edited by: Ilija Knežević

translation into English: Danijela Tomazović
November 2009

For a long time, certain typefaces had different names in different countries. Within one period of typography development, when it came to international exchange of printing services, there was a need for finding classification system of typefaces, which could be comprehended in several countries at the same time.

After numerous classification attempts, a system developed by French designer Maximilien Vox (1894–1974) has been adopted; he invented the names for some typeface categories, so that they do not remind of earlier names, and cause no confusion. This system has been adopted by ATypI (Association Typographique Internationale).

It has to be emphasized that each group has few “clear” examples – many typefaces belong to the neighboring groups based on characteristics – but the Vox's system is a precious help in communication and typefaces description.

Group I: Humanist (Venetian) typefaces

The earliest Antiquas, based on humanist manuscript, emerged in Venetia in 15th century. Humanist typeface was used for the first time in press in 1465. Letterforms show that they were made based on the templates written with broad pen.

The axis of the letter is noticeably slanted to the left (see o and b). Brackets between the main strokes and the serifs are rounded. The contrast between the thick and thin strokes is modest. The crossbar of the lowercase e is rising.

Examples: Verona, Venetian 300, Golden Type (W. Morris), Trajanus, Centaur* (B. Rogers), Kennerley (F. Goudy), Schneidler Mediäval.

Group II: Garalde typefaces
(the name was made from Garamond and Aldus)

These Antiquas originate from the punches cut by Francesco Griffo for the Venetian publisher and printer Aldus Manutius. One of the most famous examples from this group is a well known Garamond, which represents the most important typeface of the renaissance and early baroque.

The axis of the letter is slanted to the left (see o and b). The brackets between the main strokes and serifs are rounded. The contrast between the thick and thin strokes increases compared to the Venetian typeface, and the serifs are finer. The crossbar of the lowercase e is horizontal.

In English language terminology, the usual name for these two groups is “Old face”; this is not precise enough since it does not make a difference between the groups. In our language, the term classical (Renaissance) antique is used for both groups.

Examples: Garamond* (C. Garamond), Bembo (F. Griffo), Caslon (W. Caslon), Vendôme, Dante (Mardersteig), Garaldus (A. Novarese), Sabon (J. Tschichold), Palatino (H. Zapf), Weiß-Antiqua, Trump Mediäval, Goudy Catalog.

Group III: Transitional (Baroque) typefaces 

This is a transitional form between the classical and Neoclassical Antiqua. The emergence of these typefaces was influenced by spreading of the copper engraving technique in the 17th century. The strokes became finer and richer in the contrast. Prototype of this typeface is Roman du Roi (1694) by French punchcutter Grandjean, which was designed based on the Academy of Science report. Within it, a geometrically detailed construction of each character was made. Each letter was engraved within a square divided into 2304 small squares, which is the first anticipation of the digital letterform. The influence of this typeface, property of Royal printing house, emerged sixty years later in John Baskerville’s projects; these typefaces “preserved the spirit of the encyclopedic epoch, at the same time rational and realistic”[1]. In transitional typefaces, the difference in the strokes thickness is bigger than in Garalde antique. The letter axis is vertical or slightly slanted. Serifs are flat and thinner, and still have the brackets.

Examples: Fournier, Baskerville* (J. Baskerville), Janson, Imprimatur, Bell, Times (S. Morison), Photina, Caledonia (W. A. Dwiggins).

Group IV: Didone
(Neoclassical antiqua, the name derived from Didot and Bodoni)

Neoclassical antiqua emerges with the spreading of copper and steel engraving, techniques of the 17th and the 18th century. It emerged in the middle of the 18th century, after improvements in paper and printing technology enabled reproduction of fine strokes.

The main stress and the letter axis are vertical. Round letters are narrowed. Contrast between the thick and thin strokes is extreme, and the bracket between them is short. Serifs are horizontal, without brackets.

Examples: Didot (F. Didot), Bodoni* (D. Bodoni), Walbaum, Falstaff, Pergamon, Corvinus.

Group V: Mechanistic (Egyptian) typefaces

The name “mechanistic” which unintentionally sounds mocking to the sensitive ear, points to the fact that these typefaces origin in the best days of industrial revolution, which needed the resources to draw attention, for ads, posters, fliers and other printed materials. A large number of these typefaces were suitable for decorating, which was often overdone. They were also known as Egyptian: this name is derived from their presence in a publication about Napoleon's campaign to Egypt.

Three subgroups can be distinguished within this group:

Egyptian typefaces have the minimum of contrast between the thick and thin strokes, that is, all the strokes and serifs are of even thickness. Bold serifs are rectangular. The letter shape is geometrically simple.

Examples: Courier, Clarendon, Memphis* (Weiss, 1930), Rockwell, Serifa (A. Frutiger, 1968), Volta, Neutra, Egizio, Beton (H. Yost, 1930), Ionic, Melior (H. Zapf), Schadow, Pro Arte, Typewriter.

Group VI: Linear (sans serif, grotesque) typefaces

Both Egyptian and sans serif derive in classicistic typeface; the first one was designed by bolding the serif to even in thickness with the basic stroke, and the second by making the serif thinner until it faded.

The first sans serif emerged in 1816 in England, in Caslon foundry. At the beginning these typefaces were considered ugly and unattractive since they missed the familiar serif. This is why they were named grotesque (Italian: grottesco, French: grotesque = strange, overdone, unnatural, funny, bizarre). A century and a half later, sans serif will become the base of the Bauhaus typographic revolution.

They have relatively even strokes, without significant contrast. Within some subgroups, the letters are based on simple geometric shapes. All the decorations and serifs are removed.

