Gill Sans alternatives

There’s really no need to use Gill Sans anymore. Even if you think you have to, you may get away with one of these alternatives. My favourite is Dover Sans by Robin Mientjes

Other humanist sans-serifs in a similar vein:

Agenda, Greg Thompson, Font Bureau / Type Network

Apres, David Berlow, Font Bureau / Type Network

Astoria, Alan Meeks, Alan Meeks Collection

Bliss, Jeremy Tankard, Jeremy Tankard Typography

Cronos, Robert Slimbach, Adobe Type

Documenta Sans, Frank Blokland, DTL

Dover Sans Text and Display, Robin Mientjes, Tiny Type Co

Edward, Hendrik Weber, form. Ourtype

Granby, Edward Johnston, Elsner + Flake

Halifax, Dieter Hofrichter, Hoftype

Johnston, Edward Johnston, David Farey, ITC

(Johnston) Underground, Edward Johnston, Richard Kegler, P22

London, Henrik Kubel, A2-Type

Mallory, Tobias Frere-Jones, Frere-Jones Type

Metro Office, Akira Kobayashi, Linotype

Mr. Eaves, Zuzana Licko, Emigre

New Atten, Miles Newlyn, Newlyn Type

Relay, Cyrus Highsmith, Occupant Fonts

Rowton Sans, Julien Priez, Hugo Dumont, Jérémie Hornus and Alisa Nowak, form. Font You

Seravek, Eric Olson, Process Type

Today Sans, Volker Küster, Elsner + Flake

Yoga Sans by Xavier Dupret, Monotype

Zeitung, Akiem Helmling, Bas Jacobs, Sami Kortemäki, Underware

I didn’t add links to these to encourage you to look for the foundry site yourself or go to your preferred type website. Licensing from the designers/foundry directly is always best. No middlemen = more reward for the people who did the work. Some of these typefaces are also available for renting, which can be advantageous if you only want to use them for a limited time.


Schriftenfest Dresden 2019

Eckehart SchumacherGebler ist dabei, wieder ein exzellentes Programm zusammenzustellen. Bisher zugesagt haben Dan Reynolds, Eckehart SchumacherGebler selbst und, um, ich :)
Insgesamt werden es wohl so fünf bis sechs Vorträge sein und andere verwandte Aktivitäten. Alle, die irgendwie schriftgeschichtlich interessiert sind müssen da kommen!

Bis dahin, hier die Informationen von letztem Jahr. Der Ort, an dem die neuen wahrscheinlich auch wieder erscheinen werden:

Uses of variable fonts in the wild

Every other day I see people asking about examples of “real” websites that use variable fonts but are not demos/tools for variable fonts. I’ve had a public Google Doc in which I compiled font releases, reference material and uses for a while now, but it’s not that nice of a resource to link to when someone asks. So I’ll collect more examples here now.
Maybe the first real-life use of variable fonts, complete with a write-up by Richard Rutter on the woes and wonders of using a still experimental thing this early on (January 2018)
Little site by Rutherford Craze putting tons of pressure on the tm-students at KABK to work even harder
Likely the most exciting use of variable fonts online right now that is not a demo (well, if a site for a typography conference can not be a demo for fonts) also known as “the Obviously Mini Site” designed and built by Nick Sherman. Perfect fallback game down to browsers on MacOS 10.6.8!
Likely the most boring normal use of variable fonts you’d never guess uses variable fonts if you didn’t know.
Of course, most sites promoting or helping you with variable fonts want to walk the walk and not only talk about them. This site by Nick Sherman uses different weight-settings of Zeitung, nothing crazy, but demonstrates that variable fonts can be practical without being super flashy and interactive.

