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Didone (typography)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

For the opera by Francesco Cavalli, see Didone (opera).

Didone is a genre of serif typeface that emerged in the late 18th century
and is particularly popular in Europe. It is characterized by:

Narrow and unbracketed (hairline) serifs. (The serifs have a

constant width along their length.)
Vertical orientation of weight axes. (The vertical strokes of letters
are thick.)
Strong contrast between thick and thin lines. (Horizontal parts of
letters are thin in comparison to the vertical parts.)
Some stroke endings show ball terminals. (Many lines end in a
teardrop or circle shape, rather than a plain wedge-shaped serif.)
An unornamented, "modern" appearance.
The category is also known as modern or modern face serif fonts, in
contrast to old style serif designs, which date to the Renaissance period.

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Didot's type in the Code civil des Franais, printed by the company of Firmin Didot
in 1804.

The typeface Centaur, based on 1470s Venetian printing. The narrowest part of
the stroke is at top left/bottom right, so the axis is diagonal and the contrast low.
Bodoni. The contrast has been increased and the axis of the contrast made
Didone types were developed by printers including Firmin Didot,
Giambattista Bodoni and Justus Erich Walbaum, whose eponymous
typefaces, Bodoni, Didot, and Walbaum, remain in use today. Their
goals were to create more elegant, classical designs of printed text,
developing the work of John Baskerville in Birmingham and Fournier in
France towards a more extreme, precise design with intense precision
and contrast, that could show off the increasingly refined printing and
paper-making technologies of the period.[1][2](This type of lettering was
already popular with calligraphers and copperplate engravers, but much
printing in western Europe up to the end of the eighteenth century used
typefaces designed in the sixteenth century or a relatively similar design.
) These trends were also accompanied by changes to page layout
conventions and the abolition of the long s.[4][5][6][7][8][9] Historian Talbot
Baines Reed called the style "trim, sleek, gentlemanly, somewhat

In Britain and America, the lasting influence of Baskerville led to the

creation of types such as Bell and Scotch Roman designs, in the same
spirit as Didone fonts from the continent but less geometric; these like
Baskerville's type are often called transitional serif designs.[11][a] Later
developments of this class have been called Scotch Modern and show
increasing Didone influence.[13]

Early ultra-bold Didone type on a newspaper masthead, 1833.

An ultra-bold Didone typeface from the A.W. Kinsley & Co. foundry, 1829.
The nineteenth century also saw the arrival of bold type, first for
headings, titles and posters, then for emphasis within body text, and
while neither Didot nor Bodoni cut bold type for this latter use
themselves, many Didone-style bold types were created by their
successors.[14][15] A particular development in this direction was the
poster type genre known as 'fat faces', extremely bold designs intended
for posters and signage made by typefounders such as Vincent Figgins.
It matched the desire of advertisers for eye-catching new kinds of
letters that were not merely enlarged forms of body text fonts.[18]

While printers often used Didone typefaces, some "old style" faces
continued to be sold and new ones developed by typefounders.[19] From
around the 1840s onwards, interest began to develop among artisanal
printers in the typefaces of the past.[20][21][22][23]

A revival of interest in the old styles of letter in Britain around 1870 was
criticised by master signpainter James Callingham in his contemporary
textbook on the art:

It is...marvellous to think that, after the much desiderated correction [to

letters] had been applied, an attempt should recently have been made to
introduce these old irregular letters again to the public notice, for the
vagaries of fashion have of late brought into use in the printing trade
several kinds of old-faced types...and the infection has in some degree
been caught by the sign-writer...we have thus, one the one hand, a hard,
an irregular and unfinished letter; and on the other, a graceful,
symmetrical and highly finished letter...there is some indication that this
absurdity, like all fashions that have their birth in bad taste, is happily
passing away, and the modern letter is again asserting its superiority. It
has always been the case in the arts that, after periods of extravaganza
and bizzarerie, there has been a recurrence to sound taste. Positive
retrogession is against nature and any tendency in this direction will
most assuredly correct itself. The adherents of the old irregular
alphabets, which were made so because scarcely anyone was capable
of making them better, might just as reasonably advocate a return to the
rough and unplaned machinery of the first locomotive steam engines,
taking as their model the old "Puffing Billy", now so carefully preserved
in the Patent Museum at South Kensington.[24]

