Slightly slanted italics

nina's picture

This might be a tough call, but I'm looking for examples of typefaces (preferably text faces) featuring very slightly slanted italics – ideally, something like the 3–4 degree range. Bonus points for slightly slanted italics that also don't show an excessively cursive flavor. Patria is one face I can think of off the top of my head that does this quite successfully. Any others?

til's picture

Eric Gill's Joanna has fairly upright italics.

Miss Tiffany's picture

Mark Simonson lists Trump Mediæval and Vendôme in this thread. But both of those seem more sloped. What about Joanna?

Gerry K's picture

Goudy Old Style

Bendy's picture

Well I'm not sure whether this is too cursive or not italic enough (only just off vertical) but ITC Cerigo might fit the bill. It was created as a 'vertical italic' so quite interesting just in itself. The italic version is probably far too sloped.

nina's picture

Joanna works nicely. I've never liked it, so it seems to have been effectively excluded from my type radar :-). Very interesting in this context though! Thanks.
Same with Goudy, which I do think has a bit more slant though.

Thanks also for the link to the Slanted Roman thread Tiffany. I suspect slanted romans might need more slant than I'm looking for – although I wonder if it couldn't work if all the other constituents of "italicness" are in place (like narrowness, lighter color, different serif structure maybe).


Looking at Letters of Credit, I just came across JvK's Romanée (page 108). Too calligraphic for my taste, but that's the sort of angle I'm looking for (Tracy quotes it as 4 degrees). It seems that much of its "italicness" (which really is uh, a bit much) is achieved by its narrowness – and am I crazy, or do the vertical proportions differ between its roman and italic?

nina's picture

Ben, that's a strange font! Looks like an upright italic with an… italic italic :-).
What I'm looking for (sorry if I wasn't very concise) are italics designed to complement an (upright) base cut, which succeed in being differentiated enough from said base cut in spite of their steep angle, and if possible also without resorting to too much calligraphic trickery.

Kent: Thanks! Nice examples.

paragraph's picture

This too slanted, Nina?

nina's picture

Uhh, I'm so no fan of cancellaresca-esque folded-in ascenders. But the slant doesn't look too bad. Thanks! Goes on the list.

Anyone got any more?

dberlow's picture

>(sorry if I wasn’t very concise)

No you were concise, you've just specified something, slight of angle and light on calligraphic style, which in combination are not terribly effective to a purpose, so far. As a companion italic it sounds like not enough contrast to the roman, and it's not sounding particularly interesting as a stand-alone italic to have little or no italic or angle, so no one has made one that I have ever seen.

Similar missing fonts of this kind might include SuperUltraBlack Agates, Egyptian Humanists and Monospaced Connecting Scripts, or maybe not. ;)


nina's picture

"slight of angle and light on calligraphic style, which in combination are not terribly effective to a purpose, so far"
And that's exactly why I'm looking for them: I'm curious if/how they can be (have been) made to work. I wonder if other constituents of "italicness" – such as narrower width, lighter color, gentle structural changes (like the treatment of joins and/or serifs), and possibly even different vertical proportions – can't pull the italics far enough away from the roman even without a heavy slant, or full-on chiro/calligraphic action.
And before somebody says "Why not try and see if you can make it work": I will. But I'm sure this has been attempted before, so I'm trying to dig up some examples to learn from. Bad/non-working ones also welcome BTW.

"Monospaced Connecting Scripts"
Hey, you don't think anybody ever wanted to type love letters on typewriters? ;->

nina's picture

mili – How did Caecilia not occur to me? Great, thank you!

riccard0's picture

Monospaced Connecting Scripts
(not too slanted either, but maybe a little too cursive ;-)

Gerry K's picture

Goudy's Village looks a little less slanted to me than Goudy Old Style.

omeld's picture

How about Cerigo book?

