Font Shopping (Part I)

Last week I found myself faced with the rare and luxurious task to spend quite some money, quickly, and on something typography related.
I guess I’m not alone with this end-of-year-business-expence problem, so instead of a list with cool things in type 2010 I want to share my shopping experiences here.

As kind of a warm-up I ordered a couple of books and studio-material — easy — followed by some software, but I figured investing in fonts would be a lot less age sensitive and a more sustainable way to spend the remaining rest of this non-recurring source of capital. But what to pick?
I have a good overview and dialog with German and neighbouring European foundries, the classic Adobe Font Folio and ancient URW collection but what was kind of missing were the more independent anglo-american contributions of the past years.


So I started my stroll — at Font Bureau. I love them for their varied collection of part vernacular, part sophisticated typefaces, a lot with display styles available, and webfonts of course (but better avoid the “wacky” section).
My cart filled quickly, felt a bit like the old game »Ich packe meinen Koffer und nehme mit …«:

Amplitude: Because I fell in love with the triangular opening at the base of the a. A big fat wide compressed family presumably suitable for almost everything. Not too gruff, yet not too friendly (I got a bit tired of all those numerous humanist sans recently).

Farnham Text + Display: The a again, it won me over ever since I first saw it. I’m into baroque, Baskerville-ish typefaces for quite a while now and Farnham is a very amicable interpretation of the theme. I buy my daily Frankfurter Rundschau just because of this.

Giza: Yeah! Who can resist Nine Five? Now to find the right occasion to use and not only look at it.

Ibis Text + Display: “Very small and very big” are probably the best applications for Ibis. It resembles the feel of Zapf’s Melior and other squarish, almost-slab-seriffed 1950s typefaces I like a lot. Didn’t use it up to now, but Ibis does an amazing job as a webfont, especially on windows. Bold italic!

Meno: An irresistable cursive, like a bacchanal exaggeration of Galliard. Probably tricky to typeset but I definitely want to take the challenge and spend some time with her one day.

Miller Text + Display: Hard to go wrong with Miller, one of my all-time favourites. A versatile workhorse for tons of text with crispy, sexy display styles. Yum!

Prensa: As an admirer of Dwiggins one simply has to love Prensa (and Delicato and Enigma). Edgy, hardheaded, yet very legible and with great display qualities, too. Once again: bold italic!

Skilt Gothic: A better replica, derived from 1920s Danish signage lettering, this new release is a good alternative to DIN or when you want to say “industrial and undesigned”. Cool g and y, both one- and two-storey a’s and lots of other OT goodies (yeah, still rare but finally pro/premium OpenType arrived at Font Bureau, too).

Titling Gothic: Incredible, huge Grotesque families are FB’s specialty, so choosing a sans and picking styles from their ample palette was extra hard. I went for Titling Gothic because it somehow stands in the middle between the eccentric Bureau Grot and the more sane Benton Sans and Franklin. I would have liked Boomer Sans, too, but that sounded difficult to license.

Trilby: Well, what to do with Trilby, posters probably. It’s just so damn cool.

Whitman: I have to admit, it’s not my favourite but it seemed an expedient investment. Maybe it’s the a (again, they are my acid test), or that it is so perfectly balanced, but Whitman is a good alternative for Joanna, often described as a difficult diva. Or Scala.

Zocalo Text + Display: It definitely is the a! Freakish italics, cantilevered serifs in the caps, very readable in text, quirky at display sizes, simply a joy to look at.

I didn’t select all those typefaces at once. But after putting like 10 fonts in the cart I noticed a significant drop in price, even though I didn’t get the full families but only individual weights. From 40$ in the beginning the price per font decreased to 35, 30 and finally 25$ only. That’s awesome! And dangerous.
From then on I was lost. I forced myself to take a break, shopped at some other manufacturers and wholesalers and decided to fill my parked FB-cart with as many fonts as possible at the end of my trip.


Stop 2: Hoefler & Frere-Jones
They make very good, downright perfect typefaces, no doubt. I like them, really. But somehow everybody loves HFJ and regard them as the authority in quality fonts — it doesn’t make me want to use their typefaces so much anymore. Everybody else is using them already.


