The "Adobe Text" typeface, and some other x-heightable issues.

Adam Shubinsky's picture

I noticed that the Adobe Typblography, has announced the new font bundling scheme for CS5.

The details are available here:

It appears though that there is a new Robert Slimbach font that Adobe intends to release (as a registration incentive), called Adobe Text.

Does anyone have any additional information available regarding this particular family. From the little information available on the Adobe type blog, it would appear to support Latin, Greek, and Cyrillic, and I assume that it would contain the full Adobe range of optical sizes. Nonetheless, it would be nice to have someone (possibly from the Adobe team) provide us with some insights into what else we may expect.

Florian Hardwig's picture

Seems Yves needs to extend his epic Big Fleischmann Bake-Off … ;)

John Hudson's picture

Yes. I'm surprised by the statement ‘Adobe Text can be classified as a Transitional design’: this is very clearly a baroque typeface, so even in the crude classification that includes ‘transitional’ this would be considered oldstyle.

Igor Freiberger's picture

Roman seems a Minion with higher x-heigh, more counterspace and less calligraphic influence (especially the straight serifs). Italic resembles very much Utopia. Anyway, it seems to be another good work from Slimbach.

Adam Shubinsky's picture

I think that it would be a stretch to think of it as a Fleischmann revival—it seems at this point to be an interpretation of sorts at best.

John though is spot on, it does appear to be a Baroque typeface, and as such it should become a fine counterpoint to Slimbach's prior Renaissance work.

As for the "Transitional" label that adobe attached to it, I suspect that it owes more to Marketing strategies than to correct taxonomy.

hrant's picture

> "especially for longer passages of text"

Nope, sorry. The x-height is too big.


Today, learn about the Armenian Genocide.


Adam Shubinsky's picture


A side-by-side comparison of Adobe Text and Minion.

hrant's picture

OK. And?


henrypijames's picture

"Adobe Text" is such a generic and overreaching name. Why not at least call it "Adobe Serif", so the sans-serif counterpart -- the "successor" of Myriad, which I now blind assume Slimbach has also started working on -- can be named "Adobe Sans"?

"Adobe Text" suggests that this will instantly replace Minion as Adobe's own CI serif typeface -- possibly for the eternity? InDesign CS5 has reportedly changed its default font from Times New Roman to Minion -- why not Adobe Text?

Nick Shinn's picture the sans-serif counterpart -- the "successor" of Myriad ... can be named "Adobe Sans"?

I would imagine that will be named "Adobe Font" :-)
Not to be confused with Neville Brody's Typeface One, &c.

kentlew's picture

I see more Kis styling than Fleischmann, myself. But yes, I agree with John, classification-wise, this would be late oldstyle (perhaps Dutch oldstyle or Baroque oldstyle, depending upon one’s chosen taxonomy).

Looks solid. I’ll be interested to see better and more extensive samples.

I do predict some potential confusion from the unfortunately generic name.

“What’s that text set in?”

“The text is text in in design.”


“I said, the text is set in Text in InDesign.”


And can we look forward to a full range of optical sizes — Text Caption, Text Text, Text Subhead, and Text Display?

Adam Shubinsky's picture


I guess that my point was that I am not sure if the typeface's x-height is a problem. I don't believe that the x-height variable alone is a good enough indicator to determine extended-text suitability.

There are a few typefaces with a rather large x-height, that work very well (when used correctly) in extended text settings. Iowan is one example that comes to mind.

Igor Freiberger's picture

I was not aware that a large x-height makes the font inadequate for long texts. Surely, very large x-height may cause this –but it seems that any "very" measure in type design causes the same.

Some fonts with a x-height higher than Minion are very good for long texts, in my opinion –Utopia, Iowan, Lyon, Publico and Glosa, for example.

Maybe am I missing some obvious point in this matter?

hrant's picture

In my view it depends on the point size. Something like Utopia is best for newspapers, and was in fact designed as such. But a newspaper face is not a "versatile workhorse".

A large x-height takes away from the extenders, which are much more important to readability than might seem.


Igor Freiberger's picture

Thanks, hrant. I'm developing a font for technical texts (scientific, legal and so on). As it has a large x-height maybe it will be better suited for magazines and newspapers and less for books.

