Must Have Collection

mike gastin's picture

Greetings All ~

I seem to remember some time last year there was a thread around what fonts should be included in a basic collection - the must have workhorses.

Does anyone remember this? I have done a quick search but could not find the original discussion. Can anyone help with a link to the thread?

I want to embark on cleaning out my firm's 30 year old font collection - there is so much 80's crap in there it is killing me! I thought the Typophile tread I am asking about would be a good place to start research on replacements.



speter's picture

Nick Shinn has a great essay on the Perfect Set, although it would be nice to have it updated to reflect possible candidates from the last couple of years.

dan_reynolds's picture

Interesting article, Steve! Although Nick's ideas are correct, I don't think that the typefaces he selected make a perfect group. But alot of that is subjective. Just because there would be almost no overlap between his list of the 22-must-have-fonts and mine (if I were to make a list) doesn't mean that his selection is incorrect in-and-of-itself.

Aside from the article's being a tad stylistically and theoretically out of date, the one thing that requires re-evaluation is his comment about OpenType. Now, almost every major graphic application supports OpenType, or will support OpenType in the next version (Macromedia products being the exception). And, most type foundries seem committed to the idea of future OpenType development, including OpenType-only development, even if they aren't on that road yet. I think that it is same to bet that OpenType is the near and middle term future. In any event, OpenType isn't GX, and PostScript support will slowly soon disappear.

Mike, what is your definition of 80s crap?

mike gastin's picture

"Mike, what is your definition of 80s crap?"

I thought that might draw a question or two. Basicly, display stuff like Papyrus and the like.

Not only is our collection full of stuff like that, but also old and incomplete faces.

I feel like it is time for some spring cleaning. (Of course we are just heading into winter!)


mike gastin's picture


Thanks for the link to Nick's article! I know I read this a while back, but it is a good place to start.

With regard to comments around the information being a bit dated - anyone willing to offer their current 'must haves'?


grod's picture

I've always wanted adobe's font folio

mike gastin's picture

Wow! That's a lot of bread

pablohoney77's picture

i think rather than certain faces, it's more important to have certain types of faces. I mean the perfect set would be different for a newspaper than from a magazine or a design firm. But I think a solid set should include a serif family (or 2 or 3) with all the bells and whistles, an extensive sans family, and a handful of display faces incuding a formal script, a blackletter, and others as needed. I think Scala and Scala Sans are excelent choices and a solid foundation from which to build.

pablohoney77's picture

not sure if this was the thread you were alluding to, but worth reading over:

asur's picture

Paul, that is a really great thread! I read it with great interest. I was also reading the thread as an artist in a garret using antiquated, but usable, hardware and software (ca 1998) to make creations, usually literary or literary-like. Especially fetching was Adam Twardoch's suggestion to get Corel Draw 9, with its "incredible collection of fonts", including many from Bitstream and URW. It is available on eBay, currently, in a package called "Essentials", though I'm not sure that includes all those fonts. Anyway, I'd love to hear any further recommendations or suggestions for the solo expressor of modest means.

andi emery's picture

I agree with Paul that it's a good idea to have a solid set of serif and sans serif typefaces in your collection. The typefaces you collect definitely depend on what you are using them for. In my collection, Goudy is a staple - it's a beautiful typeface. I also tend to like big families so I use Eurostile, Eras, Futura and Fenice quite regularly. This thread might work well as a question: "If you were confined to a dessert island, which 5 fonts would you bring with you?"

pablohoney77's picture

on a dessert island huh?
i dunno about 5, but Jason Walcott's Confectioner would be one of them!
(sorry, i couldn't help myself!)

andi emery's picture

Ugh...desert... sorry - must've been hungry when I typed that one out! Sheesh!

andi emery's picture

Alejandro Paul's font Mr Leopolde is a beautiful script font. You have to have a good script font in your collection

Chris Rugen's picture

Mike, it sounds like you're looking to get modern workhorses rather than 'the old standby' workhorses. Is that right?

By the way, I think Scala and Scala Sans are an excellent choice, I use them for my own stuff. I'd also suggest Minion, if you don't have it already. It's not a rockstar, but it's a very solid and extensive family.

mike gastin's picture

Hey, Chris -

Yes, modern. We have Minion. Right now that and Frutiger are our corp faces. We have a number of the classics which I intend to keep, such as Garamond and the gang. But, I would like to aquire a foundation of great modern faces that could provide for most design challenges and give us some fresh type type to work with.


andreas_vogel's picture

Well, I think that you cannot really claim this or that font as elementary.

There are too many functions type has to provide. For example, do you need only a western character set, or also a CE version of the font? Or maybe a greek/cyrillic charset is needed as well? Would you use it for a newspaper or could it appear on a 30 square metre banner?

