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Second edition

Digital Edition

The ultimate guide to the world’s best fonts

A Creative Bloq publication www.creativebloq.com


THE 100 BEST typefaceS EVER Where does your favourite come on the list?

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Right: Swedish agency Bedow used Atlas Grotesk extensively in this packaging for skincare company iNature. See www.bedow.se for more

Published by Commercial Type in 2012, Atlas Grotesk is, according to the foundry, a “clean and fresh sans-serif with relatively long ascenders but short descenders”. This adds up to a legible, comfortable typeface for body text – even when set with tight leading. The aesthetic, so says Commercial Type, was inspired in large part by the sans-serifs of the 1950s, specifically Dick Dooijes’s Mercator, released by the Amsterdam Type Foundry in 1957. With vertical proportions in common with American Gothic, the typeface sets more like Trade Gothic or Franklin Gothic than like Neue Haas Grotesk or Univers.

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Images courtesy of Bedow (www.bedow.se).

Kai Bernau, Susana Carvalho and Christian Schwartz, 2012


85 Left: Some of the optical refinements made on the Pro version (2010), compared to the older version designed in 1999. Images courtesy of ARS Type (www.arstype.com)

Left: The 2010 version of ARS Maquette brought a new Display style to the typeface. Note the spacing comparison here between the Text version (above) and the Display version (bottom)

Angus R. Shamal, 1999/2010 ARS Maquette was designed in 1999 and released in 2001. It immediately became popular amongst the design community – something the designer Angus R. Shamal puts down to “its clean and stylish simplicity”. ARS Maquette is a sans-serif typeface that shares similarities to Akzidenz-Grotesk, “by having less stroke contrast with counters that are more open and a design with a relatively plain appearance”. In 2010, Shamal revisited the design of the typeface, “rehashing those 11 year old drawings and notes to help reevaluate the design and its principals,” he says. The final result of his redesign was a Pro version of the typeface with OpenType features, italics, and wider language support.

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71 Fred Smeijers, 1999

Originally designed for the Dutch government gazette, Staatscourant, Arnhem is a masterful text font‌ 40


71 Left: Arnhem is a sublime text font, but works at bigger sizes, too – as this invitation by Illinoisbased graphic designer Maurice Meilleur proves (www.mauricemeilleur. com)

Left: Arnhem has found a home online as well, seen here on the Hyphen Press website

Dutch type designer Fred Smeijers enjoys remembering the Eureka moments in his career – and they have often been connected with the legibility of typefaces. There was the day in the mid-1980s, for instance, when he first succeeded in making a screen font more readable by adjusting the grayscale correctly. “I was so happy that I whistled as I cycled home,” he smiles. A similarly important, if not quite so far-reaching realisation, came during the development of the Arnhem font family. Arnhem was created in 1998 as a commission for the Dutch government gazette, Staatscourant. During the project, Smeijers had the rare opportunity to conduct extensive tests of his own and other typefaces on newspaper presses and paper. One of the insights he

gained was that simple wedge serifs did more to improve legibility than any other feature, no matter how cleverly devised. This feature was only one of many that made Arnhem an immediate success among text fonts for use in newspapers and books. And it became the showcase font of Fred Smeijers own small foundry OurType, which launched in 2002. Fellow typographer Erik Spiekermann has listed Arnhem among his top five typefaces, praising its qualities when used as text. The typeface is named after the city of Arnhem, in the eastern part of the Netherlands. The ArtEZ Institute of the Arts is situated there, and is an international centre for typographic greatness. Smeijers is an alumni of the school’s programme.

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54 Right: Caslon’s Pica Black, dating back to the 1730s, is the basis of today’s Old English Text by Monotype

William Caslon, c1730 No type collection is complete without a blackletter typeface, and perhaps the best choice is Monotype’s Old English Text. Based on designs dating back to the early 18th century by William Caslon, it’s got all the chilling qualities of the medieval calligraphic script so many early typefaces attempted to replicate. Whereas blackletter was originally used for text in the 16th century, today it’s only really used at display sizes. Of course, blackletter type wasn’t confined to England, and there are numerous excellent German, Italian and French examples. Along with its age-old charm, Caslon’s blackletter is refined and clear. It was redrawn by Monotype in 1935, and is now available digitally as Old English Text.