Trinité's italic slopes at 3 degrees (and roman at 1).

edit: I see Cerigo has already been mentioned

kentlew's picture

If you want a Goudy example, then Deepdene is the one that fits the bill. But you'll find there's quite a bit of cancelleresca in it, inspired as it was by JvK's Romanée.

nina's picture

Thanks guys. Deepdene is interesting (though for the record, I'm generally no fan of Goudy's work). Trinité I should have known. Cheers.
Randy: Eason is nice! Hadn't seen it before I think. I like the italics a lot actually.

Florian Hardwig's picture

Hi Nina,
I don’t have any typefaces to add, but a few links to older threads you might be interested in:
Sloped roman and italic in the same family
The Sloped Roman
What makes an italic belong to its family

nina's picture

Hi Florian, and thanks. I'd read these previously, but it's good to look through them again in this context. (I'm probably rather lonely in this corner of the room, but the Nour Latin sample that Hrant posted in that last thread you mentioned is pretty much exactly the thing I'm looking for. Delicious. Isn't there more like this out there?)

BTW, now I'm terminologically confused: Is it "Sloped Roman"? I've always said "Slanted Roman". Same thing?

Nick Shinn's picture

Have you experimented with slanting?
It is possible to mechanically adjust tilt in your layout application; you never know how faux that will look for a particular face till you try it, but I would suspect that taking an italic with a fairly ordinary slant of 7 or 8 degrees and modifying it to 3 or 4 would not distort it noticeably.

kentlew's picture

> BTW, now I’m terminologically confused: Is it “Sloped Roman”? I’ve always said “Slanted Roman”. Same thing?

Same thing. The concept pretty much arises from Morison, as put forward in "Toward an Ideal Italic." I believe he used the phrase "sloped roman," which is why it tends to get used preferentially. But I don't have a copy of the article to confirm.

nina's picture

Ah ok, thanks Kent (I admit I haven't read Morison's article yet, just read about it).
And Nick – no, that hadn't occurred to me, but it might be a nice way to quickly try and see how much slant a given design needs in order to work. Cheers.

kentlew's picture

BTW Nina, turns out Dwiggins himself, in discussing the concept of Electra Italic (à la Morison's ideas) with Griffith, used the phrase "slanted roman" in his letters.

So you're in fine company.

William Berkson's picture

The Morrison's idea seems to have been a spectacular flop, in spite of some really great talents trying to execute it: Dwiggens, Van Krimpen. Even Morrison abandoned it for Times New Roman.

So before putting work in such a direction, I'd want to have a strong response to the objection, of Griffith to Dwiggins in Kent's link, and by David above, that such efforts have too little contrast to the roman to serve as a satisfactory companion for emphasis.

nina's picture

You want that strong response from me? OK, here goes:

First off, in my world both the "pure" slanted-roman, and the "true italics" are to be seen as abstract extremes on a continuous axis – in this case, the axis of minimal to maximal chiro/calligraphic influence in the italics, or maybe the chiro-"delta" between a given roman and italic cut (in terms of an additional chirographic influence on the italics causing structural differences between it and the roman). It's possible that Morison (and I'm speculating here, because as I've said before, I haven't actually read his text) was too extreme on this scale, too dogmatic.

But I wonder, might not a position on the non-chiro end of that axis still be workable if other factors were weighed differently? Simply stated, I'd say you can't (usually/easily) take chiro-ness out of "the italics equation" and not add "italicness" back in some other form without the result becoming, well, less italic! And thus less differentiated. But "italicness" can come about by different variables, and the chiro/calligraphic "tone" is just one of them.* There's slant as well, there's color, there's width/narrowness, there's possibly different vertical proportions; and I'm sure there's more too. So reducing both the slant and the chiro-value would probably mean that one would have to consider making the italics notably narrower, possibly lighter, and maybe smaller. And might that not work?
* I could swear I've read a similar discussion on Typophile before, but my recollection of it is too fuzzy to quote or even find it.

So there's counter-weighing, and then I'd personally argue against the idea of the "pure" slanted-roman too. I think it should be possible to make very subtle differences in tone that don't need to escalate into too "literal" references to chirography. Things like different treatment of serifs and/or joins, or a subtly different flavor of the curves… maybe.

