What is the future of Type Specimens? Are they still used or is it a dying art?

What is the future of Type specimens? are people still designing type specimens to go in emails or to be delivered on the door step? Whats the future of Printed Type specimens? are they of any use to type setters any more?

Nick Shinn's picture

I’ve published a few. My most recent:

However, that was five years ago and since then I’ve generally produced specimen PDFs that people may print out, or view online. For dedicated print, I’ve taken out a few ads (e.g. in Eye magazine) and been participating in compendium volumes, e.g.—


I think printed specimens will be around for a long time. Quite apart from the issue of whether screen will replace print in general commercial work, or their functionality, printed specimens are beautiful objets d’art that typographers cherish, part of an ancient tradition that still informs design culture, especially typography.

brockfrench's picture

~ to follow

peterdavis's picture

Hi Nick,

I was interested in your post and thought I'd offer my perspective.

You might be shocked to learn this, but in the three years since graduating from my Graphic Design degree, I haven't seen a printed specimen once. While I don't often design for print (but I do consider typography a key part of my work) I don't think that's the reason I don't own any printed specimens. After all, I've got nothing against print; my shelves are packed with design books. For me personally I tend to collect, organise and refer to sources of inspiration on the computer. I can't be alone, as there are many apps dedicated for this purpose. There is just so much great stuff online now and it's so easy to collect and quick to refer to, I can't really imagine using a book for that reference. So while I rely on type specimens, I haven't personally felt the need to have them in print. My books tend to be educational, rather than inspiration/reference material. Of course if any design book is pleasing enough, I'm having it. Purely in terms of content, I've found that design books no longer tend to be of a higher quality than the equivalent websites. Or rather, the quality of content on the web has dramatically improved in recent years to the extent that I no longer necessarily seek out printed media when looking for quality content. Tactile qualities aside, obviously.

I agree that printed specimens will stick around. They are indeed beautiful; I just checked out your books. I'll always remember the first font I bought (Tungsten by H&FJ) and the reason I bought it in a heartbeat was because of the fantastic specimens that demonstrated the font in use. I don't need to see them in print to appreciate them, especially now with retina displays. When I'm looking for a new fonts for a project, I find it difficult to judge the quality (and qualities) of a font unless I can see some well made examples. I often see those in emails and websites of foundries, but I don't see them as much as I'd like to, and hardly ever to H&FJ standards.

I hope that helps with your enquiry.

peterdavis's picture

[Edit: double posted due to slowness. Anyone know how to delete a post?]

JamesM's picture

> I don't own any printed specimens

Me too. Back in the days when I ordered type from commercial typesetters I used to have several large binders on my shelf full of specimens, but those days are gone.

As Nick said, printed samples can be cherished as things of beauty. And perhaps in specialized areas like maybe book publishing they are still used, and of course print shops and sign shops still have lists of available fonts to show clients, but in general I don't think graphic designers or others use high-quality printed type specimens much anymore.

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