fredag 8 januari 2016

Plantin - a very useful typeface.

Being stingy by nature I am reluctant to pay for typefaces when so many are available free of charge. But there are some tasks that the free typefaces do not do well. Times Roman is a pleasant though suffers from being everywhere. It also photocopies badly as the thin parts of its letters are hairline-thin. Smaller than 11 point fails entirely. Times Roman Bold is horrible, which makes the font useless if the idea is to give emphasis.

The trouble with Times Roman is that it was designed as a metal type to be printed on absorbent paper, so that the ink would spread and thicken the letters. Unfortunately, when it was digitised, the model was the metal type, not the actual images made on paper.

One typeface that gets round this problem is the Plantin range, which was the model on which the original Times was based. It was created about 100 years ago from heavily-inked impressions of a seventeenth century document in a museum in Antwerp. It photocopies well and legibly down to 9 point. This makes it useful for newsletters, music sheets, scripture readings, etc.

There is a fundamental difficulty when digitising metal types. With metal types, the small font sizes are not just reductions of the larger sizes. The proportions change too - the smaller sizes of metal types were widened, technically known as expanded to prevent the open parts of the letters getting blocked up with ink.

Strangely, when Monotype digitised Plantin, it used 8 point as the model. This was expanded and had a relatively smaller x-height. Thus in the larger sizes - 11 point and upwards - it looks noticeably different from prints from the original metal type of the same size.

News Plantin is the font which retains the original character of Plantin in the larger sizes, being slightly condensed and having a large x-height. The difference is apparent in the letter "O", which is circular in Plantin but oval in News Plantin.

There are some useful extensions including Old Style (non-lining) numerals, small caps, and different weights; there is a light, and a decent-looking semi-bold where emphasis is needed.

The sets of typefaces are available from They are a bit pricey but a good investment if you are turning out printed material in any quantity.

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