Blackletter in Mexico

Cristina Paoli's picture

I just completed the MA Typo/Graphic Studies at LCC in London. My final project was about the use of blackletter in Mexico. I explored the possible reasons for its use, historical facts, and the shapes and tendencies of Mexican blackletters. From the photographic research performed in Mexico I found patterns and deviations in Mexican blackletters. Then I deconstructed each signage, ending up with more than 1500 individual characters. I removed the letters from its context and colour, transforming the colourful typographic elements of the original signs into black silhouettes. Afterwards I overlaid all characters of each letter in order to appreciate the most popular shapes, line strokes, elements and ornaments. The result is an X-Ray look-alike alphabet, that conveys the essence of Mexican blackletters.

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dan_reynolds's picture

This is just beautiful, Christina. Really, really nice. Do you have any publishing plans for the project?

istitch's picture

i'll buy one!


Christian Robertson's picture

What a cool project. Bigger pictures please! I've been curious about this topic for a while.

hrant's picture

Wow - so you saw this through to a result as wonderful as it is needed.

How much is the book?


Joe Pemberton's picture

Wow. This is fantastic. Please do find a publisher for this. (Sorry, if I'm incorrectly assuming that this is a comped up version.)

The Brazilian publication, Tupigrafia, may be a great lead for you to look into. They're very dedicated to bringing deserved attention to South American type design (and they're good at it).

Miss Tiffany's picture

This looks amazing, Cristina. It also looks like it was A LOT of work.

Cristina Paoli's picture

WOW!!! Thank you so much every one!

Is not published yet. But I’m trying, if not as a book at least as an article in a type magazine.

Anyhow I’m still very interested on the subject, so I’ll keep researching, and built up a stronger historical background. Which I think now is going to be easier since I’m back in Mexico now.

I’ll try to put up the PDF of the book for anyone interested.

pablocheco's picture

Really cool Cristina... It´s wonderful that you choosed this subject since the rich and great tradition of blackletters in almost every corner of Mexico. I´ll rememeber you friday night when i go get my Corona six pack!!!

rs_donsata's picture

Very nice, as a mexican I feel happy to see someone appreciates things like this.


John Hudson's picture

Cristina, this looks really great. A bilingual Spanish-English publication would be a splendid thing.

hrant's picture

Or even better, trilingual with German.
It might just help wake them up.


Cristina Paoli's picture

Dear all,
Thank you again for all your enthusiastic comments. I will keep you posted on the progress of this project.

By the way, thanks to the person that directed the publisher Mark Batty to the project. I’m very exited with the possibilities that are been opening.

I’m attaching small size versions of 2 posters of the project, that I made for an exhibition.

The first one is a compound of all the characters gathered and the second one is a example text… is in Spanish, the translation is ‘We are not the best, but we are the tastiest’ this comes from the facia sign of a sandwich shop in Mexico City that I photographed for the project.

Ups! I don’t know how to attach an image. Could any one instruct me on that matter…

gabrielhl's picture

Cristina, congratulations on a great project and the possible publication. I'll buy it :)

About the images, either edit your first post and attach it there, or use the small "Insert Image" link below the box where you type your message to insert an inline image with the text of a new message (you need to have Flash Player 8... the FAQ thread has more info).

gabrielhl's picture

Double post, sorry!

Stephen Coles's picture

A better alternative to Batty might be Robin Kinross' Hyphen Press in London.

dan_reynolds's picture

Batty's books are often bigger, with more images, no? Hyphen Press' books are all good, but they are more scholarly, text-based tomes… or at least the ones I've seen.

Cristina Paoli's picture

Finally... and thanks to Gabriel's advice: the posters

alya's picture

I know the project and i love it! i am happy everyone else likes it Cristina. I will not only buy this book but i will help to publish it.

Ramiro Espinoza's picture

Very very nice!
I will be eagerly waiting for a copy...

timd's picture

Great posters, that frantic overlay is a peach.
Where/when is the exhibition?

Miss Tiffany's picture

This really would make an excellent exhibit. Perhaps even at St. Bride.

crossgrove's picture

Sounds like you will have to have the posters printed, Cristina! We would all like to have a set. I hope you find a gallery, library or publisher to mount an exhibition. Then you can have the posters and the catalog printed. Let us know....

Cristina Paoli's picture


The posters were for an exhibition that some people from the MA Typo/Graphic Studies organized at the end of the year. We produced a catalogue, the exhibition itself and a web site, that is still going on:

(our MA used to be called the beautiful name of Typo/Graphic Studies, but now is called Graphic Design)

Cristina Paoli's picture


Thank you for your great wishes. I'll keep everyone posted on what might become of this project. And you can be sure that if I manage to print this posters everyone that has supported me in this forum will get a free copy!

