Wednesday, June 2, 2010

My Favorite Typeface(s)

Naming a favorite typeface is like saying which of your children you like the best. I like too many typefaces to choose one favorite. In fact I like too many typefaces for my own good, but that’s beside the point. Picking one favorite is limiting. From the type we have, I can pick one favorite body type, one italic, one display type, one text, one uncial, one antique type − maybe.

After all, different typefaces are good for printing different things. If you’re doing an art deco piece, you need art deco type. If you’re quoting Dickens, something like Caslon would be appropriate. Doing a Christmas card or something religious ─ use text. Something medieval − maybe an uncial. Something Victorian − a medley of wildly eccentric typefaces from the 19th century. Typefaces have all kinds of flavors, and like gourmet jelly beans, different combinations create an entirely new experience.

But back to favorites: for body type (type used for the bulk of material in a piece) I would pick Italian Old Style. I enjoy setting and reading it, probably because of its openness and clarity. And we have a nice assortment of sizes in roman, italic, and small caps. But I like Caslon, Garamond, Devinne, and LaClede Old Style, too. How can I choose just one!

A quote in Italian Oldstyle, with Hadriano Stonecut for the title.

My favorite italic type would be a tie between Caslon Italic 471 (with long descenders) and Grolier, a beautiful old MacKellar face with kerned characters. Are two favorites okay?

A Christmas card using Caslon Italic 471 for a quote from Dickens.

A Valentine showing the flourishes of Grolier, an elegant kerned font from MacKellar, Smiths, and Jordan.

For display type, a favorite is Legend, with its Arabian Nights look. Then there’s Parsons, with its wonderful ascenders and descenders, full of design possibilities. So many great display types are out there − Hadriano Stonecut, Schoeffer Condensed, Parisian − each perfect for a certain kind of printed piece.

Legend type, used for the title page of "A Tale of Arabia".

Parsons by Will Ransom has many optional ascenders and descenders, but the trick is figuring out where to use them.

Text type is easier to decide on. Washington Text has the less conventional text look I prefer. For text-like appearance that’s not quite text, I like the pen-lettering look of Freehand.

Washington Text, a text type from the Keystone Type Foundry.

A Christmas card using Freehand, a versatile pen-lettering typeface.

With uncials, that ancient medieval letterform, my favorite is Worrell Uncial. Though we only have it in 12 point, we use it often.

A prop card using Worrell Uncial to print "A Private Press Dedicated to Printing for Pleasure, Self-Expression, and the Preservation of Letterpress Printing History".

Choose one favorite antique type − impossible! They’re as individual and eccentric as a ninety year old maiden aunt. But if I had to choose, candidates for me would include Scribner, Art Gothic, and Atlanta.

Scribner, an eccentric typeface from the Central Type Foundry of St. Louis, is fun to play with.

Some types I lust for include Goudy Mediaeval, Civilite, and anything unusual or antique. Type lust, I must confess, is a disease. You know you’ve got it when you find yourself drooling over fonts and specimen books.

Is there any type I don’t like? Yes. Brush. It’s thick, clunky, and often badly used. Brush sets my teeth on edge. Thankfully we no longer own any.

So ... what’s your favorite typeface?


  1. I had no idea there were so many typeface. I like the Parsons by Will Ransom, but I can see that it would be difficult to set because of those ascenders and descenders. I like the Italian Oldstyle too. And the Worrell Unical is really cool too. Geez, how can you pick?

  2. I know, I can't pick. And I could have named 20 other favorites. I'm addicted!

  3. Hi Carole,

    In case you want to learn more about the history of Central Type Foundry, you are cordially invited to visit The Type Heritage Project:

    For starters... Scribner, named for the 19th-century magazine, was designed by Gustav F. Schroeder in 1883.

    He was a German immigrant recruited at age 20 in 1881 by Carl Schraubstadter, a Central TF partner, when visiting his own homeland.

    Although Schroeder's experience so far was in cutting mundane dies, he was a "fast learner" and turned out to be one of the most brilliant late-19th century type designers.

    Cheers, Anna

    P.S. Please feel free to share this link with your colleagues and clients!