OSes replaced it with Charcoal, Lucida Grande, Helvetica, and most recently San Francisco (see below).
- Eurostile. Known for its squarish roundnote 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. A type family released by American Type Founders starting in 1904 as part of Morris Fuller Benton's project to systematize the various headline faces inherited from ATF's predecessors.note Makes sense for headlines and minor design elements. Popular with the U.S. Army and various news outlets including the Washington Post and Time magazine.
- More broadly, Franklin Gothic makes up the extra-bold end of what's often called the "News Gothic family", made up of various fonts of similar but differing designs. News Gothic makes up the regular weights and widths, Alternate Gothic is at the condensed/compressed end of the spectrum, and Lightline Gothic and Monotone Gothic are at the light/expanded end. Revivals usually take one of these designs and extrapolate them through the remainder of weights and widths: Benton Sans does this for News Gothic, ATF Alternate Gothic does it for Alternate Gothic, and ITC Franklin Gothic (as well as its own revival, ITC Franklin) does it for Franklin Gothic.
- League Gothic is a free revival of Alternate Gothic No. 1, from the League of Movable Type.
- 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. The earliest released geometric type, heavily associated with modernity in the 1930s through the 1950s, used extensively as a general-purpose font. Created by German type designer Paul Renner in the 1920s, but popular throughout the 20th century and still widely available in the 21st. Inspired a rash of imitators, while forcing more distinct competitors from other foundries to become more similar due to market demand. While it can also be used to evoke The Roaring '20s and The Great Depression (as well as the Art Deco style in general), the fact that it's never really gone away makes it less apt than its competitors, which are far less ubiquitous.
- Its Bauhaus style is good for a movie set in The '50s 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 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.
- Futura Black and Futura Display are separate typefaces, despite sharing the Futura name. Futura Black is best known as "that stencil font", and was featured on The Love Boat. Futura Display was most popular in the 1950s and 1960s, and is probably best known in its use in the logo for retailer Canadian Tire.
- Spartan and Twentieth Century are the Suspiciously Similar Substitutes from Linotype and Monotype, respectively. Both have long been superseded by the real thing, but Twentieth Century is notable for being the basis for Century Gothic, a Suspiciously Similar Substitute for Avant Garde Gothic.
- Newspapers in the mid-20th century more often than not relied on a pair of Suspiciously Similar Substitutes, Tempo (from Ludlow, for headlines) and Vogue (from Intertype, for captions and similar). They were both notable in that they had multiple alternate characters in order to resemble not only Futura, but also other similar typefaces.
- Erbar: The Rival claimant to "earliest geometric sans serif", though never as popular. Probably best known for its Phosphor inline titling caps. A digital version exists, but is not particularly good; Dunbar, channeling both the original and its phototype knockoffs through a variable-height lowercase, is superior to the official releases.
- Gotham: Commissioned by GQ magazine to be geometrical and look "masculine, new, and fresh", it was modeled after machine-cut signage from the mid-20th century in New York City, such as the lettering on the outside of the Port Authority Bus Terminal. 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: Released in 1957 to ride the coattails of its forebear Akzidenz-Grotesk, then in vogue among Swiss designers. It was marketed as the "perfect" typeface, meaning it could be used on almost any design or purpose. By the end of the 20th century, however, it and its clones had been overused by amateurs and professionals alike, largely subverting 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: The 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.
- Acumin: Adobe's Suspiciously Similar Substitute, released relatively recently (2015). It's a perfectly well-designed typeface, from the hand of Robert Slimbach (who, with Carol Twombly, has done most of the Adobe Originals series), but one wonders why they bothered to make something quite so similar. Its sheer range of styles rivals Univers, which does make it fairly versatile.
- Highway Gothic, also known as the FHWA Series (from the United States Federal Highway Administration), was first developed in 1948 as a standard for US highway signs. The font series has been updated over time, notably to add lowercase letters to all sets. Highway Gothic has been used in a number of other countries in North and South America and Asia. Roadgeeks will easily spot fake signs in works that don't use Highway Gothic. A commercial version of the font, called Interstate, was developed for print and screen use in the 1990s, and has been used by the likes of TV Guide, The Weather Channel, and NBC Sports.
