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”:

to be continued

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You call it Hellenic Wide …

Antique Extended No. 2 from the James Conner’s Sons, NYC, 1888 specimen book
Read More »

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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 includs point 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 very educational for users to learn about what designers of type have to keep in mind.

Features of “good” fonts

– good technical quality of the drawing/outlines (continuous curves, even rounds, no bumps; 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 in 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 (larger rounds, overshoots, thinning of strokes at joints, optical middle, making verticals thicker etc)

– harmonious spacing that fits the design (fitting the size of counters, optically even space between all glyphs, not too tight or too loose)

– individual spacing adjustment of tricky letter combinations where needed (= kerning; high number of kerning pairs may 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 (like missing basic accented characters like umlauts, ß or œ/æ)

– fitting design of auxiliary characters like punctuation, numerals, currency symbols etc.

– appropriate vertical dimensions (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 (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 well 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 it has (according to its designer/publisher) and lives up to its marketing claims? (Is it suitable for body copy and small sizes if they say so; is it working well in large sizes and headlines as is?)

– Is the typeface offered at a suspiciously low price point that could let you assume that 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 applied? Does it carry a name that may indicate closeness to another design?

Criteria that the 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

Impallari Font Testing

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Current favs

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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


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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.

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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?


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Ekkehardt vs Eckmann – Plagiatsvorwürfe anno 1903

Aus: Archiv für Buchgewerbe, Heft 5, 1903 (Autor: Chronos)

Wir halten es für keinen glücklichen Gedanken, daß sich die junge Schriftgießereifirma Ludwig Wagner in Leipzig-Stötteritz mit der uns vorliegenden Schrift »Ekkehardt« einführt. Ebensowenig vermögen wir die Bedürfnisfrage nach einer weiteren Schrift, die zu der Gattung der »Eckmann« gehört, zu bejahen. Wir sind zudem der Ansicht, daß eine schaffensfreudige Firma eine dankbare Aufgabe und einen Stolz darin suchen muß, selbständige originale Erzeugnisse auf den Markt zu bringen, und Anlehnungen an Vorhandenes, zumal diese meistens nur eine Verschlechterung der einmal gegebenen Formen zu sein pflegen, wie in vorliegendem Falle, vermeiden muß. Wie bereits angedeutet trägt die »Ekkehardt« den Charakter der Eckmann in sehr starkem Maße, ohne indessen das Handschriftliche derselben zu haben. Der einheitliche Zug, den man an jedem Originalerzeugnis schätzt, fehlt und muß fehlen, zumal es sich im vorliegenden Falle mehr oder weniger um eine recht wenig erfreuliche Metamorphose handelt, die im Interesse unsres Gewerbes nur zu bedauern ist.

Das Vorstehende gilt zum großen Teil auch von dem zweiten Erzeugnis, das uns von derselben Firma vorliegt, der modernen Groteskschrift »Clio«. Diese Schrift zeigt in ihrer Bildfette wie Konstruktion starke Anklinge an die Bertholdsche Sezessions-Grotesk ohne jedoch die ruhige Gleichmäßigkeit der letzteren zu erzielen. In dem Bestreben die Schrift möglichst modern zu gestalten wurden eine Anzahl Ligaturen und ineinandergreifende Buchstabenformen geschaffen, z. B. LA, LE, die der Schrift nicht zum Vorteil gereichen. Wir können der Firma L. Wagner nur empfehlen, sich bei ihrem Schaffen nicht davon leiten zu lassen, Erzeugnisse zu bringen, die sich an solche anlehnen, mit denen irgend eine andre Firma bereits gute Geschirre macht, sondern eigne Wege zu gehen und von tüchtigen Kräften zu ihrem eignen Nutzen und dem des Gewerbes wirkliche Originalerzeugnisse schaffen zu lassen.

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On the topic of female speakers at conferences (again, sorry)

In the past two years, a LOT has changed for the better and the more diverse in the design community (talking about my turf – communication design, typography, type – but most of my points below are applicable more broadly). I have not forgotten why we founded Alphabettes and while bro culture, mansplaining and the general tendency to regard non-male-non-white people not as highly did not go away entirely, discussions, awareness and action have improved in most European and American countries.

Nevertheless, I was reminded today by the random example of two Russian conferences and a related discussion thread that that’s not universally the case across the globe. One of the conferences had no female speakers, and the other only one among a line-up of 13. But where the conference took place is actually not important. It only gives me the opportunity to talk about some of the most common excuses we hear when bringing up poor diversity:

Women are afraid to talk in public

That may be true for some if your industry and region doesn’t yet have an established body of female speakers that could serve as role models and advisors to those freaked out by the thought. But there are also many who are not afraid. Rather than shrugging and blaming those who declined, why not change something about your event structure and add more differently sized speaking slots? A 15 or 20 minute talk doesn’t sound as horrifying as a 45 or 60 minute one, a smaller crowd not as scary as a 1000-people hall. Or start with even shorter Pecha-Kucha-style talks. Most would probably agree to a short, more informal presentation or a smaller audience and it’s a good way to give new people a chance to get some experience. Everyone can survive seven minutes on stage! Or add a discussion round on the topic you want to cover and do it interview-style – much less scary compared to standing on a stage by yourself. (But please make the topic something else than “women in/on xxx”.) Encouragement from you and giving someone a chance will go a long way, plus it can snowball into more people feeling encouraged and less afraid.

