korean typography/type design

Michael Green's picture

hi all

just moved to seoul and am in the process of learning korean.

can anyone school me on hangul typography/type design?
what, if any are the helvetica(s) of hangul?

one thing im struggling a bit with is the positioning of each sub glyph within glyphs and things i should take into consideration. been collecting up all the flyers and newspapers i can get for free and studying them but it would be nice to have the korean equivalent of EoTS and the like

cant seem to find a great deal on the net in english

any info is much appreciated i love the look of hangul

thanks in advance

p.s korea is flipping amazing

Michael Green's picture

found a couple of links




anyone have any insight to if what jooha is saying is correct?

Jongseong's picture

Good luck in Korea! I am no longer based in Seoul, and I've left all my Korean typography-related books back there, so I'm afraid I can't be of much help. You should know that you won't find anything in English at the level of detail you are looking for, seeing that you are concerned about the positioning of subglyphs within glyphs. Even books and monographs in Korean will seldom go beyond the obvious stuff about optical correction, because for native readers of hangul, the sense of balance between the subglyphs is pretty much assumed to be ingrained and would be very hard to explain analytically.

Nevertheless, if you happen to be interested in hangul type design, you can try drawing a few glyphs and I'll be happy to comment on them. I've never seen non-native readers of hangul make serious attempts in designing hangul, so I would be interested to see what you can produce.

Meanwhile, here are some links that may be helpful for the pictures at least until you get your Korean up to speed. The first link in particular contains links to several essays about designing hangul typefaces, with pictures of corrections made along the way.


The Geulkkol 글꼴 annuals published by the Korea Font Development Center (한국글꼴개발원) are really helpful and contain some interesting studies as well as an overview of new hangul typeface designs published during the year. They should be available in the biggest book stores.

As for the Helveticas of hangul, much of contemporary hangul type is heavily indebted to the designs of the late Choe Jeongho (최정호). His creations are Myeongjo (명조), Gothic (고딕), Sinmyeongjo (신명조), Hwangodik (환고딕), Graphic (그래픽), Gongjak (공작), Gungsuh (궁서), and Naru (나루). Of these, Myeongjo and Sinmyeongjo are the progenitors of virtually all the serif designs used for books today, and Gothic is the basis of the most widely used class of sans-serifs that I like to think of as hangul grotesques.

Windows faces Batang (바탕) and Dotum (돋움) are based on Sinmyeongjo/Myeongjo and Gothic respectively, Gulim (굴림) is based on Naru, and Gungsuh also closely follows Choe's design.

Links about Choe (in Korean):

Malgun Gothic (맑은고딕), introduced with Windows Vista, is less indebted to Gothic; it is a pretty significant departure representing contemporary trends in hangul sans-serif design. If Choe's Gothic is Helvetica or Akzidenz Grotesque, then Malgun Gothic might be a Meta.

As for what Jooha is saying, yes, what he says is pretty much spot on.

Michael Green's picture


thank you so much for your post. really appreciate it. will post my efforts in the crits section once i feel i have something worth showing.

thanks again

Michael Green's picture

actually there is one more question...

one thing ive noticed about korean typography is that it is common for prices to be in a roman typeface eg. 1000 won

what is the deciding factor of what roman face to use? or is it pretty haphazard. have there been any multi-lingual faces designed? (roman/hangul)

with either the roman derived from the hangul or vice-versa


Jongseong's picture

I'm not sure why prices in particular would necessarily be in a Roman typeface, but yes, Korean typography often requires the Roman alphabet for a variety of reasons.

Virtually all Korean fonts include letters of the Latin (Roman) alphabet. There are some designs where the Latin component is decent and harmonizes well with the hangul glyphs, but often the Latins are poorly designed. If one deems the available Latin component of a given Korean font to be unusable, it may be substituted with a Latin design that matches well with the hangul. Matching the colour, metrics, and the general feel is key. Because hangul and the Latin alphabet are structurally very different, you can't go much further than that.

I am not aware of any hangul design which derives from a Latin design. It usually goes the other way, which explains why the Latins that come with Korean fonts are often unsuitable for Latin-heavy typography. In addition to the Latin being made subservient to the hangul, the designers don't have a good feel for what makes a successful Latin design.

guifa's picture

In addition to the Latin being made subservient to the hangul

Definitely not common in the font world. I wonder why more Korean fonts aren't being made. While the Korean unicode chart is rather scary looking, for body faces it's more than doable I'd think. While you do have to draw a few more glyphs, most glyphs only need a certain number of forms and then they can be mixed and matched with references. Display and caligraphic fonts couldn't do this though probably.

Or am I over "simplifying" * it too much Jongseong? For example, some consonants would need as many as 18 initial forms (horiz or vert or horiz-vert vowel, final consonant or no, single or doubled in first or second position, 3x2x3) and up to 9 final forms (horiz or vert or horiz-vert vowel, single or doubled in first or second position, 3x3). Of course, many in modern hangul would not need anywhere near this many forms, for example, ㅁ only needs 6 initial forms, since it cannot be placed in a double consonant, and only 3 final forms.

