Zai, a sans serif

Toby's picture

Here´s an update on a sans I´m working on. It now consists of five weights with italics.
Let me know what you think!

zai.pdf213.08 KB
text.pdf263.35 KB
zai2.pdf304.33 KB
Stephen Coles's picture

Fine work, especially in the black weight. You must be getting some formal training?

The spacing is too tight if you intend this to be used for text setting (which it really can do, despite it's buoyant character).

I dig your effort to keep things compact, but consider giving the descenders just a little more room. The 'g' is distractingly cramped anywhere near 10 pt.

It doesn't serve the Black weight well to show it at 10 pt. as it's really best for display use.

The angled strokes really shine on the italics.

SuperUltraFabulous's picture

Excellent!!! Where do we buy it!!!

Toby's picture

Thanks for the input guys, I´ll consider it. No formal training, but thanks for believing so :)
I´m just finishing this one, so I haven´t found a way to distribute it yet!

ill sans's picture

Verrry niccce!

Nick Job's picture

I think it takes real courage to post a font on Typophile, Toby. I think it's excellent. Stephen's right; fine work.

Here are my comments for what it's worth:

I wonder if the five weights fall in the right position on the scale. I think you can afford a medium (in between the current medium and bold). The current medium looks like more like a regular to me. I also think your bold might need to be a touch heavier to work with the existing medium. I'd like to see a regular and bold together.

You may consider that the 'a' is Zai's signature character but it is an stumbling block for me (Am I alone?) I wonder if it will cost you sales or generate sales (you may not care about income). Maybe it is worth including more than one as an OpenType alternate. The fact that it looks like it is an inverted 'e' could be contrived/gimmicky? I'm sure someone else with more experience might care to comment on this.

Suppose you go with the existing 'a', is it me or does the centrestroke look optically steeper than that of the 'e'? Maybe that doesn't bother you.

The tail of the 'g' appears to get shorter as the font gets bolder. Put the thin 'g' next to the black 'g' - I am not sure if they are alike enough?

Are the 'C'/'c' and 'K'/'k' too narrow?

To me the '4' appears to slope backwards because the upper left stroke seems too upright and perhaps needs to echo the angular downstroke on the '7' more.

The question mark '?' looks out of place when put next to '3', '5' and '8' (not that it has to be like these numerals but I imagine you're trying to get commonality where possible).

I think the centrestroke of the ampersand should perhaps extend more towards the 't' part of the glyph. The Black ampersand looks to be falling backwards.

Sorry if I sound negative, not meant to be so.

Toby's picture

Thank you Nick, good stuff.

Stephen Coles's picture

Some anglo types have much wider 'C's, but those of other types, particularly in Germany, are much more narrow. I think yours are just fine.

Toby's picture

I think I´ll stick to that "a", and maybe have a one-storey a as an alternate. It is, as you say Nick, the signature character. After all there are quite a few faces with an ordinary a to choose from. I guess some will like like it and some not. And I don´t think there´s anything wrong with the shape, neither logically nor calligraphically (look at Galliard), one´s just not used to it..
Yeah, the spacing is too tight for text, but that´s fairly easy to fix, lowering the descender is somewhat more complicated...lots of characters resting on it. Maybe I could raise the bowl on g instead..
I agree the Medium is more like a Regular, is just didn´t want a predetermined standard weight. I think it works fine with the Bold (check out new pdf).
About the questionmark, I found this shape to be the least space consuming one.
I´m not sure about the black ampersand falling backwards, I think the crossbar keeps it on its feet... but I´ll look at it!

Alessandro Segalini's picture

Great work & excellent comments, I had the same impression of a too tight spacing and the counter of the 'g' in the light.
Congratulations !

ill sans's picture

The lowercase a is indeed the signature character. I'm not too much of a fan of it in big type either, but it doesn't really stand out in texts & since this is not a display font, that's what really counts. And maybe it just takes a little getting used to ;-)

AndrewSipe's picture

I agree with the rest, it's a very well done typeface. I would even be so bold as saying you have room for a heavy weight between the bold and the black.

Joe Bauldoff's picture

Incredible work, Toby. Thanks for the preview.

