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Adobe Type Library General Information | English


  1. Classifying Letterforms

Chapter Description

Today, designers and desktop publishers have thousands of typefaces in the Adobe Type Library to choose from, with new designs added on a regular basis. To help make the job of selecting type easier, they’ve organized the library according to a simplified classification system based on type styles. Most of the categories are drawn from the internationally recognized system adopted by the Association Typographique Internationale (ATypI). However, many typefaces fit into more than one category, and even the experts can’t agree. In addition, they’ve added categories unique to the Adobe Type Library, such as opticals.

Classifying Letterforms




The serif, or cross-line at the end of a stroke, probably dates from early Rome. Father Edward Catich proposed in his seminal work, The Origin of the Serif, that the serif is an artifact of brushing letters onto stone before cutting them. Serif, or roman, types are useful in text because the serifs help distinguish individual letters and lead the eye along a line of type. Serif typefaces fall into four main categories: Venetian, Garalde, Transitional, and Didone (Modern), as described next.

VENETIAN OLDSTYLE Named after the first roman typefaces that appeared in Venice in 1470, Venetian typefaces were initially designed to imitate the handwriting of Italian Renaissance scholars. These typefaces originated as book type and still serve that function well because of their clarity and legibility.

GARALDE OLDSTYLE Garalde typefaces include some of the most popular serif types in use today. They were first designed during the 16th and 17th centuries by such masters as the French printer Claude Garamond and the Venetian printer Aldus Manutius. The distinguishing features of Garalde typefaces are apparent in Adobe Garamond, which has a horizontal bar on the lowercase e, a slightly greater contrast between thick and thin strokes than Venetian types, axis curves that are inclined to the left, and bracketed serifs.

TRANSITIONAL In typography, the 18th century was a time of transition. Containing elements of both Garalde and Didone (Modern) typefaces, Transitional typefaces such as ITC New Baskerville and Caslon are beautifully suited for text because of their regularity and precision. The axis of the round characters is vertical or barely inclined, the contrast between hairlines and main strokes is slightly pronounced, and serifs are thin, flat, and bracketed.

DIDONE (MODERN) Improvements in paper production, composition, printing, and binding in the late 18th century profoundly affected the course typography would take. It was possible to develop a type style with strong vertical emphasis and fine hairlines; this is what the French family Didot did, and what the Italian printer Bodoni perfected. It is for these designers that the Didone type category is named. Characteristics of Didone types include strong contrast between thick and thin strokes, curved strokes on a vertical axis, and often serifs with no brackets.

SLAB SERIF The Industrial Revolution of the early 19th century encouraged the development of very bold printing types that could be used for a new vehicle of communication: advertising. Posters, flyers, and broadsides competed for attention. They were often created using slab serif typefaces, which, with their strong, square finishing strokes, proved extremely effective for commanding the reader’s attention.

There are actually three kinds of slab serif typefaces: slab serifs, Clarendons, and typewriter types. Slab serifs have a square, unbracketed serif; Clarendons have a square, bracketed serif; and typewriter types feature stems and serifs of similar weight as well as constant character widths.

Sans Serif

Though the first sans serif (without serif) typeface was issued in 1816, another hundred years passed before this style gained popularity. Then, in the 1920’s, when typography was heavily influenced by the “less is more” philosophy of Germany’s Bauhaus school of design, designers began creating typefaces without serifs. Ornamentation almost vanished. These typefaces are highly legible as display types and may also be used successfully in text. They generally fall into one of four categories: Grotesque, Neo-Grotesque, Geometric, and Humanist, as described next.