Playing favourites, part three.

“What’s your favourite font?” is an impossible question. I like too many to answer with brevity. So here are some I like, accompanied by specimens and short explanations.

1,046 words by Kris Sowersby
17 January 2013

It’s important to distinguish between what I consider my “favourite fonts” and typefaces that I think are good. There is a lot of overlap, but this is a small list of my personal favourites.

Here is part one and part two.

Minion from ‘Detail in Typography’ by Jost Hochuli, published by Hyphen Press, 2009.

It was Bringhurst’s The Elements of Typographic Style that opened my eyes to Slimbach’s masterful Minion. It’s a huge family, but the core parts — the Roman and Italic — are the bedrock. Minion sets solidly, it’s a true Garalde workhorse text typeface. Aesthetically it stays on the right side of boring, sets economically and is sharp without becoming shrill. It’s amazing to me that such a terrific typeface is essentially given away with Adobe’s Creative Suite.

Mistral from ‘A Book of Type and Design’ by Oldřich Hlavsa, 1960.

Still one of the best scripts available. It’s vivacious and natural, Excoffon’s best work in my humble opinion. He managed to cleverly hide the script connections, working with the natural flow rather than against it. This is a deceptively sophisticated typeface.

Open Capitals from ‘On Designing and Devising Type’ by Jan van Krimpen, published by The Typophiles, 1957.

Elegant and stately, these are finely balanced and executed letterforms. The subtle modulated outlines and short, sharp serifs work together beautifully. They are “inscriptional” without being tedious and musty.

Optima from ‘About Alphabets’ by Hermann Zapf, published by The Typophiles, 1960.

A divisive typeface. I suspect that most of the negative feelings toward Optima are generated from the digital versions. I myself did not appreciate Optima until I saw it used in About Alphabets, a wonderfully designed and printed book about Zapf’s type-design. Optima works so well in this book, it is calm, elegant and modern. It still feels fresh, despite being nearly 60 years old.

Oranda from Unger’s website.


This was the first typeface of Unger’s that I was aware of and used for several small graphic design jobs. It’s a small, well-equipped family and very robust. I used to run jobs on the Risograph, which treats typefaces brutally, and Oranda performed like a charm.

Plantin from the ‘Monotype Composition Faces’ specimen.

In metal it’s wide, robust and strong. I gravitate towards Platin’s printed impression, the density in text setting is nice and dark. I also like the digital versions, the density is retained and prints nicely in things like Hyphen Press’s Froshaug books or Monocle magazine.

PMN Caecilia 45 from ‘Eine neue Egyptienne’, Typografische Monatsblätter, Heft 5, 1993.

Possibly the most convincing ‘humanist’ slab-serif out there. Noordzij has drawn a fully-featured slab that works wonderfully in text. He’s artfully combined the strength of the slab genre with the warmth of the Dutch humanist hand and created a classic. The italic is simply wonderful.

Preissig from ‘A Book of Type and Design’ by Oldřich Hlavsa, 1960.

Angular, weird and surprisingly elegant, Preissig has always intrigued me. I’ve never seen it used and often wondered what it could be used for. Storm has a decent digital version.

Capitals by J.F. Rosart from Enschedé’s 1931 ‘A Selection of Types’ Specimen.

Broad and confident with keen serifs, I find these caps irresistible. The spur on the apex of A, the outlandish serifs on E and tucked-in bowl of P all seem to work together on balance. The open versions are particularly dignified.

Sabon from the ‘Linotype-Schriften’ specimen, 1967.

Not many typographers successfully design typefaces. Tschichold is one of the few who managed to cross the divide from using type to making type. Made to fit multiple typesetting systems, Sabon does have a a few flaws. Even with the compromises entailed I think it’s a very successful typeface. Sabon feels vital and clean, a contemporary Garalde. I prefer the metal version to digital.

FF Scala Sans from ‘The Elements of Typographic Style’ by Robert Bringhurst, 2001.

One of the first digital “humanist” sanserifs and still one of the best. It’s not an overly refined typeface, but that is precisely what makes it work. I first appreciated the strength of Scala Sans in Bringhurst’s The Elements of Typographic Style. It feels very skeletal and serious. The roman is sharp and clear, the italic is “true” and even sharper. Uncoated stock brings out the best in both styles, I think.

Signal from Berthold’s ‘Schriftproben Nr. 405’.

This script straddles the line between clunky and endearing. It’s a strong monoline and some forms are almost abstract. I can’t clearly articulate what I find appealing about Signal, I just like it.

From ‘Active Literature’ by Christopher Burke, published by Hyphen Press, 2007.

Sharp, interesting and modern. I like that Tschichold retained residual serifs where necessary. It’s a well-considered take on the stencil genre. Neither constrained by overly rational geometric principles — like his Transito — nor simply a “stencilled” version of an existing type, this is quite original.

The Sans from the Lucas Fonts website.

Published in 1994, The Sans is still as fresh and versatile as ever. Like PMN Caecilia, it’s Dutch through-and-through, the hand-hewn humanism coalescing about every curve. de Groot writes that it “has come to epitomize the useful-yet-friendly, all-purpose contemporary sans-serif”, and I wholeheartedly agree.

Tribute from the dedicated type specimen issued by Emigre, 2003.

I have a soft-spot for Tribute: it was the very first typeface I licensed as a student. I scrimped and saved for it. Seduced by Emigre’s fascinating printed specimen (1.2Mb PDF), Tribute felt historic and contemporary at the same time. It’s dark and interesting in text setting, I was hooked. Unfortunately I never got to use it for a real job, and I rarely see it out in the “real world”. That in no way detracts from how I feel about it, it’s still a wonderful typeface.

Playing Favourites Part One and Part Two.

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