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Bodoni was no revolutionary. The modern roman style, which is attributed to him, did not, as many would believe, spring forth as if by magic. While the letters he cut and the books he printed were more refined and of exceptionally higher quality than most of the work originating before or during his lifetime, it would be difficult to classify any of Bodoni’s efforts as fundamentally new. 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.


Bodoni MT Regular

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Bodoni MT Book Italic

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Bodoni MT Bold

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Bodoni MT Ultra Bold

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centered tail

a round dot

double story

vertically oriented

hairline serif

slightly hooked

thick–thin contrast


Bodoni created typefaces and typography to impress the eye. His designs were studied efforts meant to be seen as well as read. 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. Had he known this fact, however, Bodoni would probably not have been very upset. 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. If used carefully, Bodoni type can create typography that is exceptionally beautiful, even elegant, but not particularly easy to read due to its abrupt weight changes. If used poorly, Bodoni’s extreme weight contrast and vertical stress can cause a typographic effect called dazzling which is visually uninviting and exceptionally disruptive to the reading process.

Bodoni is commonly known for its extreme thick–to–thin contrast and right–angular, hairline serifs. Some distinct characteristics of Bodoni are its centered tail under the uppercase Q, slightly hooked uppercase J, round dot over the lowercase i, and its double story lowercase a.












cap height





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. There is even hint of “old style” in Bodoni’s work. He followed Didot’s lead, carefully evaluating the designs of his great competitor, consciously remaining, however, always just slightly behind the radical modernism of his contemporary. Baskerville is yet another comparable serif font; both Baskerville and Bodoni have high contrast of thick and thin, and many of the letterforms look extremely similar. The biggest difference between the two is that Bodoni has a taller cap height and tighter curves. For instance, the terminal of the j is a very tight curve in Bodoni while the curve in the Baskerville j is much more traditional.


The typical features of Bodoni revivals and comparisons are abrupt hairline serifs, ball terminals, vertical axes, high contrast and exaggerated modulation.



Bodoni Didot




The crossbar of Bodoni’s lowercase a is a relatively flat horizontal while Didot’s lowercase a has more of a fluid, sweeping crossbar. Bodoni’s a has a round terminal compared to Didot’s geometric terminal.

Bodoni’s lowercase m has hairline serifs and a heavy thick–to–thin contrast compared to Baskerville’s lower case m, which has rounded, bracketed serifs and less dramatic contrast overall.

Bodoni’s uppercase w utilizes a dramatic crossbar to connect the ascenders of this capital and create unique areas of negative space, unlike Didot’s, which has a similar central intersection but traditionally distant cap serifs.


Bodoni’s uppercase e has the typface’s consistent hairline serifs and a crossbar capped with a lengthy serif, while Baskerville’s uppercase e has bracketed serifs and more vertical negative spaces.

Bodoni’s lowercase p has a narrow counter and heavy thick–to–thin contrast, particularly in its bowl. Baskerville’s lowercase p has a more consistent line weight and a flared serif at the top of its main stroke.

Bodoni’s defining uppercase q has a centered tail, unlike Didot’s decorative tail which stems from the bottom left of its bowl. Bodoni’s q also has a significantly more narrow counter compared to Didot’s wide center.

Bodoni is no quiet servant to the communication process; it is a design that demands attention.


At the age of twenty–eight, Bodoni was asked to take charge of the Stamperia Reale, the official press of Ferdinand, Duke of Parma. Bodoni accepted and became the 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, one that has proven to be timeless.


BIBLIOGRAPHY 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) Revival of the Fittest: Digital Versions of Classic Typefaces, essays by Carolyn Annand ... [et al.]; edited by Philip B. Meggs and Roy McKelvey, New York: RC Publications, 2000. (A&A: Z250.R45 2000) Bodoni, Giambattista. Manuale Tipografico, 1788. Facsimile a cura de Giovanni Mardersteig, Verona: Editiones Officinae Bodoni, 1968. (SC: Z232 B66 1788a 4o) Bodoni, Giambattista. Preface to the Manuale Tipografico of 1818, translated by H. V. Marrot, London: Lion & Unicorn Press, 1953. (SC: Z232 B66 1953)

This book was created by Julie Safferstein in the fall of 2012 at the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts for the Communication Design major studio, Typography I. It was printed on 28 lb Hammermill paper and uses the typefaces Bodoni MT and Frutiger.



An exploration of the typeface, Bodoni.