Looking for a Sans-Serif to Love

Reed Reibstein's picture

I've been thinking about buying a great sans-serif for use on all kinds of things for some time now, but I've only just gotten around to it. While I would be content with just about any well-designed sans, I've found while browsing that certain qualities stand out. Can anyone recommend sans-serifs that have a number of the following characteristics?

  • Generally geometric design (but preferably not overly geometric, so Futura's out); possibly almost Art Deco in flavor
  • Some sharp points (I especially love an N with pointy ends)
  • An italic that uses italic letterforms, not just sloped romans
  • A decent, preferably wide, range of weights and widths

In my searches, I've found a number that could serve me well. The front-runners are Font Bureau's Agenda and Relay, with Neutraface and Nobel close behind. I'm particularly enamored with Relay, as it has lots of weights, a real italic, and that smooth, Decoish character; it's taking some self-control not to just buy it now. I've also looked at Avenir Next, but it lacks a "true" italic, and Kabel, Erbar, and Metro, but all three are missing italics. One thing that would truly make my day would be to find a sans like the one I described, plus alternates for certain letters (which Neutraface and Anisette have). Thanks in advance for any help you can give.

gudmund1's picture

I'm really happy with the typefaces that The Foundry have to offer, all their faces have a good range of weights and are useful for most things from small print to large signage. Have a look at the Foundry Form Sans and Foundry Sterling fonts.
Luc de Groot also has some superb sans-serifs available over at lucasfonts.com with massive ranges of weights and very nice italics.
These are all quite good 'all-round' fonts, but judging from your selections above, perhaps it's more of a display font you are looking for?

blank's picture

I'd go with Neutraface if you already like it. The only problem I've found is that the display versions are lacking a few of the alternates that appear in the book versions–I've needed the dimension sign twice in the last month with Neutra display, and it ain't there!

Reed Reibstein's picture

Thanks for your suggestions, Gudmund. I took a look at The Foundry and de Groot's types. I like many of them (especially Foundry Form Sans), but they feel too "new" for what I'm looking for. Their humanism is probably what's not clicking; I think I'm latching on to a bit of an early 20th century vibe in what I want.

I think you're right; I am looking for a display typeface, especially since I'm planning on finding a good serif for body copy later on. That said, I do want to have the option of using the sans for longer passages if I need to.

James, I may just go with Neutraface, especially since it does have the flexibility of being both display and text (luckily, I don't use the dimension sign all that much, but that is odd). Plus, it's designed by Christian Schwartz, just about my favorite designer. But it doesn't quite grab me like Relay does. Any other typefaces that I should consider?

marcox's picture

Have you considered Verlag? It's inspired by the right time period, has italics, would work for display and text...

Stefan H's picture

Reed,

STALEMATE might be to small family-wise, and SOPHISTO might not fit into your design preference? All the same have a look for yourself;

http://www.macrhino.com

Reed Reibstein's picture

Marc, I had seen Verlag, but tossed it away at first. Looking back, it is significantly more attractive than I had first thought. The caps, which I realized are what I'm most looking at in these faces, are especially up my alley. Unfortunately, the italics are sloped romans, and I've always preferred it when there is some differentiation more than the angle (as in Neutraface). But the wide range of weights and widths does definitely keep it a strong candidate ...

Stefan, both Stalemate and Sophisto are great looking, but they're both too modern in tone. On a complete aside, looking at macrhino.com, I was struck by Ommegaand. The fact that it's Dutch and combines straight and wedge serifs reminds me somewhat of Farnham, which I'm using in my newspaper's design. Do you have any more information on it, such as a firmer release date or what those 6 to 9 weights could be, that you could share?

TBiddy's picture

You should also check out the Proxima Nova series

Reed Reibstein's picture

Thanks for the suggestion, Terry. I had seen Proxima Nova, but it's not quite the style I'd like. After seeing these fonts, I think I'd like something different from the very humanist (like Frutiger) and the Swiss neutral geometric, in which Proxima Nova seems to fit. So the R where the tail joins the stem without a crossbar (hope I got the terminology right), the A and N with sharp tops, a near-perfectly circular O, and a G without a bar in the counter appeal to me.

I happened to find another one I like on my own (looking through the book Contemporary Newspaper Design). The National Post uses Jim Parkinson's Richmond, which has the sort of Deco/Johnston character I like. And its italic isn't just an oblique roman! Yay! In fact, seeing this face a while back might have started me on this very quest. So for me, the ones I'm seriously contemplating are Relay, Neutraface, and Richmond, with Verlag, Agenda, and Nobel close behind.

muzzer's picture

Hey Stephan mate! I reckon that you have a pretty ace thing going here, when a bloke asks for a typeface you always blast right in there and kindly offer your fonts! It must be prtty hard yakka to take a break from the fonts and look for people asking. You must crack heaps of slaes!! Keep up the good work mate!

