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Identifying an Old Style font

From: Choosing and Using Web Fonts

Video: Identifying an Old Style font

From 1530 to 1750, printers all over Europe and in the colonies created fonts we call old style fonts. Old style fonts continued to reference the human hand behind the letters. That is, they continued to have characteristics related to letters written with pen and ink, but the type designers also embraced the materials of printing technology. They moved further away from the calligraphic forms we saw in Venetian fonts, like Jenson. They were inspired by what they could do with metal. Letters became crisper; more refined.

Identifying an Old Style font

From 1530 to 1750, printers all over Europe and in the colonies created fonts we call old style fonts. Old style fonts continued to reference the human hand behind the letters. That is, they continued to have characteristics related to letters written with pen and ink, but the type designers also embraced the materials of printing technology. They moved further away from the calligraphic forms we saw in Venetian fonts, like Jenson. They were inspired by what they could do with metal. Letters became crisper; more refined.

If we were to look at fonts from France, Italy, Holland, and England, we'd see each region had their own idiosyncratic forms influenced by aesthetics as much as technology. There is a range of what old style fonts look like, and unfortunately, I can't show you all of them. Today, we're going to look at three different old style fonts, starting with the work of William Caslon, an English type designer who was influenced by Dutch type design. This is a portion of a specimen sheet printed by Caslon in 1728.

If we look closely at the letters, we can see some of the characteristics of an old style font. First, while the stress is a little less angled, the bowls still look pen formed. You can see that clearly in the lowercase e, b, p, q, and the d. But Caslon's lowercase o has a more vertical stress compared to the other bowls. The stress isn't consistent across bowls showing a departure from pen-formed letters. The aperture on the e is much smaller than on a Venetian font, because the crossbar is now horizontal.

But the aperture remains fairly open, partially because the closed counter on the e is so small. Small closed counters on the a and e is characteristic of old style fonts. Old style fonts usually have pen-formed terminals. That is, they looked like the shape a pen would make on the paper. The head serifs looked pen-formed too. Head serifs have a wedge shape, and both the head and foot serifs flow into the stem. The thin strokes here on Caslon are quite a bit thinner than what we saw in Jenson.

The letters feel less inky. Most old style letters have a thicker thin stroke than what we see here. That's probably because Caslon's work comes towards the end of the time we associate with old style fonts. He was probably influenced by some of the work we'll see being done by the transitional font designers in the next chapter. Yet if you look very closely at the closed counter form of the e, you can see there's a round edge here at the right side almost like the ink caught and pooled a little on this corner instead of creating a crisp corner between the bowl and the crossbar.

Notice William Caslon's font comes with an italic version. Nicolas Jenson's font did not. Early fonts did not have a bold or italic version. In fact, the first italic font wasn't even developed until 1506, 35 years after the example of Jenson's work I showed in the last chapter. The first italic font was developed for Aldus Manutius, who published affordable books for students. With an italic font, he could fit more words on each page, and save money on production costs.

Once italics started being produced, if a printer wanted to created emphasis with an italic, they'd use a separate italic font that worked well with their Roman font. But by the time Caslon was working in the 1720s, it was not unusual for a font to include in italic version, though old style fonts did not have a bold weight. As with Jenson, Adobe has a revival font called Adobe Caslon Pro. It was designed by Carol Twombly in 1990. She studied William Caslon's specimen sheets during the design process, but made some subtle changes that impacted the overall feeling of the font.

In fact, while Caslon's original font is considered an old style font; many typographers today considered the digital version a transitional font. And let's look at the digital version of Caslon. You can see the stress remained angled, but the inky shape in the e has been cleaned up. As for the serifs, they're more stylized. The head serif of the d still flows into the stem, but it's lost the concave shape along the top edge, and the foot serifs are crisper and thinner. But Adobe Caslon Pro didn't completely leave the old style category.