Adam Shubinsky's picture

Hrant, I am curious, is this extender importance due to the word shape (Bouma) theory of reading?

By word shape I mean the idea the the external outline (envelope) of the words assists us in achieving swift word recognition during the reading process.

Nick Shinn's picture

Igor, you might want to consider just what is meant by "large x-height". The Computer Modern typeface, for instance, is considered to have a large x-height. It also has very prominent serifs on its extenders, which can go some way to remedying any problem that may be associated with "short" extenders.

Igor Freiberger's picture

Thanks, Nick. My project uses somewhat short extenders, so I guess it falls into the not-so-legible-for-long-texts group –although this was not my initial purpose. :)

hrant's picture

Adam, pretty much. Just like how all-caps is harder to read (except, tellingly, when the point size is extremely small).

Igor: Palimpsest is handsome (reminding me of Slimbach's early work) but I would indeed classify it as a magazine face. BTW, I think the descenders should be relatively a bit shorter than the ascenders.


billtroop's picture

Based on the minute snippet here, I'd say this could be by far Robert's best work yet, and the modest name to me denotes the very serious attitude I think I detect, especially knowing Robert's great difficulties with font naming. Robert (with whom I have not spoken in a decade!) told me over a hundred times that Times was his favorite typeface. I'm guessing that this is his mature effort to come to grips with it, philosophically if not literally. This could be very intriguing.

charles ellertson's picture

Maybe it would be better named "Adobe Encyclopedia." I agree with Hrant that a large x-height makes straight text not set at a small size harder to read. It also makes caps-small caps a bit awkward, and the old style numbers (aka text figures) harder to draw -- not that Slimbach isn't up to that task.

billtroop's picture

Yes. I would imagine that 'Text' is intended for relatively small text. And I remember that Robert admired the metal era use of Times by the Encylopaedia Britannica. And who knows? Maybe the x-height will change on the optical axis? I belong to the Mono metal school of thought, which suggests that x-height increases as size of the design gets smaller. But there is the postwar Lino theory that display faces should have very high x-height and that small text faces need a low x-height -- handily illustrated by the Palatino/Aldus/etc. group of fonts. I've never known what to make of that. Perhaps it was Zapf's influence?

hrant's picture

Are you sure Lino thought that? In the case of Palatino vs Aldus, the former was not supposed to be a text face at all (and in reality only really works well small and tracked looser). And when it comes to display, choice of proportions moves firmly into the realm of style only.


Adam Shubinsky's picture

Hrant, I have a slight problem with the assertion that x-height bears any relevance to the readability of text. Perhaps we subjectively believe that we read typefaces of modest x-height better, because those are the typefaces that we are most accustomed to.

If extenders were important in facilitating the reading process, would it not follow that alphabetic systems that have no extenders or very few extenders (e.g. square Hebrew), would inherently be less readable?

As for the argument that all-caps are harder to read, that may be true for the modern reader who is not accustomed to reading text in all caps to begin with. I doubt though that the Romans were slow readers, and it would seem logically reasonable to expect that training someone for a certain period of time, to read in all caps could, in theory, yield reading speeds similar or identical to lowercase reading, for that individual. Although I will check the research literature later today to see if there was any empirical research done on this particular subject.

Interestingly, I have just finished a book set in Plantin (which isn't shy on x-height), and found it to be very readable and inviting.

billtroop's picture

Precisely my point, Hrant. Aldus, the low x-height typeface, was thought best for text, and Palatino, the higher x-height typeface, was thought best for larger sizes. The Hunt Roman has an even higher x-height than Palatino, and it is only available in 14, 18, and 24 points.

John Hudson's picture

Bill, I think the relative proportions of Palatino to Aldus have more to do with fashions in display typography than what was ‘thought best for larger sizes’.

