Why is Bold Italic a bastard stepchild?

Renaissance Man's picture

There are fonts that include R, I, B but no bold italic.

There are mega font families (e.g., 33 fonts) that include shadow, outline, light, semi-bold, medium, yada, yada, yada, but no bold italic.

What's with that?

J Weltin's picture

Where are you looking? Hardly know any typeface without a bold italic …

riccard0's picture

Because it is.

Renaissance Man's picture

Because it is.

Duh! I know that! But why? Or why should it be? Is it because some type designers think they know what's best for me?

dan_reynolds's picture

No, it is because some type designers know what is best for their typefaces. In many cases, Bold Italic is just too much of a difference from the main face. Why emphasize text in Bold Italic when just a single level of emphasis (e.g., Bold, Italic, small caps, underlining, letterspacing, switching to a different typeface, etc.) would be enough?

There are plenty of typefaces that have Bold Italics. If you want to use a Bold Italic, pick a typeface family that offers it. I don’t see why is should be a requirement, just because it is so commonplace.

riccard0's picture

I meant that bold italic is a bastard stepchild in itself, historically and design-wise, as Dan explains.

hrant's picture

Because it's the least useful of the four.

But excluding it has become very old-fashioned. The only recent typeface that I remember not having a B-I (at least when first launched) is Whitman.


Florian Hardwig's picture

Sumner Stone chose to omit an accompanying Italic for some of his Bolds (or Semibolds), see Cycles, Arepo, SFPL.

hrant's picture

And his Silica doesn't even have any Italic! Bravo.


Bert Vanderveen's picture

Purists consider italics and roman to be different species… I find mixing them problematic too and prefer slanted forms in longer texts (and for all I care designers may call these italics).

hrant's picture

Do you mean like this?
I would love to see Harrier used for an entire book one day.


Bert Vanderveen's picture

To clarify: slanted instead of italic… for distant matter in roman.

riccard0's picture

A previous discussion on the same topic: http://typophile.com/node/8029

Frode Bo Helland's picture

The four core weights — Regular, Italic, Bold & Bold Italic — became a “standard” with MS Office, no? They had the b and the i and clicking both triggered the bi, so perhaps it is just plain lazyness? If you need the bi, you’re probably designing something so complex those four “core” styles wont do anyway. A medium/semibold, or a smaller optical size is much more useful.

eliason's picture

Why emphasize text in Bold Italic when just a single level of emphasis (e.g., Bold, Italic, small caps, underlining, letterspacing, switching to a different typeface, etc.) would be enough?

One use-case where emphasis-within-emphasis comes particularly in handy is when titles appear in bold (say, a section heading named "Summer Blockbusters from Jaws to Independence Day").

Renaissance Man's picture

prefer slanted forms in longer texts (and for all I care designers may call these italics). Oops, is this bold italic?

If designers want to eschew true cursive italic in favor of slanted Roman, why charge the same price for an oblique as for the Roman, when the difference is a few mouse clicks? Why shouldn't I just buy Roman and let my program create an oblique?

Thanks, Craig, for the example. Apparently some folks need to know why there is a need for BI, although I wouldn't have thought so on Typophile.

hrant's picture

A good slanted-Roman is never merely obliqued, not even in a sans.

And you should pay more for a slanted-Roman because it does a better job. Just like you pay more for a designer who uses two fonts instead of five on a job.


Renaissance Man's picture

Delightful reply, Hrant.

Would that this were always so: A good slanted-Roman is never merely obliqued, not even in a sans.

I guess the key word is "good." When I see a merely obliqued Roman, I think "slothful."

hrant's picture

Same here. It's where Morison fell victim to his own dogma (and dragged a couple of otherwise good designers down with him).

But making a traditional italic could also be seen as slothful, ideologically. Just because something takes a lot of time doesn't make it good.


Renaissance Man's picture

Just because something takes a lot of time doesn't make it good.

So true—and it applies to everything from fonts to writing to music to parenting.

And just because something is good doesn't mean that it doesn't take a lot of time. Hat tip to type designers who take the time to make type good.

Aaron Thesing's picture

I bought the bold italic font of a family just the other day, for the reason Craig Eliason described. But I didn’t buy it months ago, when I only got the regular, italic, and bold fonts.

I didn't need it until I needed it.

Nick Shinn's picture

I usually include it, but sometimes it's just too much effort to draw. (Figgins Sans).

quadibloc's picture

Historically, if you go 'way back, there was just one style of type in a given document. That style might have been blackletter, or it might have been Roman.

I've seen printed books from the 20th Century (or maybe the 19th) that actually used blackletter for emphasis in a predominantly Roman text.

