The History Of Typeface


Typeface is something that is often overlooked and there is seldom much appreciation for the history or the evolution of typography. However, it’s something that has changed significantly and is also used on an almost everyday basis by so many of us.


Typography looks into the evolution of printed letters and originates with the ideographs of the Egyptians and Native Americans, which stretch back thousands of years. Ideography substitutes images for symbols and abstraction and is still used in the Eastern world today.
It wasn’t until the Phoenicians that letters came about and the alphabet as we loosely know it did not exist until the Greeks had their turn. That’s not solely all the Greeks did. They also created the first vowels. However, they still lacked punctuation and a lower case.

Of course, the Romans had their say in matters too and changed, added and discarded letters, while also adding serifs and the first form of punctuation in the finishing stroke – a line at the end of a sentence. They also came up with lower case to speed matters up; it allowed scribes to write faster as the letters were smaller.

Thanks to the dark ages little really changed in the world of typography until 1,000AD or so. At this point the letter U and W were created and added into the mix. J was then added 500 years later as a letter based on I cumulating in a very slow 1,000+ years in the world of typography. However, things were about to change thanks to the printing press.

Post Printing Press

Guttenberg’s invention was one of the most important changes to come about in the history of the world. It allowed for punctuation and also a real lower case and even an italic typeface.

However, the most important man in the world of typography also came to the fore at this time – Claude Garamond.

Garamond will be most likely familiar to you as there is a typeface named after him. However, it was he who created the first form of Roman font, as well as introduced a Gothic font in the 16th century. These sufficed and most books of the time are printed in a mixture of the two. This was the case until the 1780s.

Fermin Didot arrived on the scene and created the first modern Roman and also the first square serif in 1816. The next year the sans serif was introduced to much ridicule, funny to think of now.

The next personality of major importance in typography was Frederic Goudy, who was the world’s first full time typographer. From the 1920s onwards he introduced a number of forms of typography to the world.

Computer typeface changed the world forever and it was Apple’s Macintosh that pushed the boundaries with GUI. This provided you with an on screen view, where what you saw was exactly what you got.

Computer Days

Adobe’s PostScript, which used mathematical calculations rather than pixilation was the next step, though was extremely expensive, albeit revolutionary. Apple and Microsoft saw this high cost as problematic and so developed their own script – TrueType. The low cost of this meant designing typography was now cheap and all sorts of type were created, although much of it varied in terms of quality. Type and all sorts of type face were now everywhere.

So, the next the time you read a book, website or cheap flyer printing; think of the evolution and how much time it took for the type to develop.

Colin O’Donnell writes for UK print company and has written numerous articles on web design and print and flyer printing.

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