(Re)reading the classics

6 April 2003

In the seventeen years that high-resolution digital serif text types have been available for personal computers, technology has allowed for an expansion of not only a vast quantity of new type designs, but also new versions of classic text types and historical revivals as well.


The revivals, to which can be added some of the twentieth-century text types which (Stanley) Morison predicted, are still the essential source material for the understanding and appreciation of all type designs. If they did not exist, or were discarded, there would be no standards by which to verify our own ideas of what is good and bad.

Walter Tracy, Letters of Credit: A view of type design.

Classic text types are defined by their general acceptance as being standards that have stood the test of time for their utility and/or widespread use. When digital type first became available with the introduction of personal computers and digital type in the mid ’80s, many typographers and designers disliked some of the most widely-used standard digital text typefaces, with good reason. Early ROM fonts, including versions of serif text faces like Times New Roman and Palatino, were not comparable in quality to high-res output from conventional typesetting equipment of the time, particularly in the realm of kerning. The limited number of kerning pairs that are built into digital fonts (limited to keep the font file size down) combined with other variables, such as the software program the type was set in and the output device itself, left much to be desired in terms of quality to discerning users.

The early digital versions of Times New Roman (based on the monumental typeface family designed specifically for the London Times newspaper typesetting requirements in 1931, drawn by Victor Lardent for Stanley Morison of Monotype) and Palatino (a version of Hermann Zapf’s neohumanist serif face originally designed in in 1948) also suffered somewhat in the earlier standard ROM versions distributed with system software and subsequent widespread use. Fortunately, better software and hardware technology, high standards in type production and the availability of better digital type allowed users to get well beyond standard ROM text fonts.

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Mark Eastman e:mark@medesignphoto.com w:http://medesignphoto.com/

Communication Arts w:http://www.commarts.com