You can see the spurs on the u and d still feel like they were made by a pen being picked up at the end of the stroke. These angular spurs are an old style characteristic. Now let's look at Minion, which is another Adobe old style font. It was designed by Robert Slimbach and released in 1990. Here you can see a more traditional older approach to old style fonts. Minion looks more pen-formed than either of the Caslons. The terminal on the a, the way it ribbons into the rest of the letter, the thick stroke on the bowl of the a; it just looks more pen formed.

Even the e has a bit more ribboning to it. It almost creates a corner along the bottom of the bowl. The stress remains angled, and even the O has a bit more angle to it. Minions head serifs are slightly concave along the top, where Adobe Caslon Pro's are not. And Minion's foot serifs on the n are a bit thicker, and flow into the stem more. The last old style font we're going to look at is Crimson Text. Crimson Text is a contemporary old style font designed by Sebastian Kosch, and published under the terms of SIL's open font license.

Crimson Text has the usual old style features, like an angled stress, and serifs that flow into the stem. Of course, Crimson Text has its own unique qualities too. The head serifs on the l, b, and d feel more pen-formed. It feels like there's a slight blob of ink right at the top of the serif, and the shoulders, which is where the curved stroke meets the stem in letters like m, n and u, are thicker than in the other fonts. This gives Crimson a slightly varied texture on the page.

The counter form in the e is larger, and this makes the aperture a bit smaller. Finally, sometimes it helps to see what something is by looking at what it's not. Let's take a look back at the Adobe Jenson font, which is a Venetian font. Compared to Jenson, you can really see how old style fonts have become crisper and more stylized.

