Compressed, Condensed and Extended Fonts...

AndrewSipe's picture

I have a friend that arbitrarily uses extended and condensed fonts all the time.

What is the difference between condensed and compressed? Are there rules to when and where to use these versions of a font? I don't believe I've ever had the inclination to use these versions, but when I see my friend's work I know it's out of place. I can't really make a good argument for or against his use of these styles.

Can someone enlighten me?

jupiterboy's picture

Every face is different, but I've used helve condensed for setting warnings and other dense info on the back of packages. In this case condensed is still legible. Compressed usually means you've got some extra weight as well and probably need to use this for display work. So maybe you could generalize that condensed should be legible at smaller sizes, but not compressed.

AndrewSipe's picture

So, Condensed fonts are primarily used at smaller sizes and in utilitarian capacities? And Extended and Compressed fonts are capable of being used as display fonts at much larger sizes?

What would make me want to choose an extended or compressed style over a standard one? Would it only be based on size limitations, like a newspaper column then? Is that why extended and compressed fonts were designed, for justified copy?

Don McCahill's picture

Does he work for the movie studio? They are notorious for compressing fonts. Apparently stars will have the typeface their names must appear on the credits and billing materials specified, but only for height. Result, letters 72 points high and 3 points wide (I exaggerate, but not much).

AndrewSipe's picture

No, he's just a regular freelance designer. He just seems to use extended and condensed fonts in all of this designs (from print to web). Helvetica Condensed to Trade Gothic Extended... It's a little frustrating to see.

jupiterboy's picture

I don't think you can make grand generalizations, but condensed fonts almost all look like a compromise to me. There are times when they are handy though, like setting in a narrow column or on the front of a can or other cylindrical object. I usually look for a face that is somewhat narrow to start with, rather than using a condensed version. Compressed versions will often close up at smaller sizes. But then I'm just a regular freelance designer as well.

Miss Tiffany's picture

I disagree. Condensed fonts (and lots of compressed) are not a compromise. That's a generalization. ;^) Unless I misunderstood what you meant.

David Berlow. To name one grand master of designing compressed and condensed fonts. Christian Schwartz, Jonathan Hoefler, Tobias Frere-Jones, and Cyrus Highsmith. Just a short list of people who have designed companion widths for their fonts.

Good point about compressed being good for display. I've used compressed in display and then condensed for smaller text before and I find that to work well if I want to maintain some sort of continuity of style.

jupiterboy's picture

I'm not sayin', I'm just sayin'. ; p

russellm's picture

is it fair to say that a glyphs in a condenced font are condenced differencially - giving up proportionally more width for some letters and less for others to preserve the character of the typeface and a compressed font is a bit more "ruthless" in that all letters are narrowed more or less uniformly?


Nick Shinn's picture

I find that the relative character proportions of the normal need to be modified for the other scalings. So characters that are relatively narrow in the normal need to be widened, relatively, in the extended, because one doesn't want narrow-looking characters in an extended style. And vice versa for the condensed.

You can see this principal in Futura:

So in general, condensed and extended styles have a greater homogeneity of glyph width than the normal proportion of type.

With the popularity of semi-condensed sans faces, we're seeing more typography with even-width letterforms.

Nick Shinn's picture

What would make me want to choose an extended or compressed style over a standard one?

The proportion of the page may have something to do with it, and the constraints of copyfitting in a specific layout. The classic example is the headline that was being left open for a one-column story in a newspaper, on the result of a motor race. The winner was "Rickenbacker in a Duesenburg" (or something like like that), hence the need for ultra-squished fonts.

blank's picture

What would make me want to choose an extended or compressed style over a standard one?

I use condensed fonts as headings on a daily basis. They save space and can be really eyecatching, especially those quirky old condensed gothic and grotesque designs. Condensed type can also be a lifeline when designing for writers who simply do not understand concepts like brevity or understatement. For example, Today I used Pill Gothic 300mg to deal with a postcard and a half-page magazine ad that could not contain the text in the 600mg width.

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