Lecture 02.02: Typeface Identification


The goal of this lec­ture is to iden­tify and describe the char­ac­ter­is­tics of the main cat­e­gories of type and par­tic­u­lar typefaces.


The objec­tive of the lec­ture is to present key char­ac­ter­is­tics of type styles and pro­vide sam­ples of indi­vid­ual specimens.

Background Reading

Kane: Devel­op­ment, p 16–49

Bringhurst: p 12–16; Chap­ter 7, 119–142

Typeface Classification


    • 1450–1500 AD; North­ern Europe (Ger­many)
    • high x‑height, com­pact, mim­ics hand let­ter­ing of past (cal­lig­ra­phy)
    • Tra­di­tional: Guten­berg 42 Line Bible
  • Con­tem­po­rary: Clois­ter Black, Goudy Text


  • 1475–1775, South­ern Europe
  • adap­ta­tion of human­ist hand script, based on Roman inscrip­tion for upper­case, low­er­case adapted over long peri­ods; sturdy rounded serifs,
  • Tra­di­tional: Bembo, Caslon, Garamond
  • Con­tem­po­rary: Palatino


  • 1500–1550, Italy
  • Script based, angled, vari­ance in stroke width, orig­i­nally low­er­case only, var­ied com­pared to Roman let­ter­forms; now con­sid­ered a sup­ple­ment to Roman forms
  • Tra­di­tional: Dorovar
  • Con­tem­po­rary: Adobe Gara­mond Italic


  • 1500–1550, Eng­land, west­ern Europe
  • long, curvi­lin­ear let­ter­forms, mim­ics engrav­ing, ultra thin, sev­erly slanted
  • Tra­di­tional: Kuen­stler Script, Snell Roundhand
  • Con­tem­po­rary: Brush Script


  • 1750, Europe, (Eng­land and Italy)
  • Refine­ment of old­style forms based on advances in tech­nol­ogy, thicker con­trast thick to thin, sharper serifs
  • Tra­di­tional: Baskerville, Cen­tury, Times Roman
  • Con­tem­po­rary: Amer­i­cana, ITC Slimbach


  • 1775, West­ern Europe (Italy and France)
  • Extreme con­trast thick and thin, fur­ther refine­ment of old­style, care­ful atten­tion to space; do not con­fuse with mid-cen­tury modern
  • Tra­di­tional: Bodoni, Didot
  • Con­tem­po­rary: Lino­type Didot, ITC Fenice

Square Serif

  • 1825, Eng­land, US, indus­tri­al­ized Europe
  • AKA Slab Serif, Heavy, thick ser­ifs, lit­tle vari­a­tion in stroke width,
  • Tra­di­tional: Claren­don, Memphis
  • Con­tem­po­rary: Rock­well, Serifa

Sans Serif

  • 1900, Eng­land and Germany
  • AKA “Gothic” or “Grotesque” from estab­lish­ment; let­ter­forms with no serif, more uni­form stroke width, many sub­tle vari­a­tions (geo­met­ric, human­ist, etc)
  • Tra­di­tional: Akzi­denz Grotesk, News Gothic, Trade Gothic, Gill Sans
  • Con­tem­po­rary: Hel­vetica, Univers

Semi Serif or Serif/Sans

  • 1990, US West­ern, Europe
  • Com­bi­na­tion of serif and sans, some omis­sions and char­ac­ter dif­fer­ences, often coordinated
  • Con­tem­po­rary: Rotis, Stone


  • Var­i­ous, gen­er­ally after 1800, 1950 and 1990
  • Pic­turesque, cre­ative, vivid, dynamic, heav­ily altered, use extremely limited
  • Tra­di­tional: Ardold Böck­lin, Zebrawood
  • Con­tem­po­rary: Comic Script, Comic Strip, Critter