Serif Love

Since my font addiction is well and thriving, I thought I’d share some of my favorite fonts. Finding it too difficult a feat to manage, I narrowed it down even further, to 5 awesome serifs.

What can I say, it allows me to spend ample time fully appreciating each typeface to the level it deserves. I am a purist after all.

Serifs are the typeface of tradition, integrity, class and strength. The typeface most associated with the fashion and editorial industries, it exudes confidence, and a perfectionist attitude. It’s also the classification of typeface that is heavily used to denote something sexy, demure, and equally feminine and masculine in approach and application.

Here they are, in no particular order, five of the most beautiful serif faces I’ve ever seen:

1) Baskerville

Oh the grandest daddy of them all, Baskerville is the serif that started my beloved love affair with typography. It is an elegant book face, renowned for its refined beauty, legibility, and its timeless ability to be used in purely typographic compositions. It’s classified as a transitional typeface– an intermediary between the Old Style letterforms of Caslon, and the Modern typefaces of the future Bodoni and Didot.  Around the late 1600’s, the exclusive Romain du Roi* was making its rounds across Europe, and John Baskerville felt those rigid proportions too mathematical and cold. His aim was to create a softer typeface featuring rounded bracketed serifs and a vertical axis to its letters, and Baskerville was born. It felt out of favor due to the onset of the Modern serifs, but was again revived in 1917 by Bruce Rogers for the Harvard University Press. It’s since been released across multiple foundries from Linotype, URW++, Monotype, as well as many others.

In 1996, Zuzana Licko designed a typeface inspired by the classic forms of Baskerville, featuring wider x heights, and an all around rounder/more feminine forms. She named the typeface Mrs. Eaves, after Baskerville’s mistress.

*The Romain du Roi, or King’s Roman, was a typeface commissioned by King Louis XIV in 1692 for use by the Imprimerie Royale, the official printing works of the French government. It marked a turning point in typography for being constructed from “logical design”, in that it was mapped out rigorously on grids before being cut into metal, along with introducing an increased contrast between thick and thin elements.

The full character set for Baskerville shows all the proof it needs to be declared a typographic jewel. The uppercase letters communicate a strong and silent type confidence, with the lowercase employing a welcoming roundness that signifies warmth. It’s strong and sensitive, how perfect. The numerals in this face show what Old style, or Hanging figures look like. Looking into these beloved typefaces of mine illuminated me on the reason for old style numerals, when used they integrate better with lowercase letters and small caps, and their play on variety of shape is better for reading.

While all I want to do is rave about that luscious Q, there are other letters in Baskerville that deserve as much attention. The C really stands out to me to represent just why I love this typeface so much. A beautiful letter balanced in transparent refinement and clear-cut strength. It’s bold but weightless, and I love how the brackets dip in around the curve of the letterform. Ah, finally. The Q! I fell hard for this letter during sophomore year at Ringling College of Art and Design, where we had to draw all the different styles of Q throughout the serif spectrum. This Q was the bees knees. It pretty much made the assignment, and we’ve been happy together ever since. It really speaks to Baskerville’s prowess to the profession to create such a smooth transition of thick and thin within the tail, without alienating it from the rest of the typeface. Remember, modern faces such as Bodoni had yet to be invented, and typefaces prior to Baskerville held on to a rigidity in form established early on. Weight variety didn’t happen, and yet this gorgeous execution remains as succulent as some of the newer serifs using old faces as models. The leg of the R is another swoon inducing aspect to this typeface. I love its gentle slope to it’s bracket. It’s a smirk on the end of a quippy sentence, that’s what that leg is. The S is another example of solid structure with a transparent ease. It must be the combination of the strong edged brackets and the generous but restrained curves. It creates such a pleasing balance that’s great for anything demanding to be treated with integrity and honesty. Baskerville is not for the weak-minded, but for the courageous and impassioned. I mean if Benjamin Franklin loved it, it’s practically a patriotic duty to respect these magnificent forms.

2) Leitura

There are no two ways about it, Leitura is a luscious and luxurious serif typeface. Featuring a variety of styles and weights, including a humanist sans-serif, a transitional weight serif, a modern weight serif, a slab serif,  a custom set of dingbat symbols, an outrageously gorgeous italic swash set, and even more than that if you can believe it. It was created by talented designer Dino Dos Santos who wanted to design “an array of neutral typefaces that could work together and achieve an invisibility– lacking in details that would distract from the content”. And it does so with beautiful finesse.  What I love about this typeface is its ability to all work cohesively without tiring out its beautiful visual rhythms. Across any medium, Leitura really does stand out as a stellar typeface for any purpose. It’s currently the one I’m using for myself, and has been for the past 3 years.