Italics, when they first came along, thanks to Aldus Manutilus, were a way to print books more economically.

Eventually, though, the use of italics for emphasis (as opposed to letterspacing for emphasis, a once-common practice) did become standardized.

Boldface came along much later. Using blackletter, or a different Roman typeface with a heavier weight, for emphasis or headings preceded the design of bold weights of a given typeface.

A very few typefaces later had bold italics designed for them, but this was generally regarded as a novelty. The frequent use of different levels of emphasis - italics, bold, small capitals - is generally deprecated, as good taste in typography has been generally regarded as that which is understated.

Victorian posters, of course, are the extreme example of the opposite of this - and the needs of advertisers are one major reason why a few typefaces had a bold italic designed for them.

hrant's picture

> Italics, when they first came along, thanks to Aldus Manutilus, were a way to print books more economically.

AFAIK this "classical" opinion has been debunked. I used to repeat that myself, but if you think about it it never made any sense to begin with (except for something like poetry).


Bert Vanderveen's picture

Not more economically, but to imitate a much admired scribing style of the time. (At least that’s what my memory is from what I was taught and have read.)

John Hudson's picture

The Aldine pocket books mimic the format and style of the informal manuscript books of the humanist scholars, who were interested in copying a text quickly in a portable format rather than producing prestige volumes. These books were written in the informal, cursive style, and hence Aldus' pocket editions followed suit.

Nick Shinn's picture

But that doesn't mean they weren't also economical, because it is the nature of a strong design to satisfy multiple needs and/or constraints.

marcox's picture

When choosing a workhorse typeface for a magazine, I regard the lack of a bold(er) italic as a serious omission. There are too many instances where a bolder weight (not always the "bold," if a medium/semibold is available) is used for text (sidebars, captions, tables, etc.) and requires an italic counterpart.

It sometimes seems as if Typophile is populated solely by book designers and that the only thing humans read are long, immersive texts. :)

hrant's picture

Narrow and/or small-on-body fonts (slant or no) save space in proportion to the infrequence of paragraph breaks; the more frequent the paragraph breaks the more you'll save more space by instead using a large-on-body font at a smaller size (which guarantees vertical space savings no matter the breaks). In fact, all else being equal large-on-body fonts are more economical (except for poetry where long lines that have to break just into a second line make the results wasteful, but most of all ungainly).


quadibloc's picture

Yes, but we can't condemn Aldus Manutilus for not having access to the glowing testimonials of users of Corona.

Joshua Langman's picture

Manutius doesn't have an l in it.

dberlow's picture

Manutius and Manutilus were two different people, the later being a crazy submarine typographer of the 19th century.

@dan "No, it is because some type designers know what is best for their typefaces"

This is reasoning for both solutions. If I don't supply a BI I am saying to the user not to use one, if I do supply one I'm trying to make sure the computer doesn't supply it.

Back at the original question, bold italic was something that was made in many display faces. Text bold italics were not common in the Linotype library when I arrived in 1978, but by 1986, all families intended for use in text and display use required a BI

What happened was, i think three things;
ITC was producing large, for the time, families of matching roman and italic for each weight. Linotype and maybe others were digitally standardizing on 12 pt masters and at the same time expanding families like Caledonia, Century and Aster w/Ikarus, and while doing so added BI to keep up.

WYSIWYG word processors were starting to catch on that used matching bitmaps for printer and screen fonts. Hand edited bitmaps had the ability to be boldened and slanted without damage being apparent to your average word processor developer. Software logic says R, RI and B should always make BI possible, so font developers were compelled to either see computer generated BI, or supply it.

So when typesetting and word processing merged into desktop publishing, it placed the typographically mindful and mindless on the same platform while converting to digital outlines, and so the BI became expected.

Same with fonts don't have I, B or BI today, like Brush Script... and look what happens.

Nick Shinn's picture

Further to David’s exegesis: a big impetus to the concept of large families came about through the technological ability to photographically modify typositor fonts and settings. “Modding”.

Headliners International, for instance, had in the 1970s and 80s small-x height “Neo-Mini- ” versions of all the classic typefaces, including even Gill Sans, in multiple weights, roman and italic (for use in heads, Marc!)

Both slanting and bolding could be done photographically (outlines and shadows too); the results weren’t perfect, but the amount of manual clean-up work required was substantially less than drawing from scratch.

The weight of a typositor setting could be varied during or after the setting process, and the same techniques used in font production.

In the 1960s and 1970s, high-end typesetters provided hand lettering and typositor-set headlines, as well as body-text galleys. Often a headline setting would be modded and tweaked by lettering artists to the extent that it became a hybrid beast. Les Usherwood ran one such shop in Toronto, Typsettra, and used the technology and talent at his disposal to design and produce many different fonts based on the same modded body, both as stylistic variants (different serif treatments) and as family extensions.

