All-round text companion for Optima

andrewh's picture


I'd like some recommendations for a text companion face to be used with Optima. Optima is being used in an identity for a medical practice, and I'd like to find a good workhorse (but elegant) companion text family to be used for correspondence, letter writing, advertising, etc.

Any thoughts? Your views are greatly appreciated.

Thanks in advance,


paul d hunt's picture

i've always liked Palatino as well. dunno if you can wait for Palatino Nova which is due to be released soon. Paging Dan Reynolds! ;^D

crossgrove's picture

Optima can serve in text. It's not been used a lot for books, but it is designed for that use. You might investigate the new Optima Nova, whose italics are more useful for their intended purpose than the original sloped romans. It has 7 weights, small caps, even italic small caps, plus a few condensed weights. There are several weights that would be very nice to see used together in small sizes. If you have the budget, spring for the whole family and get the beautiful titling caps too.

Otherwise, Optima is quite difficult to use with other faces. Other Zapf designs seem most comfortable with it. Try Aldus, or Melior, or for a little freshness Zapf Renaissance or Aurelia.

hrant's picture

> Optima can serve in text.

You really think so? Maybe you're thinking of the metal...

Andrew, if you were lucky, digital Pascal would already be released. Alas...


johnbutler's picture

I'd wait for Palatino Nova to see what's in store, but I've long preferred Aldus for text. Both have their merits, but I'm a sucker for long extenders.

hrant's picture

> I’m a sucker for long extenders.

So are readers (even though they think the opposite).


dan_reynolds's picture

Palatino nova will include an Aldus nova, John!

Optima nova works great in text, IMHO, just like the metal did.

William Berkson's picture

The original metal Optima was too light and grey in text, IMHO.

I suspect Optima Nova is better in text, because it has added weight, especially at what were light terminals.

This might be a terrible idea or a good one--I haven't tried it because I don't own Optima--but Century Schoolbook might pair with the regular or bold weight of Optima. It also is a great workhorse, and works better than most on letter size paper because of its width.

crossgrove's picture

Century Schoolbook + Optima????


Yes, Optima in metal. I think the usefulness of Optima might be revitalized by the presence of so many new text weights in Optima Nova. The Regular, Medium and Demi could help relieve some of the wispiness, but the design is relentlessly vertical in its axis, which can give a sleepy texture at any weight.

Zapf has described Optima as a serifless Modern face, which implies that Bodoni would be a good companion, but the proportions are so different from most Moderns that I would expect to reject a pile of them before you found one that worked. Still, it's worth a try, if you think the text can withstand it.

John Nolan's picture

If a modern is wanted, how about FF Acanthus or Adobe's Kepler?

paul d hunt's picture

Zapf has described Optima as a serifless Modern face

chapter, verse! i wanna reference for that one.

to me Optima is the epitome of the humanist sanserif. And apparently i'm not the only one, as that's the category Lawson puts it in in Letters of Credit. As noted before, the proportions are all wrong, and the flaring strokes are so calligraphic it's not even funny. I think that geometric sans pair better with modern faces, and Optima is anything but geometric. i believe Bringhurst will back me up on the modern/geometric pairing convention, but if you call my bluff, i'll look up references for you...

hrant's picture

Yes, Optima is much more Humanist Sans than Modern.
Although Syntax is much more of the "epitome" there.


crossgrove's picture

I'm not going to call your bluff. I remember what Bringhurst says about a sans companion to Bodoni. That's interesting!

HZ says:

"Optima was designed in 1952 ...... It is an alphabet design between a neo-classical roman (like Bodoni) and a sans serif (like Futura)."

This is from his notes in the Grolier Club exhibit catalog "The Fine Art of Letters".

Optima is also described as a serifless roman. Because of its contrast, it's a little of an outlier if included in the "Humanist Sans" category.

Zapf's modern faces also have many of the aforementioned traits. In Marconi, Zapf Book, etc. etc. he reshapes the proportions of the Modern idiom to something more juicy, more calligraphic, with a little more proportional interest. So it's no surprise he sees Optima as a serifless version of what would be a "modern" face in his hands.

I'm not going to argue about how to classify Optima. The reason is the very problem raised in this thread: What can you use with it? Again, stay inside the world of Zapf's faces and you're sure to find a suitable serifed companion. There are plenty.

I think John Nolan's suggestions are excellent. Acanthus' italic would agree nicely with the new italics in Optima Nova.

paul d hunt's picture

i just wanted some more context about that quote, carl. thanks for the very enlightening post. i guess i was a bit abrasive in my last post, but the info you provided was exactly what i was looking for. thnx again.

hrant's picture

Carl, you make some good points. And really, Optima might be too lapidary/monumental/architectural (at least in its UC) to qualify as a true Humanist Sans.

I would however add:
1) Maybe Zapf's "between" business was due to terminological paucity and/or a layman-targeted dumbing-down thing.
2) You could say that stroke contrast makes it more humanist... So maybe Paul was in a way right that it's the epitome.


William Berkson's picture

Optima is very humanist in its modulation of stroke and perhaps also in the variation in the width of its caps. But it is much more like the 'modern' typefaces and geometric sans in having very wide bowls in its lower case. The more recent sans called 'humanist', following syntax, have oval bowls.

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