Historian G. Willem Ovink has described late nineteenth-century Didone

types as the most lifeless, regular types ever seen.[25]

The 1861 title page of Great Expectations in the sharp, high-contrast Didone type
of the period. Popular at the time, the style disappeared almost completely by the
middle of the twentieth century.
Didone fonts began to decline in popularity for general use, especially in
the English-speaking world, around the end of the nineteenth century.
The rise of the slab serif and sans-serif genres displaced Didone type
from much display use, while the revival of interest in "old-style" designs
reduced its use in body text. This trend, influenced by the Arts and
Crafts movement, rejected austere, classical designs of type, ultimately
in favour of gentler designs.[23][19] Some of these were revivals of
typefaces from between the Renaissance and the late eighteenth
century such as revivals (with varying levels of faithfulness to the
originals) of the work of Nicolas Jenson, William Caslon's "Caslon"
typefaces and others such as Bembo and Garamond. Others such as
"Old Styles" from Miller and Richard, Goudy Old Style and Imprint were
new designs on the same pattern.[26]

An early example of the distaste some printers had for the modern type
style was French printer Louis Perrin, who would eventually commission
some new typeface designs on a traditional model.[27][28] He wrote in

You ask me what kind of whim leads me to revive types of the sixteen
century todayI often have to reprint old poetry [from the sixteenth
century] and this task invariably makes me oddly uneasy. I cannot
recognise in my proofs the versesour present day punches, which are
so precise, so correct, so regularly aligned, so mathematically
symmetricalno doubt have their merits, but I should prefer to see them
kept for printing reports on the railway.[29]

In Elements of Lettering, Goudy comments on the work of Baskerville and Bodoni

in a book typeset with his Kennerley Old Style. Kennerley is an example of the
revival of 'old style' fonts that began to displace Didone type for much general use
around the end of the nineteenth century.[30]
Frederic Goudy, an Arts and Crafts movement-inspired printer turned
type designer, had similar reservations about the lettering style. While he
mentioned Bodoni in his book Elements of Lettering, he wrote that it was
a style "for which the writer cannot develop any enthusiasm", adding:
"his pages [had] the brilliance of a fine engraving. The writer dislikes
Bodoni's types, because none of them seem free from a feeling of
artificiality"[30] As an experiment in this period, Goudy attempted to
'redeem' Didone capitals for titling purposes by leaving a white line in the
centre of the thick strokes. He hoped this design, Goudy Open, would
leave a lighter colour (density of ink) on the paper.[30][31]

Nonetheless, Didone designs have remained in use, and the genre is

recognised on the VOX-ATypI classification system of typefaces and by
the Association Typographique Internationale (AtypI).[32] The genre
remains particularly popular for general-purpose use in the printing of
Greek, as the Didot family were among the first to set up a printing press
in the newly independent country, and in mathematics, as the standard
mathematical typesetting programmes TeX and LaTeX use the
Computer Modern family as default, to produce an effect explicitly
inspired by nineteenth-century scientific printing.[33][34]

Among popular faces in modern use, the typeface family Century is

inspired by later American Didone designs, although compared to many
in the Didone genre it has quite a low level of stroke contrast, suitably for
its purpose of high legibility in body text. Typefaces of the period have
often been revived since for cold type and digital composition, while
modern typefaces along the same lines include Filosofia and the open-
source Computer Modern. Some later Didone families have focused on
subgenres of the period, such as Surveyor, inspired by labels on maps,
and Morris Fuller Benton's Ultra Bodoni and Matthew Carter's Elephant,
reinterpretations of 'fat face' designs.[17]

Didone type (among other styles) makes up the body text of this French
newspaper, printed in 1890.
In print, Didone fonts are often used on high-gloss magazine paper for
magazines such as Harper's Bazaar, on which the paper retains the
detail of their high contrast well, and for whose image a crisp, 'European'
design of type may be considered appropriate.[35] They are used more
often for general-purpose body text, such as book printing, in Europe.