- Clearview was designed with the intent on eventually replacing Highway Gothic, and began appearing on signs in some states with interim approval from the FHWA in the early 2000s. More extensive testing since its rollout, though, proved that Clearview did not significantly improve sign legibility compared to new signs using the old fonts, and actually had worse performance on negative-contrast signs (such as speed limit or yellow advisory signs). As a result, the FHWA rescinded its interim approval of Clearview in 2016. Due to replacement costs, though, Clearview signs are expected to remain in service for several more years yet, and it remains to be seen if the font will ever come into widespread use in other applications like its predecessor.
- 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 fontnote has a similar inspiration, but with lowercase letters and less obvious cheesiness.
- Neutraface, a recent Art Deco (1920s-’30s)-style font based on the work of architect Richard Neutra, has begun to take off among designers who want a geometric sans that's a bit more distinct from Futura. Features a low centerline, which extends to the entire lowercase set as well as letters like "E" and "R". (A variant, Neutraface No. 2, raises the centerline to make it more conventionally practical.)
- 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 text font (alongside Product Sans, a Futura-esque design for its logos and other branding), 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 Matthew Carter for Microsoft. Tahoma is a narrower, more tightly-spaced variant also released by Microsoft. Although 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.
- 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. Transport for London keeps the official versionnote under tight licensing restrictions for official applications only, but several retail versions, such as P22 Undergroundnote , exist for use by the public.
- Gill Sans A very similar humanist sans-serif font, designed in 1928–32 by Johnston's student, Eric Gill. Also used for signage, particularly for British railways (the London and North Eastern Railway and successor British Rail in particular) from the 1920s to the 1960s, 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. 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.
- Monotype Corsiva. A Suspiciously Similar Substitute to Hermann Zapf's ITC Zapf Chancery created by Monotype to circumvent Adobe's PostScript licensing. (PostScript relied mostly on fonts from Linotype and International Typeface Corporation, leaving Monotype out of the loop.) Relatively well done compared to other PostScript-knockoff typefaces released in the same era. Used 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, Dom Casual (which has a freehand effect similar to Comic Sans), Mistral 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.
Monospace fonts first came about through the use of typewriters, which, due to mechanical limitations, had to advance the same width every time a key was pressed. This results in some odd-looking compromises, with characters like "i" and "l" being extremely wide, and "m" being squished in horizontally. Later typewriters allowed for a limited number of character widths that varied depending on the system, but in the public's mind, a typewriter font always equals monospace. In spite of typewriters having been long supplanted by word processorsnote
, however, monospaced fonts have found new life in coding, where horizontal alignment is of great importance. They've also remained as the typefaces of choice for screenwriters, since the influence of hammering out a script on a typewriter held that much sway in the popular imagination. As a result, they continue to be produced for these niche uses. Fonts for code in particular are also tuned for character distinguishability, with a slashed numeral "0" and distinct glyphs for capital "I", lowercase "l" and numeral "1".
- 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.
- 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.
- 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. Some courts also require it; the New Jersey judiciary's insistence that all documents coming into or out of its Appellate Division and Supreme Court be in Courier infuriates a lot of lawyers (and not a few judges!) in N.J., as Courier is profoundly hard to read for pages on end. 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.
- IBM actually created a number of fonts for the Selectric line, including Prestige Elite, Letter Gothic (a sans-serif), and Orator (similar to Letter Gothic, but with small caps instead of lower case letters). Those three and a few others have survived into the digital age, but are far less common than Courier and have been largely superseded by more screen-oriented fonts for general use. A few others like Script were fairly common in their day but have been superseded by more workable script fonts originally designed for professional printing, like Zapfino, Mistral, or Brush Script.
- 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.
- Monaco (more specifically, the bitmap version of Monaco 9) was the standard monospaced system font for the Mac going back to the very beginning, and has appeared in at least three different official forms, including a glammed-up TrueType version designed by Bigelow and Holmes and a more direct recreation called MPW that Apple made for the Macintosh Programmer's Workshop IDE (one of the predecessors of Xcode). MPW seems no longer to be available except possibly from abandonware sites, but ProFont, a very close freeware equivalent, is.
