What do you want in a type specimen?

.00's picture

We are in the process of designing our type catalog and I was wondering what you all would like to see in a type specimen.

Your thoughts are always much appreciated.


jupiterboy's picture

Good question. Easy answer is that it all depends on the type. It is interesting to see some actual text set that mixes ital and book etc. I like to see what the type designers intend as far as usage. Max size, minimum size, but also stretch the possibilities. Maybe a book face can work for headings up to a point, but what is that point where it begins to look to heavy or show too much. If you can show a face used well, and also hint at the limits of its use, that to me is very helpful.

I also find the descriptive texts on Storm's pages to be very interesting.

What a fun project.

Stephen Coles's picture

Character Sets. Always show full (or nearly full) character sets. Before our FontFont PDFs we'd get complaints that folks didn't know the ampersand would look like that!

Examples of the font in use on physical objects -- preferably 3D and photographed -- always lend the typeface some credibility. The buyer can imagine it actually doing a real job.

Here are some specimens, old and new, for inspiration.

Linda Cunningham's picture

I second Stephen's comment about character sets: when I bought my first Adobe Postscript Font Type Handbook, it was because it had full sets and I could pull out something specific (ampersands, etc.

And I like the "in use" thought as well, particularly if you can show some varied applications: books, posters, newsletters. Doesn't matter if even the text is greeked, it would be nice to see a few head levels in action.

Si_Daniels's picture

>Examples of the font in use on physical objects

Spot on. If you think the font would look good on the side of a NASA rocket or Formula 1 car mock it up.

londontype's picture

I think Storm's downloadable PDFs for text fonts are very helpful. They show the type in all the variants in a variety of sizes. Print them well on a laser and you have an easy way to make exact comparisons. http://www.stormtype.com/expert/jat.html

SuperUltraFabulous's picture

Hi there:
If you have ornaments show them all please! And if you make a PDF specimen- DO NOT PLOP A JPG or TIFF image in the PDF! Show the specimen un-rasterized. Enshende does this and its very stupid!!! Also if a certain font has an unusual detail show a close up so we a appreciate your work even more so than we normally do. ;-) Also the story behind it is cool too.

Best Wishes,


Si_Daniels's picture

>NOT PLOP A JPG or TIFF image in the PDF! Show the specimen un-rasterized. Enshende does this and its very stupid!!!

Not stupid, fear of piracy - paranoia or not.

Stephen Coles's picture

I'll call it misinformed paranoia. The fonts will always get in the hands of pirates. Instead of spending your time and energy combating inevitable piracy, concentrate on giving true buyers a quality, unfettered look at your fonts.

eolson's picture

Caution needs to be exercised with the full character set showings. Too often type catalogs are full character sets only and the families seem to flatten in the process. There are no details, spikes, memorable moments or... surprises. The sets need to be shown in entirety but it is only a fraction of the final product. I don't want to be blown away, but after shaking hands with a font, I'd like to ask it more than one question.

dezcom's picture

I am glad you are thinking about this James. In this day and age, there are few printed specimens to be found.

For text faces, I like to see a column of text in the target text sizes as well as some semi-display usage. I also like to see some italic and bold mixed in to the text to see how it fits with the roman.
Display faces need more "in use" kinds of stuff. For ads show ads, For signage, show signs...
For the character set, I would like to see at least one glyph showing with each diacritc. I mean if you show a u umlaut, you don't need to show every other umlaut used. I would also want to see a list of languages the font can be set in.
Sometimes, when talking with a clent about type, I like to show them samples. This is where a good speciman can work as a sales tool. If I am trying to convince a client to purchase a font, it helps to have some really beautiful printed stuff to use as a way to visualize it.


TBiddy's picture

Listen to you Chris! I year goes by and you start peddlin' fonts! You go boy!

James, in addition to the suggestion already made, I second the type in use thing. Your Clearview Highway presentation is perfect for such a typeface. However, I would like to see samples of Clearview One and some of your other typefaces in use in magazines and other places. Your PDF samples set in copy are great.

dezcom's picture

Bout time you showed your face here again!


crossgrove's picture

This is a very timely question for me. All your replies are appreciated. List of languages = terrific! Now that OpenType is upon us, it's no longer a simple matter to understand what a given charset offers: Pro might mean different things from different foundries.

OpenType format doesn't guarantee the presence of any particular glyphs. Therefore, discuss/show what glyphs are included in the various formats offered.

That brings up a question: What formats to offer? If there's a huge glyph set and lots of features in the OT version, do people feel compelled to make all those glyphs available in separate fonts in the PS or TT versions? Or should we be pushing people toward OT by making them available only in OT fonts?

