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a typeface

“The letters don’t get their true delight when done in haste & discomfort, nor merely done with diligence & pain, but first when they are created with love and passion.” —Giambattista Bodoni


Giambattista, the designer

A twenty-eight -year-old Bodoni was asked to take charge of the Stamperia Reale, the official press of Ferdinand, Duke of Parma, as a private printer to the court. He printed official documents and publications desired by the Duke, in addition to projects conceived and initiated by Bodoni. His initial design influence was Fournier le Jeune, whose foundry supplied type and ornaments to the Stamperia Reale after Bodoni took charge. The quality of Bodoni’s design and printing, even though scholarship and proofreading were sometimes lacking, created a growing international reputation. In 1790, the Vatican invited Bodoni to Rome to establish a press for printing the classics there, but the Duke countered with an offer of expanded facility and a privilege of printing for other clients. Bodoni elected to remain in Parma.

3 Origin of the Typeface

Bodoni was no revolutionary. The modern roman style, which is attributed to him, did not spring forth as if by magic. When he was young, the work of John Baskerville served as his ideal. In later years, the work of his great Parisian competitor, Francois Didot, influenced him dramatically. Bodoni was always, in some manner, dependent on the work of other, bolder contemporaries. Yet despite these influences, he was not a copyist. A comparison of Bodoni’s type to Didot’s two designs that on the surface may appear virtually identical is a perfect example. There are distinct similarities in their work, and Bodoni surely studied Didot’s designs very carefully, but a close examination reveals that Bodoni’s weight transitions are more gradual and his serifs still maintain a slight degree of bracketing. He carefully evaluated the designs of his great competitor, consciously remaining, however, always just slightly behind the radical modernism of his contemporary. Perhaps this explains to some degree the longevity of Bodoni’s type designs. They were radical enough to be considered new and different, but not so different that they became the 18th-century versions of fad designs.

U Characteristics

Bodoni created typefaces and typography to impress the eye. Few would deny that Bodoni’s typefaces are beautiful; unfortunately, few would say they are also easy to read. By current standards, his

designs are, in fact, the antithesis of what an easily readable typeface should be. However, his goal

was not to create typography to be appreciated by

the masses. His books and other printing exercises were large regal efforts meant to be looked upon

and appreciated as works of art, rather than as mere pieces of communication. Bodoni’s hairline serifs, strong thick-and-thin stroke contrast, and abrupt weight changes cloud the reading process. Bodoni is no quiet servant to the communication process; it is a design that demands attention.

cap height


Bodoni Typeface counter








Bodoni 72 ITC TT Bodoni’s elegant typeface has inspired many modern revivals. Some notables include Morris Fuller Benton’s, Bodoni Old Face by G.G. Lange, and Tom Carnasse’s WTC Our Bodoni. In addition to the Roman, Italic, and Bold fonts some type families include other variations

Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs. Book

Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs. Book Italic

Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs. Bold

Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs. Small Caps

such as Ultrabold, Condensed and Small Caps.

Bodoni MT

Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs. Book

Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs. Italic

Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs. Bold

Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs. Ultra Bold


Defining Characteristics

U When used carefully, Bodoni type can create

typography that is exceptionally beautiful, even elegant, but not particularly easy to read.

Bodoni’s defining characteristics that make it such

an elegant typeface are the large contrast between thick and thin, the barely bracketed serifs and

the vertical stress on the rounded strokes. Other characteristics that give Bodoni its beautiful

appearance are its cupped top serifs, ball–shaped terminals and thin, ovular counters.

o b

The uppercase letter U is a perfect example to demonstrate Bodoni’s gradual transition from thick to thin. Subtle brackets connect the thin, rounded serifs to the tops of either strokes. This letter is also representative of one of Bodoni’s characteristics, the ovular counter.

Ovular Counters

J r l U Ball–shaped Terminal

Cupped Top Serifs



As striking as Bodoni’s types are, however, he was no revolutionary. When he was young, the work of John Baskerville served as his ideal; when Bodoni opened his first printing office for the Duke of Parma,

AA he did so with type from Fournier, the French printer and publisher. In later years, the work of his great

Parisian competitor, François Didot, influenced him dramatically. While there are distinct similarities in

the two designers’ work, a close examination reveals that the weight transitions of Bodoni’s designs

are more gradual, and serifs still maintain a slight

degree of bracketing. There is even a hint of old style traits in Bodoni’s fonts. Didot designs, however, are

quintessential neoclassical fonts with geometrically

precise hairline serifs and a rigid vertical stroke stress.



curved serifs

no brackets on hairline serifs

minimal bracketing on serifs

extreme thicks and thins

tip comes to a point

high crossbar

low cross bar

tip is flat

crossbar is thinnest stroke

M MM Didot



AA minimal bracketing

hairline serif

bracketed serifs

middle does not touch baseline

extreme thicks and thins

short, but wide letter size

thin lines meet thicks at corners

middle tip is straight not pointed

narrow letter


bracketing on slab serifs wide and short letter tip is flat

curved serif ball terminal small space between terminal and stroke



straight serif circular terminal large contrast between hook and stroke

j j slanted serif short letter almost no hook to terminal





Q Bodoni

Q Didot

Q Baskerville


Bodoni bowl extends further than curve in bottom ball terminal bracketed serifs curve where stroke meets bowl curved counters

Didot counters straight on one side extreme thicks and thins thin terminal slab serifs

Baskerville bracketed slab serifs diagonal extension slab terminal wide letter




The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.

The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.

narrow letters large contrast of thick and thin metric kerning is closed overall darkest color



wide letters extreme thicks and thins open kerning open leading overall lightest color


wide letters bracketed serifs less constrast of thicks and thins overall darker color than Didot




1 Philip B. Meggs, A History of Graphic Design (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1992), 124. 2 Alexander S. Lawson, Anatomy of a Typeface (Boston: D.R. Godine, 1990), 46, 48. 3 Alexander S. Lawson, Anatomy of a Typeface (Boston: D.R. Godine, 1990), 46, 49, 50. 4 Robert Bringhurst, The Elements of Typographic Style (Point Roberts, WA: Hartley & Marks, 1992), 217, 218. Haley, Allan. Typographic Milestones. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1992. (SC: Z250 A2 H18 1992 4o) Lawson, Alexander S. Anatomy of a Typeface. Boston: D.R. Godine, 1990. (SC: Z250 L34 1990) Bringhurst, Robert. The Elements of Typographic Style. Vancouver: Hartley and Marks,1997. (A&A: Z246 B745 1996 and Vault) Jaspert, W. Pincus. The Encyclopaedia of Typefaces. Poole, Dorset: Blandford Press; New York: Distributed in the U.S. by Sterling, 1983. (SC: Z250 J36 1983) Cleland, T. M. Giambattista Bodoni of Parma. Boston: Society of Printers, 1916. (SC: Z232 B66 C5)

This book was designed by Jessica Yeung for Typography I during the fall semester of 2010. The fonts used were Univers and Bodoni 72 ITC. This book was printed in the Communication Design lab printer in Bixby 213 of the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis.

“A designer should only use these 5 typefaces: Bodoni, Helvetica, Times Roman, Century, Futura.” —Massimo Vegnelli

Bodoni Typeface Book  
Bodoni Typeface Book  

This was a project about the Bodoni Typeface, both its history and physical attibutions.