- 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.
- Prestige Elite: One of the other big-name typewriter fonts for the IBM Selectric, this one never caught on with the same kind of popularity as its sister face Courier, though it's still available. Just as Courier has inspired a variety of similar fonts, so has Prestige; Triplicatenote by Matthew Butterick expands on the original by including true italics and small caps, as well as proportional and code variants via OpenType features.
- 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: Stevenson, Blake & Co.'s 1965 knockoff of Letraset's Compacta (1963), itself a knockoff/extension of Walter Hättenschweiler's Schmalfette Grotesk (1954), an all-caps bold condensed font from German foundry Photoscript. Ubiquitous due to its inclusion as part of Microsoft's "Core Fonts for the Web" initiative, and often used amateurishly due to being used by, well, amateurs. Still, it's good for making text stand out (just so long as it's used sparingly; otherwise you get an unreadable mess). White-with-black-border Impact is used in an awful lot of image macros.
- Helvetica Compressed, despite carrying the Helvetica name, is another Impact/Compacta follower, designed by Matthew Carter for Linotype in 1966. Has three widths (Compressed, Extra Compressed and Ultra Compressed), which actually get less bold as they get narrower in order to preserve readability.
- Haettenschweiler: Monotype's Suspiciously Similar Substitute, not released until 1993, and unusual in that Monotype actually owns the rights to Impact and licensed it to Microsoft. It is visually quite similar apart from the distinctive lowercase "r" (which it owes to Helvetica Compressed), but it at least acknowledges its relationship to Schmalfette Grotesk, being named after the original designer. It's used in the Joytube.com "Concentrate Plus" game.
- ITC Machine can also substitute for Impact, although its chamfered edges (like the letters on a varsity jacket) tend to give more of a "sports" vibe.
- French Clarendon. Apart from Clarendon, this reverse-contrastnote variation was used in 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": Used to convey an Asian, Chinese, and/or Japanese atmosphere, despite not remotely resembling any writing system actually used in Asia. Even so, they still get regular use, particularly from lazy designers or small businesses out to emphasize their Asian-ness. If you do feel compelled to use one of these (or are forced to by a client), handle with care, otherwise your work could easily come off as racist.
- Bernhard Antique was created by ATF type designer 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 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.
- Piccadilly, an all-caps variant created in 1973. Looks like Broadway characters made from neon tubing.
- 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 OpenType 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, racist, like the "wonton fonts" mentioned above. This fact was hinted at as early as 1928 with the naming of Othello, Monotype's Suspiciously Similar Substitute. Phosphate Inlinenote 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.
- William Addison Dwiggins (United States, 1880–1956): A man of many talents, who coined the term "graphic designer" to describe his professionnote long before it was recognized as a distinct field. His released types are rather modest in number, but two of them (Electra and Caledonia) are considered classics of the hot-metal eranote , and another (Metro) was a newspaper mainstay for decades. His creative output was far greater than Linotype ever cared to bring to commercial release, but he has provided plenty of fodder for other designers; the Font Bureau and its alumni are particular devotees.
- Adrian Frutiger (Switzerland, 1928–2015): 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 (France, c.1510–1561): 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 Garamont's death. Note that the spelling with "t" is intentional and attested historically for his name, while the spelling with "d" is usually applied to the types inspired by him. They sound exactly the same in French, like Dupond & Dupont (a.k.a. Thompson & Thomson) in Tintin.
- 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 divisive ITC Avant Garde font, and, like Ed Benguiat, a major influence on the type design of the 1970s.
- Aldo Manuzionote (Italy, 1449–1515): A printer in Venice who used the first roman type to make a definitive stylistic break with handwriting, as well as the first italic types (both cut by Francesco Griffo). Also 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, which, 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, 1918–2015): Creator of Melior, Optima, Zapf Chancery, Zapfino, and perhaps most famously Palatino, and an early pioneer along with Donald Knuth in digital type design. His widow, Gudrun Zapf von Hesse, is a type designer and calligrapher in her own right and recently celebrated her 100th birthday by releasing another font.