Toby's picture

Thanks everyone, very encouraging! I guess I could throw in more weights, but I think five is quite enough, I want a decent difference between them.

Stephen Coles's picture

> I agree the Medium is more like a Regular, is just didn't want a predetermined standard weight.

Good thinking. Regular is a bad weight name anyway. Along with Normal.

Nick Job's picture

Toby: I agree the Medium is more like a Regular, I just didn´t want a predetermined standard weight.

I'm just not sure if medium is the right name.

Stephen: Some anglo types have much wider ‘C’s, but those of other types, particularly in Germany, are much more narrow.

Maybe it's because I'm an Englishman. What about the 'K'/'k'? Is that an English thing too?

Stephen : Regular is a bad weight name anyway. Along with Normal.

Medium suggests to me a bolder weight. Is it time a new name was invented as a replacement for Regular/Normal? Even Book is presumptuous.

Toby: I think it [the Medium] works fine with the Bold (check out new pdf).

It's a very good contrast. Thanks for the illustration. Does the black work in the same way as the Bold? Not that it has to, but if you are genuinely offering a non-prescriptive naming structure then IMO you need a weight that will bold up(?) well with the light and the thin too. Plus a suitable bold weight of a font is often two weights away from its lighter counterpart.

Toby's picture

Yeah, well I think you can always say there´s a weight missing for some purpose (if you´re not looking at something like TheSans). About the K/k, i agree that in Thin to Medium, the k´s could be a little wider, but then the angles would be too much. I´d need to use a double junction for them to be wider, and that wouldn´t fit style.

sgh's picture

Horizontally cutting the top-right-to-bottom-left stroke of X/x seems odd to me, since the stroke finish on y,v,w,k is slanted.

Overall, very nice!

Toby's picture

Those characters all stand steady on the ground - poor x needs that stability too..

TBiddy's picture

Excellent, excellent work. I can definitely see this getting a lot of use. Very versatile & playful and beautifully drawn to boot. Well done!

paul d hunt's picture

very nice!

I guess I could throw in more weights, but I think five is quite enough, I want a decent difference between them.
instead of weights, how bout niceties like small capitals, text figures, &c.?

fernloft's picture

Yeah I like the sharm angles on some of the curved characters... The "a" for instance. I think it'd be nice to see it more consistently on all appropriate characters.

Toby's picture

Maybe I´ll do smallcaps etc later, right now what I need is a break :)

paul d hunt's picture

i can understand that completely!

jselig's picture

I think it's a wonderful type family. I will however echo some of the previous comments; the descenders are indeed a little too short for my liking and I'd be concerned about them getting lost on some presses, especially on newsprint. It might be a lot of work, but at this stage where you've already committed so much time a little more might be worth it when shopping this around to vendors.

The regular 'a' is a bit different and I'm not sure I like it. The idea of having an alternate in OT would be nice. It's like the '@' symbol in DIN it's unique but every job I've worked at and we've used DIN for a client we've had to sub out the symbol with one from another font. I'd hate for that to be the case here.

alexfjelldal's picture

great work! i want it! are you considering oldstyle figures and small caps?

keep it coming:-)

Bison Design

poms's picture

keep it coming:-)
Yes, it's great!

The regular ‘a’ is a bit different and I’m not sure I like it. The idea of having an alternate in OT would be nice.
I really like the "a", but it could cause problems. A more common alternate would be certainly helpful in some cases.

alexfjelldal's picture

Everytime i look at the specimen, i find new details i really like. It's almost like a treasure hunt.

One thing,though: I really think you should make a more neutrl alternate 'a'. maybe even two; one single-storey and one "normal". the sharp corner on the lower bowl stands out a lot, and cold be a reason to drop the font, espcially for heading/display use. Also, the 'g' i too tight i think.

please let us know when it's available for purchasing.

How long have you been working on this one?