Muzz

Si_Daniels's picture

Murray, that’s quite an interesting, and observant comment for a new-comer.

How about Avenir?

Cheers, Si

Reed Reibstein's picture

Thanks, Simon, but Avenir is a bit tamer than I'd like, and it doesn't have "true" italic forms, just a sloped roman. But the range of weights is definitely appealing.

muzzer's picture

Ive been lutking for ages Si mate! just never got round to signing up, too bloody lazy sometimes.

Muzz

Stefan H's picture

Murray,

I don't mean to irritate you at all. And yes it is nice to have Typophile around in order to spread the word for my typefaces along with other talented type designers who occasionally do the same. Sometime the requests are more generic and then it's easier to just ask people to have a look themselves. In this case I clearly indicated that both of my suggestions might be "off the road". Regarding sales I don't pick up tons of sales from these forums. But I do get some excellent new contacts with graphic designers around the world. Sometimes one thing leads to another. But I can tell you this 10 years of hard work is finally paying back ;-)

Cheers

paul d hunt's picture

how bout you hire a type designer to do something custom?
>^D

crossgrove's picture

I wonder if Thomas Phinney's geometric sans is nearing completion.... It might be the very thing you need. Thomas, ETA? At least show us a teaser image.

dezcom's picture

Thomas showed some of it in Boston during a workshop. As I recall, fulltime work plus baby does not equal "spare time" so Thomas may be burning too many candles.

ChrisL

muzzer's picture

Stephan mate! It doesn;t irritate me! I really think it is a bloody ripper idea Because you get to speak straight to the bloke who wants to buy the fonts without any marketing bullshit!!!

Muzz

Reed Reibstein's picture

I'm really overwhelmed by everyone's enthusiasm, especially since it got me my first post on the "Hottest" list on the main page! Thanks to everyone who's contributed to helping me find that perfect typeface.

Chris, thanks for your idea. I do like Thesis (I was considering it when I was looking for a comprehensive type system), but it's too modern, too much like Myriad, Meta, and others mentioned in this thread. But I'd love to get a new-feeling, humanist sans at some point to supplement my largely system fonts.

Paul, sounds like a good idea; know anyone who will work for free? Otherwise, it's a bit out of my price range, but who knows? Maybe some day I'll get someone to make one for me (or even better, I'll do it myself). I can dream, can't I?

Now you've intrigued me about Thomas Phinney's sans. While I wouldn't want to overwhelm him (as I look forward to his posts here and on his blog), I second Carl's motion to see a sample.

Eric_West's picture

Frutiger Next is loverly... Real italic...

Reed Reibstein's picture

Eric, Frutiger Next is certainly delicious (I too am a sucker for a superb italic). Unfortunately, I find it too far on the "humanist" side of the coin for what I'm looking for here ... see Relay, Neutraface, and Richmond for examples of what makes me go weak in the knees.

Sorry for being so stubborn about choosing the "Sans-Serif to Love." I really appreciate everyone's help, and I'm greatly enjoying taking a look at everything posted. I would just like to see if there's anything similar to the "frontrunners" I mentioned a few posts up still out there, waiting to be discovered.

Reed Reibstein's picture

After seeing Eric's tasty embedded image, I thought I'd embed images of the strongest contenders for my heart. Stop me if I'm getting too mushy with the metaphorical language. I hope that posting these is okay to do. (Edit: in order, these are gifs of Relay, Neutraface Display Medium, and Richmond Bold from the previously mentioned websites.)



poms's picture

@Eric West
Frutiger Next has real italics, but the charm that (original) Frutiger had is being killed. I mistrust the idea of "next" versions of typefaces generally, from an aesthetical point of view.

timd's picture

http://www.myfonts.com/fonts/device/regulator/

Might be too much for extended use.
Tim

.00's picture

We are finishing up a new geometric sans, but it will not be ready for a few more weeks. Its sort of a more contemporary version of the thing we did for Vanity Fair years ago.

James

Reed Reibstein's picture

Thomas (poms), can I ask, just out of interest, what you see as the problems with Frutiger Next? When comparing them side by side, I don't see much difference (although there is some) in the roman, and the italic, I think is immeasurably improved. Are you objecting to the concept of a designer going back and reworking an earlier work (like the controversy with Star Wars and George Lucas' editing)?

Tim, Regulator is both a bit too quirky and a bit too geometric without being Decoism for me. It's moving too much toward Kabel for what I'd like, when I'd like something more reminiscent of Johnston (but more geometric than that).

