Yet another font pairing topic: Avenir/Centaur?

Amado's picture

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Hi, all. Long-time listener, first-time caller.

Just learned the difference between a typographer and a type designer; thrilled to learn that I may, in fact, be a budding typographer. I’ve no illusions about ever being a type designer; to you types (ha!), I tip my hat in admiration.

SO! Been reading articles and blogs, and “Thinking With Type,” and The Non-Designer’s Design Book and others, and I think I’ve got a good start. I’m developing tastes. I’m driving my wife nuts pointing out typefaces I recognize and typological (is that the word?) errors I see in the wild.

Now I bring you a typeface pairing to see whether something I’ve somewhat latched on to might pass the acid test of your expert opinions:

Avenir for titles/headings/captioning, Centaur for body text.

Weird? Discordant? If so, why? Help me learn.

Also, am I on the right track to be seeing similarities between Avenir and Museo Sans? Same question with Centaur and Kennerley Old Style (a.k.a. Goudy Bookletter 1911). Set me straight!

Last question: why does this forum NOT change "straight quotes" into “curly quotes?”

Trevor Baum's picture


Centaur is a beautiful typeface, as is Avenir in my opinion, but Centaur is very much rooted in old Roman type by Nicolas Jenson. It has a very low x-height, fairly calligraphic/incised letterforms, whereas Avenir is a very friendly, open, 'modern' geometric sans serif. Maybe choosing a more contemporary, open serif would serve you well - something like Sabon.

Sindre's picture

Bruce Rogers' Centaur is not intended for small sizes, originally it was cut in 14 points. It has too low x-height, and is just too thin and too light for body text. I'd use Adobe Jenson instead, which is made in four optical sizes. Centaur really shines at larger sizes, though.

Amado's picture

OK here's what I've learned so far:

"I like them both, and they both look old-fashioned" doesn't make them harmonious. (With the Avenir, I was keying in to how a geometric sans had been nicely humanized. Avant Garde but not so avant-garde-y. With the Centaur - well, the source of the old-fashioned-ness is obvious.) The fact that Centaur is calligraphic and Avenir is slightly humanized doesn't make 'em a match in your book.

If I want that vibe and I'm more attached to the hint of Art Deco I see in Avenir (again, am I off-base?), I'm supposing that I ought to seek a body-text serif font that is more of a modern homage to Centaur/Kennerley than a faithful revival of it. Something with a more stylish x-height. Possibly something with a touch of Art Deco lineage.

I'll look into the Sabon and the Jenson, just for my education. While I'm at it: are either of those closer to what I've just described?

And I do want to circle this back around to my question about Avenir vs Museo Sans. Do I err to see the former's lineage in the latter? Centaur vs Goudy Bookletter 1911, same question. Guess I'd better type out the characters and get to studyin' them.

Nobody has brought up "typographic color" yet, and I'm glad... I don't yet really have the discernment to see what's being referred to by the phrase.

Thanks for your responses.

Sindre's picture

Nobody has brought up "typographic color"

Yes, I did. The "too light" in my characterisation of Centaur is about colour. The concept is quite easy to grasp: Have a look at a page of continuous text from a distance. Centaur will look light grey. Jenson set at similar size will look much darker grey.

You're right, Museo Sans shares a lot of DNA with Avenir.

poms's picture

What about Arno from Adobe?

Sindre's picture

... or Agfa Apolline, Emigre Vendetta, CG Cloister, MT Columbus, FB Hightower Text ... there are plenty of Venetians suitable for body text out there.

Amado's picture

Ah, dying thread re-awakens without my intervention. How nice.

My particular, ahem, challenge for this particular application (which would be, types for personal marking/branding) is, I gravitate toward things that have just a little bit too much character/personality/quirks in order to be quite appropriate for the use I put them to. When it's for me.

Not "florid," but certainly not "reserved."

You've pointed me towards tons of options. I'll go do my homework.

While I'm at it, are there any Venetians that evince anything of the Art Deco aesthetic? I know that they're from two different worlds, but sometimes interesting stuff happens when worlds collide.

Sindre's picture

Then I suggest you have a good look at Vendetta. And perhaps Golden Type.

eliason's picture

While I'm at it, are there any Venetians that evince anything of the Art Deco aesthetic?

Mark Simonson describes his Goldenbook as "an art deco take on the classic Roman letterforms." (Intended for display sizes, and no italics.)

Amado's picture


Just searched "art deco venetian" and found Fairfield. Sharp. I'm concerned that it has too much in common with Bodonis and Didots; that they might be too delicate, have too much of a vertical stress, create that "fencepost shimmer" that is said to contribute to eyestrain. But definitely Art Deco, as is your Goldenbook recommendation. I must keep looking closely.

Golden Type appeals!

Time for me to run some tests. 2 x 3 grid I think, Avenir vs Museo Sans on the X axis, Golden Type vs Fairfield vs Kennerley on the Y axis. Is it worth it to test Kennerley? Is it too much a display face? Is it faux Venetian?

Trevor Baum's picture

Fairfield is more of a Didone (like Bodoni, Didot), not a Venetian. Its high-contrast appearance might be too "dazzly" and distracting for body text.

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