The question really is, what do we need an italic to be, and can that be achieved both without borrowing excessively from chirography, and without an exaggerated slant? I would go out on a limb and say that I think it can very well. I'm not sure it will be pretty, but I'm pretty sure it can work.
(And I'm well aware of the fact that now, I'll be expected to try and prove that. ;-)

William Berkson's picture

Ok, I see you've got an idea that something else can substitute for the more written aspects of italic, such as the hook like serifs, and for the slant as a distinguishing feature. I have no idea what you have in mind, but if you have something, sure, go for it with a handful of characters, and see what happens.

Slant is such an elemental thing, that I'm skeptical that you can substitute for it, but I'll be delighted to be proven wrong. We know that upright scripts, such as the recent beauty from Underware, can work, but removing both indications of motion, and slant and making it a companion to the roman--that will be some trick.

Chris Dean's picture

"…what do we need an italic to be…"

To assist in establishing a salient typographic hierarchy.

Bendy's picture

Nina, are you thinking of a non-cursive non-sloped italic for a particular font you're working on?

nina's picture

"MVB Celestia"
Point in case for the "make it smaller" variable. Also calligraphic, though.

"To assist in establishing a salient typographic hierarchy."
Yeah well that's the very short version. :-)
Just two things: I think notions of "standing out" and "hierarchy" are tricky with respect to italics; they're not as simple/straightforward as bolds: They make their content stand apart rather than stand out; they're more emphatic, but not necessarily louder. So they need to pull away, but who said how they're going to pull away? So yes, I'd question if for their pure functionality, they need a strong* slant, and the chiro ductus.
(* Note that I'm not advocating doing away with the slant altogether – in this case however I prefer/need it to be slight. So Ben it's not going to be non-sloped, and probably not entirely non-cursive either.)

I will try what I have in mind, and will get back with that. I don't know if it will work, and/or if I can pull it off! But it's going to be a moment because I need some other stuff to be in place first. Just testing the waters for the moment, and seeing what's out there. Thanks all for the input!

kentlew's picture

Nina -- Help me out: Do you make a distinction between "chirographic" and "cursive," or do these terms signify the same thing for you?

nina's picture

Kent, I may well have been muddling up terminology.
The way I understand things, I'd say that "chirographic" is a much broader term generally meaning (in the context of type design) "informed by handwritten forms" or "borrowing from the aesthetic of handwriting".
"Cursive", in my book, refers more concisely to a historically-informed way of shaping italics influenced by / based on a certain calligraphic style distinct/separate from the roman.

In terms of the "broadness" of the terms, it's probably something like
chirographic > calligraphic > cursive.

Glancing over my long post above, I could probably have used "cursive" in lieu of "chirographic" a couple of times… but the looser term wasn't quite unintentional: It appears to me that some current fonts have a chirographic quality to the italics that is absent (or not as pronounced) in the roman, but doesn't necessarily follow the "classic" cursive model. But I might be wrong – I'm not very calli-savvy.

Let me know if I have the terminology mixed up (or this stuff doesn't make sense).

William Berkson's picture

Nina, chirographic I think is more or less a 'typophile' word. I think it was invented by John Hudson to refer to the aspects of type that derive from or are influenced by handwriting. He prefers this to "calligraphy", as that means "beautiful writing", and so has a narrower meaning of decorative writing. The formal hands of scribes were more utilitarian, and these had the biggest impact on the development of printer's types.

Hrant picked up the term, and has used it more or less as a curse word against what he regards as the baleful influence of writing on type. But what exactly he objects to about writing's influence has never been entirely clear to me, so I generally avoid the term.

Bendy's picture

I understood Hrant's point was that although reading and writing need to use the same alphabet, the chirographic forms inherent in writing should not be assumed to be optimal for readability. (Because they are physically/physiologically different processes)

Perhaps that wasn't the main focus of his logic but it did stick with me and makes sense. However, I would also think that more conventional chirographic stress would improve recognisability just through familiarity...maybe that's something not directly related to readability, I'm not sure.