More examples from the category “demo or real-world usage – you decide”:

State Board of Workers’ Compensation Georgia, USA


Evaluating the quality of a typeface

I have long been thinking about ways to better assess the quality of different typefaces. With so many to choose from, students, graphic designers, even laypeople, often have to compare fonts to find the fitting ones for their work. But how should one do that? Leaving mere taste aside, what are some concrete criteria for good quality typefaces?.
The following is a work-in-progress draft. It currently includes points both for users of type as well as designers of typefaces. I may split this up in future versions of this list but it’s also educational for users to see what designers of type have to keep in mind.

Features of “good” fonts

– Good technical quality of the drawing/outlines, e.g. continuous curves, even rounds, no bumps or corners where straights enter curves. Only visible in the outlines: curve and tangent points placed at optimal positions, optimal balance of off-curve points, no superfluous on-curve points

– Even stroke thickness fitting the design of the typeface

– Related proportions of related characters (n/m/h, b/d/p/q, O/C/G/Q etc.)

– Similar detailing across characters (treatment of related serifs, bowls, extenders)

– Optical compensation, e.g. larger rounds, overshoots, thinning of strokes at joints, optical middle, making verticals thicker etc.

– Harmonious spacing that fits the design, i.e. fitting the size of counters, optically even space between all glyphs, not too tight or too loose (depending on intended size of use)

– Individual spacing adjustment of tricky letter combinations where needed (= kerning). A high number of kerning pairs does not equal high-quality; it may in fact indicate spacing flaws

– Wordspace that fits proportions of the design. Many low-quality free fonts forget to even set the wordspace.

– Completeness of character-set for the task and language at hand, e.g. missing basic accented characters like umlauts, ß or œ/æ

– Fitting design of auxiliary characters like punctuation, numerals, currency symbols etc. (and not just copied over from other fonts)

– Appropriate vertical dimensions, i.e. no clipping, no overlapping extenders when set solid, not too much line spacing

– Functioning OpenType features, if included, that follow the OT-specifications

– Well-designed diacritical characters that meet standards of native speakers, e.g. regarding size and position of accents, appropriate [historical] form of diacritics that fit the design

– Basic, if only automatic, hinting for reasonable rendering on Windows systems

– Related styles that fit together as a family, share design details and proportions. Just one single weight makes a typeface less useful for more complex design

More subjective things to consider:

– Does the typeface meet the design goals of its designer/publisher and does it live up to its marketing claims? For instance, is it suitable for body copy and small sizes, if they say so, or working well in large sizes and headlines as is?

– Is the typeface offered at a suspiciously low price point that could let you assume not that much work has been put into it?

– Does the typeface come from a font sharing website (potentially illegal), a free fonts website, or an otherwise less commercially established outlet?

– Is the design based on outlines by somebody else that were slightly tweaked or stylistic filters have been applied to? Does it carry a name that may indicate closeness to another design?

Criteria that font user can’t assess easily but that type designers should consider:

– Is it a unique design idea that adds something new to the pool of available typefaces?

– Is it a revival of a previously designed/released typeface that was not available digitally, or only in low quality, or incomplete?

– Does the designer have the right to base their work on previously existing forms by someone else, release them, or use a particular name for their typeface?

And then there are, of course, typefaces that are intentionally designed to be weird, wonky, imperfect, distressed, uneven, casual or handmade etc. They are not meant to be evaluated by the same set of technical criteria, but you get the idea.

Regarding taste: “If there were an individual, readily recognized quality or characteristic which the type designer could incorporate in drawings that would make any one type more beautiful, legible, or distinguished than another, it is obvious that only type of that kind would be designed.” — Frederic W. Goudy (via John Savard)

That would be very sad. So experiment away, but still make, and use, typefaces that work well for a given task and are worth the effort.