For display fonts I think it is even harder to tell, not only because taste differs, but also because their impressiveness narrows their application much more than it would for a sans serif. Except if your basic font set includes 3.000 fonts... ;-)

To me, it is important that a font includes many styles and characters to be applicable to (almost) every possibility that could turn up, especially if I would use it as a basic or even a corporate font. Someone who has to design for print and screen as a whole would end up with a totally different list.</font>

mike gastin's picture


I agree - I am not trying to find one face that does it all. I feel free enough to use whatever face gets the job done correctly. But, that siad, I want to build a library that provides a good foundation taht we can build off of as needed.


pablohoney77's picture

If you're looking for some classics, i must suggest taking a look at the newly remastered lanston releases from p22.

andreas_vogel's picture

Mike, you're right of course. I just wanted to show up these aspects, apart from the "look&feel" of fonts.

But talking about fonts, what about Rotis? The Sans looks not that plain to me as most of the others sans serifs do, and the font is not used that often like Helvetica. TheSans is another favourite to me, with many styles (even italic caps).

As for serifs, Venetian looks quite elegant, I think.

Nick Shinn's picture

>theoretically out of date,

In what way Dan?
My theory is stated in six principles on page one of the article, and I go on to explain why using these principles to build an educational font library will lead students towards typographic literacy.

I took particular care to debunk the "single source, one volume" strategy.

I mentioned the alternate minimalist approach.

What new theories (or refinements) of library-building have emerged since 2001?

(OpenType would certainly throw a wrench into the calculations, but it doesn't effect the theory.)

>a lot of that is subjective.

Of course. All choice is. But the set I selected was primarily determined by having to fit the criteria of my principles (as well as a fixed budget) -- so I ended up choosing many faces which I no longer favor personally, such as Adobe Garamond, and others which I have never taken to, such as Matrix.

For a working professional, a more subjective "Perfect Set" than the one I proposed to a college would be easier to work with, although of necessity conscientious designers often end up making aesthetic choices tailored to the projects they're working on, not their own tastes.

One omission in the article is that, although the exercise was conducted to a budget, the final total is never mentioned! It was $11,800 (Canadian), for a 50-user licence. That was in 2001.

If you are really serious about the subject of this thread, and not just fantasizing about desires, ya gotta do the math!

dan_reynolds's picture

OK, here are my reactions, noted as I go through the article. My big "theory" thing is the way you talk about revivals, but that will come out in the following text!

1. I agree that students need to be exposed to the exemplars of each genr

Nick Shinn's picture

1. Frutiger preferable to Myriad, yes, but far too expensive. The full Myriad family was, at the time, way less expensive than any other of the full-family sans serif options.

2. I recommended Times New Roman, as a better cut of Times than the default system font. About the Canon: my principle was to include examples of a full range of contemporary relevant genres for students to work with -- Garamond, Times, and Century (aka Worldwide) were the classic serif faces. It would have been nice to also include a Didone, that is the biggest gap, I think, in the selection. Bear in mind that this is a working tools selection, not a type-history selection.

3. Zapfino and Hoefler Text: my principles state that in order not to confuse students, there should be a limited number of fonts, one example of each major genre, and not typefaces that are quite close. Snell is the fine classic script, and Adobe Garamond is the Garamond.

4. You are agreeing with what I wrote: I did actually mention the 1920s hot-metal Baskerville revival, as well as the ITC.

5. Mrs Eaves: as I said, Adobe Garamond was chosen as the classic small x-height face with all the bells and whistles.

6. Do the math. The Myriad package was (at the time) by far the best deal for a full-family sans.

7. The Myriad package was not MM -- it was a collection of instances.

8. Student discounts: things have changed, and much is negotiable. At the time, and working with FontShop Canada (no longer a franchise), there wasn't too much of a discount for colleges.

9. It's more important to give students the opportunity to work with fonts in a wide range of contemporary, relevant genres (including a few classic serifed faces), than it is to bore the pants off them with fancy theoretical distinctions between historical/national sub-genres (I've tried that, and it creates a very bad vibe -- leave it for the MA!) BTW, I am no big fan of patriotism (I mentioned it somewhat tongue-in-cheek), but yes, supporting your local type designers is a worthy cause.

10. The Chalet styles: 60 does Helvetica/AG; 70 does Pump/Bauhaus; 80 does Avant Garde/Futura. In three weights, that's an excellent deal and a good way to cover the basics, the theme of this thread. Also, Chalet begs the Post-modern question of just how rational the modern movement was, and how much it was about cool, understated style: a good question to ask, especially in school.

11. Officina is more "technical" than Meta. Note letterforms of cap I and l, and the open fit. Perhaps DIN would be another choice to "cover this base".

