Monday, March 27, 2023

Humanist Slab-Serifs

The Mid-Twentieth Century saw the emergence of what are sometimes called (accurately enough) ‘humanist slab-serif’ typefaces. These retained—for the most part—the rectangular serifs of earlier slab fonts but varied the axis and the other strokes to create a more humanist feel to the forms, as with the humanist sans faces that were appearing in the same period. One seemingly simple yet elegant example is Candida, which received greater recognition when Bitstream reissued it half a century later.

Around the same time, the company released a somewhat similar humanist slab of their own design, Prima. At first glance, they seem quite alike but one begins to pick out the differences quickly enough. Prima is rather unlovely beside Candida, but the latter undoubtedly influenced (or inspired) its design. It may be noted that Prima, as Adobe’s Utopia and Bitstream’s own Charter, was designed to work well with the low resolution printers of its time.

A second look will tell us Prima is pretty much identical to Bitstream’s Vera Serif, which has since developed into Deja Vu, a popular and widespread free font. Why the name change? In part, we would assume, to mark it as their open license (more or less) offering. An entire family of different fonts was attached to both Prima and Vera, sans and mono versions, designed with the same uses in mind. Deja Vu Serif is certainly a decent enough font, and beloved of the open source community, but we would be unlikely to use it to print a book.

Candida, maybe, but we’d have to pay for a license! In honesty, it’s not the sort of typeface we’d normally consider for a novel. Perhaps for some niche project it would be just the thing. There are, to be sure, other nice-looking humanist slab-serif typefaces available, and some are even open license. It has again become a rather popular concept and more than one recent release, such as IBM’s big family of typefaces, has reflected the trend. By the way, we think IBM Plex Serif is decidedly ugly (a pastiche of varying styles). We’d take Deja Vu over it, any day—it, at least, stays true to its concept.

Kameron, by Vernon Adams, looks pretty decent and is available from Google Fonts. Its lack of a separate italic is, however, problematic, and it is perhaps not really suitable to book text. To be sure, there are also a number of faces that almost fit the classification but are not quite humanist or not quite true slabs. There is not a big gap between humanist slab-serifs and some neoclassical fonts. As always, how they look on the page is more important than what category we place them in.


Islanders Promo

 Stephen Brooke's latest poetry collection, ISLANDERS, is coming in April.

Monday, March 6, 2023

Megafont Review

Softmaker, a software company from Germany, has been selling digital fonts for quite a long time. We recently purchased their Megafont package, some 7500 fonts with a commercial license, for thirty-five US dollars. This seems like a pretty good deal for a small publisher; we can print books with them without any restriction (other than the number of computers on which they may be installed). So—are they as good a buy as they seem?

The first thing to note is that of those thousands of fonts, more than a third are ‘special effects’ versions of the other fonts: outlined, antiqued, etc. These would prove somewhat useless to most of us and we would be unlikely to ever install most of them. Yes, I could possibly see using one in the main titling of a book or something of that sort.

The ‘normal’ fonts are of three sorts, some licensed or reissued from older (often out-of-business) foundries, some outright clones of older type (and not always done that well), and a few original fonts created for Softmaker. It should be noted that the quality of the fonts has improved since Softmaker (and others) started issuing digital type, decades ago. It should also be noted that the big-name foundries (many of which have been bought up by Monotype now) were not always that good either with their digital fonts.

I can not complain about the quality of the typefaces in the package (aside from the aforementioned special effects variants). Most are usable enough, though some lack italics or weights we might want. It is not always easy to tell what other typeface they might mimic, either—what is included might or might not provide a desired replacement font. They tend to be heavy on older and somewhat old-fashioned fonts, from the late Nineteenth–early Twentieth Century period. Many would not be a first (nor even second) choice for publishing modern fiction (though they could work, if nothing else were available).

I will say right here that one could publish quite decent books with nothing but open license typefaces, such as the ones available on Google Fonts. Many of those are geared toward online use rather than print but others are perfectly usable. EB Garamond, Alegreya, Crimson Pro—I would not hesitate to use one of those in a print book. The venerable Charter and Utopia are good too. I could keep listing useful fonts, but back to the Megafont package.

Some fonts from Softmaker have already proven of use. We have redesigned the novel ‘The Crocodile God’ (a fantasy adventure by Stephen Brooke) with their Gareth, a stand-in for Galliard, and it looks just fine. We may revise other books from time to time, though there is no great hurry about it. New books are entirely likely to use open license type, but it is nice to have something to plug into revisions or new additions to a series. The Softmaker package is, if nothing else, security, a back up source of typefaces. The $35 is a fairly good deal really; one could spend that much for a single commercial font.

To be sure, this typeface collection includes many that would be of more use to a designer than a publisher. After all, we do need to design ads and book covers and such, too, so they may well prove useful. Whether I would recommend it to a graphic designer, I’m not so sure. Oh, at that price, why not?

But for the everyday user, maybe not. This is an investment—albeit a small one—in commercial typefaces. For personal use, one would do as well to stick to what is available free. There are more good choices every day!