And a few companies, known as "foundries" after their original work of creating typefaces out of molten metal (there's a lot more where these came from):
- American Type Founders: A conglomerate of some 20-odd American type foundries, including the Central Type Foundry of Philadelphia (among the oldest, if not the oldest, in the country). Under the direction of Morris Fuller Benton, it generated some of the most iconic typefaces of the 20th century, but failed to survive the technological transitions of the '70s and '80s, going bankrupt and having its assets sold for scrap in an infamous 1993 auction.
- Apple: Along with Adobe, almost singlehandedly responsible for the boom in desktop publishing from the 1980s onward. The company's focus on typography owes entirely to college dropout Steve Jobs dropping in on a calligraphy class at his erstwhile alma mater. Employed designer Susan Kare (see below) to create most of the bitmap typefaces for the original Macintosh, before eventually licensing some of the most iconic fonts in the biz. Most recently known for San Francisco ("SF" for short), a Helvetica-esque neo-grotesque used for its corporate identity and throughout its operating systems (iOS, watchOS, tvOS and macOS).
- 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 Font Bureau is a Boston-based company founded in 1989 by publication designer Roger Black and type designer David Berlow. They specialize in creating high-quality types for professional clients, including some of the most influential publications in the U.S. and around the world. They do occasionally indulge in whimsical creations or passion projects, but most of their catalogue consists of commissions. They've also developed a knack for shepherding young type designers who've gone on to do great things, such as Tobias Frere-Jones and Cyrus Highsmith. They're also known for their rights structure, where its individual designers retain ownership of the typefaces they've designed. (Most former employees return the favor by staying within the fold on FB's TypeNetwork digital storefront / distribution hub.)
- 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.
- Hoefler & Co.: Formerly Hoefler & Frere-Jones, a Manhattan-based foundry run by Jonathan Hoefler (previously together with Tobias Frere-Jones) that has produced a number of high-profile typefaces, including Hoefler Text (standard on macOS) and the ubiquitous Gotham. In 2014, Hoefler and Frere-Jones had a falling-out over Frere-Jones's position with the company, with Hoefler arguing that, foundry name notwithstanding, Frere-Jones was merely an employee and not a full partner. Frere-Jones ended up leaving the company (and the entire body of work he'd done there) to start Frere-Jones Type.
- 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, tightly-spaced letterforms with an exceptionally tall x-height, which didn't work so well in books and magazines but looked great on ad copy and signs.
- Letraset: A company that produced dry-transfer lettering, a popular intermediate step between hand-lettering and professional typesetting in the days before desktop publishing. Its ubiquity from the 1960s to the 1980s means you may well have seen it without knowing what it was. Many of its own designs were of the "cheesy novelty font" variety, although it did produce the influential Compacta, and it also licensed popular typefaces like Helvetica from other companies. A number of Letraset faces are available digitally as ITC fonts.
- Linotype: Best known for their famously complex and popular typesetting machines that would cast molten metal into a "line o' type", the (relative) speed of which made it immensely popular for the high-pressure, time-sensitive world of newspapers and magazines. 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. The key difference was that the Monotype system produced individual sorts that were still hand-composed, allowing for finer-grained control over the typography, which made it more popular for books and other high-quality printing. 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 to 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. As of 2017, it is phasing Gill Sans out in favour of a custom in-house font (though the logo is to retain the old typeface).
- 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.
- The Familiar: Fonts are used pointedly (of course, since the author Mark Z. Danielewski is known for his use of typography). The books have nine narrators, each of which has their own distinctive font, plus some other fonts used for other instances - leading to a listing of no less than 23 fonts in the end-credits of the books.
- 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).
- CollegeHumor 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 used 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.
- It's Popular, Now It Sucks: Liable to come up with regard to any typeface that sticks around and sees common use. Helvetica is a particular Base Breaker; while many designers still love it, it also has a surprisingly large Hatedom, not due to its aesthetics (which are pretty much universally admired) but simply because it's been used everywhere for so long.