The inevitable debate begins whenever somebody remarks, “Wait—why are people still making typefaces?” From there, the responses come in rapid succession. They range from the baffling—“We have enough already! Who needs more?”—to the rather limiting, albeit humorous, “Can’t we just use Helvetica or Univers for everything?”
We can never have enough typefaces. And the fonts released up to this point in 2016 are a treasure trove of delights. Seeking to suss out some highlights, Print polled an array of experts to get their take on the best of the best so far.
These experts considered craft, aesthetics, concept, function, technology, utility and versatility during the judging process, and they also judged beauty—or the lack thereof. The final results are by no means conclusive nor are they complete since there’s still time left in 2016. But the exercise shows that amazingly talented typographers continue to deliver the goods to a marketplace of designers as hungry as ever for new typography.
So the next time somebody asks that familiar question—“Why do we need another typeface?”—simply reply, “Why not?”
To pull together this list, we contacted typographers and designers in the trenches, along with educators, writers and critics. The following contributed their thoughts and votes, trusting their eyes and personal tastes. (For the scoop on our methodology, scroll to the bottom of this page.)
- Sean Adams, executive director, ArtCenter Graduate Graphic Design
- Jason Alejandro, designer and educator, art director at JK Design
- Alan and Amanda Altman, A3 Design
- Doug Bartow, principal and design director, id29
- Peter Biľak, Typotheque.com, Fontstand.com, WorksThatWork.com, TPTQ-Arabic.com
- Curtis Canham, author, A-holes: A Type Book, #yayforaholes
- Michèle Champagne, designer and founder of A-B-Z-TXT, a school for 21st-century typography
- Kevin Finn, founder and creative director, TheSumOf, founder of
- Kyle Gallant, designer and co-founder, Ligatures YYZ
- Mitch Goldstein, designer, assistant professor, Rochester Institute of Technology School of Design
- Alex Haigh, founder and creative director, HypeForType
- Allan Haley, writer and consulting typographer
- Indra Kupferschmid, typographer, professor of typography, HBKsaar
- Rob Mientjes, type designer, Tiny Type Co., designer of books, websites, apps
- Andrew Novialdi, graphic design and lettering artist
- Amy Papaelias, design educator, founding member, Alphabettes.org
- Mads Jakob Poulsen, creative director, Poulsen Projects
- Andy Pratt, executive creative director, Favorite Medium
- Theo Rosendorf, author, Typographic Desk Reference, creative director,
- Michael Stinson, creative director, TypeEd and Ramp Creative
- Scott Stowell, proprietor, Open, author, Design for People
- Ian Varrassi, associate creative director, MODE
- Terrance Weinzierl, type designer, Monotype
Disclaimer: The personal opinions expressed by this panel do not necessarily reflect those of their employers. And now … the type!
A double-threat, Operator Mono is a monospaced (fixed-width) face that’s great for coding, and its “natural width” companion Operator is suitable for a broad range of design uses. Not only did its breadth and utility earn it compliments, but its promotional video adds to its allure.
Foundry: Hoefler & Co., New York City
Designers: Designed by Hoefler & Co. by Andy Clymer, Jordan Bell and Troy Leinster; artistic direction by Jonathan Hoefler
- Operator is inspired by typewriter faces, and offers the authorial voice of typewriting, with nine weights (from Thin to Ultra), featuring small caps and an especially piquant italic
- Operator Mono was designed with the command-line editor in mind, where developers and programmers spend their days
- The face includes ScreenSmart variations specifically designed for web and mobile applications.
“With a history steeped in old-school typewriter fonts, it has a touch of nostalgia with a modern twist.”
—Alan and Amanda Altman
“Fixed-width typewriter fonts compromise on form by compressing and expanding characters, resulting in odd-looking glyphs such as overly cramped ‘M’s and ‘W’s. Operator has the look of typewriting but without these formal anomalies. [It] will work as well in your code editor as in your love letter.”
This isn’t your average condensed typeface, and it proves that big things come in small packages. This fully duplexed beauty will come in handy the next time you need different grades for your website’s link styles.
Foundry: Commercial Type, New York City and London
Designers: Erik van Blokland, assisted by Dave Foster
- Action Condensed was designed for the screen, without an overtly neutral personality
- Each of the family’s four weights has three grades on the same width, allowing text to change weight on rollover without disrupting the layout
- It works as well on a poster as it does in a web browser or on a mobile phone.
“Like all of Commercial Type’s work, this family is familiar (and warm) enough to be super useful but inventive (and sturdy) enough that I don’t think, Why did anybody bother to make this? And I’m on board with anything that does such a specific job but ends up being right for so many others.”
