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Identifying a Transitional font

From: Choosing and Using Web Fonts

Video: Identifying a Transitional font

Slightly overlapping the category of fonts we call old style are the transitional fonts. Transitional fonts were designed from the 1690s to the late 1700s. Of course, they weren't called transitional at the time. That's the name we've given them, because they're seen as a transition between the old style and modern fonts. But while the name suggests a mere transitional stage between two other historical styles, I think of the transitional fonts as a defining period in type design.

Identifying a Transitional font

Slightly overlapping the category of fonts we call old style are the transitional fonts. Transitional fonts were designed from the 1690s to the late 1700s. Of course, they weren't called transitional at the time. That's the name we've given them, because they're seen as a transition between the old style and modern fonts. But while the name suggests a mere transitional stage between two other historical styles, I think of the transitional fonts as a defining period in type design.

It happened during the Enlightenment; a time when European intellectuals promoted scientific thought over superstition, and questioned religious and political power. The transitional fonts start in 1692 with the Kings Roman, which was a typeface developed in France by order of King Louis XIV, designed by a committee from the Academy of Sciences who, by the way, favored analytical and mathematical principles. The letters were mapped out on a grid before being cut in metal.

Whereas old style fonts continued to reference the human hand behind the letters, transitional fonts had an increased emphasis on verticality. They also had an increased contrast between thick and thin strokes. Transitional letters represented the idea of what letters could look like, rather than the reality of what humanist pen-formed letters did look like. Here we have three Ms. On the left is a Minion M. Notice the slight angle of the left stem.

While Minion is a contemporary digital font, it is based on traditional old style fonts. On the right is an M from the original Caslon specimen sheet. The left stem is almost vertical. Remember that Caslon was designed late in the old sstyle period, in the 1720s, after the Kings Roman was designed. In the center is a contemporary digital version of Baskerville, a transitional font originally designed in the 1750s. You can see the left stem is straight up and down.

The differences between old style and transitional fonts are also noticeable in the shapes of the serifs. Notice how the Baskerville serif is thinner and crisper. It's a curve where the serif flows into the stem is tighter. The same is true of the foot serifs. Now, it's a little unfair, because I'm comparing a printed version of Caslon to a stylized contemporary digital version of Baskerville. So let's compare the digitized version of Caslon to the digitized version of Baskerville, and you can see the overall difference between the old style and transitional typefaces.

It's immediately obvious that the transitional font, Baskerville, is much lighter. The thins are getting thinner, so there's more contrast between thick and thin. The serifs are more delicate, and the head serifs are no longer wedge-shaped. The terminals are more stylized, and are shaped like teardrops. And most interesting to me is the stress is now almost vertical; the reference to the pen is gone. In the lowercase d, for example, the Baskerville bowl connects to the stem with thin strokes, while the weight of the bowl is all on the outside edge.

The Caslon bowl is connected to the stem with a thicker pen-formed stroke. I want to point out small areas of imperfection in the printed version of the Caslon M. It's hard to control ink being pressed onto a sheet of paper from a piece of lead type, and it gets even harder to control as strokes get thinner. John Baskerville is perhaps most famous for the technologies he developed in order to keep his letter forms crisp on the page. He developed new methods of making paper, new inks, and new drying methods.

He wanted to see how far he could push the properties of ink and paper to achieve his ideal design. I find connections between the transitional type designer, John Baskerville, and Web designers of today. Why? Because type design isn't just about the ideas for designing the letter; it's also about the materials and methods available to make the design actually work. I try to keep Baskerville in mind when I think of those of us today who are scrambling around, trying to get Web fonts to work on every browser.

It's frustrating, and it's imperfect, but it's worth it. I also try to keep him in mind when I think about picking appropriate fonts for the Web. Baskerville struggled to keep his font crisp and clear on paper. We don't have that kind of control over screen resolution, or how different browsers render Web fonts. What we do have is control over the fonts we choose to use. Due to their thinner thin strokes, and thinner crisper serifs, some transitional fonts may not be appropriate for use on the Web, but that doesn't mean transitional fonts won't ever work online.

In fact, Georgia is actually a contemporary transitional font designed for the Web. Matthew Carter designed it with a larger x-height, and slightly thicker thicks. Both helped maintain legibility on screen, while retaining the vertical rational structure of a transitional font.

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This video is part of

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

89 video lessons · 6835 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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