Multi-axes type families

There is an occasional confusion with extensive type families and the involved terminology. Basically a type family – a set of fonts with common design characteristic and features – can have multiple

· weights (Light, Regular, Medium, Bold, Black etc.)
· widths (Narrow, Compressed, Condensed, Normal, Wide etc.)
· related designs (Sans, Serif, Slab, Mix, Mono, Semi, Pi etc.)
· size-specific variants aka optical sizes (Text, Display, Agate/Micro, Headline, Banner etc.)
· grades (One, Two, Three, A, B, C etc.), and probably more.

Series / Super-Families

One common question is what to call an extensive type family that is comprised out of more than one “family”, for instance a matching serif and sans. Some call this a super-family, others a series, like ATF and Photolettering traditionally did. I like series better because it is a very flexible term and can umbrella (herby proposing this to be a verb) many different styles that are connected in their design, be it by weight, width or shape.

Size-Specific Designs / Optical Sizes

Also frequently mixed up are optical sizes and grades. Optical sizes refer to the adjustment of a typeface’s design for a certain range of sizes or application. (I’m not really happy with the term and mostly call these size specific designs.) In metal type, each size of a typeface was tailored to the requirements of that specific size. Characters intended for small sizes were kept wider, with open apertures and more loosely spaced. They have a large x-hight, lower stroke contrast and more sturdy serifs for instance. Type for display sizes on the other hand is tighter, more narrow and more detailed in design. Nick Sherman illustrates the range of adaption very well in his A List Apart article.

These adjustments got lost during phototype and, until recently, had only been rarely available for digital type. Fortunately, there is a growing selection of families offered in different sets of fonts for different applications, e.g. text and display variants, sometimes also called Banner or Headline. The latter might indicate that the design is especially narrow and space saving, i.e. optimized for newspaper applications. Agate means that the fonts are suited for very small sizes, traditionally ca. 6pt, used in newspaper tables and listings. Skyline is a name used for a very condensed tall style. (More on optical sizes in Tim Ahrens’ book.)


Grades are variants of one style of a family – for instance the regular text weight – in slightly different weight nuances to adapt to varying output conditions, e.g. different printing presses, paper stock, climate, or screen resolution. Quite unlike optical sizes or a normal range of weights, the unique feature of grades is that the spacing and kerning is identical for all fonts in a set, so there is no reflow of the layout when you change the grade. By using the appropriate grades, the intended weight of the font will look consistent everywhere, as they compensate for type getting “fatter” in the printing process (dot-gain) or text appearing lighter on coated stock or high-res screens. (Adaptions beyond the offering of fixed grades used to be possible with Multiple Master typefaces, and are currently discussed again in connection with advanced hinting techniques.)


Below I started a list of typefaces available in different optical sizes and grades, for print and screen. This is not meant as an exhausting list, rather to note some down for myself, but I’ll try to keep it updated and add to it, so feel free to point me to more typefaces in the comments. (Web indicates that some styles are available as webfonts).


Typefaces Available in Grades (number of grades)

Benton Modern Text (4); Font Bureau [web on request]

Bureau Roman (5); Font Bureau

Chronicle Text (4); H&FJ

Greta Text (3); Typotheque

Magma (2); Stone Type Foundry

Mercury Text (4); H&FJ

Miller Daily (4); Font Bureau

Munc (2); Stone Type Foundry

Poynter Agate (4); Font Bureau

Poynter Oldstyle Text (4); Font Bureau

Quiosco (4); Font Bureau

Renard (3); TEFF

Tabac (4); Suitcase [web]

Tempera (3), Tempera Biblio (3); Typonine [web]

Tuff (2); Stone Type Foundry

Zócalo Text (4); Font Bureau


Typefaces Available in Size-Specific Variants / Optical Sizes 

Arno; Adobe

Axiom; Typemanufactur Georg Salden [web]

Arnhem, Arnhem Fine, Arnhem Display; Ourtype [web]

Benton Modern Text (grades), Benton Modern Display; Font Bureau [web]

Brioni Text, Brioni; Typotheque [web]

California Text, California, California Display; Font Bureau

Chaparral; Adobe

Chronicle Text (grades), Chronicle Deck, Chronicle Display; H&FJ [web]

Cronos; Adobe

Escrow Text, Escrow; Font Bureau [web]

Fedra Sans, Fedra Sans Display 1 & 2; Typotheque [web]

Fedra Serif A & B, Fedra Serif Display; Typotheque [web]

Garamond Premier; Adobe

Glosa, Glosa Text, Glosa Headline, Glosa Display; DS Type [web]

Greta Text (grades), Greta Display, Greta Grande; Typotheque [web]

Guardian Egyptian TextGuardian Egyptian Headline; Commercial Type [web]

Guardian Sans AgateGuardian Sans Headline; Commercial Type [web]

Harriet Text, Harriet Display; Okay Type [web]

Hoefler Text, Hoefler Titling (more independent design); H&FJ

Ibis REIbis TextIbis Display; Font Bureau [web]

Info Text, Info Display; FontFont [web]

Irma TextIrma; Typotheque [web]

Jenson; Adobe

Jules Big, Jules Colossal, Jules Epic; DS Type

Kepler; Adobe

Klavika, Klavika Display; Process Type Foundry [web]

Locator, Locator Display; Process Type Foundry [web]

Lyon Text, Lyon Display; Commercial Type [web]

Marlene, Marlene High, Marlene Display; Typonine [web]

Mercury Text (grades), Mercury Display; H&FJ

Miller Daily (grades), Miller, Miller Headline, Miller Banner; Font Bureau [web]

Minion; Adobe

Myriad; Adobe

Neue Haas Grotesk Text, Neue Haas Grotesk Display, Linotype [web]

Poynter Serif REPoynter Oldstyle Text (grades), Poynter Oldstyle Display; Font Bureau [web]

Poynter Gothic TextPoynter Agate (grades); Font Bureau

PrensaPrensa Display; Font Bureau [web]

Publico Text, Publico Headline, Publico Banner; Commercial Type [web]

Transit Text, Transit Front, Transit Back; FontFont

Turnip RE, Turnip; Font Bureau [web]

Utopia; Adobe

Warnock; Adobe

WhitmanWhitman Display; Font Bureau [web]

Zócalo Text (grades), Zócalo Display, Zócalo Banner; Font Bureau [web]

Ooof, no one ever say again that there aren’t any families with optical sizes. Way more than I thought and am able to add here right now. I’ll try to update the list later. Until then, see also this
list on typophile,
list on Fontshop,

list on Tim’s blog.


Typefaces Optimized for Small Sizes on Screen (< 14 px)

Aften Screen, Antenna RE, Antenna Serif RE, Apres RE, Basic GothicBenton Modern REBenton Sans RE, Custer RE, Deja Rip, Dispatch Mono, Droid Sans, Droid Serif, Georgia ProGiza REFedra Mono ScreenFedra Sans ScreenFedra Serif ScreenIbis RE, Irma ScreenNitti, Open SansPT Sans, PT SerifPoynter Serif, Riga Screen, Scout RESource SansTurnip RE, Verdana Pro.


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One Comment

  1. Posted 19. July 2013 at 16:03 | Permalink

    Hi Indra,

    Klavika Display and Locator Display are not really optical size fonts; they are titling/display version of Klavika and Locator. In the case of Klavika, they don’t even have the smaller size counterpart. We would call them ‘purpose specific designs’ rather than ‘size-specific adjustments’.


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