Stop 3: Process Type
Right on time the nasty* guys at Process Type announced a 25%-off christmas sale. Not easy to keep me from buying something with a wallet so loosely in my pocket. I got Locator, a versatile, uncluttered Sans with cool Q, J and l (a bit like in Neuzeit) and freaky Maple because I couldn’t resist the g and e, r and a are so cheerful in bigger sizes.


As mentioned earlier I mainly roamed through the collection of the smaller independent foundries and I have to admit “evil”* MyFonts came in really handy during my expedition. I’d rather spend my money directly on the foundry’s site but it can get quite tedious to look up all of them individually, creating an account, providing payment info etc. So I lazily filled my cart at this central market place. Besides MyFonts’ search, mark, save, rate, tag and easy-use test-facilities are just super practical (plus some foundries don’t even sell their fonts on their sites).

While browsing some “new-and-noteables” I went astray and came across an ancient all-time-favourite of mine — and simply melted away confronted with its light italic: Bitstream’s Schadow by Georg Trump, one of my favourite designers anyway. Look at the g!


End of day 1. To be continued with some okay type, more hands-on shopping experiences, my in- and out-takes, reciept and conclusion.


  • Is „evil“ in quotation marks because you’re being sarcastic? Based on the fact that you also called the Process Type guys „nasty“, I’m guessing so, but it’s not totally clear what you mean. Perhaps you’ll elaborate in the next post?

  • What makes MyFonts „evil“? Regardless, I agree with James. MyFonts takes care of the things some people don’t have the desire to deal with, and it offers major reach.

  • You are right. I’m sorry that my dry irony didn’t came across all clear (I’m no native writer). But now that you commented on it it’s difficult to re-phrase those parts less mistakably.

    * Of course I don’t regard Process Type nasty nor MyFonts as evil. What I wanted to say about the latter is that I—and perhaps other professionals too—used to connect MyFonts with cheap or even free, low-quality fonts quite often. But besides all the crap you can get excellent typefaces from great small foundries there, too. This makes both font shopping for me and distributing fonts for you easy and comfortable.
    Over time and especially the more I started to use the sites unique functionalities my former reservations developed into an appreciation of the democratic approach of MyFonts. It’s what I make or rather “get out of it” using tags, albums, ratings, advanced search etc.

  • Why is everyone so surprised at calling MyFonts evil? Irony apart, in the small world of typography they are dangerously big, so it is good to keep close look at them. Many small foundries became completely dependent on MyFonts, they outsourced their e-commerce system at the time when MyFonts offered great deal of paying 80% royalties. They changed it to 75% later, and I see that recently it became 50%. If they change the conditions again, many will have no choice but to agree.

    I suppose Indra is referring to the same reluctance as many of us have when dealing with Amazon. Yes, Amazon sells great books, but also junk, even junkfood. Whenever I can, I buy books directly from the publisher. It is the same with MyFonts. I’d rather pay 100% to the maker. Their interest is not to offer quality, but to offer volume, everything, originals, copies, immitations, etc. But than again, I try to buy also food from the maker rather than from distribution chains.

    It is good to pay close attention to practices of Google, Apple, Amazon, and in our small world of type, also Myfonts..

  • It should be noted that all the foundries who signed up with MyFonts under the 80% and 65% royalty agreements still receive those same percentages (there’s a lengthy discussion on the topic at Typophile).

    I too prefer to license direct from the foundry; even when I worked at MyFonts and had to license type for personal work, I would do so directly when possible. And while I totally agree that quality isn’t a big concern for MyFonts as far as the fonts go, there’s a lot to be said about the quality of the experience there. As Indra mentions, it makes it a lot easier to be able to search, sample, organize, and buy everything easily – especially if you’re licensing a lot of stuff. Her comments on this side of font licensing are what I think make this article so interesting, because it’s a huge element that often goes unmentioned.