Some resources:

Underware’s Type Workshop

Briem’s Notes on type design

Microsoft’s Character design standards (how to design certain glyphs)

Bezier Curves and Type Design: A Tutorial

Tal Lemming’s OpenType Cookbook

Diacritics – All you need to design a font with correct accents

The Insect Project – Problems of Diacritic Design for Central European Languages

Context of Diacritics

Cyrillic Type Design: a Critical Context

The relatively easy way to find out the quality of a Cyrillic typeface

Adobe Latin Character Sets

The Raster Tragedy – What is Hinting /

FontDrop, to check what is included in a font and how it works

and in a metaphorical sense:

Akzidenzschriften des 19. Jahrhunderts

Das Schriftschaffen des 19. Jahrhunderts wird gemeinhin als ein Zeitalter des Verfalls und des Niedergangs der Schriftkunst dargestellt, vor allem aufgrund der vielen gewagten, ornamentierten, fetten und anderweitig plakativen Akzidenzschriften. Ich habe das unzählige Male gelesen und nie so richtig nachvollziehen können. Allerdings sind diese Schriften auch wirklich erst in den letzten Jahren wieder ausgekramt und etwas rehabilitiert worden. Um so erfrischender zu lesen, dass František Musika sich auch nicht so ganz der landläufigen Meinung seiner Kollegen anschließen mochte. Trotzdem ist es bemerkenswert, wie deutlich er dies in seinem Werk Die schöne Schrift (Krásné Písmo) zum Ausdruck brachte:

Akzidenzschriften des 19. Jahrhunderts

»Wenn wir auch hier und da einer nachsichtigen Erwähnung der grundlegenden Akzidenzschriften begegnen, so können wir doch über ihre ornamentalen Varianten fast in der ganzen Fachliteratur der Welt nichts Lobendes lesen. Beinahe alle Kenner stimmen in einer sonst außerordentlich seltenen Einmütigkeit darin überein, daß man die gesamte Produktion ornamentaler Akzidenzschriften des 19. Jahrhunderts ohne Ausnahme und Gnade als unverantwortliches Zeichen schriftkünstlerischer Degeneration und Häßlichkeit verwerfen müsse.

Trotz dieser Einmütigkeit des Urteils hatte ich immer das Gefühl, daß es sich hier entweder um ein Mißverständnis, um Unverständnis oder ein hartnäckiges Vorurteil handelte. Ich kann mir nicht helfen, aber viele dieser proskribierten Schriften haben mir immer aufrichtig gefallen. Auch heute schäme ich mich dessen nicht und zögere nicht, sie unter die schönen Schriften einzuordnen. Der ganze Irrtum in der ästhetischen Wertschätzung dieser ausgesprochen attraktiven Schriften beruht zweifellos darauf, daß dieselben ästhetischen Maßstäbe, die sich auf dem Gebiet der für Buchzwecke bestimmten Brotschriften gewiß zufriedenstellend bewährt hatten, auf Schriften angewandt wurden, deren Entstehung völlig anderen Anforderungen entsprang und deren Schriftzeichnung von einer ganz anderen Aufgabe bestimmt war.

Während es bei der Buchschrift eine natürliche Forderung ist, daß ihre Zeichnung nicht mehr Aufmerksamkeit auf sich lenken soll, als ihrer Hauptfunktion — der leichten Lesbarkeit — zuträglich ist, muß es hingegen bei sämtlichen Grund- und ornamentalen Akzidenzschriften gestern wie heute eine kategorische Forderung sein, gerade diese Aufmerksamkeit in höchstem Maße zu erregen. Wenn man sie als Buchschriften auffaßt, kann man die Akzidenzschriften des 19. Jahrhunderts freilich als schlechte oder Verfallsschriften bezeichnen; aber der Irrtum beruht ja gerade darauf, daß es sich hier überhaupt nicht um Buchschriften handelt.