The steps necessary to achieve optimal readability at various smaller sizes are to a large extent determined by optics and output medium. At display sizes, what one does is more a matter of style. The lighter, smaller x-height display types to which are refer are a particular, elegant or classical style of display typography. Palatino is something more rugged and when used as intended -- not least in Zapf's own books -- always manages to evoke the 1950s for me. And then, of course, there are Koch's display types, which demolish any notion of linear relationship of proportions across increasing sizes.

billtroop's picture

Well, John, when I say 'thought best' that is shorthand for Lino's promotional material, and of course you are right that fashion is a factor. But - - - Palatino evoking the 50s ? ? ? Zapf thought his designs were for eternity (perhaps, even, deriving from the wellsprings of eternity!), and quite beyond dating to a specific decade, much less a century. He would be very angry indeed! Nevertheless, I think you are right. I don't see Palatino as you do, but I certainly see Optima as pure early 60s - - modernity's last innocent expression of belief in itself, the UN when it was still supposed to work, and before bloat. Does your view of Palatino embrace its many variants, such as Hunt and Zapf Renaissance? Doesn't Aldus have an earlier feeling? Anywhere from Thomas Mann . . . back to Ronald Firbank?

Speaking of fashion, what I like about Robert's new face is fashion's apparent absence. Again with the proviso that I am only judging from the tiny snippet here, it seems to be as typographical as possible, all mannerism purged, all ego ablated - - an intelligent effort by a superb technician to achieve profoundly utilitarian neutrality.

Nick Shinn's picture

...profoundly utilitarian neutrality...

O brave new world, that has such fonts in it!

Bert Vanderveen's picture


Adobe Serif and Adobe Sans already exit… they are the ‘fallback’ fonts for Reader and Acrobat.

billtroop's picture

Well Nick, one can but hope! Until proven otherwise, it's possible.

A note on the genesis of Adobe Serif: Fred Brady told me it was adapted from PMN Caecilia. I have never compared the two to test this.

Am I alone in finding @So-and-so a tacky form of address? It makes me cringe every time I see it.

Maxim Zhukov's picture

@Bill, you are not alone.

William Berkson's picture

Slimbach is a fabulous designer of text types, so it is dangerous to pronounce before seeing this in use. I do wonder about the big-eyed, relatively large e, though.

Nick Shinn's picture

[Bill Troop]: @So-and-so a tacky form of address?

Regarding "@" used to identify the author of a quote.
What is the correct usage (as documented in literary standards guides)?
Without looking it up, and not being an editor, I'm assuming it's square brackets around the person's name, all in roman, foolowed by a colon, as above. Am I right?


Well Nick, one can but hope!

Bill, you missed the irony, and the literary allusion (Huxley).

hrant's picture

Adam, I'm an ardent opponent of the We Read Best What We Read Most mantra. And/so I believe vertical proportion is one of the pillars of what determines a font's readability.

> would it not follow that alphabetic systems that have no extenders
> or very few extenders (e.g. square Hebrew), would inherently be
> less readable?

Yup. Sorry.

> I doubt though that the Romans were slow readers

1) You don't really have a basis for such doubt.
2) Saenger's "Space Between Words: The Origins of Silent Reading" nicely explains that the invention of the wordspace (by the Irish, in the 8th century) enabled silent, hence high-speed, reading. So the Romans never even left home base in terms of reading ability.
3) Remember, the Romans had a cursive, variable-height writing style for reading anything beyond a couple of lines on a monument.

> I have just finished a book set in Plantin

What point size?

> Aldus, the low x-height typeface, was thought best for text,
> and Palatino, the higher x-height typeface, was thought best
> for larger sizes.

What John said: ignore the display cut - that can be anything that style allows. Would you call Aldus's x-height "small" of its own? I wouldn't. And I'm guessing that if Zapf made different -text- optical sizes of Aldus, the smaller ones would have a larger x-height and the larger, smaller (just like Monotype, and pretty much everybody else).

> Zapf thought his designs were for eternity


> Am I alone in finding @So-and-so a tacky form of address?

On this, I'm with you and Maxim. It smells like old plastic.


BTW, assuming Adobe Text does have optical sizes, maybe that sample is in fact from a smaller size? Although the color, contrast and letterspacing don't really match the proportions for that...


John Hudson's picture

Nick: ...and the literary allusion (Huxley).

Actually Shakespeare, from whom Huxley got the line:

O, wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in't!

Miranda, The Tempest, Act 5 Scene 1.

William Berkson's picture

On readability and the x-height, I think this is a very difficult issue to pronounce on, because reading comfort of a text block is influenced so much by type size, measure, and leading. I do think that in book type settings, with wide measures, short ascenders are sub-optimal. But in short measured, tightly leaded columns common in newspapers and magazines shorter ascenders seem to work all right. But you could also argue that these settings are sub-optimal for the sake of economy.