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This video is part of

Image for Choosing and Using Web Fonts
Choosing and Using Web Fonts

89 video lessons · 6909 viewers

Laura Franz
Author

 
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  1. 4m 41s
    1. Welcome
      1m 2s
    2. What you should know before watching this course
      1m 52s
    3. Using the exercise files
      1m 47s
  2. 14m 55s
    1. Recognizing the anatomy of letters
      4m 17s
    2. Understanding font classification
      4m 38s
    3. Finding and testing web fonts
      3m 41s
    4. Identifying common problems in fonts
      2m 19s
  3. 43m 43s
    1. Understanding Venetian fonts
      4m 0s
    2. Identifying a Venetian font
      4m 46s
    3. Understanding handwritten letters
      3m 22s
    4. Choosing a Venetian font
      3m 47s
    5. Creating a Typekit account and building a kit
      3m 43s
    6. Adding a Venetian font (Calluna) to your kit
      2m 51s
    7. Applying Calluna to your web site
      5m 54s
    8. Troubleshooting Typekit fonts that don't load
      2m 2s
    9. Changing styling as necessary to improve the readability of the text
      4m 25s
    10. Working with more than four styles in Typekit
      5m 22s
    11. Looking at how using a Venetian font affects the look and feel of a web page
      3m 31s
  4. 32m 53s
    1. Identifying an Old Style font
      6m 26s
    2. Choosing an Old Style font
      4m 30s
    3. Applying Crimson Text to a web site using Google web fonts
      3m 8s
    4. Changing styling as necessary to improve the readability of the text
      9m 20s
    5. Making various weights and styles work correctly across different browsers
      5m 16s
    6. Looking at how using an Old Style font affects the look and feel of a web page
      4m 13s
  5. 21m 12s
    1. Identifying a Transitional font
      5m 10s
    2. Choosing a Transitional font
      6m 36s
    3. Applying PT Sans to a site via Typekit
      2m 57s
    4. Changing styling as necessary to improve the readability of the text
      2m 59s
    5. Looking at how using a Transitional font affects the look and feel of a web page
      3m 30s
  6. 16m 58s
    1. Identifying a Modern font
      7m 50s
    2. Choosing a Modern font
      4m 0s
    3. Using Typekit to find and test web fonts
      5m 8s
  7. 26m 52s
    1. Identifying a Slab Serif font
      4m 30s
    2. Choosing a Slab Serif font
      3m 58s
    3. Deleting a font from your Typekit
      3m 1s
    4. Exploring a font with multiple weights and styles
      9m 41s
    5. Looking at how using a Slab Serif font affects the look and feel of a web page
      5m 42s
  8. 26m 52s
    1. Identifying "Other" Serif fonts
      5m 28s
    2. Choosing "Other" Serif fonts
      10m 12s
    3. Using a font without an italic
      7m 6s
    4. Looking at how using an "Other" Serif font affects the look and feel of a web page
      4m 6s
  9. 20m 34s
    1. Identifying a Transitional Sans Serif font
      4m 29s
    2. Choosing a Transitional Sans Serif font
      5m 14s
    3. Changing styling to improve the readability of text
      6m 31s
    4. Looking at how using a Transitional Sans Serif font affects the look and feel of a web page
      4m 20s
  10. 31m 23s
    1. Identifying a Geometric Sans Serif font
      2m 51s
    2. Choosing a Geometric Sans Serif font
      4m 33s
    3. Downloading a free font licensed for use on the web
      3m 53s
    4. Using Font Squirrel to create an @font-face kit
      5m 12s
    5. Adding the @font-face syntax to the CSS
      2m 57s
    6. Implementing the font family in the CSS
      5m 29s
    7. Changing styling as necessary to improve the readability of the text
      3m 56s
    8. Looking at how using a Geometric Sans Serif font affects the look and feel of a web page
      2m 32s
  11. 21m 3s
    1. Identifying a Humanist Sans Serif font
      4m 18s
    2. Choosing a Humanist Sans Serif font
      7m 23s
    3. Changing styling as necessary to improve the readability of the text
      5m 32s
    4. Looking at how using a Humanist Sans Serif font affects the look and feel of a web page
      3m 50s
  12. 18m 28s
    1. Understanding handwritten fonts
      3m 4s
    2. Choosing a handwritten font
      8m 17s
    3. Looking at how using a handwritten font affects the look and feel of a web page
      7m 7s
  13. 33m 2s
    1. Understanding what to look for when pairing fonts
      6m 58s
    2. Using one font for headings and another for text
      6m 6s
    3. Using different fonts for different kinds of information on the page
      8m 38s
    4. Mixing and matching fonts within text
      3m 48s
    5. Looking at how using two fonts affects the look and feel of a web page
      7m 32s
  14. 23m 34s
    1. Understanding Script fonts
      2m 19s
    2. Choosing a Script font for display use
      8m 12s
    3. Changing styling as necessary to improve the form and placement of letters on the page
      3m 33s
    4. Choosing a second font to pair with the Script Display font
      3m 42s
    5. Incorporating a second font with the Script Display font
      2m 53s
    6. Setting fallback fonts
      2m 55s
  15. 26m 38s
    1. Understanding Wood Type fonts
      3m 25s
    2. Choosing a Wood Type font for display use
      8m 35s
    3. Changing styling as necessary to improve the form and placement of letters on the page
      4m 57s
    4. Choosing a second font to pair with the Wood Type font
      2m 28s
    5. Incorporating a second font with the Wood Type display font
      4m 42s
    6. Setting fallback fonts
      2m 31s
  16. 14m 58s
    1. Choosing an Art Deco font for display use
      2m 45s
    2. Changing styling as necessary to improve the form and placement of letters on the page
      3m 51s
    3. Choosing a second font to pair with the Art Deco font
      2m 37s
    4. Incorporating a second font with the Art Deco display font
      2m 57s
    5. Setting fallback fonts
      2m 48s
  17. 27m 38s
    1. Choosing a Futuristic font for display use
      5m 33s
    2. Applying the Futuristic font and changing the styling as necessary to improve the form and placement of letters on the page
      6m 40s
    3. Choosing a second font to pair with the Futuristic font
      2m 48s
    4. Incorporating a second font with the Futuristic display font
      4m 21s
    5. Setting fallback fonts
      2m 22s
    6. Looking at the set of four ads
      5m 54s
  18. 7m 29s
    1. Exploring resources and goodbye
      7m 29s

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