I'm most informed by real-world uses of the various cuts. Show real text in the text weights, show signs, packaging, layouts in the display weights. House Industries recent United specimen shows packaging, magazine layouts, etc. and it's very useful to see the type integrated in its context.

I hope Norbert will weigh in.

dezcom's picture

As a type user, I only will purchase opentype fonts from now on. It is so much easier to deal with than the "Expert Set" trainride. The folks who just use type in word processing may not care about opentype features though so know your market as well.


Don McCahill's picture

Did anyone above (I only skimmed) mention the need for block setting in different sizes? Choosing text for a book (and other things as well) requires a selection of text set in various sizes so color and feel can be judged effectively. 8/10, 9/10 or 11, 10/12, etc. You don't need to do all combinations but the ones that seem suitable for the style of type.

(Of course, for display only fonts, this would not be needed.) For that type of thing I really like the display pages that Adobe and other publishers include in their type books.)

Miss Tiffany's picture

If it is a single sheet, and I don't get a PDF, I do want to see the entire characterset, but it can be small as I also really like to see it in action. Some letters hide there flaws until they are actually used. If a designer doesn't show it in use I'd question why.

My 2¢

Miss Tiffany's picture

I'll add that if it is for a script typeface and it is a single sheet I'd much rather see it in action. (But this assumes that I can access a type tester and the entire glyph set elsewhere.)

Linda Cunningham's picture

ChrisL is dead-on: OTF is the way to go. Don't ask how many "ExpertSets" I have either!

The only languages I've set so far are French and English, but that doesn't stop me from wanting to know what else is available. Who knows, I may set some Icelandic runes some day? (haha)

SuperUltraFabulous's picture

The Dutch Type Library has some wonderful specimens. They show individual glyphs, entire chaacter sets, text set in paragraphs at various sizes. House tends not to show entire character sets but they do show the fonts in 'use'- and their catalogs are sooo pretty. The Neutraface catalog is what I would consider a perfect ten- the benchmark for all specimens.


Rhythmus.be's picture

An overview of allowed use. Since EULAs differ from foundry to foundry, perhaps even between individual fonts, the confusion is great as to which restrictions of use apply in a particular case. Like one would want an overview of all the languages for which the font can be used, a similar overview (be it brief, using pictograms or so) of the license characteristics would be useful: "printed material only | pdf embedding allowed | modifying allowed" &c.

Also, an indication of price would be interesting; like paper suppliers do in their specimens, one could rate a font license (e.g. 1–5 users) on a scale from €/$ <25,- (cheap) to €/$ >2.000,- (expensive).

.00's picture

Well, our new catalog finally came out a few weeks ago and has been sent out to our mailing list. If you are interested in receiving one, please sign up:



dezcom's picture

Thanks James!
I look forward to seeing it.


ebensorkin's picture

I just got it the catalog. I really like it! I am finding the type designs are very attrative but also oddly challenging in a way I am working to understand better. Maybe it's because they are display oriented & I have been in a text mindset for the last 3 months...

I really enjoyed seening the type in use. They eloquently show many things that the sample pages can't. On the sample pages the layouts where the text is presented larger on one line & then smaller underneath seem the most useful and attractive to me.

The quibble I have re: the smaple pages is that I would like there to be a bit more bounding space around the sample pages. I find that they have a slightly breathless quality because of their tight fit.

To me the most striking thing about seeing the catalog was that somehow the best qualities of James' fonts seem lend themselves especially to print. Conversely it seems like these same qualities are unfairly not nearly as apparent on screen.

I wonder if this is because he is designing with print in mind to begin with, maybe it's the impact of his high rez proofing device, or perhaps it has to do with the fundamental nature of qualities in type that interest him.

Certainly plenty of type I have seen on screen & then printed for a better look has ended up feeling a bit 'punchier' than I would like in print. Whereas it was that punchiness that made it seem interesting or lively on screen.

Does anybody else see what I mean or am I the only one?

James, what do you think?

.00's picture

I'm glad you liked the catalog Eben,

I do design with print in mind, specifically publications since I spent most of the first 12 years of my career in magazines.

As to the types being for display, I guess the catalog does show them in a display setting, but they also work well in text. I do like putting a lot of subtle details in the designs that only reveal themselves in larger sizes, but that doesn't seem to interfere with their functioning in text applications.

The next catalog, due in September, will be very text oriented.

As to the tight space on the showings page, perhaps we could have been more generous with the white space in a larger format, but for this one breathless will have to do.


dezcom's picture

I can never judge type on screen that is meant for print. It just does not show what is there. Since I very rarely do anything for screen only, I tend to think print first. Even my 600dpi laser (fake rezed to 1200) is only an indication. This matters more for small type certainly but even large type never gets the true crisp feeling that real 2400dpi delivers. That is why a good speciman sheet is so valuable. The hard part is that the expense of producing and shipping is so much more than just posting a PDF that most type vendors don't bother any more. I hate to talk about the old days but there was a time when my mailbox got filled with well printed samples of type. The downside was that there were far fewer faces and typesetting was quite costly compared with today's bargain prices.


hrant's picture

Eben, just like in small vs large type the lesser definition of the screen dilutes both specific letterform features and the character of the design.

