A Brief History of Type

Arial, Times New Roman, Comic Sans are all famiilar occupants of drop down boxes in our business applications, but do you know the history behind them?

The term fount has been used for centuries to refer to the contemporary technological device used to print in a particular size and typeface. Virtually all founts were cast by type foundries in various lead alloys from the 1450s until the middle of the 20th century. A few large founts were made of wood, especially in the USA. This is known as wood type.

From the mid-1980s the move to digital typography has been relentless and the American spelling font has been almost universally adopted. The term font nowadays almost always refers to a computer file containing scalable, outline letterforms, usually in one of several common formats.

Three types of type

Blackletter fonts were the earliest fonts used with the invention of the printing press. They resemble the artistic handwritings of cloisters in the Middle Ages

Sans serif designs are a relatively recent typographical phenomenon in the history of type design. The first specimen appears to be the so-called "Egyptian" font released in England during 1816. They are commonly, but not exclusively, used for display typography applications such as signage, headings and other situations where clear meaning is imperative but continuous reading is not required.

Computer screens currently have a much lower resolution that printed material. Typically a monitor will have a resolution of 72 pixels per inch, whereas printed material will range from 150-300 dots per inch. This makes it more difficult to read text on a screen compared to a print out. San Serif typefaces have been shown to be much easier read to on screen as they are less complex.


Helvetica is a typeface developed by Max Miedinger in 1957 for the Haas’sche Schriftgießerei type foundry of Switzerland. Its name is derived from Helvetia, the Roman name for Switzerland. The typeface became extremely popular in the 1960s and remains an extremely popular typeface to this day.


Arial is a typeface in widespread use because the computer font is packaged with several Microsoft Corporation applications. Though similar to Helvetica in both proportion and weight, Arial is in fact a variation of Monotype's Grotesque series, and was designed with computer use in mind. Subtle changes and variations have been made to both the letterforms and the spacing between characters, in order to make it more readable on screen and at various resolutions.

Times New Roman

The design was originally produced by Monotype, a Typesetting and typeface design company, for the Times of London, around 1929-32.

Its readability and economical use of space caused it to be used extensively in American newspapers during World War II to save paper.

Comic Sans

In 1995 Microsoft released the font Comic Sans originally designed for comic book style talk bubbles containing informational help text. It's the font that launched a 100 powerpoint presentations and the one most likely to annoy people

Comic Sans is a digital typeface from Microsoft Corporation designed to imitate comic book lettering, for use in casual and informal settings. It was designed by an in-house designer Vincent Connare in 1994, and a font has been shipped with Microsoft Windows since the introduction of Windows 95, initially as a supplemental font in the Windows Plus Pack. It has since become one of the most popular Microsoft system fonts.

Because of its ubiquitous use, Comic Sans has become the subject of a campaign by designers to eliminate its use, on the grounds that (as typographic purists claim) it is poorly designed and that its inclusion in the Microsoft system fonts package lends itself to inappropriate use — for example, as a text face in documents or at large sizes in signage.

It is alleged by detractors that the typeface is poorly drawn, virtually equal weight being given to the downstrokes and horizontals, and little thought given to the kerning between character pairs, eliminating any of the informal characteristics of true hand-drawn lettering.

To his defence, Connare claims that it was not originally designed as a typeface, but as a solution to the problem of finding a font suitable for the packaging of children's software.


Released in 1996, Verdana was bundled with subsequent versions of Microsoft's Windows operating system, as well as their Office and Internet Explorer software on both Windows and Mac OS. A font designed especially for computer use. Microsoft's new Verdana typeface family consists of four TrueType fonts created specifically to address the challenges of on-screen display. Designed by world renowned type designer Matthew Carter, these sans serif fonts are unique examples of type design for the computer screen


is the name of a typeface designed by Hermann Zapf between 1952-1955. A modern sans-serif design, Optima at first looks a little like a traditional sans-serif. However, its strokes are delicately tapered and carry residual serifs. Optima is the typeface used on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.


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