If Baskerville is for the courageous, Leitura is for the straight up egoists out there. In its display face, it’s bold, loud, and makes no apologies about its flashy beauty. In it’s text face, it’s clear, bright, and in its roundness comes across as quite happy. Although the designer wanted to create a typeface to work across classifications and forms, the thing I love about this typeface is how it ranges from ballsy swagger to understated quirk. The W in Leitura Display has a wonderful strong contrast between the thick and thin strokes. The bracket is crisp and hard-edged, while the transition from stroke and bracket is a graceful swoop. The lowercase ‘a’ of the Roman 1 text weight has a low counter, featuring an interesting squat characteristic that rounds out, but doesn’t become saggy. A saggy ‘a’ would be a sad day indeed. Another character I love is the lowercase g, its ear reminds me of an adorable quail’s plume. The quick curves of the bowl of the g mimic the sudden flattening of the a’s bowl, but without becoming redundant. The Display Swash R is a fancy one, isn’t it? It’s extra wide swoop and rounded terminal creates a beautiful consistency with the long leg extension and that sweet little flick at the end. It’s strong but oh so sassy. I threw in the & because of its amazing combination of that delicious rounded terminal and the tapered curve. It creates such an exquisite form, I had to share it with all of you.

3) Donatora

I had a truly existential crisis over whether or not to include this typeface. It was either this or Filosofia, another  gorgeous modern typeface. I finally chose Donatora because it’s not as well-known, but as beautiful. Donatora is an updated take on the Modernist forms shown in elegant faces such as Didot and Bodoni, and in fact designed by Neil Summerour as an attempt to soften those same classic forms. The designer wanted to create a more legible text face, and to do that he needed to caress the sharp 90 degree angle on the brackets. Taken from the Positype website, “Modulation and stresses have been minimized in everything but the display weights. A chiseled transition was used frequently to resolve the connections between vertical stresses with the end of a serif or the resolution of a ball terminal. ”

It is these ball terms and rounded bracket serifs that I find so darling in this face. It’s fantastic in a text weight, exquisite in logos and display faces, and creates a strong, classic feminine presence.

The character set of Donatora is a slender, finely tuned, and sweetly detailed. The uppercase letters feature strong lines and a clear structure, while the lowercase letters feature swoops and swirls, acting as ‘scoops’ for the various letterforms; specifically g, j, s and y.  I was surprised when the numerals were all aligned on the baseline (as opposed to the old style alignment), but the mix of straight brackets and ball terminals (shown on 1, 4, and 3, 5, and 7, respectively) carries through the design beautifully.

I love this typeface’s feminine take on strong form. The A is pretty straight forward, but I love it’s balance. It’s not that extreme in the way of thick and thin contrast, but the soft roundness of its serif brackets make it feel stable and clear. What sells me is the W. It’s refined, luxurious, and very striking. The inner strokes cross and connect, creating a beautiful play with negative space. The K also has an interesting feature in that the arm doesn’t truly connect with the heavier vertical stroke. It creates a balanced airiness within the form. The lowercase f is as elegant as they come, including two delectable ball terminals combined with a sharp cross-bar. The lowercase g is rather perky, with a bouncy ear and a tapered bowl. The lowercase y includes the more expected front facing descender, but the ball terminal is sweetly turned upward, making it feel precise and darling.

4) Farnham

Now this is a serif typeface that I could love as whole heartedly as Baskerville. It’s another transitional serif, but with a sharp modern flair. Designed by Christian Swartz for Font Bureau in 2004, Farnham is a translation of form inspired by the punchcutting techniques of Johann Fleischman, a contemporary of John Baskerville. Taken from the Font Bureau’s website, “Expert in advanced tools and the qualities of fine steel, he pushed beyond the frontiers of his time, cutting active typefaces famous worldwide for their “sparkle.””

It is this sparkle that Swartz calls upon in his beautiful typeface. Utilizing the ball terminal as well as an angular ‘flag’ bracket makes this typeface friendly, crisp and exuberant all in equal measure. It’s variety in weights and styles makes it ideal for uses across all printed media, such as newspapers, books, magazines and corporate use. I also would love to use this on a logo some place. It would make for the friendliest of experts, don’t you think?

