5 Families of Typography: History and Examples of Each Style Family

5 Families of Typography: History and Examples of Each Style Family
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Style Classifications

In typography, there are five main font families that are the most used due to readability, clean design and their ability to be used across multiple platforms. The type of fonts that a designer chooses to use can make or break a project. The font can attract readers to comprehend the full message; it can give a feeling of personality to a document such as formal for a resume or silly for a personal note.

The five main font families fall under the classifications of Old Style, Transitional, Modern, Slab Serif and Sans Serif. The term “Serif” in typography refers to the lines in text that give the font an extra fancy look, while the term “sans” means “without” so fonts that are classified as Sans Serif are those without the extra lines and are therefore cleaner to use in type design. Here we are going to take a closer look into what these main five font families are and who created them.

Old Style

The Old Style fonts are classified by both their period in typography history and by the contrast shown between thin and thick strokes to form the letters. The style also presents a more overall refined look as this type came when mass printing began to take off in the early 1500’s. A classic Old Style identifier is found with the use of serifs that give the ascenders a noticeable wedge shaped in this style line.

Among the more popular fonts under the Old Style classification is that of Garamond. A Parisian publisher named Claude Garamond created several typefaces during the 1500’s. He is most known for the typeface of Garamond that has several variations in use in today’s font families. The style and its variations are known for its clean lines and elegant looking style. Variations of the Garamond font include Stempel Garamond, Monotype Garamond, Garamond Antiqua and more. To the left are examples of from different versions of Garamond typefaces.


baskerville fonts,typography styles

The end of the 17th century and the start of the 18th century defines the Transitional classification. French royal typographer Jacques Jaugeon was commissioned by Louis XIV to create a letter set that would reflect the advent of a new period in history. With the start of the Age of Enlightenment era where the overall style was to break away from more traditional forms and create a more classical style with emphasis on progress. The font that Jaugeon created in conjunction with the French Academy of Science to symbolize this was the Romain du Roi, also known as the King’s Roman. Just as with Old Style, this font would make way for others that fit in with the Transitional style.

Some characteristics for type under the Transitional style are in having the main letter strokes be the thickest, while the inner strokes are thinner. One of the most popular types in modern day use is the Baskerville font and its many variations. Created by Englishman John Baskerville, his type gained popularity in America when Benjamin Franklin brought it back to the states and put it to use. To the left is an example of the Baskerville font.

The Three End Styles

font styles,typography styles

The other three main font classification style families are Modern, Sans Serif and Slab Serif. The modern class is characterized by fonts created in the 18th and 19th centuries with an emphasis on high contrast between thin and thin strokes. Fonts that fall under the modern class include Bernhard Modern Roman, Bodoni and Didot.

The Sans Serif class is a series of font families that do not include the serif lines and which rose to popularity during the 1920’s Bauhaus type movement. Other fonts that fall under the Sans Serif classification include Helvetica, Franklin Gothic, Verdana and Arial.

The Slab Serif classification is a serif style family that expands upon the Modern type style. Under this style, the serifs are more pronounced by being larger and squarer in design. Common fonts that fall under the Slab Serif style include American Typewriter, Claredon and Rockwell.

For more information on type classification and font styles, visit Linotype online at: www.linotype.com

This post is part of the series: Understanding Typography

Learn more about the many aspects of typography. From keening to letter design, this series will help give a better understanding of what typography is and what role it plays in desktop publishing.

  1. What is Typography?
  2. Advantages of Typography
  3. Standard Rules and Procedures for Typography
  4. 5 Style Families of Typography
  5. Anatomy of Typography