IM Fell Types

mesonprojekt's picture

Hello Typophiles,

I'm a web designer/developer looking for some advice. I'm in the process of a personal website redesign that should look like it dates from the 16-18th centuries. While I have the graphics figured out, I'm a bit stumped regarding typefaces to use.

I'm absolutely in love with the Fell types by Igino Marini, particularly Great Primer and DW Pica. They are a revival of 17th century typefaces, so they would fit my design nicely.

Problem is, I'm not too sure about on-screen readability. They have been hinted and kerned extensively, it seems; but part of their appeal (irregular letterforms) is also the reason they may not be completely legible on screen.

I have tried them in Firefox on Windows XP, and they seem okay. But I'm no typophile by any means! They would definitely make for lovely display faces, but what about body text? Do they make you want to read the content, or are they hard to read? I've encountered them in use at

If so, could anybody suggest alternatives for 16-18th century body typefaces? Preferably freely licensed for @font-face use. I'm currently looking at Vollkorn and Cardo.

Any help would be greatly appreciated!

Stefan H's picture

Agree, It's a great typeface. However there could be some problem to read it on the screen in smaller sizes. As for alternatives, I would have a look over at FontDeck and TypeKit

They have loads of typefaces ready for the web and fair prices for licenses too.

Good luck!

kentlew's picture

Hey, I love the Fell types; but I gotta say, used onscreen at text sizes via @font-face in that Hypsometry blog you linked . . . Yow! Not inviting to read *at all*. (The forced justification without hyphenation doesn’t help either.)

Mugford's picture

Yeah, I tried to use it at small sizes and found that legibility/readability varied wildly across operating systems and browsers. They are served by google [ ] so they load quickly though. I have screenshots somewhere...probably on my other computer. It's too bad - I love those fonts.

k.l.'s picture

Why not use Fell for headlines and one of the core fonts for text? That way you address both functionality (core fonts for readable text) and design (webfont in headlines to signal a certain mood, hinting at a certain time period, place, etc).

IMO the possibility of using webfonts resulted in a somewhat irrational hype around them, an urge to use them even when they do not improve anything, neither in terms of functionality nor in terms of design. As to the former: Very few fonts get rasterized well enough on certain platforms that they really help the readers of a website – especially when compared with the core fonts. As to the latter: Given the low resolution of screens and thus small ppem sizes at which fonts get rasterized, there is not much of a chance for fonts to differ much from another at text sizes. So even from a design point of view, it does not necessarily make sense to use webfonts for everything.*

You might make your decisions with two questions in mind: Does using a special (web)font make a noticeable difference? Can I achieve the intended visual effect by different means too?

* One example. This morning I noticed that a design firm started using some sanserif webfont for headlines, at a rather small size. I thought: what's the point of it? what differences does it make? In this case a bold Helvetica or Arial would have done the job too ...

mesonprojekt's picture

Thanks for your opinions everyone!

I think I'll probably use IM Fell for only display sizes. So what about alternatives for a body typeface, something very classical/old-style?

I like Vollkorn a lot. It comes in regular, true italic and bold too. Any other options? From FontSquirrel or Google Webfonts?

Thanks again!

cboone's picture

Hi all. The Hypsometry blog's mine, and I'm happy to hear a little feedback about how the Fell types look on it. Like Mesonprojekt, I think Marini's revivals are simply beautiful.

Kentlew, I'm curious what browser and OS you're viewing my site on? The type as I see it, at the sizes I'm using it at, looks pretty good, and I've done a fair amount of browser testing. But as Mugford points out, there is a lot of variance amongst possible browser / OS combinations.

The browsers use different justification techniques too - for instance, I think the justification looks reasonably good (not amazing, but definitely decent) in Safari, but Chrome (which, of course, uses Webkit, and thus should be identical) spaces the lines much worse.

Ah, designing for the web. Always fun.

Thanks for any specific comments or observations you might have.

Mugford's picture

Hi cboone,

Your blog looks passable on my work computer, but has some issues with thins and thicks in the body text.

Windows XP, default grayscale antialiasing, Firefox 3.6.13:


Windows XP, default grayscale antialiasing, Internet Explorer 6 (the standard at the state agency where I work!):


However, your blog is actually more legible than the I Love Typography website, so you have that going for you...

Windows XP, default grayscale antialiasing, Firefox 3.6.13:


(IE6 is actually slightly better on that website). Nothing against, it's a great website.

When browsing on Windows or any computer with a lo-res monitor, I personally still prefer websites that use Georgia and Verdana at small text sizes, simply because they just don't use antialiasing AT ALL (due to their built-in hinting) at small sizes. On my Macbook Air at home, it seems to be less of a problem because the pixel resolution is higher and OS X uses a different text engine - but most people don't use macs.

I will probably continue to wince at sites that use webfonts until hinting/screen/rasterization technologies improve.

Té Rowan's picture

WinXP SP3, ClearType on (1.0), Firefox 3.6.13

kentlew's picture

Viewing with Firefox 3.6.12 on Mac OSX 10.5.8.

Not sure what to say. I think the OP might have summed it up right at the start: “. . . but part of their appeal (irregular letterforms) is also the reason they may not be completely legible on screen.”

I’m an ink-on-paper kinda guy and I love classic settings. But I’m responding here, not as a designer or typographer, just as a casual observer. I mean, it looks all quaint and interesting at all. But my gut response to the site is: I’m just not inclined to try to read it. Too much work.

But it seems like you’re targeting an audience that is prequalified and highly disposed to want to get at your content and thus more willing to do the work. Which is perfectly legitimate.


I also glanced at it just now with Safari 4.0.4.

Renders larger by default, for some reason, which is a little less off-putting. But then, for example, in the IX section, it’s randomly clipping entire lines as I scroll. Just FYI:

mjkerpan's picture

Except for the chopped-off lines, it looks pretty good on the Mac. Still, given that most people use PCs and Linux and Windows don't do as well, I'd stick to using an appropriate headline font.

flooce's picture

It looks good on Mac with Chrome.

Another 18th century font for free is: Junicode. Personally - not an expert - like it a lot and think it is a good typeface. It could be – again not an expert – be stretched for 4% or so. Don't know, is there a CSS command like that?

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