    I’m obviously biased, so I won’t go on too long, but I think it’s important to keep in mind that „successful“ shouldn’t automatically lead to suspicions of „big“ and „evil“. I’m not discouraging anyone from keeping an eye out for foul behavior by any means, but when painting a picture of MyFonts, keep in mind that it’s run by a tiny group (only 6 full-time employees, I believe) who have done more good for independent type design in recent years than maybe any organization.

  • That’s not the experience that I had with MyFonts. We joined them a while ago (80%), and then they simply informed us of reducing the royalties.

    I agree that their shopping experience is impecable. So is Amazon, so you can check out also dog-food with your favourite book.

    It is a whole different experience to buy stuff from makers, be involved in the process, and help with feedback.

  • Thanks for this post. I do similar – although I have only bought a few odd individual fonts from FB. And even though I totaly agree with what you said about H&FJ I have had a tab open for weeks now with Forza in it – I have Vitesse so Forza is the obvious companion – they do make great types. I buy a lot of types from Type Trust – Silas has been great to deal with. I’ve discovered that over the last 2 or 3 years most of the fonts I have licensed have been made by Christian Schwartz and Neil Summerour – this has not being deliberate, I just keep picking fonts they have made. Anyway – thanks for the journey, makes me think I should do a recap of my year in font licensing :-)

  • Peter,

    That’s interesting … since I no longer work there, I can’t really comment for MyFonts in any official capacity, but I was 99.9% sure that all the existing contracts remained unchanged when the rates for new sign-ups were lowered last year (it was one of the topics of discussion in the previously mentioned Typophile thread).

    Regardless, I stand by my claim that everyone on the MyFonts team is nothing but kind and non-evil :)

  • Indra,

    On this page,, you’re listed a contributor to a website which names Sam Berlow of Font Bureau as its publisher. Would you comment on how this affected your decision to write 14 flattering paragraphs about them, and then two rather dismissive ones about H&FJ and Process Type?

    Also, I’ve read your post and follow-up comments twice now, and I still don’t understand why you characterized Process Type as „nasty.“ Perhaps you could elaborate on this as well.

  • Jonathan, I read her ‚Nasty‘ comment as being because Process Type helped her part with more cash by having the christmas sale. I took it as a ironic/joke tone. :-)

    In regard to H&FJ – as a regular graphic designer, I see her point, so many people are using your fonts now that it feels like your just hopping on bandwagon the trend to use them too. That said – I have Gotham Narrow, Vitesse and Tungsten – I’ve used Vitesse and Tungsten a bit, Gotham a few times, although I tend to use Alright Sans when I wand to fill the straight up sans role. I really do want Forza to compliment Vitesse, and I’m not as strong on this feeling as Indra seems to be, I will use whatever suits the job best, no matter how many others are using it (well except Helvetica, I just refuse to use it now), but I empathise with her feelings. I think it’s commendable she has been so open about her buying process, most people are rather timid to share this much.

  • Dear Jonathan,

    Contributing to Fonts In Use didn’t affect my selection of typefaces and writing on this site at all. I have no and never had any business relation with Font Bureau or one of its partners, nor am I an affiliate of any type foundry or distributor (I wish).
    Although Fonts In Use and Font Bureau are separate entities, if one wanted to make a connection in relation to me, it’d rather be the other way round. When Stephen asked me, I agreed to help with FIU—unpaid—because I respect the other people involved and appreciate what they do, including Font Bureau.

    Regarding your other questions: H&FJ make very good, downright perfect typefaces, I like them, really. Bummer you don’t offer single weights, I would have licensed some and then written about them, e.g. my favourites Mercury, Sentinel or Chronicle.
    Because this post is about all the fonts I purchased, not all the fonts I like, and my plan was to get as many different typefaces as possible for 1692,56 Dollar.

    Process Type got the joke I made about tempting me with their Christmas sale, but if it wasn’t very clear before, I think Simon’s interpretation matches how I would have described it.

  • Indra, I just saw this. What a great problem to have! Thanks for sharing the „gory“** details.
    And it’s funny how some people’s Sarcasm Detection Algorithm fails when it comes to $.


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