Join Ina Saltz for an in-depth discussion in this video Type families: Widths, weights, and slopes, part of Foundations of Typography.
A type family is a group of related typefaces which share similar design characteristics and which are designed to work together. Just like our own families, some are very small and some are quite large. The three most common variations in a type family are combinations of different weights, widths, and slopes. In this example you can see several different weights, and also their companion, sloped or italic typefaces.
One example of a super small family is TRAJAN, which you may recognize, because it has been used in many film titles. It only has capital letters no lowercase, it was originally released with only two family members, regular and bold weights. TRAJAN was inspired by the Roman Majuscules carved into the Trajan Column, and there where no lowercase letters in use at that time. Universe is a very large family. You can see some of its widths clearly in this example.
There are other mega families like Chronicle, which has more than a hundred family members, a vast selection of related members stemming from a common parent. Here are some of the many members in the Chronicle type family, and here are a selection of different weights within that family. Most type families offer a minimum of uppercase and lowercase letter forms and a set of numbers and punctuation in regular and bold weights, and in italic, in regular and bold weights.
If you have wondered where we got the terms lowercase and uppercase? The names come from the drawers of the case were type was stored in the days when type was made from metal or wood. One of the characteristics that can vary within a type family is weight. Some typefaces have an enormous range of Weights and while there were no consistent naming conventions in the Typographic world, it's usually pretty easy to guess from looking at the full name of a font what its weight is. For example, Extra Light, Roman, Semi Bold, Bold, and Black.
The second characteristic of different family members within one typeface is Width. Again, the names are pretty easy to understand just by looking at them. Terms like Ultra-Condensed, Condensed, Roman, and Extended. The third characteristic that can vary within a family is Slope, depending on the typeface Slope can refer to an Italic version or an Oblique version. Oblique, which you see here, is simply a slanted version of the Roman.
The Italic is a slightly more inclined and rounded version of the Roman or upright font, and often features letterforms that had design characteristics, which differ from the Roman. If there are variations in all three, Weight, Width, and Slope, this is the order in which the naming conventions work. First, all of the members of the type family will start with the name of the typeface, then the Weight, then the Width, then the Slope. For example, Helvetica Neue which is the Name of the typeface, Heavy, which is its Weight, Extended which is its Width, and Oblique, which is its Slope.
Georgia, one of my favorites, was originally a small family and became very popular. So, it recently expanded to include additional Weights. If your design requires complex levels of hierarchy, sticking with the members of one family will ensure that your results will be typographically cohesive. Using a large type family will help simplify your design choices. Easy.
- What is typography?
- Differentiating type characteristics
- Using ornamental and decorative type
- Combining typefaces
- Using contrast and scale
- Kerning and kerning pairs
- Choosing the optimum line length
- Aligning and spacing characters, words, and paragraphs
- Understanding factors affecting legibility
- Working with three-dimensional type
- Putting type in motion