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]
Tuff (2); Stone Type Foundry
Zócalo Text (4); Font Bureau
Typefaces Available in Size-Specific Variants / Optical Sizes
Axiom; Typemanufactur Georg Salden [web]
California Text, California, California Display; Font Bureau
Garamond Premier; Adobe
Glosa, Glosa Text, Glosa Headline, Glosa Display; DS Type [web]
Harriet Text, Harriet Display; Okay Type [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 Gothic, Benton Modern RE, Benton Sans RE, Custer RE, Deja Rip, Dispatch Mono, Droid Sans, Droid Serif, Georgia Pro, Giza RE, Fedra Mono Screen, Fedra Sans Screen, Fedra Serif Screen, Ibis RE, Irma Screen, Nitti, Open Sans, PT Sans, PT Serif, Poynter Serif, Riga Screen, Scout RE, Source Sans, Turnip RE, Verdana Pro.