British Standards 2961 lists four subgroups of these typefaces:

– Grotesque includes sans serif typefaces from the 19th century.
Examples: Monotype 215, Headline Bold and Grot No6 (S. Blake).

– Neo-grotesque, modern sans, such as Frutiger's Univers* and Miedinger's Helvetica. These typefaces have been projected very subtly.
Examples: Franklin Gothic (M. F. Benton, 1903), Helvetica (M. Miedinger, 1951), Univers (A. Frutiger, 1952), Swiss 721, Arial.

– Geometric grotesque. These are “theory” typefaces, constructed on simple geometric shapes, usually with even strokes thickness (monoline). Since the same straight and curve forms were used on purpose in as many letter characters as possible, the differences between them are minimal, and are of very low readability.
Examples: Futura (P. Renner), Erbar (Erbar), Avant Garde (H. Lubalin), Century Gothic, Eurostile.

– Humanist grotesque includes all sans serif typefaces based on the proportions of inscriptional Roman capitals and Humanist or Garalde lowercase. There is a contrast between the thick and thin strokes.
Examples: Gill Sans (E. Gill, 1928), Optima (H. Zapf, 1958), Frutiger (A. Frutiger, 1975), Pascal (Mendoza), Shannon (Holmes and P. Fishman, 1981), Myriad (C. Twombly and R. Slimbach).

Group VII: Carved (epigraphic) typefaces

These are the typefaces inspired by the letters carved in stone, which is why they usually include uppercases only.

Examples: Columna (M. Caflisch), Open Roman (Van Krimpen), Hadriano (F. Gaudi), Albertus* (B. Wolpe).

Group VIII: Script typefaces

This group includes the typefaces simulating handwritten letters, unlike the next group (manual typeface) which includes the copies of typefaces drawn by the hand. The difference is not always easily distinguished. The typeface was developed from manuscript, keeping (unlike italic) the linking strokes between the letters.

Examples: Mistral (R. Excoffon), Rondo (Schlesinger and Dooijes), Reiner Script (Reiner), Trafton Script (Trafton), Legend (Schneidler), Balzac (Beland), Bernhard Cursive (Bernhard), Ashley Script (E. Havinden), Hyperion (B. Volpe), Shelley* (M. Carter, 1972), Coronet (Middleton, 1937–38), Snell Roundhand (M. Carter, 1965), Park Avenue (Smith, 1933), Present Script (Sallwey, 1974).

Group IX: Manual typefaces

In this group are the letters which clearly origin in the template drawn by the hand, done with a brush, pen, pencil or any other instrument for mimicking the handwriting. They are inappropriate for longer text layout – they are mostly used for advertising purposes.

Examples: Klang* (V. Carter), Banco (R. Excoffon), Jacno (M. Jacno), Matura (Reiner), Libra (de Roos), Cartoon (Trafton).

Group X: Gothic (Blackletter)

This is the typeface used when the printing in Europe emerged, and in its base is the letter written with broad pen; it came from north from the Alps, and it stayed there. The name “gothic typeface” was given to it by despising Italian humanists. It is still used in Germany and some other European countries.

Gothic is divided into four main groups[2]:

1. Textura (Gotisch). This is a typeface of narrowed and angular letters which consist almost solely of vertical and slant strokes. It is narrow and seems tall. Uppercases are decorated. Lowercases end in slant rectangular on both ends.
Examples: Hupp-Gotisch, Trump-Deutsch, Weiß-Gotisch, Wilhelm Klingspor (R. Koch), Cloister Black, Goudy Text*, Minster Black, Old English Text (Monotype), Schwaben-Alt.

2. Rotunda (Rundgotisch). This was Italianized version of Textura, a transition to Schwabacher. The letters are rounded and the endings are no longer rectangular.
Examples: Wallau (R. Koch), Weiß-Rundgotisch.

3. Schwabacher. This was folk, popular typeface; the origin of the name is unknown. Alexander Nesbitt says that it can be used when one wants to avoid religious tone.[3] It was based on italic manuscript; the French variation is named lettre bâtarde. First Caxton's typefaces belong to this group. It had dynamic uppercases and angled o.
Examples: Renata, Ehmcke-Schwabacher.

4. Fraktur. It is a Gothic most commonly used in Germany today. Nesbitt says: “It is result of Renaissance influence upon Gothic letters – to be more definite, the influence of the baroque element of the Renaissance… One need but examine some of Albrecht Dürer's title pages to see the introduction of the baroque flourishes and movement.”[4] Lowercase letters with upper extensions developed bifurcated endings; lowercase a does not have a knot at the top, and g has an open, curved tail. The whole typeface has a finer form than the Schwabacher. The shifting of curves and angles emerges; uppercases have curved stems.

Examples: Unger-Fraktur, Fette Gotisch, Gilgenart (Zapf), Breitkopf-Fraktur.

4a Fraktur variations. This typeface includes Gothics which do not fit into any of the main four groups.
Examples: Klaudius (R. Koch), Koch-Kurent, Weiss-Fraktur, Heinrichsen-Kanzlei, Tannhäuser.

Group XI: Non-Latin typefaces

This group includes Greek, all Cyrillic, Arabic and oriental typefaces.


[1] La chose imprimée, Paris, 1977, page 581

[2] G. K. Schauer, Klassifikation: Bemühungen um eine Ordnung im Druckschriften-bestand, Darmstadt 1975

[3] A. Nesbitt, Lettering, New York 1950

[4] Nesbitt, 1950, same


Ruari McLean, The Thames and Hudson Manual of Typography, Thames and Hudson Ltd., London, 1980