I'm sure Hrant will correct me (if he's around at the moment) :)

nina's picture

"chirographic I think is more or less a ’typophile’ word"
Really? "Chirography" is the first entry in my thesaurus under "handwriting".
(Collins Paperback Thesaurus, 2nd ed 1990)

Ben, I agree in hoping Hrant will correct us if we got him wrong, but I understood his stance pretty much the same way you did – that *type* (which is not written) should strive to be optimal for *reading* – which necessitates questioning if the shapes that used to be optimal for *writing*, and the aesthetic that stems from writing (comfortable and familiar as it is), is really relevant in type. And I think there was something about chirography being directly opposed to good notan, but I'll admit I don't get that part.
I see his point on the necessary emancipation of type design from written forms. Actually, if one considers that books have been printed not written for more than half a millennium!, I find it rather strange that this demand would still seem so exotic to many.
And this is a true Typophile-grade topic deviation. :-)

Chris Dean's picture

Chirography, not to be confused with graphology, both of which are subsets of orthography.

dezcom's picture

I will use the term "Italics" as used by editors to describe the typographic form things like book titles should be set in. Italics have a different need than bold although both are attempts to separate some parts of text from the normal roman book face. Bold text set inline with the book face stands out indeed with weight being the primary driving force for contrast. Italics have a subtler use. They are not meant to leap out at you and make a jump in color like bolds do, they just make enough of a distinction for a person to see them as "different than roman" but not be emphasized above roman. You might call this a non-hierarchal difference or separation without dominance.
By removing weight change as an option, slant is one of the few remaining players that cuts across all type families. There are other things possible such as the degree of cursive form historically used. The earliest use of italic type mixed inline with upright roman texts were not from the same type family and a pairing was made based on how closely the x-heights matched when set as neighbors. Shortly after that, foundries took the opportunity to design a so-called matching italics to be sold as a companion to the upright. We can debate at this point, hundreds of years after the fact, how closely matched the early italics really were. Today, italics are IMO better matched as family than the older ones were. We have trained ourselves to accept the variance over the past centuries. Whatever we come up with as a substitute for the current use of slant with a strong cursive influence and use of entrance and exit strokes, we will also require several years before the reading public begins to "get it".
I would be the last person on earth to say, "don't even try it" and I welcome the opportunity to see your attempts as you proceed. I would only say do not throw out the tools people are accustomed to--or at least do not curse them as evil. It is a good thing to boldly go about and create an alternative to current italics as long as you do not then make it a crusade to rid the world of other useful tools.

If you build it, they will come.


dezcom's picture

"I see his point on the necessary emancipation of type design from written forms. "

I might agree to "worth trying" or "seems plausible" or "will add greatly to our typographic vernacular" but I have a tough time seeing your headlong leap into "necessary emancipation".

Please explain the imperative? What is the great tragedy that we might face if we all don't rid ourselves of the demon italics as we know it?


William Berkson's picture

Thanks for the correction, Nina, I didn't realize it was a standard English word.

Ben in the form you put it, "the chirographic forms inherent in writing should not be assumed to be optimal for readability," I would agree, and think few would disagree. From Jenson on, type designers have modified joins, weights, and sizes for greater readability.

But Hrant's position has been far stronger than that. If I have understood him, he thinks that written forms are inherently less readable, because of following the stroke or "moving front" of a pen. When they show a moving front, where the two extremes of the stroke are linked as in a pen, that prevents a proper "notan" or balancing of black and white. And this messed-up notan of necessity makes the type less readable.

That more extreme view, which implies that type having more influence of the pen is inherently less readable, is what I don't buy. In my view, some features of pen writing help, and some hurt. Containing noticeable pen-like features, such as in Jos Buivenga's new Calluna, doesn't necessarily hurt readability.

Tim Ahrens's picture

Joining in a bit late here but Giovanni de Faccio and Lui Karner's Rialto might interesting:

Hope this helps.

nina's picture

Chris, no crusade in sight on this end, just a desire to see what italics are and what they do, and if they need to be what they usually are in order to do that job.

