Digital Type Specimens

Type specimens are as old as printed typography. They were originally designed by printers and type foundries as documents that would show typefaces in use across different applications and with all available weights and styles, so that potential customers could evaluate a typeface’s inherent qualities and stylistic capabilities. Type specimens have become an integral part of our visual culture and the history of graphic design. Just look at the gorgeous examples that can be found in the Internet Archive.

So in times when glyphs made from type metal were far too expensive to buy them just to try out a typeface, printed specimens were an indispensable part of the distribution process. But also later, when the digital distribution of fonts became the new normal, the printed specimen remained an invaluable source of inspiration and the go-to resource for typographers and students in search of the right typeface for the job. I still remember the joy that came with finally buying my own yellow FontBook. It still has a special place in the typography section of my bookshelf, although I open it very rarely these days.

In recent years, however, there has been a shift happening. The advent of web fonts not only allowed font lovers to easily find and try fonts online. But also the type foundries were now able to react accordingly to the shift in the marketplace. So more and more type foundries added type specimens to their websites. Fast forward to today and the digital type specimen is not a misfit anymore. New releases by foundries are often accompanied by increasingly stunning digital type specimens that, thanks to animations and interactive features, take the genre to new heights – and newfound glory. Just take a look at the type specimens of Grilli Type’s GT Zirkon and GT America, Sharp’s Trois Mille, or Klim Type’s Söhne Collection. You’ll also find other great examples in this collection by John D. Jameson.

Now, Mark Boulton has started a new research and design project about type specimens: typespecimens is a collection of beautiful examples as well as a blog. You can also sign up for a weekly newsletter. But Mark will not only curate a list of digital type specimens of the highest quality. Part of the project is also to explore how typeface designers and foundries can provide font users with delightful and useful specimens: “What is the best way to present glyphs? What do designers want to actually do with a specimen? How important is the typeface's back story?”

I’m very much looking forward to what he comes up with and all the great specimens that will be added over time. If you happen to know a beautiful example, I’m sure he would appreciate a short message.

This is the second post of my 100 days of writing series. You can find a list of all posts here.


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