Typeface classification latin typefaces non-latin typefaces

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Script & Black Letter &

Old Face Transitional Modern Face Slab Serif Sans Serif Decorative Brush Broken
Book Bookman Century Playbill Arial Algerian Brush Old

Antiqua OldStyle Schoolbook Script English


Old Style typefaces were modelled upon the humanist minuscule. Written with a not overly broad pen, the humanist minuscule showed very little difference between main strokes and hairlines. The pen was usually held at a 30 angle, hence the triangular serifs and the marked inclination of the diameters in round letters. The lower case characters were taken from the Carolingian minuscule and the capitals from the Roman Capitals Quadrata. The printing type first appeared around 1470 in Venice (hence Venetian Old Style). Claude Garamond, a French punch-cutter, designed a font in the mid -16th century, which was one of the most expressive examples of an old style typeface ever to be produced. Its distinguishing features were a gradual and smooth transition from the stems to the serifs, with rounded angles and only little contrast between hairlines and main strokes. The diameters of the round letters have a backward slant.


In the middle of the 17th century, when Holland held a leading position in the printing trade, a class of typefaces came into being which, whilst still in the tradition of the Venetian style, showed somewhat different letterforms. The axes or the round letters lost some of their slant, the difference in weight between hairlines and main strokes increased markedly, serifs were no longer triangular but slightly rounded, x-heights became generally larger. The late baroque typefaces are often called transitionals. They began to show those stylistic elements which were to prevail in the Modern typefaces of classicism.


The letterforms clearly show the influence of copperplate engraving; the broad-edged scorper, held either vertically or at an angle, makes for the highly marked difference in line weight between hairlines and main strokes. This contrast may be regarded as the principal stylistic feature of these typefaces. There is very little rounding-out of serifs, ovals have become circles, axes have been straightened, stress has become vertical. Prominent 18th and early 19th century families created their own versions of Modern Face fonts - the Didot family in France, the Bodoni family in Italy, and the Walbaum family in Germany are renowned examples. The letterforms of their faces are matter-of-fact and clear cut.


In the wake of the industrialisation in the early 19th century there evolved in England a group of typefaces with little or no difference between the hairlines and the main strokes. All elements of the letterform, including serifs, have the same optical stroke thickness. This applies for light as well as heavy weights. Emphasis on serifs is the common stylistic element. The group also comprises two other sharply distinguished kinds of typefaces, Clarendon, or Egyptienne, and Italienne. The former feature smooth transitions to the serifs, whilst the Italienne letters have been extended, with the serifs appearing over-emphasised, their weight being stronger than the other letter elements.


The first typefaces without serifs were created at the beginning of the 19th century in England, their distinguishing feature being an optically consistent line weight. The “grotesques”, as they were originally called, appear constructed, although there are typefaces which show an individual touch. Curiously enough, these typefaces are regarded as the true incarnation of the 20th century, when a hitherto unknown range of versions was created, from the lightest to the heaviest, from extremely condensed to extremely extended.


This group comprises all of those typefaces which cannot be classified with certainty, in particular those which combine design elements from different styles or have markedly individual, original or especially decorative forms. The group also includes typefaces in the uncial style, which were in use between the 4th and 8th centuries, cartographic typefaces, and swash characters or alphabets made up of capital letters.


As long as letterpress printing was the only economically feasible means of reproducing texts, typefaces were designed to meet its technical limitations. The invention of lithography opened the path to unprecedented free forms. A fine example of this is ‘English’ script which was reproduced in a most elegant form by means of the stone engraving technique. Under its influence a number of similar printing types were created whose forms were derived from the hand-writing prevalent in schools and mediaeval chancelleries, in which the writing tool - be it broad-edged pen, a pointed pen or brush - can still be discerned. Some of these typefaces still give a glimpse of the calligrapher’s style and personality.


During the 12th century the Carolinian minuscule evolved into the so-called Gothic minuscule, a closely-set, fast-to-write script with a broken ductus, the capital letter being taken from the uncial. Following this, Textura, an especially closely set bookhand with rhombic serifs, became the prime example. Under the cultural influence of Italy and Spain letterforms became rounder and let to Rotunda. Another derivation from Textura is Schwabacher. Fraktura, which is characterised by especially flourishing capitals, was created shortly after 1500.





You may ask why so many different typefaces. They all serve the same purpose, but they express man’s diversity. It is the same diversity we find in wine. I once saw a list of Medoc wines featuring 60 different Medocs all of the same year. All of them were similar wines, but each was different from the others in some subtle way. It’s the nuances that are important. The same is true for typefaces.”

Adrian Frutiger

Typographer and Typeface Designer

The Merghantaler Type Library has 2,000 typefaces

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