I selected the light weight of the text face of Farnham, even though there were 46 other options to choose from. Perhaps that’s where my obsession with this typeface stems from; its sheer amount of brilliance spread across 46 weights. That’s a lot of brilliance, people. I’m hard pressed to think of another typeface that’s similarly authoritative and yet stunningly cheerful about it. It’s a challenging mix, but Farnham seamlessly nails it.

If I went through all the ‘Best of’ characters from this face, I’d be writing for the rest of my life. The italic swash N is a splendid example of an ostentatious alternate; it’s just so fabulous and fancy free!

Of course you can’t go hog-wild with swashy alternates, but picking and choosing the best ones will always make your type sing off the page. Not even feeling out of place, but featuring very different details, the lower case letters of k, r, and y, blend the signature ‘specials’ of this typeface in a way that allows each element to shine individually. The angled brackets have a great edgy quality which complements the chunky serifs well, and in the ‘r’, both of those aspects are great supports for the fabulously round ball terminal. It’s a seriously elegant trifecta of typographic nuance. I wanted to show some variation since I have so much to choose from, and using a black weight lowercase g proves my point wonderfully. Unlike most typefaces, where the thicker you go the more obtrusive it feels, Farnham feels even more giddy and welcoming. The g is practically bouncing off it’s baseline. Less of a study on contrast, the thicker weight just accentuates the already warm-hearted feel of this transitional serif. The lowercase y features all the contrast present in the k and r samples, but I enjoy the tiny detail of the nick in the left arm. It’s an interesting, unexpected little extra that puts a little more personal quirk into this knowledge-heavy bad boy.

5) Holmen

Mmm, the sexiness of Holmen is relentless and undeniable. That y curve is as seductive as they come. Created for FontFont by Per Jørgensen to be “kinder on the reader’s eyes” than Bodoni or Didot in a text weight setting. Another modification of the classic Bodoni/Didot forms, I like to think of it as Holmen is to the high-end couture fashion world as Donatora is to the classic elegance of ladylike.  I am in love with it’s mixture of curves and straight lines, as well as its  beautiful combination of ball terminals and eased-in brackets. I have a hard time picturing it’s legibility for text copy, but it’s uses in the editorial world is plentiful and drool-worthy.

Looking at all the characters together, it’s easy to see this at least in headlines, titles, and gorgeous posters. The forms are angular but not severe, and the roundness from the ball terminals along with the ease-in brackets create a crisp, flowing elegance.

I wanted to give you all a stellar close up of this deliciousness. The K is jubilant with its swashy arm ending with that fabulous ball terminal. Forgive me if this seems too kooky, but I see it dancing. This is a happy K, and I love that. The Q tail swoops languidly creating a wonderful balance in the ovular form/counter form and the play on thick and thin with the tail.  The enthusiasm featured in the K is balanced out with the structurally lovely A. The right bracket eases in with a subtle bezier curve, and the left stroke has a strong diagonal stroke featuring a similar sharp angle Bodoni is known for. I enjoy the play on these nuanced aspects across these capital letters. For the lowercase set, the f has an equal play on contrasts. The brackets are fairly severe, featuring a slight incline to increase legibility, but it’s the top ball terminal and it’s line variety that steals the show. It’s as if the terminal becomes a fresh pearl of dew dripping from a tender leaf. Crisp, refreshing, and just beautiful. The lower case v continues the varied consistency of the capital A’s form, utilizing the combination of thick and thin, angled and curves to balance out the elite personality. The lowercase y is why I have this typeface in my collection to begin with. It features all of what I love in the v, but includes a twist on the typical modern serif y. Having the ball terminal flip towards the back of the letterform acts like a sassy, irreverent and flirty characteristic; cheeky, even. Holmen knows it’s sexy, it flat-out demands the viewer to revere it for its shapes and figures; I will always oblige.

I had a total blast rummaging through all of my 1600 installed fonts to pull out the best and brightest serifs. What serifs are you drawn to? Or are you more of a sans-serif person? Looking forward to the next segment: 5 Sans Serifs that aren’t Helvetica.

2 thoughts on “Serif Love

  1. I must agree with you on Baskerville; it is truly is a beautiful font. I am surprised no one has commented on this article yet.

    1. I know, right?! Baskerville has been my favorite for a looooong while, but I also have fell in love with Caslon recently. The italics are GORGE.

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