The most insightful comment on this I have read on this is Walter Tracy's. He wrote that "for my own taste, if x to h is a proportion of about 6 to 10, a face will look refined and be pleasant to read. If the x-height is much less than that, the face may be stylish, but will be unsuitable for long text. A larger x-height is conducive to dullness." (Letters of Credit, p. 51)

I think that current fashion for large x-height is often overdone. For optimal setting, large x-height may not really gain you anything, as you end up needing more leading for a given point size. But the need for leading also is influenced by how dark the type is, so I don't know of any hard and fast rules on this.

By the way, the Irish didn't invent word spaces, but at best revived them or introduced them into Latin. They are in the dead sea scrolls, many centuries before.

Nick Shinn's picture

Actually Shakespeare

Actually no.
I was alluding to Huxley, not his source.
Huxley's Brave New World, with its "profoundly utilitarian" engineered class-structure of cloned human drones was the ironic opposite of Shakespeare's.

But lest anyone get the idea I am overly critical of Adobe, I should mention that its invention of PostScript enabled this brave new typographic world populated by myriad foundries many godly fonts are there here, how beauteous fontkind is!

russellm's picture

"profoundly utilitarian" sounds very useful if you are looking for a hammer, but of limited use otherwise.

Adam Shubinsky's picture

Hrant, you come out against the so-called "we read best what we read most" mantra, yet that mantra is fully consistent with the way our brain and mind functions and perceives. We always perceive best what we perceive most. Our brains are designed to operate in certain environments and to adapt to the specific features that may be unique to that environment. If I take a subject and force them to view the world up-side-down (through the use of a binocular device that flips the incoming signal), such a subject would, after a while, become fully adapted to the new image of the world and will literally come to see the world correctly. Similar effects have been demonstrated for other senses too, such as hearing. This "mantra" merely draws on what we already know about our cognitive faculties, and there is no reason to believe that the reading process is any different.

As for the proposition that alphabetic systems with few or no extenders are less readable (since they lack a proper bouma); in the absence of any (even anecdotal) data that demonstrates that Hebrew, Chinese, and various Indian scripts (to name a few) are less readable than a mixed case Latin script, or alternatively, that Latin script readers are more efficient and nimble readers than others—such a proposition could be seen to be a form of script chauvinism.

Extending on this "chauvinism" theme, the claim that the Irish invented word space is simply incorrect. As william had already mentioned, the Dead Sea Scrolls were written with word spacing (150 BCE ~ 70 CE). What I think that what I can add to his comment, is that word spacing was most likely imported into Hebrew sometime during the Babylonian Captivity period (i.e. sometime after 597 BCE), from a probable older source or tradition.
We have a general tendency in the West to view the world through the narrow prism of a specific historical narrative, often forgetting that throughout history the various cultures of the world came into direct and indirect contact with each other, cross-pollinating each other with ideas.

The bottom line is that I would like to propose that the "common sense" rule which states that a large x-height reduces readability, is overreaching. It may be true for a certain typeface, but untrue for another (I am not referring to extreme cases though, extremes by definition are rarely conducive to anything), and there are many other design factors that influence readability much more than x-height.

hrant's picture

Adam, we are physical beings, with certain limitations. We cannot get so used to anything that it becomes totally moot. Try eating grass. If you eat enough of it, you don't suddenly become able to sustain your life with it; you die. Cows on the other hand can handle it - in fact they need it.

Similarly, the degree to which a font can be[come] readable is not infinite. No matter how much you read FF Extra, it will not be a book face. The human visual system and cognitive mechanism have attributes. All else being equal, fonts that leverage these attributes are inherently easier to read that ones that don't.

> such a proposition could be seen to be a form of script chauvinism.

Something that certainly exists, but I for one cannot be accused of. You might want to read my essay "Latinization: Prevention and Cure".

The Irish invention of wordspacing: I meant in the realm of Latin. Did they get the idea from another culture? Maybe. Evidence?


William Berkson's picture


I think the Irish monks would have seen manuscripts in Syriac and Hebrew, but I don't know. I also would guess that all Semitic alphabets—which is to say, the first alphabetic scripts—had word spacing, or dot separation of words from very early. Because they don't use vowels, picking out words in an unbroken stream of letters might be pretty taxing.