Cristina Paoli's picture

Stephen, Dan, John Joe and Hrant,

Thank you for your advice. I’m exploring all this possibilities.

dotsara's picture

This is a gorgeous project. I dig the way you overlaid all the letters in that second image. Keep us updated on the posters and publishing! (:

aaron_carambula's picture

As fascinated as I am by your gorgeous visuals, I crave cerebral satisfaction. I can only imagine the different cultural, social and religious reasons for Mexico's relationship to blackletter. I suppose you ought to keep things under wraps for publishing purposes, and so I wait.

Congratulations on the excellent idea and the visual executions look fantastic.

maria b's picture

Great work and amazing responses. I truly agree that it is a very successful project. I have witnessed its development during the course and i think the outcome is wonderful.
I really hope that you will have the opportunity to publish it and when you do sign one for me! Good luck cristina

Cristina Paoli's picture

You are very kind. I’m absolutely thrilled with the responses that my work has produced. It was absolutely unexpected.
I had to do all this work in only 4 months, one of which was taking pictures in Mexico and trying to gather information on this phenomenon. The other 3 months were of sleepless nights of understanding the shapes, cutting and ‘cleaning’ the characters, overlaying them, reading and researching all I could about blackletter.
I literally dreamed with little colourful characters, that became black, or that I had to arrange… for three consecutive months. This project has been one of the most amazing journeys of my life, both in a creative and intellectual level.

joeclark's picture

Madre de Díos, sign me up! (I can also help with any PDF.)

How does this relate to the Chicano cholo style?

Joe Clark

hrant's picture

> I’m absolutely thrilled with the responses

Which is I think due in large part to a
general desire, at least among typophiles,
for blackletter to be treated more fairly
than it has, for its unique attributes to be
allowed to shine through the politicking.


c_acker's picture

>How does this relate to the Chicano cholo style?

This seems to overlap slightly with my project, Handselecta, which looks at graffiti's regional styles. A relatively informative essay by CHAZ Bojorquez can be found here:

In the article he refers to a book called "Los Angeles Barrio Calligraphy" (by Jerry and Sally Romotsky, Dawson's Book Shop, 1976). which only showed up 2 used on amazon for $285 :(

Fantatstic project, Cristina!

Cristina Paoli's picture

I absolutely agree with you. Blackletter has such an interesting history! Just to name a few of its stories… it was used to print the first book in the west (as we all know), it was enforced by the Nazis, and then prohibit by them; it has an ambivalent nature that makes it suitable for newspapers mastheads and punk/rock bands!
I have realized that people react to blackletter, with the strongest of passion. Either people love it or hate it, apparently there are no in-betweens for this exquisite type breed.
Is the letterform for the dissent and for the traditionalist!

Cristina Paoli's picture

Great article c_acker!

Say more about your project Handselecta…

akallaur's picture

"long time listener, first time caller"

yes, after a while of reading through all the goodness of this forum, i had to create an account to say congratulations to Cristina on this project.


fantastic job, and thanks for a much needed revival of inspiration.

c_acker's picture

>Say more about your project Handselecta…

Well' ok, but only if you bend my arm... Handselecta is a project that looks at graffiti and its geographic styles and differences. Each city has a different characteristic that unifies the scripts that writers employ. Less now with the cross polinization of the internet, but nonetheless, the roots are still there,

As for the Cholo/Mexican American/Cailifornia style of graffiti, Handselecta is working with an artist named Mike Giant from Albequerque, New Mexico, who is very influenced by this lettering style in his artwork.

My understanding (please fill in any of the blanks or fuzzy facts if anyone knows) is that most of the early printing presses in Colonial Mexico were stocked with Dutch blackletter types, because of the political link between the royal families of Spain and the Netherlands. These printing types are the basis for what has become most of the vernacular blackletter that we find handlettered in this culture. It is ingrained in the culture and was adopted by the gangs of LA as early as the 30's according to Chaz's article, pre-spray paint and was executed in brush, or as Chaz conjectures, possibly the daubers of shoe-shine boys

Another interesting iteration is the pichacao style of graffiti form Brazil, which is also a square-ish blackletter style executed with small rollers as opposed to spray paint.

Attached is a cholo handstyle by Mike Giant, taken from his blog:

And here is a pretty good example of pichacao by Os Gemeos of Sao Paulo

Sorry, for opening it up to subject matter outside of Mexico, hope this is relevant to you.


Cristina Paoli's picture

Here is a little bit of history on how blackletter first came to the New Continent. Is from my book.

