Typeface anatomy

I’ve been making a start on the Type Classification project. Yesterday I spent some time trying to understand the various classification systems that are used, which to be honest are rather confusing. There seem to be so many iterations of the historic classifications. You have the basic Old Style, Transitional, Modern trio which are then divided into serif and sans serif plus the Slab serifs and Grotesques. But then some classifications go even deeper, dividing Old Style into Humanist (Venetian) and Geralde (French) faces… Some call Modern Didone… Some lump all the sans serifs into a Lineal classification which is then sub-divided into Humanist (loosely based on the serif forms of the same classification), Geometric (Futura, for example) and the Grotesques. Then of course you’ve the Blackletters and script/calligraphy typefaces on top of this. The article I posted yesterday suggests some ideas for different classifications but I’m not even sure that these are that practical. Why not classify typefaces around what they are designed to be used for and work from there… So enough of my ranting about classification systems… I’ve chosen a number of typefaces to look at for this project and based my decision on the traditional classifications and within these selected typefaces that I have used or come across for a particular reason. This is what I am going to work with:

Old Style: Bembo

Transitional: Bulmer (this was used in my wedding invitation last year so has sentimental value – the quote on the homepage is an extract from it) and Times New Roman

Modern: Bodoni

Slab Serif: Memphis

Humanist Sans: Frutiger (I used this in my PAC project and have become rather attached to it!)

Geometric Sans: Futura

Grotesque: Franklin Gothic

I’ve made a start looking at the first three, printing out the lower and upper case alphabets and looking at these. I then made an interesting discovery that led me down an alley. For Bodoni I had selected the ITC version “cut” in 1994 as I had read in Robert Bringhurst’s excellent The Elements of Typographic Style that this was the closest to the original cut by Bodoni himself. I was troubled by this version as it did not seem like the Bodoni I was familiar with. I recalled unbracketed hairline serifs and very clean lines which this version did not appear to have. It seemed less open, with smaller counters. Bringhurst also mentions Bauer Bodoni as another favourite and fortunately I had this version as well. I put them both on screen and was struck by how different they looked. The latter was the Bodoni I was familiar with.



I’ve then done some more experimentation in Illustrator on particular letterforms both to highlight some of the differences and also to see if there is method I could use across this exercise. Here’s the results on the uppercase J, Q and H and lowercase a. The black letterforms are ITC and the red Bauer:

In the J, note the different descenders and serifs. The cap height of the letter is different as well – Bauer is a higher. With the H, note the different length of the crossbar. The a has very different shaped counters and the overall shape of the letterform is different – Bauer is flatter. With the Q, note the different size counters, the different stroke width and, most interestingly, the very different tail shapes.


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One response to “Typeface anatomy

  1. Pingback: I’ve made a start to the typeface anatomy… « PgCertDVC

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