Bison Design

Toby's picture

Glad you like it Alex. I will revisit the a and the descender, you got me convinced.
I´ve worked on this now and then for about three years, next to my day job..

miles's picture

keynote characters can be useful, but an 'a' as a keynote is too repetative, certainly in english.
also, whilst the 'a' you have is endearing, it appears to me as an upside down 'e'.
but it's great work, congratulations Toby.

crossgrove's picture

I don't want to douse the enthusiasm for the signature character, but something made me think I had seen something like that before on Typophile. I realized it was Pill Gothic, that was developed and shown here before being released by Veer. Galathea from Berthold has this sort of a as well, though it's a serif face. Food for thought.

ill sans's picture

Well, that doesn't really bother me that much. Innovation is wày overrated. For every single thing, there can only be 1 pioneer & by now, pretty much everything has been done before at least once. The only thing left for us to do is to make a good collection from all the things we like & try to add some personal flavour & I for one think Toby's done a hell of a job with his Zai font. An alternative "a" may be a good compromise (especially for larger type), but I'd leave the original in. Set in texts in regular size for reading it doen't even stand out that much.

ebensorkin's picture

My suggestion is that you go ahead & release it as is as a display version ( or even the very large dispaly version ) & then cycle back to make the text version ( or optically tuned sizes ) with more open spacing ( or more & more pen spacing in the case of optical sizes ), as well implementing the various suggestions that Stephen made.

Toby's picture

I´m back with some improvements (hopefully..) A normal a and a bit more descender.
Also did some work on 4, g, e and &. It´s all in the new pdf!

Stephen Coles's picture

Unfortunately you can only attach to your original post. Most folks do that and just add a note in a new post that there is another PDF available.

The changes are good. The 'g' can breathe now! Don't lose that old 'a' as a stylistic alt.

I think Eben's suggestion is excellent. There is definitely potential for a text face here.

Toby's picture

Yes, that might be something to consider, even though I feel the identity could be diminished with too many versions

ebensorkin's picture

feel the identity could be diminished with too many versions

I can see where you could be concerned, and doing what I and Stephen are suggesting will not be easy. Some might have said the same thing about all the weights you have. Personally I am confident that your font's personality is strong enough to lend itself to Small Caps or a text face optimized for very small text etc. Moreover there is help here on typophile to get you there. And there might be other options as well. Certainly the bigger the face's family the better it is likely to do commercially I think. Still, it's your thing; and after doing such good work you may simply want a break!

Looking at the all caps setting of the word TRANSPOSE I was struck at the way the caps feel like sign painter's letters.

Would you talk a bit about the feeling or 'voice' you feel the font has, your intent for the font, and the context in which it was made?

Stephen Coles's picture

> Certainly the bigger the face’s family the better it is likely to do commercially

I can confirm that is true. Sometimes this is an unfortunate truth as some designers expand the family to tens of styles before polishing the base weight and width. But that is not the case here.

Toby's picture

the caps feel like sign painter’s letters.

Yes, handpainted signs was an inspiration, and old, bold letterpress stuff like those modelling for FB Rhode and HTF Champion. I guess I wanted to make a more contemporary version, with some of my own personality in it too. First I thought of it as mainly a headline face (it was then consisting of three bold weights), but then I tried expanding it to lighter weights, and found it worked quite well.

satya's picture

Great work.

Endre Berentzen's picture

Really nice!

litera's picture

I'm just going to be as dull as the rest... And tell you that you've done a really great work here. This family is astonishingly beautiful. I like it a lot. Despite the rather big x-height it looks very legible, strong and text face.

I saw something that may look alike a glitch. Take a look at the UC S black italic. Inner bottom curve doesn't look completely smooth. At about two o'clock it looks like ti has a slight bump.

Are you making this family for a certain client of yours or is this font going to be publicly sold by some foundry?

Toby's picture

Thanks guys, this one will hopefully be released in a couple of months...

SuperUltraFabulous's picture


do you have a website?

satya's picture

From which foundry_?'s picture

I think you have done a good piece of work here, im not a big fan of the a though, it seems far to pointy to me, and doesn't fit into the rest.

Visit my website for my portfolio:

JRGcisterna's picture

cool work,
I liked a lot, is a fairly unique typography

BezerBezer's picture

Yeah, I love this type! Nice goin' man. Just beautiful.

turbulenz's picture

Loved Zai.

Fredrik's picture

Tobias, what happened next to Zai?


Jojoto's picture

Gorgeous typeface!

*Would love to use it.

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