Igor Freiberger's picture

I have interest to learn more about objective, technical criteria about legibility. Do you (you = all fellow Typophilers) have references about studies on this theme? I think it's very hard to separate cultural heritage, common sense and technical criteria, but I suppose there are studies already made on this.

An example: William referred to Tracy's 60% rule. Is this based on historical evidence, empirical data, academic studies etc.? (I'm not saying this rule is valid or not, just want to know how rules were built.)


billtroop's picture

The scientific literature on legibility is sparse and does not seem to have attracted any towering intellects. The most important modern achievements in legibility are not theoretical, but practical: the typefaces Verdana and Georgia. These were produced empirically and instinctively.

There is nothing absolute about Tracy's 'rule', which might just as well have been 55% or 65% or 70%, depending on the decade.

X-height is a very loaded subject. One reason is that sociological factors are seldom absent from the discussion. High x-height is considered crass and commercial. Low x-height is considered refined, classical, tasteful, etc. This unproductive dialectic has been going on since long, long before the class (whoops, I mean x-height) wars of the 1960s. It will continue for the simple reason that paper has always been too expensive for publishers, and less paper can be used when smaller, higher x-height typefaces are employed.

The class-taste war elements of the discussion are what account for the over-emotional feelings of those on the side of lower x-heights. Indeed, it is always the low x-height people who are emotional. The high x-height people just laugh their way to the bank.

The only people who discuss x-height are people opposed to high x-height. The reason is that learning about x-height has been an important part of their aesthetic development. One of the great truths we learn as we become cultivated persons knowledgeable about type is that high x-height is bad, low is good. It is an article both of fact and faith.

It's all so damned silly!

>"profoundly utilitarian" sounds very useful if you are looking for a hammer, but of limited use otherwise.

Then I take it you regard a hammer to be a tool of limited use? Others would disagree. Nietzsche, for example, liked to philosophize with a hammer. Indeed, he even wrote a how-to guide anent.

dberlow's picture

>The only people who discuss x-height are people opposed to high x-height.

Really? I discuss it almost constantly, (some say to the point of x-heightability),
yet I have no opposition to any x-height whatsoever.


billtroop's picture

Dash! I knew I'd get in trouble with that 'only'.

William Berkson's picture

>Tracy's 60% rule. Is this based on historical evidence, empirical data, academic studies etc.?

A lot of classical book typefaces are around this ratio, but they do vary by optical size—which in those metal foundry days was the same as size, period.

I expect David would say that the x-height should be suited to the intended use, and therefore should vary according to the brief. That would be my view too, except that for ideal reading comfort, period, I like Tracy's rule. When you cram more type on the page than is ideal, then the x-height needs to grow, in text size. On display type, I don't think there are any general rules, as it depends on the overall design of the page. On this issue, I admit it's hard for me to disentangle the aesthetic and readability sides of the question.

hrant's picture

> The high x-height people just laugh their way to the bank.

But the bank is not where people live.


dezcom's picture

>Tracy's 60% rule. Is this based on historical evidence, empirical data, academic studies etc.?

It is someone's theory based on common practice at the time. What is normal workflow to achieve economy of printing combined with reasonable readability was more an issue of typical trade practice than anything empirical.
I find issue with taking away the other variables. Sans serifs today typically have shorter ascenders and descenders than a typical roman book face so it stands to reason that we would lead them more to find the sweet spot in leading.
To me, the only fair comparison is to measure efficiency with readability. An example would be to have a constant page size, margins, and line length but make the number of characters on a page the same. This would level out the efficiency or economy of a typeface but allow the tester to set point size and leading in any way that would yiield the same density of text per page. It would be possible to set as an example, Helvetica at 9pt on 13 leading with Garamond at 10.5 pt on 12pt leading (assuming this would be even on efficiency) and compare the two from an ease of reading standpoint.

William Berkson's picture

>It is someone's theory based on common practice at the time

The ratios are close to a golden ratio, so perhaps "theory" reinforced it. I suspect, though, it was common practice because it looks good, and is still pretty economical, not because of any theory. With sans the lack of a terminal on the ascender to my eyes affects what looks good as far as ascender height. That flag on a serif ascender seems to want to fly a little higher than the pole on a sans.

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