“Incredibly simple yet beautiful. … Each [weight] is drawn ‘on precisely the same set of character widths’ so text never reflows as a result of switching grades in the design. Wow, that’s a useful feature.”
If you’re looking for a fully loaded sans, look no further. This face loads everything you need into one package. It’s classic. It’s a grotesque. It’s not your run-of-the-mill sans serif. What more could you want?
Foundry: Monotype, Woburn, MA
Designer: Rod McDonald
- Classic Grotesque has all the attributes of the early grotesque fonts of the 20th century
- A revival of the original, it now includes 42 completely new weights—seven weights each of normal, condensed, compressed and extended designs, from light to extra bold, each with a cursive italic complement
- It has a total of 56 styles
- Its neutral appearance and excellent features make it suitable for nearly all imaginable applications.
“There are so many great new sans serif typefaces, but how can you go wrong when using Classic Grotesque? It saves the wonkiness of Monotype Grotesque but refines the forms to be legible in text—so much warmer than that chilly Helvetica or Univers.”
Versatile, expansive and utilitarian, the Equitan Sans and Equitan Slab typefaces are suitable for a variety of needs, with a look and feel that stands out from the herd of faces designers have been using—or overusing—for decades. Fun fact from the foundry: The name Equitan is an anagram of antique.
Foundry: Indian Type Foundry, Ahmedabad, India
Designer: Diana Ovezea
- Together, Equitan Sans and Equitan Slab make up an astounding 28-font super family ready for use in branding projects, editorial and packaging design
- The initial inspiration for this family came from Palmer & Rey’s 1884 “rather magical” 48-point Antique, with its oversized serifs and closed apertures
- Ovezea wanted to make a type family that is both sturdy and flavorful, with balanced low-contrast letterforms.
“While I’m usually not one to get excited about another neo-grotesque super family that promises to provide a new voice in an already crowded chorus, Equitan Sans and Equitan Slab do just that. If typography really is [the] soul of any reading experience, then it’s time to move beyond the easy or default choices (I’m looking at you, Helvetica and Open Sans). Equitan offers just enough quirkiness (check out that lowercase ‘y’ and double-story ‘g’) without compromising readability.”
Want something bold, muscular and attention-grabbing … and just maybe backslanted? That’s just scratching the surface of Triade’s features, all of which will make your layout stand out from the rest. Thanks to an x-height that’s tall and confident, Triade has the oomph and personality to stop readers in their tracks.
Foundry: Coppers and Brasses, Montreal
Designer: Étienne Aubert Bonn
- Triade is a family of three styles in a single heavy weight: Triade Upright, Triade Slanted
and Triade Backslant
- The Slanted and Backslant versions were manually optimized to match the weight and contrast of the Upright version
- The character set supports over 200 languages
- Diacritics and punctuation are available in two styles—heavy and thin—through OpenType features
- Some special symbols are available in an ornamented variant through OpenType features.
“Triade is a very heavy grotesque of the quirky, hand-drawn variety.”
“Triade rocks leather jackets and listens to hip hop. It would look good as a letterpress poster in big bold colors, neo–Alan Kitching style.”
GT Eesti is as rich visually as it is historically, with roots in sans serif typography from Eastern Europe. Everything about the typeface exudes friendliness, confidence and utility, from its geometric forms to the display and text subfamilies.
Foundry: Grilli Type, Zurich
Designer: Reto Moser
- GT Eesti is a free-spirited interpretation of the Soviet geometric sans serif Zhurnalnaya Roublennaya
- Research began with books from Soviet-occupied Estonia; designers developed the typeface to suit today’s needs, expanding it into separate Display and Text subfamilies for both Latin & Cyrillic.
“I really like the structure and expanse of the font—consistent and balanced across a number of Cyrillic characters.”
“Eesti has a playful, whimsical quality that is present but not overpowering—it’s quirky without being silly, and has just the right mix of restraint and expression. If Wes Anderson moved away from using Futura in his films, I feel like he would use Eesti.”
Modern in its execution, with an inventive batch of decorative elements and plenty of OpenType features, PS Fournier is a workhorse for text and display. When you see it in use at Typofonderie’s website, you’ll want to give it an immediate test drive.
Foundry: Typofonderie, Clamart, France
Designer: Stéphane Elbaz
- The face was designed in tribute to Pierre-Simon Fournier, the prolific Parisian type designer
whose work is best known for its iconic representation of the French transitional style
- The family consists of three optical sizes, designed to perform in any context.
“The details in this face are astounding. The family also has over a hundred borders, rules and ornaments—or as the French call them, vignettes.”