BTW James I think you've underestimated the traffic from Typophile: I had trouble getting through to your page! But that's a great problem to have. :-)


.00's picture

It appears the web access problem has been corrected.


ebensorkin's picture

Having read about Bram de Does and the extreme specificity of his design & intent is probably playing a role in my thinking/observation too.

Here is a link to that thread if you like:


I do like putting a lot of subtle details in the designs that only reveal themselves in larger sizes, but that doesn’t seem to interfere with their functioning in text applications.

I see that that is quite true - from the print on the inside cover. Although to different degrees of course depending on the face. Clearly I overstated or oversimplified what I meant to say. While it is true that I probably wouldn't set a book in any of these faces - I would be more than pleased to set a magazine or article in one. So again to clarify I think what I was getting at is that there is a lively quality, and an optimism and a can-do feeling to all the faces (even in Rawlinson & Alfon) which in larger sizes is more apparent. These qualities attract my eye and makes me think 'Headline'.

But re-reading what you wrote makes me wonder. Are you at all interested in expanding these families into optically optimised versions as well or are you content to design for excellent cross-size compatibility? I also imagine that optical specific design might be reserved for custom work.

... the lesser definition of the screen dilutes both specific letterform features and the character of the design.

Yes. I had already seen the ways in which screen oriented type was at a disadvantage in print before but recently I have been especially taken with the way that print oriented type can suffer from the screen.

What it makes me realize is that for a foundry that is oriented to selling to the general public or to designers (rather than to custom type/print clients), it really does behoove them to bend to the screen, in part because the fonts will probably be seen there first before they are bought and in part because use in that context is pretty likely as well. But this also means that print oriented type might benefit from marketing that encourages/educates a prospective buyer to evaluate the font more relevant ways.

I can never judge type on screen that is meant for print.

Yes. Clearly! And more & more Clearly.

Thank you, James. And if there is anything else you want to add. I am all ears!

.00's picture


I am in the midst of an optically adjusted family of fonts based on some of the work I did for the Mens Vogue modern, which was so fragile that it had to be adjusted for a more normal range of work.

That said, I have always preferred to try and create something that worked in a cross-size way. Most of the work I do I proof at text sizes for much of the development process, and I'm happy with the way it functions in bothe text and display sizes

The issue I have with optically-sized font families, is it is an awful lot of work for what looks to be a very small pay-off. Most type users are not as sophisticated as those here on typophile, and I have seen way too many examples of optically-sized type being used in the most outrageous ways. Does it make sense for a small type studio to spend that much development time on a range of products that most likely will not be used, or used incorrectly. I still don't have a good answer for that.

One of the last magazine jobs I did involved redesigning a title that was using Minion 72 as their text type (9.5/11). WHen I asked the art director why this was the case, she said her and her boss just loved the way Minion look in the samples they saw (display I;m sure) and decided to use it as the text face. It didn't bother them that it looked fragile and sparkled in a way that made it uncomfortable to read. They also had the habit of negatively tracking it as a way of killing widows. (My redesign put a stop to all of that)

As to bending towards the screen, hopefully the screen will improve before my back breaks.


hrant's picture

> an awful lot of work for what looks to be a very small pay-off.

But that can be said about type design as a whole! :-/ In the end the things we do depends very much on what turns us on, and this applies to the degree to which we push our craft.

On the other hand, I'm all for charging much more for refinements (including things like smallcaps) as opposed to base fonts exactly because, as you say, most people don't know the difference. Those that do have to pay more. :-) Indeed ignorance is bliss I guess!

BTW a good optical MM axis (I mean internally) makes things much easier.

> hopefully the screen will improve before my back breaks.

Don't count on it. :-(


ebensorkin's picture

James, thanks for explaining your outlook. I appreciate it! Also, you made me laugh out loud there at the end.

dezcom's picture

"As to bending towards the screen, hopefully the screen will improve before my back breaks."

I already have trifocals, as the screens get better, my vision gets worse! :-)


hrant's picture

I just got the Terminal Design specimen booklet - very nice!
Enclave is delish.


Stephen Coles's picture

Yes, that is my favorite of the Terminal bunch as well. Smart catalog, James.

muzzer's picture

Decent typefaces.


jordy's picture

The best Adobe type specimen books were designed by Jack Stauffacher - a good place to look for inspiration. See especially the Utopia spec book.

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