I Wants These Fonts

Yikes. Just now, I spent over US$600 on new typefaces. Well, not really. Mentally, I did, because I just quickly tallied up all of the typefaces I’ve seen recently and wished that I owned.

I’ll do that from time to time; window shopping, as it were, for new fonts to add to my repertoire, though I’ll rarely indulge myself by actually buying them. It’ll come as no surprise to most folks that, more often than not, I’ll fall back on Helvetica.

Still, I do have some desire to broaden my horizons. It’s just rare that I’ll find new typefaces that strike me as compelling enough to buy. The problem isn’t that I find recent typographic design lacking. Rather, it’s that I just don’t often find new typefaces that I feel are a good match for my particular ‘design voice’ (say what you will about the relative distinctiveness — or lack thereof — to be found in Helvetica, but it helps me say what I want). I draw a parallel between finding the right typefaces for my repertoire and putting together a wardrobe: there are plenty of clothes that I see worn by other people to smashing effect, but it’s not every style that I feel would look good on me.

That said, here are a few of the ones that I threw into my mental shopping cart.


The Hairline, Thin and Extra Light versions of Joshua Darden’s Omnes are gorgeous. They’re an elegant and slightly more playful alternative to the heavily used Light and Ultra Light weights of Helvetica Neue, and there’s just the slightest hint of a deco feel in there that I find to be very swank, for lack of a better term.


Apex Serif and Klavika

As readers of A Brief Message know, I’ve been enamored since last fall with Chester Jenkins’ warmly authoritative Apex Serif, which is the principal display type that I use for that project. This is one of the few contemporary fonts that have resonated with me so much that I actually purchased it and have continued to use it regularly. Unfortunately, I’m not quite as enamored of his Apex New, the sans serif interpretation that Jenkins released a few years after the original. It just doesn’t seem quite as definitive in its voice as the serif version.

Apex Serif

Instead, I think I’d prefer Process Type Foundry’s Klavika, which a friend turned me on to recently. It’s got a clean boldness that parallels Apex Serif nicely, though I have my doubts as to whether you could get away with using them side by side. It’s true, they both feature a certain humanness that redeems their respective robotic tones. But used together, I imagine they would come off quite coldly.


For a change of pace, I’ve been trying to imagine a design problem that I can assign myself in order to justify the purchase of Hoefler & Frere-Jones’ emphatic Ziggurat. It features exceedingly satisfying slab serifs and, for me, has something of the same comforting quality of New Century Schoolbook, one of my all-time favorites. But it’s so evocative of the archetypes of ‘Egyptian’ types that I’m not sure it would really work for me. Still, I could look at it for hours.


Speaking of typefaces I’ll never use, I get a kick out of Stefan Kjartansson’s Black Slabbath, which is at once imposing and deadpan hilarious. On the sales page for it, the copy describes Black Slabbath as “colossally black,” and I couldn’t put it any better. I find it entertaining as heck the way its forms seem to punch holes in the page (or screen); it’s so over-the-top aggressive that it’s quite charming, even though I wish there were a few measures more subtlety in the counters of the O and C shapes. Still, at just US$38.95, it’s tempting enough just to buy to have around. Like that copy of “Paranoid” that I’ve got but never listen to.

Black Slabbath
  1. I know what you mean. So many nice fonts but it’s hard to find a use for them. However I just bought Hoefler & Frere-Jones’ Gotham a few weeks ago and it was completely worth it — no buyer’s remorse whatsoever.

    I don’t know whether I like Klavika or not. The K just doesn’t look right. What do you think of Archer?

  2. I hear ya, I’m always looking at typefaces too. One I’ve been coveting lately is Monotype’s beautiful, many-weighted, and expensive SOHO. I just grabbed Underware’s Auto (the small preview doesn’t do it justice), and it’s one of the nicest new sans serif faces I’ve seen in a while.

  3. You know, after seeing that 3 out of your 5 are slabs, I advise that avert your eyes from this.

    When I saw Archer, my wife caught me looking like Ralphie longing for that Red Ryder BB gun in the department store window.

    – Bone

  4. I’ve spent maybe $400 this month on fonts for new projects. Egad. Faceplate Sans, Underware’s Dolly, Local Gothic, some thin weights of Knockout, and a couple of other things. Nice to have new colors in the palette, as it were.

  5. My gawd, you’re right. I remember noticing that the first time, then completing forgetting it when I wrote this post. I’ve fixed it. Thanks!

  6. Honestly Khoi, ever since I’ve seen Meta Serif (which I still haven’t bought) I kinda forgot Apex Serif and Omnes (which I do have). That typeface is so beautifully crafted that I wish the web wasn’t such a dull, limited medium when it comes to typography if you don’t want to do crazy trickery.

    Meta Serif and the Freight family, they make me weep with joy. Seriously.

  7. I’m always staggered at the number of fonts available. I can spend literally hours going back-and-forth trying to decide what to buy (or whether what I’ve already got will suffice!). A favourite at the moment is Dax Wide…

  8. Funny this post came up – I went on a type binge recently, as far as type binges can go. I’m on some kind of slab serif kick since I bought Black Slabbath (I too, didn’t notice the L until recently) and used it here and then bought the just released Archer from H&FJ. Both were spurred by recent projects and work so I had a good reason to get them.

    Klavika looks really nice and I’m currently lusting after FF Meta. I like the way it’s used at SpaceCollective.org.

    I recently re-watched Helvetica and thought about the division of type use across the board from Vignelli to Spiekkerman to Carson to H&FJ.

