bad fontsJust don’t

I needn’t men­tion the font that rhymes with Atomic Fans—pub­lic opin­ion has al­ready rat­i­fied it as the ar­che­typal ex­am­ple of a bad font.

Yet among bad fonts, that one doesn’t tend to an­noy skilled ty­pog­ra­phers. At least it’s hon­est about what it is. And in­ept ty­pog­ra­phers will al­ways be at­tracted to in­ept fonts.

No, the truly bad fonts are the ones that lure in­ex­pe­ri­enced ty­pog­ra­phers with false virtues, and then be­come en­trenched as hall­marks of am­a­teur­ish typography.

Pa­pyrus is just such a poseur. Pa­pyrus is meant to look his­toric and hand-drawn, but it is nei­ther. It’s an al­pha­bet from the early ’80s wear­ing a week’s stub­ble. Skip it.

Book­man and Bodoni are prob­a­bly bet­ter de­scribed as skunked fonts, be­cause we can imag­ine a time when they were used well. But that time is long gone. Book­man evokes the Ford ad­min­is­tra­tion. If fonts were cloth­ing, this would be the cor­duroy suit. As for Bodoni, its high-con­trast de­sign is flashy and at­trac­tive, but an­noy­ing to read af­ter three words.

Cop­per­plate is a nov­elty de­sign that’s over­stayed its wel­come by forty or fifty years. It re­mains pop­u­lar on the sig­nage and menus of busi­nesses that want to sig­nalwe’re classy and ex­pen­sive, in a retro way.” Trust me—it’s not working.

Script faces have im­proved by leaps and bounds in re­cent years, as type de­sign­ers have used Open­Type fea­tures to bet­ter ef­fect. There­fore, in com­par­i­son, the script fonts from the be­gin­ning of the dig­i­tal age—like the dozen or so bun­dled with Mi­crosoft Of­fice—can’t help but look clunky and cheap. (Brush Script, orig­i­nally de­signed in 1942, is shown above.)

As for the hun­dreds of free fonts that have ar­rived in re­cent years, I can ac­knowl­edge that they fill a prac­ti­cal need for fonts with­out li­cens­ing re­stric­tions. But in terms of de­sign and crafts­man­ship, nearly all of them prove the old adage: you get what you pay for. (Three ex­cep­tions: Char­ter, Fira Sans, and Source Code Pro.) So un­less ne­ces­sity dic­tates, ig­nore them.