Dan, you can pick away at the details of my selection, but I challenge you to produce your own "Perfect Set" under similar budgetary constraint.

dan_reynolds's picture

>Dan, you can pick away at the details of my selection, but I challenge you to produce your own "Perfect Set" under similar budgetary constraint.

OK NIck, you're on. I'll show you my list in London, and then post it. Like you, I'll include a plethora of foundries and styles. Although, I don't have any *Canadian* allegiences

Nick Shinn's picture

I rechecked: $12,568 Canadian.
Equals $10,444 U.S., or

Chris Rugen's picture

Whitman is a wonderful family I wholeheartedly recommend. Its weights and styles are geared towards book typography, but it is a pleasure to use in any setting.

FYI: A lengthier description of Whitman

leonpmc's picture

Regarding must-have fonts: the Berthold library, many of which were developed during the eighties and sold through Adobe in the 90's, are still widely used in a variety of compelling applications. These remarkably versatile gems include Berthold's Poppyl Pontifex, Waldbaum, Garamond, Concorde, Formata, City, Azkidenz Grotesk, and Baskerville Book. I would include all of these on a list of must-have typefaces, even with the plethora of outstanding faces that have been developed since.

Other must-have faces would include Din, Meta, FF Bau, FF Unit, Copperplate Gothic, Sabon, Gil Sans, Jenson, Fairfield, Octavian, and Transit (originally developed for Berlin's public transportation system; too bad we don't see much of it in the U.S.). Remember, too, that Adobe's flagship fonts during the era of Multiple Master technology were Minion and Myriad, and these faces set the stage for further directions from a variety of talented sources. They are still widely used today, for good reason.

Looking at the choices made by designers these days, I see a lot of intriguing new fonts from Dutch foundries (primarily used in Europe, unfortunately), and lots of well known faces who've survived the rigours of style, including Chapparal, Trade Gothic, Frutiger, and even Engravers. I know I'm omitting a thousand more, but these are being successfully applied in important work and deserve recognition, and inclusion, in a working library.

Nick Shinn's picture

Mike, why workhorses?

Is that any way to treat your clients?

Surely a unique team of thoroughbreds for each client, acquired on demand, would be a better idea.

And why stop there when you can commission a type designer to genetically engineer something really special?!

hrant's picture

Thoroughbreds tire easily. And a camel might not win any Western beauty pageants, but please don't try a Clydesdale in the Gobi.


mike gastin's picture

Nick - you have a great point ... gee, wonder where I could find a type designer to make me something special?

Seriously, we do acquire as needed for projects. Our problem is that we have been acquiring fonts since the beginning of digitization. (The studio has been around for s few years) and there is a lot of dross in the collection.

I just want to weed out and then I got thinking that I wanted to scrap the collection and start fresh.

I will most likely weed it out aggressively, add a few new faces like Whitman (good suggestion Chris!) or the Scala family and then grow the collection as projects demand solutions.

BTW, Nick, I loved your article!


myoung's picture

Interesting article Mr. Shinn. It will be interesting to see what Dan Reynolds comes up with using the same priorities for selecting the set. I look forward to reading his list and reading any discussion surrounding it.

oh, and I was wondering when you are returning to Toronto? I understand you are a member of the type club, and I would be interested in hearing you speak sometime or just saying Hi.

Nick Shinn's picture

Thanks Mike. Mr Young -- yes, I'm looking forward to seeing Dan's set. I will be returning to T.O. next Fall, although I am flirting with the idea of living somewhere different every year (have iBook and broadband access, will travel).

mike gastin's picture

You ever make it over to rochester? Its just a Fast Ferry ride over the lake. Well, it was for a week or two before the ferry went bankrupt!


pablohoney77's picture

rochester? we're neighbors! altho i just moved here to buffalo myself.

Nick Shinn's picture

Mike, 'fraid I haven't been to Rochester since TypeCon2001.
I'm spending most of this year in the UK, maybe will pop over later on.
I expect the ferry will be resurrected. Presumably the creditors of the firm that went bankrupt acquired it, and will sell it off for a lot less than it cost, with its faults fixed, and with an adequate terminal in Toronto sorted out.

toad42's picture


Do you have any interest in updating The Perfect Set? It would be interesting to preserve the existing essay as a snapshot in time and to create a second edition that addresses those same core requirements taking advantage of the many options available today.

Nick Shinn's picture

No I don't.
It was a lot of work doing the research and writing and designing the article.
I stopped writing for magazines five years ago, and try and concentrate on making fonts these days.
I also had the advantage of advice from David Michaelides at FontShop Toronto, which is no more.
Now, I would have to pick someone else's brains.
But surely some educators somewhere have been tasked with doing something similar for their design schools?
How have they chosen the fonts their students get to set?

Richard Fink's picture

Liked the article Nick. A keeper, still.

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