Most of us have probably had to write some kind of work, assessable activity, report, letter or computer document at some point. And very probably we have also had to choose from a large number of fonts the most suitable type of font depending on the situation or even the meta-preference aesthetics: Arial, Times New Roman, Calibri, Cambria…
Throughout history, and since the invention of writing and the first graphics generated to represent our ideas, a large number of typefaces or typographies have emerged , even within the same language. There are so many options that various attempts have been made to classify them, of which in this article we will see two specific examples.
Fonts: elements to take into account
When classifying typefaces, it is important to bear in mind that there are many factors that authors can look at: the stroke, the thinness of the lines, the presence or absence of trims, the shape (more rounded or more square), the direction of its axis, the maintenance or variability in thickness.
It must also be taken into account that writing, like oral language, also evolves and changes over time, generating new types of spelling and uses for it. In general, it is also necessary to consider that the different types of letters can be more or less appropriate in different contexts, although this would make more reference to their use than to the type of writing itself.
Below are two of the most common classifications, although there are a multitude of ways to catalogue them . We’ll focus on the Latin alphabet.
1. Thibaudeau classification
It is considered that the pioneer in attempting to classify the types or fonts was Francis Thibaudeau, who classified the fonts into two groups clearly depending on whether or not they had serifs or auctions . He would later include a third group as a drawer for those that could not be considered within the two previous ones.
We understand as serifs all the fonts and typefaces that have small ornamental ends, generally at their ends. This is a typeface that generally offers a more elegant appearance than without serifs (or trims), giving a more professional appearance. One of the most used examples of this typeface is the Times New Roman .
It is also possible to subdivide the serifs into three groups: ancient Romans (little difference between thick and thin strokes, concave and triangular serifs), modern Romans (noticeable differences between thick and thin strokes but more stylized than the previous ones) and Egyptians (machine-like, with strokes of the same thickness and rectangular serifs).
1.2. Sans serif
This group is characterized by not having a serif, being its characters rounded and without any kind of ornamentation at its ends. It is a simple and easy to read typeface , with a cleaner and more informal appearance than those with serif. Also known as dry-stick. One of the best known examples of this typeface is the one that appears in the Arial font.
This group includes mainly handwritten and decorative letters, which either do not have a stable and maintained pattern or have as their main function not so much to express at a written level but rather at an image level .
2. Vox-ATypI classification
One of the best known classifications is the one proposed by Maximilien Vox, typographer, historian, journalist and graphic illustrator. This man advocated the elaboration of a classification in different typologies of letters, creating the Vox typographic classification in France during 1954. He based himself on the classification made by Thibaudeau .
In fact, this classification system is one of the most widely used in all fields and is accepted as a standard by the International Typography Association. Over time it has received revisions, the latest being the one carried out by the aforementioned association: the Vox-ATypI. In this last revision, the typefaces are classified into the following groups.
They are called humanistic or Venetian to a typeface similar to that of the 15th century manuscripts in Renaissance Venice . They have small ends, with little difference and contrast between strokes (there is not much difference between a broad stroke and a fine stroke) and with wide separation between letters. Some fonts that use these typefaces are the Centaur and the Jenson.
The garaldas, also called aldinas, are a type of typography characterized by a more marked contrast between fine and thick strokes, although their proportions are no more fine and stylized. They owe their name to Claude Garamond and Aldo Manucio, sixteenth-century typographers. Another name given to this typeface is Antiguas. Examples of this are the fonts Garaldus and Palatino .
Initially born in the Royal Printing House, the typefaces known as real or transition fonts are characterized by being almost completely vertical (the previous ones have a more oblique axis) and have a more marked difference between thick and thin strokes than the previous ones. It has characteristics of both classic and modern typographies , although it is identified with the first group. The well-known Times New Roman is part of this group, as well as many others such as the Baskerville or the Century Schoolbook.
The didonas are named after the French typographer Didot, although his style was later perfected by Bodoni. They appeared around the eighteenth century to differentiate themselves from the typefaces of the old regimes, at the time of the French Revolution. In this typeface the difference between strokes is very marked and there is little separation between each letter. Century and Madison are examples of this typeface, also called Modern Roman.
Also called Egyptian, they are typical of the Industrial Revolution and slightly emulate the technological aspect of the time. They have a lack of difference between fine and thick strokes (all the strokes look practically the same) and rectangular serifs of the same stroke size as the rest of the lettering, something that projects a certain image of strength . Rockwell, Memphis, or Clarendon are examples.
The group of linears includes in a large set the fonts without serifs or trims. They are cleaner and more informal, and were introduced for commercial and advertising use. Within them we can find four large groups:
Grotesque : Similar to the mechanical ones but with no tops, they look a bit square and with some contrast between strokes. An example would be the Franklin Gothic.
Neogrotesque : As above but with less contrast and more stylization. One of the best known nowadays is Helvetica.
Geometrical : These letters are striking because of their monolineal or clearly geometrical appearance. There is little difference between the different letters of the alphabet, having very similar shapes. The letter Bauhaus is one of them, as well as the Futura.
Humanists : Partial recovery of the Renaissance styles and with some similarity to the classic human and garaldian styles (although they are different from these, besides not having a finish). An example: the Gill Sans font.
This style tends to seek to imitate the letters used in engravings on different materials, with uppercase letters being especially important (there are no uppercase letters in some types, in fact). They seem to be carved, with a great amplitude similar in all their letters or with small and compact sarifas. An example of this is the letter Trajan or the Perpetua.
Imitation of the letter that arises when using writing instruments such as pen or brush when writing. They are usually in italics and there may even be no separation between letters when they are joined together. One such font is Hyperion.
Similar to the previous ones, but made with more separation and in an apparently more calligraphic way. More advertising and used to highlight and make more visual the written . The Klang or Cartoon font are some of the types included in this group.
Group that gathers the letters of the type Gothic, they are very ornamental and usually have pointed forms. Fraktur is one example. They are included in the original Vox classification, but the International Typography Association decided to separate them.
The latter group would include any type of spelling not corresponding with the Latin alphabet . Thus alphabets such as Greek, Arabic, Chinese or Hebrew would fall into this classification.