Like you say, italics were usually separate types and only later were culturally "adopted" to be a subordinate "style" to complement a given upright font. And my view is, just because it was culturally "learned" to do it this way doesn't necessarily make it the Only True Way.
Sometimes today secondary fonts are used inline for a different way of adding gentle emphasis or denoting other layers of meaning, for example the sans variant of the text face or maybe a different typeface altogether – much like the old guys used cursive fonts as secondary "italic" ones. It's a great effect if done well, and shows IMO that the point is not that such an emphasis-mark needs to be cursive and/or slanted, but that it simply needs to be different enough while still belonging to the regular cut.
Beyond that, it's a question of flavor: Setting a word in a matching sans within a body of serif is a differently "flavored" emphasis than using cursive italics – and that's where it gets really interesting: It means that if we only accept the cursive-italic form of "italic" emphasis, we accept that it automatically comes with a certain flavor, i.e. a specifically chirographic one; and I don't see how that is necessary, or even needs to make sense in many cases. Think about what you'd usually use more cursive/calligraphic fonts for: wedding invitations? Now why exactly would I want a book title highlighted in running text to look more festive, or more personal, than the running text – more hand-written? I only want it to stand apart!

"I have a tough time seeing your headlong leap into “necessary emancipation”."
Short version (sorry, lots of work ahead): By "emancipation" I didn't mean to say that I'd want type design to break from centuries of handwriting tradition and history just for the sake of it, and crusade for that, and fight the pen, armed to the teeth, burning calligraphic type designers at the stake. My point is (and it *is* a rather benign one, much like William says) that type needs to stop being dependent on the pen and holding its hand, but continue – and a bit more boldly, perhaps – to search for its own, functional aesthetics from within – and ideally based on functionality, rather than tradition. Which isn't limited to italics, but also means asking questions like the one above.

"That more extreme view, which implies that type having more influence of the pen is inherently less readable, is what I don’t buy."
And I don't get. Looks like we need the man to get back here!

kentlew's picture

On the origin of the word "chirographic" in typography contexts:

kentlew's picture

Nina, I wasn't criticizing your use of the two terms interchangeably above. I don't think either have clear, universally accepted definitions, so it's not a question of right or wrong, or even "muddling" the terms. I was just trying to understand how you are intending to use them. I admit to still not being quite clear.

I think you've outlined the parameters of distinction (at least, within the context of what we commonly understand to be "italic") -- slope/slant, width, weight, relative vertical proportions, and form structure. You've expressed an interest in minimizing the first: the angle from the vertical.

Width and weight are typically fine-tuned when developing an "emphatic companion" to the roman -- typically slightly narrower and slightly lighter. Sometimes relative vertical proportions are adjusted when the angle is great.

Turning attention to form structure, and the reason for my question about terms, I'm trying to understand which components constitute "chirographic" and/or "cursive" in your assessment.

Taking sloped roman as a point of reference, which changes to the structure would make it necessarily "cursive"? Take the lowercase n for instance. If you remove the left serif of the right stem, have you made it cursive, since this one-sided structure typically arises from the motion of writing? What about if you remove both of the serifs on the right stem, now is it "cursive"? Does it matter whether the transition is soft & round or hard & angular? What about how high or low the join from arch to stem is; since a lower join typically arises from a single motion of the hand, does that play a defining role in "cursive"?

When you object to (or question) "cursive/chirographic," what are you directing your attention at?

nina's picture
Thanks for this, Kent. I will admit I'm not quite getting the difference you see between the definitions of the term as used by John and Hrant; they sound very similar to me. Or do you mean that John essentially introduced the term to structurally/aesthetically describe letterforms that are actually written by hand, whereas Hrant transposes it to typographic letterforms that borrow, structurally/stylistically, from handwriting?

"Hrant used “chirography” in a different discussion on the same list, and essentially as a slightly broader substitute for “calligraphy,” meaning an approach to letter formation that relies upon the logic of the hand."
For the record, that's exactly the way I understood the term, and/or intended to use it. It seems like a very useful term to have, too.