James, I really like the samples on your site of the Vanity Fair sans, so maybe I'll wait and make my sans-serif a Holiday gift for myself. Do you have any more samples/information than what's on your website?

In other news, I found through a Typophile thread this great post on Typographica. It mentions a lot of the typefaces that have come up in this thread as possibilities. I know realize that I'm looking for a pre-war modernist sans. Does anyone have any more info on the Metro revival that the post says that Kobayashi is working on for Linotype?

crossgrove's picture

Frutiger Next's Italic is halfhearted. The original had an oblique. Some italic lowercase shapes were changed in the Next version, but not all, and the disparity, I think, is jarring. Look at a word like 'adamant' in one of the italics. But Reed isn't looking for humanism anyway.

Reed, you have proposed a very tall order; there are so few geometric sans designs with italics that aren't simply obliques. Richmond is less geometric, but has a deco flavor, and has a true italic; it might be your best bet.

hrant's picture

What about maybe something from the Process foundry?

hhp

.00's picture

But our geometric will most likely have an oblique as an italic, (optically adjusted of course) I just think that geometrics need their obliques to look right.

james

hrant's picture

Hey, multiple italics!

hhp

marcox's picture

FYI, Metro is available as:

Metro Sans (with obliques) from FontHaus:
http://www.fonthaus.com/products/fonts/view.cfm/sku/GT100124.cfm

Geometric 415 (with obliques) from Bitstream:
http://www.myfonts.com/fonts/bitstream/geometric-415/

Reed Reibstein's picture

Carl, I do see what you mean about Frutiger Next's limited italic, but for me, a limited italic is better than a slanted roman. I guess I've always liked having two designs for the price of one, That's why I love Underware's Auto - more italics than you know what to do with!

I realize that I'm asking for a very specific typeface. As I said, I found a number of good matches on my own, but I wanted to see if people who have been in the type game longer than I have knew of any other possibilities that I missed. Richmond is on my top two, along with Relay; I may have a tough time deciding between the two.

James, although my preference is for italic letterforms, I like the Vanity Fair sans enough that I'd be willing to see if the roman letterforms intrigue me enough to make me forget about the oblique. For me, I like when the italic is truly differentiated in text; an oblique just doesn't look striking enough for me.

Thanks for pointing me to those Metro samples, Marc. I had only seen it on Linotype and MyFonts, where it doesn't have the oblique roman, so these are definite improvements. It's now on my list, although it may not have enough of a Deco flavor to take the crown. I'd be interested to see if Akira Kobayashi does more than just expand the number of weights and widths; maybe he'll make italic letterforms as he did with Optima Next.

mondoB's picture

If you want a subtle deco flavor:
--Metro, which is authentic for the period but doesn't have enough weights
--Verlag from Hoefler, which is way better than Neutraface
--Gill Sans, of course, and...
--Freight Sans from Joshua Darden, and John Sans from Storm Foundry, both derived from Gill Sans...excellent italics for both families

dezcom's picture

Has Gotham been mentioned yet?

ChrisL

Miss Tiffany's picture

Metro does, sadly, lack the range of weights to which we have all become so accustomed.
I have to disagree that Neutraface isn't as good as Verlag as they are two different typefaces. Neutraface is blacktie and Verlag is cashmere sweater. Both are gorgeous, but the appropriate time to use them is different.

The sad thing about this is one really can't get a feel for them until you try them out for oneself. I mean, I didn't really like the look of Relay until I put it into my own text and realized how well it works. Even if you compare the image posted above from Font Bureau's site to my humble specimen (ignore blatant typo please) you can see that Relay really is warm and not as cold as the specimen might lead you to believe.

crossgrove's picture

"a limited italic is better than a slanted roman."

!!!!

Reed, you do have other options, I'm sure you know? I would hope that if you are using a humanist sans you choose one with a completely realized italic and not a limited one. There are several, offering various degrees of differentiation from the upright. Bringhurst shows an interesting cascade of Sans italics, indicating the range of "italicness". Everything from pure sloped roman to completely different structure.

Reed, this might be a good time for you to bust out FontLab and try your hand at making the Geometric Sans Italic you want. That's why I made Mundo Sans; I couldn't find the typeface I wanted, so I made it. If there's a project you want it for, you could just make a few letters for it, and add to it over time. If typophiles clamor for it you can finish it and release it.

I must admit, I'm very intrigued to know what a true italic for a geometric sans would look like. Maybe I'll get my sketchbook out at break time.

Reed Reibstein's picture

Has Typophile been down? I couldn't get on all yesterday. I felt lost without seeing new posts on this and other threads.

