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Category: typography Page 1 of 4

Typography at

Following are posts on type from My thoughts on typography, beyond what is below, can also be found at The Typehead Chronicles.

Garamond Premier Pro

garamond premier pro
Working with Garamond Premier Pro for my book on Persian ceramics, I have been impressed by the range of sizes and weights the typeface includes. There are regular, medium, semibold, and bold weights for each of the sizes. In addition, the display size offers an extra-light weight in both regular and italic.

UPDATE: Since writing the above in 2008 I have used Garamond Premier Pro in my books 1616: The World in Motion and River of Ink: Literature, History, Artas well as in books designed for others, such as Bali: Art, Ritual, Performance by Natasha Reichle.

Different fonts are provided for four type sizes: caption, regular, subhead, and display. The caption fonts, for example, have large x-heights and heavier strokes in order to hold up at small sizes. The display fonts have elegantly modest x-heights and light stroke weights suitable for presentation at large sizes. The header for the image above is the medium display weight (to balance some of the dark fonts,including the caption fonts, which would not ordinarily be used at this large a size. The fonts also include a full range of diacritics and foreign-language characters.

Garamond Premier Pro was designed by Robert Slimbach on the model of the roman types of Claude Garamond and the italic types of Robert Granjon; it represent a reworking and expansion of the earlier Garamond Pro. It is available in OpenType from Adobe.

I sought to maintain the fidelity of the metal type as revealed in the specimen material—rather than taking a more subjective approach, such as attempting to reproduce artifacts of letterpress printing, or at the other extreme, modernizing form through heavy-handed stylization or drastic structural modification. I feel that by overtly imitating the appearance of an outdated technology, a digital type can appear antique, or even quaint, while excessive stylization can diminish the organic properties inherent in a hand-cut type. With Garamond Premier, I followed the details of line and form displayed in the original metal type as much as possible in order to reveal the ideal that I felt Garamond and Granjon were trying to achieve in their work. By preserving subtleties of shape, a level of fidelity is maintained that would normally be clouded by the noise-generating effects of letterpress printing on handmade papers. Throughout the design process, I repeatedly returned to the original proofs to ensure I was preserving details I felt were essential to the design. At the same time, I often felt it necessary to carefully adjust shapes and parameters in order to harmonize the varied work of these two individual designers within this single type family.
— Robert Slimbach

Most posts on typography

Good typography in five minutes

A delightful guide from Pierrick Calvez. Click the screenshot (from a section representing “contrast”) for the five-minute guide.

Screen shot from Pierrick Calvez's Five-minute Guide to Better Typography

Screen shot from Pierrick Calvez’s Five-minute Guide to Better Typography.

Font Shop plug-in

The Font Shop plug-in allows trying before buying. According to the FS webpage, “The FontShop Plugin Beta allows designers and other type enthusiasts to try out FontShop fonts directly inside Adobe® Photoshop® CS5 and CS5.5. You can preview any of the over 150,000 FontShop fonts for free, in the context of your own artwork. This is a great new way to find the perfect typographic fit for your project.”

Cats as typefaces

cats as fonts

Gotta say, this is purrty well done. More like this over at Bombi(llo).

Another unmemorable post

It’s unmemorable because it’s set in Georgia. Or at least that doesn’t help, according to Eightface, who cites a study that purports to show that students remember material better when it is set in something like Comic Sans Italic or Haettenschweiler than in some unassuming face. The idea, apparently, is to slow down reading speed. Of course, if you want to slow down reading

there R other wa
ys to accompli
sh the sam
e thing.

Google font API

google font api - example typefaces

Google has quietly introduced an API (application programming interface) for web fonts. This could potentially result in better — and also worse — web typography — depending on the skill and knowledge of the people who implement it. Unfortunately only a small minority of font users these day take the time to educate themselves about the print tradition.

Google’s font system involves referencing fonts stored at The open source license fonts are then served up by the Google servers and should appear on your web pages without your needing to upload or embed them. There are instructions here.

Only a small number of fonts are available at present but no doubt the list will grow. I wonder what the type designer community will think about this.

How to pick a typeface: The flowchart

how to pick a typeface flow chart

You could do worse. Click the detail to view the entire chart at inspiration lab.

Trilby, Allumi, Calluna, Giorgio, Leksa, Sentinel, Catacumba

Who or what are Trilby, Allumi, Calluna, Giorgio, Leksa, and Catacumba?

a. Captains of vessels in the fleet of the early seventeenth-century Dutch adventurer Joris van Spilbergen.

b. Winning dogs in the hunting dog category at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show.

c. Characters in a new Star Trek television series to be released next fall.

d. Other.

. . .

. . .

. . .

The answer, of course, is “other” — these are some of the best typefaces of 2009, in the opinion of I Love Typography. Another favorite from this set is the amazingly extensive (and expensive) Trilogy, shown below. An interesting selection, worth checking out (the type sample is clickable).

What’s your type?

what's your type?

The latest iteration of this hoary shtick comes to us via Pentagram. To play along, use the password CHARACTER.

Vatican type

Yesterday I showed some ancient inscribed letterforms from Ostia Antica. Today we flash forward some seventeen hundred years to this inscription over a gate in the Vatican complex, which is dated 1831.

I don’t like this one so much. Whoever inscribed these letters was clearly working from typeset models. But the thin lines, right angles, and sharp serifs of the Romantic period are the result of developments in typesetting equipment and papermaking that have nothing to do with letterforms inscribed in stone.

These kinds of incongruities often result when work in one medium is transferred to another without consideration for the essential character of the medium.

Classical letterforms from Ostia

Here is some handsome lettering from ruins at the ancient port city of Ostia, west of Rome. I don’t know what period this fragment dates to, although the age of Hadrian always seems to be a good guess.