“It successfully captures the quintessence of French style in the early Modern era. The additional banners and borders enrich the typeface.”
One look at Kopius and your mind will begin racing with all the possible applications for this cheery typeface. Amy Papaelias found it “both open and airy, but also grounded with a refined palette,” noting, “I think we’ll be seeing more of Kopius on food-related packaging and in publishing needs.”
Foundry: Kontour, Houston
Designer: Sibylle Hagmann
- Kopius is a contemporary serif type that features friendly characteristics with round, open counters conveying a relaxed ambiance
- With packaging solutions in mind, the family includes sets of expandable and combinable box heading material, offering a range of adjusted composites
- Each weight includes pertinent labels, weight-adjusted arrows, and word logos
- OpenType features include figure sets, small caps, fractions and more.
“Using this throughout a publication would create a uniform feel whilst still adding warmth to the page (be that print or digital).”
—Mads Jakob Poulsen
“For something that has so many twists and turns in the bracket style, this type is surprisingly good in small body texts.”
“This gets best design … unique, easy to read.”
Offering breadth and beauty, Canvas would be a perfect fit for package design, headings, brand identity—you name it. When you find the ideal context, there’s plenty to choose from in terms of weights, accents and styles. An added bonus? Look at those lovable icons. Canvas is as much a typeface as it is a toy box.
Foundry: Yellow Design Studio, Sanibel, FL
Designers: Ryan Martinson, Rena Martinson
- Canvas is composed of nine different hand-painted font families
- It features a highly detailed, authentic acrylic-on-canvas texture
- It has unique layering effects, and contains over 400 icons, shapes, flowers and seasonal elements.
“Well designed, endless options, great value.”
Hobeaux Rococeaux, based on Hobeaux, stands out in more ways than one, with judges regarding it as fantastic and intricate as well as bizarre—but in a good way. Although released in 2015, James Edmondson’s Hobeaux is a must-have if you’re going to add Hobeaux Rococeaux to your typographic toolbox because the two make magic together—or mayhem, depending on how you apply it.
Foundry: OH no Type Company, San Francisco
Designer: James Edmondson
- The face is a hybrid between Hobeaux Classic and Carlyle Rococco by Paul Carlyle for photolettering
- It features four styles: Regular, Background (for multicolor settings), Sherman (for setting smaller text) and Borders (for creating elaborate frames).
“This is insane. I love it. What could I ever use it for? I don’t care. It’s the best. I have always been a Hobo fan, and I love that OH no already did a nice revival of it already, but this is something else. And it comes with ‘a Drawbot script for generating the borders’? What is that? I’m in.”
A script with flow, Skill received an array of comments from the judges. Michael Stinson notes that he especially loves the lowercase ‘g.’ Andrew Novialdi appreciates “how tricky it is to make brush lettering with all its variants” and admires “the vivacity and dynamism of gestured brush lettering” that it captured.
Foundry: Lián Types, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Designer: Maximiliano R. Sproviero
- Skill is a script with wild, gestural charm that captures the spirit of the pointed brush and its expressiveness
- It includes many alternates and ligatures per glyph.
“This is a versatile alternative to traditional brush script fonts. The optional flair that this font offers is fun and easy to use for many projects.”
—Alan and Amanda Altman
“Graffiti and brush lettering are near to my heart. I love when I see brush scripts that have a really urban feel. There is great flow to this script typeface as well.”
Finally … how did we arrive at this list?
In round one, experts shared their own selections of the best faces released since January. They could be free fonts or paid fonts from any foundry, small or large. They could be brand new, a revival, an update or expansion, and for any use: functional or decorative, formal or casual. They could be workhorses, fun attention-getters, or carry extra weight for a variety of reasons, from their backstories to technological innovations.
The first list was compiled and broken down into categories. In round two a second group of experts ranked them in order of preference in each category. Points were assigned to each expert’s ranking using the Borda count method: x points went to a first choice, x–1 went to a second choice and x–2 to a third choice, and so forth. The process was repeated in a third round in which experts could have ties among typefaces or refrain from voting for one or more.
At the conclusion of judging, each typeface’s total score was calculated, and because of extreme differences—such as a typeface receiving both very high and very low ranking points—the median score was used instead of its average. A high median score put it at the top of its category, but those with a high number of abstentions—no votes—were removed.
For seven runners up, click here.
All too often, typography gets overlooked in larger design competitions—which is why we developed one that gives the artforms their full due and recognizes the best designers in each category. Whether you design your own typefaces, design type-centric pieces or create gorgeous handlettered projects, we want to see your work—and share it with our readers.
Enter today for a chance to be featured in Print magazine, receive a prize pack from MyDesignShop.com, and more.