Thursday, June 26, 2014

5 Favorite Fonts of an Old Typesetter

Metal moveable type. Photo by Willi Heidelbach.
I began my career as a typesetter in 1973 at the Key West Citizen, "the only daily published newspaper in Monroe County." The printing industry was in the throes of switching from hot metal typesetting to phototypesetting, or "cold" type.

Until the advent of this new technology, men dominated the typesetting field because of the weight of the big wooden trays that held the lead type. It took broad shoulders and strong forearms to carry them. The introduction of cold type in the 1960s opened the door for women, like me, and all I needed to know was how to type.

Phototypesetting equipment prevailed throughout the
1970s and 1980s until Apple introduced the Macintosh
and desktop publishing was born.
As long as I can remember I have loved the physical act of writing. I spent hours as a child copying poems, stories and dictionary definitions just to have something to write. I was convinced at the age of 11 that I had lived as one of those monks of the middle ages, illuminating manuscripts for the wealthy patrons of the church.  I had visited the library often and I learned that some of the larger European monasteries contained separate areas for the monks who specialized in the production of manuscripts, a place called a scriptorium, and I could well imagine how those spaces felt and smelled. It was vivid in my imagination as a child, and actually is, still. Within the walls of a scriptorium were individualized areas where a monk could sit and work on a manuscript without being disturbed by his fellow brethren. To me, that would be heaven.

Typesetting was a natural fit for me and, as such, I spent twenty years of my life doing it for newspapers, magazines, advertising agencies and print shops. And, because I spent so much of my time immersed in type, I developed a list of favorites. So, on with the show!

Always at the top of my list is Garamond! There are a few versions, but, whichever one you're using, they all appear to have the characteristics of the original Garamond. The letterforms convey a sense of fluidity and there are unique characteristics in the letters, such as the small bowl of the lower case a and the small eye of the e. Long extenders and top serifs have a downward slope. And, the italics is, without question, THE most beautiful of any italic font found anywhere. More importantly, Garamond is considered to be among the most legible and readable serif typefaces for use in print (offline) applications today. It is truly a timeless font and belongs on all "best of" font lists.

My favorite sans serif type is Gill Sans, designed by graphic artist Eric Gill in 1926 when he painted a sign above the door of a bookstore. He was later commissioned to develop an entire family of fonts based on his design, and the story is that his font was meant to combat the "modern" faces coming out of Germany in that era, like Futura and Kabel. Gill Sans was released by Monotype Corporation in 1928 and has been a favorite of designers around the world ever since. Gill designed this face to function equally well as a text face and for display. THAT is what makes it a great font family, in my humble opinion, and it is my first font when I'm looking for sans serif body copy. I like the balance of the interletter relationships. I think it's because the capital M is based on the proportions of a square with the middle strokes meeting at the centre of that square. That gives it less of a mechanical feel than geometric sans serifs like Futura. It is a beautiful face and continues to thrive to this day, often being used to bring an artistic or cultural sensibility to projects. I truly love Gill Sans.

ITC Avant Garde is a distinctive sans serif that I consider the "Thoroughly Modern Millie" of typefaces. According to Wikipedia, it is based on the logo font used in the Avant Garde magazine of the 1970s. Herb Lubalin devised the logo concept and its companion headline typeface, then he and Tom Carnase, a partner in Lubalin's design firm, worked together to transform the idea into a full-fledged typeface. It is very modern, yet, not mechanical. The roundness of the letters lends to its readability and, like Gill Sans, works as a headline type as well as a text face.

Palatino is the name of a large typeface family that began as an old style serif typeface designed by Hermann Zapf in Frankfurt, Germany. First released in 1948 by the Linotype foundry, it would be one of the Macintosh's original typefaces when the first Apple computer appeared in the 1980s. Like Garamond, it is highly readable as text and as a headline font, but, where Garamond is elegant letterforms (think Giorgio Armani), Palatino has a softness that is welcoming to the eye (think Ralph Lauren). I adore Palatino and use it over and over.

If I were trapped on a desert island and could only have one script font, it would have to be ITC Edwardian Script. Designed by Edward Benguiat, it has a musical character quality, but is clearly a calligraphic typeface. It is truly a delicate, yet sophisticated typeface. It is reported that the characters were each drawn and redrawn until the connections of the letters was perfected to create the look of true handwriting. It's probably THE most readable script font out there.

I still purchase fonts and have a library of fonts from across the web, acquired over the years. I am a font whore. But, when I am stuck, or don't know how to begin a project, I will go to one of these typefaces to help me tell the story. It works every single time.

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