  9. Omnes looks like the long-lost cousin of Avant-Garde or Century Gothic I’ve been looking for for a few years. What I like about these fonts is that they look like what a font might look like if I were to carefully draw out each letter by hand with a pen, paying attention only to proportion of line and shape, but not on line weights, decorative serifs and line ends, etc.

    But looking at the other weights Omnes comes in, I’m disappointed to see that (a) the heavier weights stray from the simple linear forms and begin to display Arial Rounded-style rounded line ends (they’re nice, but not what I expected), and (b) the lowercase set uses rounded circular forms for the a’s and g’s in the italic sets, but more decorative curlicue style for the roman set. This dimorphism is common in typefaces, I guess, but I want the rounded forms in the roman set, like Avant Garde or Futura.

    I just flipped through Bringhurst and cannot find the technical term(s) for the difference between the lowercase “a” that has small round body with a tail at the top and the lowercase “a” with the big round body and no tail. Or the analogous difference between lowercase “g”s. Is there a term for this?

  10. Christopher, the variants of the lowercase a you’re referring to are the common roman form (two storeys) and the cursive/italic form (one storey) which is sometimes seen upright. Not sure if there is a “more official” terminology but this is what I’ve heard the most.

  11. I feel the same way, its hard for me to even think of purchasing fonts right now. Hopefully as I advance up the career ladder, I can be as free with my money as my mind would like to be with my designs.

  12. Khoi – Surely you can find a better way to show Helvetica than fonts.com’s messy pages. This or this do the face better justice.

    John – Yes, Joe Kral modified Klavika for the Facebook identity.

    For more typeface recommendations, I just rounded up some of my favorite new releases for FontShop and Typographica contributors will publish our annual review in a couple weeks.

  13. Speaking of Helvetica, a documentary about the history of the typeface came out last fall. Here are a couple links for more info.

  14. Christopher – I’m pretty sure that all weights of Omnes feature both styles of ‘a’ and ‘g’ in both roman and italics. Like Proxima Nova they would likely be accessed through Stylistic Alternates or Stylistic Sets.

  15. Just to correct you here, Khoi, Apex Sans came before Apex Serif, and Apex New is a revisiting of Apex Sans.

  16. Great fonts, don’t want you to loose more money but did you check Arnhem from Fred Smeijers, or Big Vesta from Gerard Unger.

    I’ve suggested a free font (also very thin and very readable) at a href=”http://www.segd.nl/typography-fonts/greyscale-basic.htm” rel=”nofollow”>my website

  17. @Justin and @Stephen: I wasn’t aware of “Stylistic Alternates”. I wonder how hard it is to get to those characters, however, via normal typing and/or automatically-generated text. For example, how would a Flash movie importing XML text know to use the alternate a and g instead of the normal ASCII characters in the font?

    If the alternates are part of a dedicated set of just the alternate letterforms, or a set of alternates tacked onto the end of the core set, then I’m in trouble. If the alternate set is a complete font with just the alternates replaced, that would be perfect. I’ll look into this more. Thanks again for the advice.

  18. Khoi, you rule. I really like your blog, and always find something useful here.

    (you knew this part was coming, right?)

    I have a font question. Some years ago I was in London, riding the tube, and I noticed the electronic signage – you know, the signs announcing imminent train arrivals and the like – had a very interesting retro-feel font. Despite not being in graphic design, I was impressed enough to write down the name of it, which I have now lost. Can you help?

    Note: I do *NOT* mean this sans-serif London Underground font designed by Johnston (http://www.p22.com/products/london.html) – the one I am talking about is mcuh squarer, and almost looks like stained glass images of letters, and is particularly suited to an illuminateable standard letterbox which can become all characters depending on which cells in the box are darkened.

    Thanks for your help, if you can – this is driving me bats!

  19. I lust after Gotham, and of course I want the full collection, but realistically I’ll end up with the four or eight pack.

    I also just have to say, I really love looking at fonts at Typography.com. The way they layout the fonts even makes some of the fonts I would normally find non-attractive look kind of yummy. I can spend days there.

  20. Christopher, the stylistic/alternate sets (there can be more than one) have been implemented historically in different ways. The most common way at the moment is by the type designer including the alternate glyphs directly into the OpenType font, then group them together programmatically in stylistic sets that the user can access via the OpenType palette in her design program. Most Adobe application have a pretty good support for OpenType, so if you go in InDesign, enter some text in a font you know has several stylistic sets the open the OpenType palette you’ll be able to select the sets you want. In interactive applications you can do this on a character by character basis, too. OS X’s text rendering engine is pretty good at OpenType handling, so you can try also in TextEdit, by selecting some text set in Zapfino for example, then going in the Font palette (Command T) and opening the Typography palette by selecting it in the small gear dropdown.

    The other way to do stylistic sets/alternates is by using legacy font formats like PS/Type 1 and generate a separate font for each set, but this is sort of a retrofit of the OpenType solution. I’m not sure if these will stick around for long because they’re being replaced by OpenType fonts as support for it becomes more widespread, but I know FontShop still offers some at the moment. FF Unit comes to mind as a typeface that has both the OpenType (OT) version with all the glyphs in it and separate Type 1 normal and “Alt” versions with different stylistic sets.

    As for automatically-generated text and OpenType support, there’s work underway to make it happen but it’s not here yet. There are several proposals to improve the CSS way of specifying fonts so you can look inside the features of a font and specify which ones you want (keep also in mind that OpenType is not just about stylistic sets but also offers much more, like contextual alternates, ligatures, etc.).

    There is a thread on Typophile where many of these issues are in discussion at the moment, with Hтkon Wium Lie trying to come up with syntax proposals from the needs of the typographic community. Also important is his recent article on A List Apart talking about Web fonts.

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