(Watch Frank’s accompanying video to this article.)
Good old Gutenberg created the first typeface for printing, which comprised 292 glyphs. A font includes all letters, numerals, punctuation, etc., but we also use the term as a synonym for the typeface design. Gutenberg’s font was a design that came close to the handwriting of German scribes. Other printers created fonts over the centuries, including Garamond, Baskerville, and Bodoni.
Foundries were formed to create handset type, like Caslon in London and the 23 American foundries that later made up American Type Founders (ATF). Or the famous European foundries like Stempel, Bauer, Amsterdam Continental, and many others.
Along came the hot metal Linotype, Monotype, Intertype, and Ludlow between 1886 and 1907. These machines cast type and they all had to create typefaces for them.
In the 1960s, phototypesetting suppliers needed fonts and they copied them from the hot metal suppliers. Then they started creating new designs.
The digital font era began in 1985 with PostScript. Computer programs allowed almost anyone to create their own fonts. Now, in the 36th year of the digital type revolution, we have hit the one millionth digital font. In counting, Verdana is a font and Verdana Italic is a font, etc. In the old days, the definition of font included the point size.
And every week, a few hundred more new fonts are introduced.
Back in the 1960s, an ad agency designer would use a certain font in an ad for national business or consumer magazines, and designers everywhere would see it and copy it and start a typographic trend. In the 1920s, Futura became the rage; in the 1960s, Linotype could not make Helvetica mats fast enough for the demand. Because we communicate via so many channels of digital media, typographic trends are not as apparent.
Today, there are well over 200,000 font families with multiple weights and styles, created by literally thousands of type designers, and sold by over 5,000 “digital font foundries.” Most fonts are licensed and based on the OpenType format which integrates PostScript.
By the way, Adobe recently announced that it will no longer support Type 1 fonts.
Fonts are now promoted and sold digitally from companies like these:
Fonts.com. (Monotype Imaging)
MyFonts (Monotype Imaging)
I Love Typography (represents 50 or more foundries, including ArabicType, Barnbrook Fonts, Beasts of England, Canada type, Delve Fonts, Device Fonts, DSType, exljbris, FontFabric, Foundry5, HvD fonts, Identity Letters, Jamie Clarke Type, Jeremy Tankard Typography, Just Another Foundry, Kimmy Design, Li Beirut, LiebeFonts, LucasFonts, Malou Verlomme, Martin Majoor, Mota Italic, Nomad Fonts, Nova Type Foundry, Questa project, ReType, Rosetta, Sakkal Design, Schriftlabor, Signal Type Foundry, SimpleBits, Sproviero-Type, Studio René Bieder, Tabular Type Foundry, Tiro Typeworks, Type-Ø-Tones, TypeRepublic, Typesenses, TypeTogether, and Typofonderie.)
Typography.com (Hoefler & Co.)
Tobias Frere Jones
Google Fonts: A font embedding service library that includes free and open source font families, an interactive web directory for browsing the library, and APIs for using the fonts via CSS and Android.
Don’t forget WhatTheFont, WhatFontIs, and Matcherator by FontSpring.
You can also find fonts at Creative Market, Behance, and Dribble. Behance showcases an extensive list of curated free font collections from an array of designers around the world. Dribble is a place to check out what designers are showing.
Independent type foundries, often conducted by the type designers themselves, offer some typographic gems:
Grilli Type, the Swiss foundry led by Noël Leu and Thierry Blancpain and their GT Walsheim.
Fatype, an independent type foundry established by Anton Koovit and Yassin Baggar. Fatype offers its know-how for the creation of exclusive tailor-made typefaces and has designed typefaces for Balenciaga, Lancel, Condé Nast (GQ France), and Google.
Klim, a type foundry based in New Zealand and founded in 2005 by Kris Sowersby, a talented and self-taught type designer.
Joe Flory, Design Director at FINE Design also put together a list of his favorite modern independent type foundries.
These are but a few.
One way to build a font collection is to license an entire library. Monotype Imaging has a library of over 100,000 fonts, designed by the world’s most celebrated and gifted type designers. Their library includes some of the most famous and widely-used fonts, such as the original Helvetica. Monotype Imaging began as a spinoff from Agfa’s Type Division but later acquired the Monotype, Linotype, Bitstream, ITC, and other legacy type libraries.
Font management solutions—Suitcase Fusion and Suitcase TeamSync—include direct connections to MyFonts. Fonts purchased through MyFonts automatically appear in Suitcase Fusion and TeamSync after being downloaded via Skyfonts. Also by Monotype, Mosaic is a good option if you're looking for a cloud-based subscription font platform.
If you are an Adobe Creative Cloud user, you also have access to Adobe Fonts.
I asked Matthew Carter, the leading type designer in the world, if any designer ever made a million dollars. I thought about Frederic Goudy, Herman Zapf, and Adrian Frutiger. They all made a good living but none were truly millionaires from their font royalties.
At the Museum of Printing in Haverhill, Mass., there are 1.2 million typographic artifacts, from every drawing for every glyph in every font done by Linotype, to over 40,000 typographic promotion pieces in the Schappler Ephemera Collection. The Museum houses the largest collection of historic typographic artifacts in the world. There are over 600 type specimen books going back to the early 1800s from around the world.
Type is integral to all forms of communication, whether it’s a print ad, a web page, an email, or even packaging and clothing labels. There is even a skywriting font. In our increasingly branded world, typography and fonts are crucial for differentiation and expressing creativity.
However, how graphic designers deal with one million fonts is beyond me. That is why the original 13/35 PostScript fonts are still the most used worldwide.
Helvetica is still the world’s most popular font, although most people call it Arial.