The effective use of digital Didone typefaces poses unique challenges.

While they can look very elegant due to their regular, rational design and
fine strokes, a known effect on readers is 'dazzle', where the thick
verticals draw the reader's attention and cause them to struggle to
concentrate on the other, much thinner strokes that define which letter is
which.[8][36][37] For this reason, using the right optical size of digital font
has been described as particularly essential with Didone designs.[38]
Fonts to be used at text sizes will be sturdier designs with thicker 'thin'
strokes and serifs (less stroke contrast) and more space between letters
than on display designs, to increase legibility.[39][40] Optical sizes were a
natural requirement of printing technology at the time of Didone
typefaces' first creation in metal type, since each size of metal type
would be custom-cut, but declined as the pantograph, phototypesetting
and digital fonts made printing the same font at any size simpler; a
revival has taken place in recent years.[41][42] French designer Loc
Sander has suggested that the dazzle effect may be particularly
common in designs produced in countries where designers are
unfamiliar with how to use them effectively and may choose Didone
fonts designed for headings.[43] Many modern Didone digital revivals
intended for professional printing, such as Parmagiano, ITC Bodoni and
Hoefler & Frere-Jones' Didot and Surveyor, have a range of optical
sizes, but this is less common on default computer fonts.[43][44][45][46]
Among default Didone fonts on computer systems, Century Schoolbook
on Windows is oriented towards body text use, while the Didot revival on
OS X was specifically intended for display use and not for body text.

Fat face type on a poster. London, c. 1840s

The shape of nineteenth-century Didone designs, with their narrow
apertures, has been suggested as a major influence on many early
sans-serif fonts such as Akzidenz-Grotesk and its derivatives such as
Helvetica, developed in Europe some years after their introduction.[47]
An example of this influence is the narrow apertures of these designs, in
which strokes on letters such as a and c fold up to become vertical,
similar to what is seen on Didone serif fonts.[48]

Matthew Carter's Scotch Roman-inspired computer font Georgia is

notable as an extremely distant descendent of Didone typefaces. In
Georgia, the stroke contrast is greatly reduced and the bold made much
bolder than normal in order for the design to render well on a low-
resolution computer monitor, but the general letter shape and ball
terminals of Scotch Roman designs are preserved. He also developed
the Scotch Roman revival Miller for print use.[49] Given these unusual
design decisions, Matthew Butterick, an expert on document design,
recommended that organizations using Georgia for onscreen display
license Miller to achieve a complementary, more balanced reading
experience on paper.[50][51]
Reverse-contrast styles[edit]
See also: French Clarendon type and reverse-contrast typefaces

A document printed in 1836, showing Didone (body text), 'Italian' (the word
'proceedings') and early sans-serif fonts.
An eccentric method of reworking and parodying Didone typefaces has
long been to invert the contrast, making the thin strokes thick and the
thick strokes thin.[52][53] First seen around 1821 in Britain and
occasionally revived since, these are often called reverse-contrast fonts.
They effectively become slab serif designs because of the serifs
becoming thick. In the 19th century, these designs were called Italian
because of their exotic appearance, but this name is problematic since
the designs have no clear connection with Italy; they do slightly
resemble capitalis rustica Roman writing, although this may be a
coincidence. They were also called Egyptian, an equally inauthentic term
applied to slab serifs of the period.[54][55]

Intended as attention-grabbing novelty display designs more than as

serious choices for body text, within four years of their introduction the
printer Thomas Curson Hansard had described them as 'typographic
monstrosities'.[56] Nonetheless, somewhat toned-down derivatives of this
style persisted in popular use throughout the nineteenth century, and are
commonly associated with 'wild west' printing on posters.[57][58]They
ultimately became part of the Clarendon genre of slab-serif typefaces,
and these later designs are often called French Clarendon designs.[59]