John (mondoB), thanks very much for your picks. You're right about Metro - too few weights for me. I actually prefer Neutraface over Verlag because Neutraface has a more differentiated italic, is designed by Christian Schwartz (although I love H&FJ nearly as much), and Verlag just has this slightly more sterile feel (perhaps owing only a little to the typeface and more to my knowledge of its origins for the Guggenheim). Gill Sans, Freight Sans, and John Sans, though all great faces (I especially love John Sans' concept of being Baskerville minus serifs), aren't quite Deco enough for me, the same way that Johnston and Nobel aren't, on further reflection.

Gotham hasn't been mentioned, Chris, but in looking at it, it doesn't grab me like some others. I want to say it feels too geometric, maybe too workmanlike, but it's more of a gut reaction. And, like many sans-serifs, its italic is an oblique roman, which I'll use if I love the roman, but would prefer not to.

Tiffany, thanks a ton for your sample! For me, it's pretty much down to Relay, Richmond, and Neutraface, with Relay edging ahead. Actually, I never found the Font Bureau specimen to be that cold - I kind of like Relay and other similar faces' quality of being somewhat stark and machined - that's why I like those pointy A's and N's! I'm glad to see, from quickly glancing at your specimen, that what makes it interesting in large sizes doesn't distract as text, which was one of my concerns (since it lacks Neutraface's text and display fonts). Did you use the compressed version for this sample? Anyhow, I'm very happy to see that you consider it a worthwhile text face as well as display.

Miss Tiffany's picture

I used all four variants: Compressed (top para), Condensed (bottom left), Regular (bottom middle), Wide (bottom right). It did surprise me how well it worked as text. I was expecting it to be all sparkle, but like I said, it is pretty warm.

Reed Reibstein's picture

Replying to Carl (didn't see your post before now).

Oh, I'd love to bust out FontLab and make it myself, but three things stand in my way: 1) not having it (and having already had the demo for the 30 days), 2) not having used it before (though I may buy Leslie Cabarga's book later this year to try my hand at designing my newspaper's nameplate), and 3) living the busy life of a student. That said, later in the school year, when I have more free time, I might try my hand at putting my anchor points where my mouth is.

I actually don't want it for any specific purpose; I just want a really great-looking typeface to use, and I love that Deco flavor.

The posts expressing interest/mild disdain for my dislike of slanted romans as italics come as a bit of a surprise to me. I use Myriad Pro, with its rather italic italics, all the time, and after seeing Relay's italic a and g, I thought that typefaces like this would be the norm. Looking back at Relay and Richmond, their "italic" italics are actually evident in just a few key characters, so maybe I overstated my love for them just a bit. Neutraface's may be the missing link; it has by far the most divergent letterforms. As I mentioned previously, I like a clear differentation between roman and italic for combined use in text; I also can never get the taste of MS Word's horribly skewed false italics out of my mouth after using it unwittingly for years.

I'm glad that I was able to suggest something interesting to get you thinking. Maybe if I have a few minutes I might try some sketching too. But I'm afraid of what my pencil will produce.

Tangentially related to this discussion of italics: without getting this thread sidetracked, as I'd still like to know if there's anything else out there I'm missing (though that doesn't seem likely at this point), I've found two really interesting and unconventional uses of italics in typefaces. One is Aspect, which I think is well known around these parts. Pampatype's Rayuela seems less known, but equally intriguing. The roman has this remarkable ability to be legible and upright and yet feel wonderfully italic - did I mention I love using italics for running text? And its italic is loads of fun too - I especially love the alternate o and s's - check them out in the PDF. Just wanted to put Rayuela out there - I might get that after the geometric sans if my funds haven't dried up.

hrant's picture

Good slanted-romans rule. Especially when they have serifs.

hhp

Reed Reibstein's picture

Hrant, do you happen to have any examples of good slanted romans? Maybe once I take a look at some, I'll finally see the light.

hrant's picture

Good ones are rare. But they were actually made now and again between the last quarter of the 19th century and the first of the 20th, especially in France and Germany.

Here's a slanted-Roman of my making, called Harrier:
http://www.themicrofoundry.com/other/nour&patria/dev/nour-latin.gif

hhp

mondoB's picture

Quote: I’m really happy with the typefaces that The Foundry have to offer...

I just looked at The Foundry website to see if they've come to their senses, and they haven't...Foundry offers lots of different weights all right, from three to six per family, but they show only ONE italic for ONE weight...what the F--??? It's bad enough all the families out there released without bold italic, but these guys are completely loco to provide only one italic for all those weights...or am I missing something?

dezcom's picture

Harrier is remarkably good from what the GIF shows. Hopefully more will come of it.

ChrisL

hrant's picture

Thanks. I've sold a small number - as a component of Nour&Patria though, not by itself. I'd love to see a whole book set in it, and I think it just might be shockingly readable.

hhp

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