America was discovered in 1492 and by 1521, Hernan Cortes, on behalf of the Spanish crown, conquered Mexico, establishing the Colony of New Spain.
The first printing press in the American continent was found in Mexico in 1538, by means of Juan de Zumárraga, first bishop of Mexico, and Jakob Kronberger (known as Jacobo Cromberger), the most important printer in Seville at the time, who, been of German origin, was the founder one of the first printing presses in Seville around the beginning of the 1500’s.
Jacobo Comberger supplied all the materials and tools, such as press, movable types, ink and paper and sent one of his closest technicians, Italian Giovanni Paoli (known as Juan Pablos) to be in charge of setting up and run the first printing press in the New World.
In 1544 the fist printed book in America was published: Doctrina Breve by Fray Juan de Zumárraga, which was set in Rotunda blackletter, proving that movable types of blackletter where taken to Mexico.

please don’t apologize. Your topic is super interesting!

El dirto,
Thanks for joining typohile and welcome!

Cristina Paoli's picture

For what I have seen… Most of the blackletters that first came to Mexico were Rotunda, since this was the most popular blackletter in Spain at the time. This is a heavy but rounder letterform than Textura.

“Rotunda was created at the beginning of the 14th century in Italy. It became very popular as a round gothic type, and its use extended for centuries. It is believed to be a transitional letterform from blackletter to roman.
The top and bottom ends of the stems no longer have the diamond shape that is present in Textura. The character a is double-storied with the lower part kept very small; the o is curved on the top right and bottom left, but remains broken on the bottom right and top left. In general, the shape of the letters is rounder and therefore more legible than in its predecessor.”
(From my book too.)

hrant's picture

> America was discovered in 1492

Well, not really.

> Giovanni Paoli



deafmetal's picture

I'm late to the party I know, but I simply must give props to Cristina, and also state for the record that I would love to buy her book if it gets published.
Well done!

Cristina Paoli's picture

>> America was discovered in 1492

>Well, not really.

What do you mean?

paul d hunt's picture

>> America was discovered in 1492

>Well, not really.

What do you mean?

well, the "native" americans "discovered" it long before that, and the vikings had visited North America before Columbus came to America in 1492, so that statement is not really accurate.

thierry blancpain's picture

well, but the natives didnt have any sophisticated system of moveable type for print, right? neither did the vikings.. :)

rs_donsata's picture

They only had sophisticated astronomic, architectural, medical, calendaric and mathematical knowledge.


thierry blancpain's picture

i didnt say they were dumb people sitting in the jungle, i said they didnt have any system for printing type to my knowledge. and if this is right, there's no point in discussing this "who discovered america"-question in this thread.

hrant's picture

> system of moveable type

Quite appropriately, the validity of the "discovery" of
America by Columbus is closely parallel to that of the
"invention" of printing by Gutenberg!

Thierry, when a pivotal and often-repeated fallacy
comes up, I think it's a good thing to try to correct it.


Even the Vikings probably came later. There are theories that involve the Arabs (think of the astrolabe), the Polynesians, the Chinese, and even the Ancient Egpytians (thanks to certain grains that only occur in Egypt and the New World). But really, in the end, claiming to have "discovered" a land that was already inhabited is pretty sick. Although thinking in those terms certainly makes the subsequent genocide easier to cope with for the oppressor...


Cristina Paoli's picture

I agree with you on the importance of been clear and fair with the facts… I know that there are many theories (and some facts) about this encounters that you are pointing out; one of which is the ‘Bering Strait Theory’, that supports the idea that tribes from north-eastern Asia came to America between 12,000 and 60,000 years ago. I know there are many others from then.

It is delightful to run into people that are keen on accuracy and clarity… but I’m not surprised: After all we are in a typographers/philes forum!

So allow me to refrace:
In 1492 Christopher Columbus arrived to America and by 1521, Hernan Cortes, on behalf of the Spanish crown, conquered Mexico, establishing the Colony of New Spain.

Now is clear that the 'discovery' that I’m referring to is the one of Columbus, which is directly linked to the Conquest and the Colony of New Spain.
(is funny… I decided to put the discovery of 1492 just to make clear to the reader that the Colony wasn’t immediate. It took many years, and many battles)

Cristina Paoli's picture

Oh! Yes I was trilled to find out that I have the same surname that the first printer of America! (and this is not a common surname in Mexico) Unfortunately we are not related!

thierry blancpain's picture

hrant, yes, sure. but i hate it when good threads go bad just because of such discussions, in my opinion they would be better located in their own threads. that was the only reason for my posts.

lets get back to topic.

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