Most of the women we asked declined

or more specifically today:

Most women declined because they had (vacation) plans with family

To the latter I can only reply: when did you ask? Did you plan your event sufficiently ahead of time when not most people already made their holiday plans? Maybe a conference in August is going to always be tricky in that regard? You all know it’s much easier for dudes to take off to a conference and leave their family at home than for the ladies. Whether you regard this as fair is up to you, but you could try to accommodate the fact by giving women enough time to plan ahead, or maybe even offering some help. Would they be allowed to bring their kid? (Adobe MAX for instance does not allow children on the venue, not even on the hallway or courtyard!) Did you ever consider organizing child care at your conference? Maybe the demand wasn’t there up to now because women with kids were never able to attend because they didn’t have child care. (This should also be communicated way ahead of time and not only last minute.)

More broadly: If people decline your invitation, did you make it attractive enough to come speak at your event? Are you paying a speakers fee, or only travel and lodging? How many nights, just one? Direct flights or only the absolute cheapest ticket? Ground transportation to/from station/port? Private hotel room or hostel dorm? I can’t blame anyone not ready to put up with anything just to speak at an event for free, sinking hours into preparations and sacrificing billable work hours/days.

If you are a call-for-papers event and you see that significantly fewer women apply, reach out to them directly or post the call on respective fora and encourage them to submit something. Offer advice on how to write a convincing conference proposal. Blind selection may also help because none of us is free of unconscious bias and preferring friends and people we know over strangers.

We’re not going by gender but by who is best for a given topic

I used to say this, too, and still would. But I know so many fantastic women in my field now that they automatically make up a healthy quota – if not the majority – of people who come to my mind for a given topic. It all depends on who / how many you know, who you are looking (up) to, what you are reading, what bubble you follow on Twitter. If all your friends and idols are guys, you can only choose “the best” from that pool of what you know, but man, you are missing OUT!

Admittedly, it’s hard to get a broader, more encompassing overview in an instance, but that’s what all the resources and the friendly communities out there are for. They can recommend someone and pass on contacts. Personal recommendations from conference and/or industry veterans may be more useful than just going by databases. Our Alphabettes contact form is always open!

There are no women who can talk on this topic

That’s mostly the same dilemma: if you don’t know many different people in a field, not many women may come to your mind 1, 2, 3. Some really technical or specialized areas may indeed not have as many qualified women in it (yet), but that should be a reason for us to encourage and promote any female interested in the field. Get more creative than just defaulting to the ever same guys. Maybe the topic can be reframed a little? Maybe a team of two can talk about it? Maybe a workshops on the topic could give more people the chance to enter the field?

Organizers not having a good overview over the industry and the old “but we need a big name to sell tickets” are also how the ever same “rock stars” are invited to events which brings me to …

I’m writing this all out of selfish reasons. I gave 14 talks in 13 different cities last year (all while having a full-time teaching job and a freelance business). I’m trying to cut down on this but not because I’m tired of the idea of conferences or travel but because I am tired of seeing and hearing the ever same people, including me. Although June is one of the most busy months for me, I’ll still try to attend Typographics in NYC again because they are making an effort to bring new faces on stage (and for several years with a 50/50 female/male ratio, still unmatched by others).

It’s also a lot of work and energy we put into community work while neglecting our own projects, discussing with conference organizers and the Twitterati, suggesting people, building resources, sending around CFPs, pushing the up-and-coming to talk and write, advising on the involved how-to’s, and just generally keeping an eye on you guys out there. Could you maybe all help us with this a little, please? Everyone should ask who else is invited when they get an invitation to a conference and I wish men would stop being complicit in the game: we should decline to speak at events if they don’t have a minimum of 30% female participants (or just more from the whole pool of diverse non-Kaukasian humans in general).

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Post-graduate courses in typeface design and research

Applications for the next group at ANRT Nancy is open until June 30. One can apply with their own design or research topic or pick one of the proposed ones. No tuition fee and one even receives a €4000 research grant for the 18 months.

Also open for applications, until June 15, is the post-graduate course in typeface design at ESAD Amiens lasting 16 months, also no tuition, also international English and French speaking.

I have visited, talked and taught at both programs in the past and they are absolutely excellent places to learn about type in enjoyable environments and with fabulous teachers. Go go apply already!

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