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Left: For its famous blackletter logo, Motorhead used a German typeface. The song titles on this 1977 single, however, are delivered in Old English Text


Copyright Š Transport for London

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Left: The famous London Underground logo, designed by Edward Johnston in 1916

Edward Johnston, 1916

Above: As part of an internal project exploring the creative agency’s favourite typefaces, Two Times Elliot (www.2xelliott.co.uk) designed a P22 Underground specimen

If you live in London, this typeface is about as ubiquitous as it gets. The sans-serif was designed by British craftsman Edward Johnston in 1916. It became available as a commercial typeface for the first time in 1997 when the London Transport Museum licensed the original Johnston font to the P22 Type Foundry. Originally, the typeface contained Regular, Bold, and Extras weights (the latter, not found in the expanded Underground Pro, being ornamental symbols including graphic elements inspired by the design motifs of items including maps, tile patterns and seat covers). Later, designer Paul Hunt expanded the typeface to create P22 Underground Pro. This brought 19 OpenType fonts and expanded weights to Thin, Light, Book, Medium (a Titling option that mimics London Transport signage is offered in the medium weight), Demi and Heavy. As well as the common use on the London Underground, the typeface was also used on signage for the 2012 Olympic Games.

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28 Above: Penguin has used Avant Garde as the cover typeface throughout its Modern Classics series

Right: A customised version of Avant Garde appeared on David Guetta’s Nothing but the Beat album cover

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Left: Issue number eight of Avant Garde magazine, set entirely in the typeface designer Herb Lubalin and his team created for the publication

Left: Although Avant Garde isn’t particularly known for its lower case, the fully-circular bowls of the a and d feature heavily in the Adidas logo

Advertisers and art directors were crazy about the lettering and wanted to use it in their own work too. Phototypesetting companies began offering the font, even though they didn’t have any licenses for it. As a direct result of this, International Typeface Corporation (ITC) was set up in 1970 as the sole company authorised to sell the typeface for use. In 1971, Avant Garde magazine closed down, but the typeface it used continued in its popularity. ITC soon released a serif version of Avant Garde, which was designed by Toni Di Spigna and given the name Lubalin Graph. For some designers now, the typeface looks dated, loud, and very much a product of its time with too many associations with the late-60s and early-70s to make it useful in many contemporary applications. Despite these criticisms, it is an extremely popular

typeface, particularly among amateur designers. However, although popular amongst amateurs, it is not a beginner’s typeface or an especially easy typeface to work with. As with most constructed sans-serifs, its areas of application are relatively limited. The idea of constructing a typeface, rather than evolving it from handwritten lettering, goes back to the 1920s, to Functionalism and the mechanised graphics of Paul Renner. Futura, Erbar and Bernhard Gothic all date from this period. But nobody had dared to depart as far from typographical norms as Herb Lubalin. The prevalence of Avant Garde in the digital era can be attributed to its inclusion with the first PostScript printers. And as only a handful of non-classical-appearing fonts were available at that time, Avant Garde was always required to serve as the outlandish option for new free-thinking and radical publications to choose.

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8 Eric Gill, 1930

After helping craft an impressive sansserif for the London Underground, Gill was recruited to create a Futura-buster 148


8 Left: Not surprisingly, the jacket text for Eric Gill’s pocketbook on typography is set in his most famous typeface

Left: Eric Gill’s typeface is still used for the BBC’s logo and in its in-house stationery, as well its signs and internal notices

When Futura became a best-seller in Germany in the late 1920s, Stanley Morison began looking for a British equivalent for his employer Monotype. Morison set off to the Welsh hamlet of Capel-y-ffin, where the 42-year-old Eric Gill had moved in 1924 to complete his Perpetua typeface. Gill didn’t need much convincing. In London, two weeks later, they examined Gill’s old and new type sketches together. Morison was astonished to see that, with only a few changes, many of the Johnston characters made a wonderfully readable text font, despite their small x-height. What distinguishes this sans-serif is not only the pronounced contrast in weights, but indeed that all its fonts have a distinct character of their own because they were not derived mechanically from the same design.

The light font has a heavily hooded f and a tall t, and is open and elegant in appearance. The regular is compact and muscular, with a flat-bottomed b, flat-topped p and q, and triangular-topped t. The bold Gill Sans reflects the open style of the light, while the extra bold and ultra bold have a flamboyant character of their own. The Gill Sans family reflects its creator’s understanding of craftsmanship. Eric Gill’s sculptural and typographical oeuvre has an indisputable place in British cultural history. Nevertheless, Fiona MacCarthy’s 1989 biography of Gill has cast a shadow over the artist’s work. His strict Catholicism did not deter him from an incestuous relationship with his sister, or from sexually abusing his children. In his diaries, Gill even gives a detailed description of his sexual experiments with the family dog.

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