Wenn man übrigens diesen kompromißlosen Standpunkt der Utilität, mit dem der graphische Wert der Buchdruckschriften gemessen wird, konsequent auf die ganze Geschichte der Buchschrift vor der Entdeckung des Buchdrucks übertragen wollte, müßten notwendigerweise auch viele schöne Beispiele des Schriftschaffens der alten Kalligraphieschulen verworfen werden, in dem die Nützlichkeit bekanntlich sehr oft hinter das überwiegende Streben nach ästhetischer Wirkung zurücktrat. Die Schreiber aller berühmten Kalligraphieschulen hatten eine eigenartige, von der eigentlichen Bestimmung der Schrift unabhängige Schönheit im Sinn. Das Alphabet war ihnen oft vor allem Mittel des schöpferischen Ausdrucks, mit der Schriftzeichnung wollten sie die Aufmerksamkeit des Lesers fesseln und ihm ein ästhetisches Erlebnis auch dort vermitteln, wo es der heutige Leser nicht sucht und auch nicht findet. «

Aus: Musika, František: Die schöne Schrift (in der Entwicklung des lateinischen Alphabets); Band II, S. 289. Deutsch von Max A. Schönwälder, Artia Verlag Prag, 1965


Notes on the history of Akzidenz-Grotesk Part 2a – Timeline

A timeline of events related to the history of Akzidenz-Grotesk (to be updated as we discover new things):

1893: Berthold expands business into type founding

1895: Schattierte Grotesk Bauer & Co is shown in specimen book

1896: Bücher-Grotesk shown/released by Berthold (later AG condensed)

November 1897: Berthold acquires Bauer & Co

1898: release of first styles under name Accidenz-Grotesk

28 April 1898: registration of 13 sizes of Accidenz-Grotesk (regular) at the German Musterregister and published in Deutscher Reichsanzeiger

September 1898: joint ad by Bauer & Berthold mentioning 13 sizes of AG (regular) in Schweitzer Graphische Nachrichten

1899: joint AG ad by Bauer & Berthold showing 13 sizes in Deutsche Buch- und Steindrucker

1900: Berthold (& Bauer) Probe showing AG and Schattierte Grotesk

late 1902: release of Royal-Grotesk

January 1903: release note about Royal-Grotesk in Archiv für Buchgewerbe

1908: Berthold acquires Theinhardt foundry (and add their offerings to the Theinhardt specimen book of 1908/09)

1911 (at the latest): Berthold type specimen catalogue published including fonts of Royal-Grotesk, Accidenz-Grotesk, Halbfette Accidenz-Grotesk, Fette Accidenz-Grotesk, Breite Akzidenz-Grotesk, Accidenz-Grotesk Skelett, Breite magere Accidenz-Grotesk, Schattierte Grotesk, Royal-Grotesk Russisch, Accidenz-Grotesk Russich, and Schattierte Grotesk Russich.

Some notes on the history of Akzidenz-Grotesk Part 2

First read this post from a few years ago. This article here is only about the things we found since. “We” means Dan Reynolds, with who I talked a lot about this topic lately, and me and some other people mentioned in the text.

But to recap in one sentence – there is every reason to believe that Ferdinand Theinhardt has nothing to do with the design of Royal-Grotesk or Akzidenz-Grotesk as they were available at H. Berthold AG, Berlin. Further things that underpin this statement are:

A shaded sans called Schattierte Grotesk I found in a Bauer & Co Stuttgart (not the same as the Bauer foundry in Frankfurt) specimen from 1895 that I looked at at UvA’s Special Collections in 2011. It appears to be pretty much AG with drop shadow, which also may mean that there was a version of this sans without shadow somewhere. It would have been quite easy to expand a series by a shaded variant, but coming up with these letterforms just to use them in one specialized display style seems unlikely.

That was what led me to believe some styles of AG, like a light regular weight, may have originated at Bauer & Co. I did not find any in earlier specimens though. I had made a note to double check the date of the specimen because having something like AG in 1895 already would be quite remarkable. It’s always hard to date these books exactly. Then last year, John Lane emailed me that he found a full-page ad for Schattierte Grotesk in an issue of Archiv für Buchgewerbe 33/12 from December 1896 – later but still 11 months before Berthold acquired Bauer & Co, which they did on November 9, 1897 [see Bauer, Chronik der Schriftgießereien]. This dates Schattierte Grotesk to at least 1896, so before any AG action at Berthold. And only three years after Berthold picked up casting typefaces at all, which was in 1893. Before that they only made brass rules.