Richard Fink's picture

@ ren man
Speaking as a bastard stepchild myself, I resent your tone.

oldnick's picture

FWIW, in the heyday of photo-lettering, type designers merely designed the characters themselves; the matters of metrics and kerning were handled by the Typositor/compositor operator.

Outlines were created using a film positive, a film negative and, usually, an orbital cam contraption; adding shadows required another positive and negative and a bit of creative film stripping. Now those methods have gone the way of the horse and buggy…well, except in Amish country.

Don McCahill's picture

Am I wrong in remembering that the Linotype could only contain four weights on the machine. You got Roman, Italic, Bold and Small Caps. BI was not part of the mix. Or is that just on certain magazines?

dberlow's picture

Far from gone, I think all the treatments and mods referred to above, in addition to more... (So that's oblique, bold, underscore, strikethrough overscore, outline, shadow, horizontal scale, skew, and the combinatorial hoodlum fonts that result), have been converted from horse and buggy or dark smokey room activities, to icons in many apps... including some being web-standardized and enabled in some browsers.

What happens next in type treatments on the web should be interesting.

dezcom's picture

There just is not one answer. In the area of possible need, there are variances between, book, magazine, brochure, advertising, web, etc.., for a given face. This gets further compounded by a given users perception of what they need vs. what it costs to buy. Using the same logic, a type designer might ask himself if there would be enough more sales just because the BI was included to more than offset the time and effort to make a BI. Sometimes a type designer might assume that a BI is not worth doing for a given face. They may well be wrong by some counts but that was there perception at the time.
I you need a BI in a face that does not have one, contact the foundry and ask about it. They may just need a few nudges in that direction to produce that variation. Otherwise, you may need to choose another face for the job. I might also say that making a decent BI when a family has only a bold roman and a regular italic is not just a few quick mouse clicks as someone implied above. All good things require work.
When you need it, you need it. That does not mean a type designer may think the time and effort was worth it at the moment of release. They may change their mind if they get asked often enough.

kentlew's picture

Am I wrong in remembering that the Linotype could only contain four weights on the machine.

Don — Depends upon the model of the machine and how many simultaneous magazines it could accommodate. Lino mats were duplexed — i.e., two styles on one mat. So each magazine would carry two styles together (which were, technically speaking, a single font).

Usually the pairings were typical Roman with Italic or Roman with Bold.

Small caps were not provided as a separate font/style. Those faces that sported small caps were usually targeted at book work and were provided in fonts of Roman with Italic and Small Caps. I don’t know offhand exactly what the duplexing scheme was (and there may have been a few different arrangements).

If there was a Bold Italic, it would be offered with the Bold. But there were not a lot of those in the library.

And you could also get certain pairings across families (usually, two romans) — so, for instance, Excelsior with Memphis Bold — for jobbing work.

Nick Shinn's picture

When Scala was first published (on floppy, c.1990), it had Regular, Italic, Bold, and Capitals fonts.
I thought it was very cool that it had small caps and alternate figures but not Bold Italic, and this definitely positioned it, in my mind, as being a typeface for serious typographers.

At the time I was doing editorial design and generally used sans serif for sidebars, so the lack of a Bold Italic was not an issue.

John Hudson's picture

Am I right in remembering some phototype technology with four style/weight fonts on a single film strip or wheel?

hrant's picture

AFAIK they crammed as much as possible on single disks, and that's what killed optical masters.


quadibloc's picture

I don’t know offhand exactly what the duplexing scheme was (and there may have been a few different arrangements).

Typically, on a Linotype machine, the small capitals were duplexed with the digits and other special symbols like the at sign and the dollar sign. Unlike bold and italics, there was no way to make them the same size as a different weight of letter.

kentlew's picture

Yes, exactly. I just don’t recall offhand which small-cap letters were duplexed with which digits and symbols. There are charts of such things in my library. I just haven’t bothered to look them up. And I believe that there may have been multiple schemes in different circumstances (but I could be remembering wrong on this count).

quadibloc's picture

Before the issue arose of computers automatically bolding or slanting font styles for which bold, italic, or bold italic were not provided arose, indeed, the selection of typefaces with a bold italic was small.

One source - perhaps biased - would be the set of fonts offered for the IBM Selectric Composer.

Having Medium and Italic:


Having Medium, Italic, and Bold:

Aldine Roman

Having Bold Italic as well:

Journal Roman
Press Roman

And then there was Univers, which did not have a bold italic, but which did have condensed and light versions.

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