For comparison, here’s a sample of the typeface Trajan (the movie font!), designed in 1989 by Carol Twombly for Adobe based on inscriptions on Trajan’s column in Rome. They might just be the effect of the centuries, but I prefer the softer serifs of the inscribed letters in the photo. I also like their less regular vertical axes.

Will Powers (1946-2009) and “The Printer’s Error”

A friend and colleague, Will Powers, died suddenly of a heart attack on August 25. I had worked with Will when I was at North Point Press, employing him as a free-lance copy editor and proofreader. He had worked previously as a typographer at Stinehour Press, and he brought a craftsman’s eye to the projects he worked on. About twenty years ago, Will moved to the twin cities, and for the past eleven years he worked as design and production manager for the Minnesota Historical Society Press.

Above, where I mentioned his work as a proofreader, I initially typed “proofreading” instead, and I was sorely tempted to retain that error, for reasons that will become apparent. Sometime in the past year or two Will e-mailed me the following poem, entitled “The Printer’s Error,” by Aaron Fogel. It seems a fitting memorial, and I hope the author will not mind me running it here in Will’s memory.

Ikea replaces Futura with Verdana

Ikea has used the geometric bauhausesque Futura (left above), designed by Paul Renner around 1925, as its signature font for some fifty years. It’s a font that emphasizes the Platonic essence of letterforms in an interesting way but provides little forward momentum, so to speak, for extended reading.

Verdana (designed by Matthew Carter around the late 1990s, I think; at right above) is a more “humanist” (the letterforms to some degree evoke traditional Renaissance pen letterforms) font that was designed for use at small sizes on computer monitors. To this end it has a large x-height, large counters (openings), broad character widths, and other features that help to identify letters and tell similar ones apart at small sizes.

A lot of typeheads are distressed by Ikea’s decision, largely because Ikea is using Verdana as a display face, a function for which it wasn’t really intended.

Well, true, it doesn’t look as good, so why are they making the change?

Pow! Comic Sans! Meets! Its! Match!

Yes, if Comic Sans (I know, I know, it’s not really a comic book font) has lost its appeal, you now have a wealth of alternatives from which to choose. If your idea of cool looks something like the sample above — who am I to judge? — you can find many many more at

Breaking news in typography

Right Reading was pleased to receive the following news brief via inter office mail from bittermelon:

Extra-Slanty Italics Introduced for Extremely Important Words

NEW HOPE, MN—In an attempt to address writers’ ever-growing word-emphasis needs, Minnesota-based Pica Foundry has developed a new, extra-slanty italic font, design director Jordan Soderblum announced Monday.

“When writing important words, authors too often bypass regular italics in favor of all capital letters, which not only look awkward but also disrupt the flow of the text,” said Soderblum, whose new italics design is slanted at a more acute 60-degree angle instead of the normal 75. “We believe that the additional 15 degrees of slant will allow authors to create a much more intense and immediate reading experience.”

Soderblum said that his design team is currently developing a demi-semibold typeface for writers who “kind of, but not really” want to accentuate subheadings.

The Onion, June 16, 2009


The Typehead Chronicles of Thomas Christensen, ABCedminded Typographer

This site has been around, in various forms, for a long time. It began as an auxiliary to the Mercury House book publishing site that we put up in December 1994. At that time it was my personal page on the MH site, and so at first it developed a kind of resume-like structure, hints of which can still be seen here if you look hard enough.

One result of this sprawling accretion of 15 years of content of various sorts is that it’s become a bit difficult to keep everything tidy and up to date. So, after I got hacked last fall I patched the vulnerabilities and removed the garbage and restore everything as best I could.

But is wasn’t until I got a comment asking about typefaces over at the Asian Art Museum site that I realized that I had reverted the typehead section of the site to an older iteration that was unsatisfactory in several ways. So I’ve spent a part of today getting the section in better shape. I’ve improved the navigation of the pages and generally tightened things up a bit.

I’m afraid the discussion of faces tends to favor the traditional and doesn’t get much into many of the interesting contemporary faces that have been created in recent years — that is an assignment still to be completed.

Generally for each face I show a sample (mostly without, so far, comparing the many different digital versions that may be available), highlight identifying features, discuss the designer and history, talk about the qualities of the face and how it might be used, and give a few quotes from type designers or users about the face. For example, here are a few quotes about Bembo (a face I like and have used often):

  • “Bembo roman and italic are somewhat quieter and less faithful to their sources than Centaur and Arrighi. They are nevertheless serene and versatile faces of genuine Ranaissance structure.”
    —Robert Bringhurst
  • “On the whole it has to be said that while the first italic [Fairbank] has too much personality the second [Bembo italic] has too little. While not disagreeable, it is insipid.”
    —Stanley Morison
  • “Tolerable but uninspiring.”
    —John Miles (RN)

There is much more that I need to do to make The Typehead Chronicles truly top-drawer, but there is some content there that might be of interest just the same.


When kerning goes bad, 2 . . .

. . . and here the font aids and abets.


via BuzzFeed (“I went to this store. It was a huge disappointment.”)


Rapping typeheads

A fellow called “the magic of chutney” sure knows how to dominate a board. Saying “Some of you is so down on fonts..I’m gonna get my man Johannes to break it down for ya,” he laid down a bunch of images like the one below. Great stuff (even if Gutenberg didn’t really invent moveable type).

rapping typographers

Public service announcement

Because this cannot be said often enough. From Robert Bringhurst’s Elements of Typographic Style:

In the nineteenth century, which was a dark and inflationary age in typography and type design, many compositors were encouraged to stuff extra space between sentences. Generations of twentieth-century typists were then taught to do the same, by hitting the spacebar twice after every period. Your typing as well as your typesetting will benefit from unlearning this quaint Victorian habit.


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