My very scientific Photoshop analysis of old specimens:

Butchered AG ad from Bauer/Berthold from 1899 above and Schattierte Grotesk from the Bauer & Co specimen of ~1895 below

An AG showing (one style, 13 sizes) by Bauer & Co and Berthold in Schweizer Graphische Nachrichten from September 1898 that Joep Pohlen found. 1898 is also the date that Berthold had always given, at least since 1921 when their first publication mentioning a date for Accidenz-Grotesk (early spelling with cc) was published. [See image from Berthold chronicle in Part 1]

Sans-serifs were just a small, rather unimportant position among many wild designs that type foundries offered around 1900.


Neither Dan nor I could find any documents from the Königliche Akademie der Wissenschaften that were printed in something that looks like Royal-Grotesk – the use case the typeface was allegedly commissioned and made for in 1880. I did not even find a single use of any sans in documents from 1880–1910 that I looked at.

Dan found this mention of Royal-Grotesk in »Schriftprobenschau«, Archiv für Buchgewerbe 40/1, January 1903, S. 19:
»Eine neue recht verwendbare Schrift hat die Firma H. Berthold Akt.-Ges in Berlin geschaffen, eine in acht Graden geschnittene Royal-Grotesk, die sich zu allen besseren Accidenzen verwenden lassen und infolge ihres scharfen und sauberen Schnitts zur besten Wirkung gelangen wird. Auf eine kleine, vielleicht unbeabsichtigte Unschönheit möchten wir doch hinweisen. Diese betrifft das Versal-R, dessen Querstrich zu tief steht, was auffällt und störend wirkt, wenn der Buchstabe zwischen B und E steht. Vielleicht ist hier eine Verbesserung noch angängig. Chronos.«

So there must have been a Royal-Grotesk available at Berthold in late 1902 or January 1903 – five years before Berthold bought the Theinhardt foundry. But calling it a “new, quite usable typeface” and critique the design doesn’t exactly sound like this font was around since 1880 and used in public documents. Emil Wetzig has 1902 for Royal in Seemann’s Handbuch der Schriftarten, which is not always correct but often a good indicator.

My internet snapshots of said magazine mention from January 1903

Questions still:

– We need to date the Theinhardt foundry specimen — “Hauptprobe. 1892. Gr. 8o (mit mehrfarbigen Titelblättern)” [Jolles] — that was issued sometime between 1890 and 1905. Everyone seems to give a different date for it, or is talking about different editions? Here Henning Krause’s copy and take on the year (he thinks 1890). ESG based his argument on “Neuheiten. Ferd. Theinhardt, Schriftgießerei Berlin-Schöneberg 1. (specimen 8° without title page) without year (ca. 1902)” as his source and remarks that it’s from 1892 but that it did not come into circulation before 1905, according to additional pages in his issue.

– If Berthold only started its type casting business in 1893, did they even employ punchcutters capable of original designs this quickly? Or did they pick up an almost ready series with the acquisition of Bauer. Need to check both companies’ specimen books from before 1897 again.

– No one could ever show any Royal-Grotesk in use from before 1902/3. Where are the Theinhardt-Royal samples when it allegedly was around since 1880? Until someone comes forward with examples or other proof, could we all please stop repeating and regurgitating the Theinhardt story?

– Did anyone ever find a source or mention before GGL’s 1998 lecture and 2003 interview that stated the connection between Theinhardt and RG/AG? Maybe the idea was not even GGL’s, but someone before him? Where did this hunch come from? Just this one late Theinhardt specimen that included AG?