Serifs, Styles & Scotch Romans: 8 versatile serif type families that are both pretty and practical
Despite somewhat of a resurgence in the 2020s, serif typefaces still find themselves regularly playing second fiddle in identity systems to their sans serif counterparts; which are often deemed friendlier and more versatile. This doesn’t always have to be the case, however, with more and more contemporary type foundries and designers turning their attention to the genre. To highlight as much, we’ve curated eight serif typefaces that combine an interesting visual approach with a broad mix of weights, styles and glyphs; making them perfect for all kinds of outputs.
Contemporary and confident, Blaze Type’s Silvana blends high-contrast strokes with delicate serifs; resulting in a versatile typeface that balances historic traits with 21st century features. Research into 19th century transitional typefaces provided valuable insights, influencing the drawing process of the Lyon-based foundry. A distinct bump detail, found most noticeably on the letters ‘G,’ ‘S,’ ‘a’ and ‘n,’ can be traced back to the type specimen of Pennsylvania – published by Schelter & Giesecke – where a spot of excess ink was gathered on the ‘a.’ Silvana optimises this printing error, providing an ink-like fluidity to certain letters. Whilst being particularly suited to display purposes, the extensive glyph set of Silvana, with its 10 varying styles, ensures versatility and personality within every application.
We continue the sweeping impact of the pen’s legacy with the diverse, crisp, and calligraphic Boogy Brut, which was developed as a collaboration between Bureau Brut and type designer Julien Priez, aka Boogy Paper. Boogie Brut argues it is not ‘inspired’ by calligraphy, but rather, a true contemporary digital type family, in which calligraphy was a key step in the development process. A result of the back-and-forth between Priez and Bureau Brut, an experimental and in-depth research process culminated in the structural qualities of handwritten typefaces, without the textural imperfections attributed to inks or surfaces. The Boogy Brut family offers a wide spectrum of uses, with 18 styles available. The highly gestural and near-illegible ‘Wild’ versions provide artistic and decorative qualities. Meanwhile, the ‘Poster’ subfamily leans closer to a contemporary calligraphic look.
Promising familiarity, CoType Foundry’s bookish serif Orbiklar finds itself comfortably nestled in the space between a Transitional and a Scotch Roman – resulting in a timeless classic with a modern feel. Highly functional, the London-based foundry crafted each glyph of Orbikular with such care that every weight remains legible at every scale. With this, it’s the perfect choice for editorial applications such as magazines, books and branding projects. Beyond the usual Light, Regular, SemiBold and Bold, the Orbikular family notably includes an ExtraLight and ExtraBold weight, each with matching elegant italics.
For something a bit more neutral, Florian Karsten’s FK Roman is the Times New Roman-inspired addition to their friendly, familiar-looking typeface catalogue. Designed by Květoslav Bartoš, the family contains 12 weights ranging all the way from Thin to Black. Combined with their earlier release, FK Grotesk Neue, the pair’s matching vertical metrics guarantee a utilitarian workhorse duo across all applications.
For Bureau, the UK-based foundry Frost looked to the processes of the Renaissance era. The transitional serif family’s sharp cuts were first influenced by handcrafted metal punch cuts from printing in 15th and 16th century Europe. Its hard edges and elegant curves are reminiscent of those that feature in old-style serifs such as Granjon and Garamond. Frost’s digital drawing process invited sharp vectors, leading to the sharp serifs and horizontal flat ink traps in Bureau’s italic styles. In addition to the family’s 16 styles and 8 weights, Frost included a collection of extra stylistic features such as a number of discretionary ligatures, old-style figures and a set of decorative italics.
A contemporary flared serif with sharp triangular features, General Type Studio’s Cambon grabs cues from a variety of influences and eras. The New York-based foundry found particular inspiration in the works of French punchcutter Louis Perrin (1795-1865), “who dared to look backwards,” as they put it, whilst finding further reference in the raw virtuosity of famed German typographer Berthold Wolpe (1905-1989). Cambon is available in 16 diverse styles, from Thin through to Black.
The elegant serif Termoli is Luzi Type’s contemporary take on the Scotch typeface genre that came to prominence in the 18th and 19th centuries. For the Bern-based foundry, inspiration came in the form of American typeface designer Linn Boyd Benton’s emblematic Century Roman. Characterised by square serifs and low contrast, Termoli has a strong graphic presence; resulting in a distinctive yet friendly appearance in both large and small sizes. It is available in a variety of weights, from Light to Black, as well as a smooth variable font.
A typographic genre emerged around 1850, characterised by pointed serifs and capitals of harmonised widths. Known under variant names such as Latines in France, Renaissance or Etienne-Schriften in Germany, these typefaces quickly became an international phenomenon. Returning to the present day, Schick Toikka’s Apris is a contemporary typeface that adopts several features from this genre, such as the moderate contrast of stroke weight, distributed along a vertical axis. Unlike most typefaces of this genre, however, the Berlin and Helskini-based foundry opted to include lowercase characters, as doing otherwise would be limiting for a versatile, contemporary release. Going beyond their 19th century influence, they looked to many other moments in the history of type and lettering for inspiration. For example, the asymmetrical ‘A’ with its projecting roof, is a detail frequently found in German Mediäval and Antiqua typefaces from the early 20th century. The Apris family spans six weights from Thin to Black, with matching italics.