Vowels need seven forms:
- isolate
- monophthong
- monophthong with final consonant
- notched (heaven) diphthong
- notched diphthong with final consonant
- horizontal-vertical (earth-man) diphthong
- horizontal-vertical diphthong with final consonant

Once those are designed it's just a massive copy and paste job.

For example using placeholders ㅇ, ㅡ, ㅣ, with ᄀ, you can have ᄀ 기 깅 끼 낑 그 긍 끄 끙 긔 긩 끠 끵 익 윽 읙. But it's modular such that replacing ㅇ in 깅 with any other letter, the ᄀ and ㅣ maintain the same form: 깁깆긷긱깃김긴깅길 .

«El futuro es una línea tan fina que apenas nos damos cuenta de pintarla nosotros mismos». (La Luz Oscura, por Javier Guerrero)

* this means the average Korean letter has many more "forms" than an Arabic letter, although it's essentially just different ways of squashing the letters in the block rather than a wholly different shape like in Arabic.

Jongseong's picture

It's not that simple. I think it's best to illustrate with an example, with Nanum Myeongjo bold.

At first glance, the ㄱ and ㅣ might appear to be simple copy and paste jobs, but a closer look reveals that the shapes and positions differ slightly according to what syllable finals they combine with. I don't think all of the ㄱs above are unique, but I count at least ten different variations.

There are of course short-cuts, but it is not as straightforward as you might first imagine. A very simple modular set-up of the kind you are thinking will yield a typeface that looks uneven, unbalanced, and full of gaps, and simply will not cut it for body type (unless you are deliberately going for a typewriter look).

It is generally agreed that at least hundreds of syllable elements are needed to design decent-looking hangul. According to the so-called Leeks Curve which correlates the number of syllable elements to the aesthetic level of the resulting hangul design, 300 elements are the absolute minimum, 900 elements are needed for basic book work, and 1858 elements will be enough for a near-perfect rendering of the 11,172 syllables used in modern Korean.

A common approach is to design the most common glyphs, fine-tuning them individually, and then using those designs to extract the syllable elements needed to assemble the rest of the glyphs. I think in the case of Nanum Myeongjo and several others the most common hangul glyphs—typically the 2,350 syllables in the old encoding—are individually designed, and the rest of the 11,172 syllables used in modern Korean are provided as composites in the font files.

Perhaps ironically, the simple modular approach would be best for display faces where the quirkiness introduced by the obvious modularity would be more likely to be tolerated than in body faces.

Michael Green's picture

this is turning into a great thread!

i went to insadong today with a friend and found some great calligraphy shops. got a couple of books on the hangul forms and a couple of issues of 'graphic'
needless to say i was in their for hours, my friend got bored and went somewhere else. i think that was her first encounter with a type nerd lol

can you recommend any other areas for type related books jongseong?

thanks again

Michael Green's picture

more display than text but im still in the learning phase. thought id post it up!

Michael Green's picture

double post

how do i delete it?

Michael Green's picture

optical corrections + combinations coming soon

Jongseong's picture

Looks like you've already got the hang of it, Mike! I assume those are your creations?

Insadong is a great place for art books in general and for books on Korean calligraphy in particular. I can't immediately think of other places for type-related books, but used book stores in general can be treasure troves for calligraphy-related books. I found a copy of a great calligraphy exhibition catalogue in a used book store near my previous home in Bongcheon-dong. I seem to recall there are lots of used book stores in the Cheonggyecheon area.

Also, keep on eye out for typography- and calligraphy-related exhibitions in the galleries and museums around Seoul. It might be difficult to find information in English, so you might want to ask around with your Korean colleagues. There was an interesting exhibition of hangul tablets at the Seoul Arts Centre last year; I should upload photos from the show when I get the time.

Michael Green's picture

yep those are my initial experiments. the other stuff is still in my sketchbook but having a lot of fun learning about korean type!

will post more soon

Jongseong's picture

So this thread got me thinking about what kind of hangul text face I would design if I had the time, so I've sketched a few glyphs. You can see my rough initial sketches here:


Jongseong's picture

A couple of exhibitions in Seoul you might be interested in:

There is an on-going show at the Seoul Arts Centre (http://www.sac.or.kr/) called "Playing by Typography IV" featuring works by international artists such as Saul Bass and Neville Brody as well as local artist Shur Ki-Heun. The show continues until 28 April.

Info: http://www.fontclub.co.kr/Magazine/MagazineView.asp?boardtype=27&subtype...

There's going to be a joint exhibition by the calligrapher Lee Sang-Hyun (http://www.simwha.kr/) and the typographer Lee Ho of Sandoll Communications (http://www.sandoll.co.kr/IR/index.asp) at the Agitpunkt Café (http://agitpunkt.com/) in the Hongdae area, 11-24 April.

Info: http://www.fontclub.co.kr/Magazine/MagazineView.asp?boardtype=27&subtype...

Michael Green's picture


will check them out!

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