Your question about what exactly constitutes chirographic-ness (I know that's not a word :-) ) in italics is very interesting. I'll have to think about that for a moment (and finish a couple of other things on my desk). Will be back.

William Berkson's picture

Kent, thanks for the link, my above summary on the term "chirographic" was my mangled memory of your post.

Nina, I am uneasy about the philosophy I hear--maybe wrongly--in your phrase "ideally based on functionality, rather than tradition."

To me this sounds like the radicalism of post WWI "functionalists" in architecture, who were opposed to ornament on the supposed grounds of improving function.

First of all aesthetics is functional, because human beings want to live with beauty, if we have a choice.

Second, radicalism in type is misguided. I am not politically a conservative, at least the way Americans use that word, but I do agree with Stanley Morrison that type has an element that is inherently conservative: we are tied to letter forms that we inherit from the past, because if we go too far in altering the traditional forms people can't read them.

Third, when talking about functionally and readability in italics you are facing a tricky situation. Probably all noticeably slanted letters are less readable, and certainly slanted letters in the midst of vertical ones slow you down. But they are *meant* to slow you down, and draw attention to the word or phrase. That is their function. So here you have slightly less readability as more functional for communication!

I absolutely don't want to discourage your experiments, but I think that the history of radical functionalism in architecture shows that while it inspired a lot of interesting work, it is too narrow and restrictive as a philosophy.

So I am all for chirographic italics, and non-chirographic ones. Let a hundred flowers bloom.

eliason's picture

Bill, your post is thoughtful so forgive me if I do a little nitpicking.

Nina, I am uneasy about the philosophy I hear—maybe wrongly—in your phrase “ideally based on functionality, rather than tradition.”

To me this sounds like the radicalism of post WWI “functionalists” in architecture, who were opposed to ornament on the supposed grounds of improving function.

First of all aesthetics is functional, because human beings want to live with beauty, if we have a choice.

The three things being opposed to functionalism here - tradition, ornament, and beauty - are all quite different. I don't think the slippage from one to the others is warranted.

if we go too far in altering the traditional forms people can’t read them.

Wouldn't that be a functionalist's foremost concern?

And if there's a problem with radical functionalism in architecture, maybe it's its radicalism and not its functionalism. (Wouldn't radical traditionalism also tend to be "too narrow and restrictive as a philosophy"?)

Bendy's picture

>necessary emancipation of type design from written forms

I don't remember reading that...and I'm not sure whether you (or Hrant) are saying type design *needs to* move away from written forms or simply that it doesn't need to be limited by them.

I can visualise the chiro- end of the spectrum more clearly than the fully 'notan' end...the chiro- end would surely have to involve traditional stress, some cursivity, stems with edges linked in a way consistent with hand movement. Does that mean the notan end would need to a) ignore these restrictions and do simply whatever makes readability best b) invert all these requirements resulting in independent countershapes, un-linked stem edges, reversed stress, no cursivity??? I wonder if both a) and b) could result in beautiful, readable designs.

William Berkson's picture

Craig, you're right I wasn't precise. The problem is that "functionalism" has meant different things to different people.

Sullivan, who coined "form follows function" actually loved ornament. But if I remember rightly Mies van der Rohe was opposed to ornament as anti-functional. I don't know if he thought all ornament was ugly, but he was opposed to it. Also in type, Bayer's alphabet was I think also pared down of all ornament, breathing of this same ideology.

So I'm only really talking about one strand in functionalism, but I do think it's the one that made the most noise in the last century--at least what I remember of it, which is the second half.

By radicalism I mean that view that in any field we have to tear up the past and start again. So radicalism and traditionalism, in the senses I am used to using them, are opposed to each other.

I certainly think type should be functional, but I think "functionalism" has been used for some ideologies that are too narrow and restrictive.

Actually, the italics are a good example showing why it is simplistic to identify functionality with lack of ornament and simple geometrical forms.

The lack of simplicity of italics, and their slower reading, helps provide a contrast, and so is functional in a different way from the companion roman.

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