Everything you always wanted to know about type: but were afraid to ask.

January 21, 2016

There was a time when type was created by a small number of artisans, trained by apprenticeship to the masters who preceded them. Creating fonts was a painstaking, tedious process and those ubiquitous symbols were shown respect and reverence. As befitting such vital resources, they were presented to printers and designers in elegant volumes.


Digital technology gave the resources for creating fonts to a much wider audience and a new generation of “typographers” came into being. Sadly, their passion to create was rarely matched by their skills or craftsmanship and so, the glorious legacy of great typography began to fade. With the availability to view, download and cluelessly mangle an infinite variety of fonts, the type book in physical form became nearly extinct.


Enter James Montalbano, a prolific modern day typographer with an uncompromising dedication to perfection, expertise with digital tools and a clear view of the history and continuing evolution of typography. Leveraging previously unavailable technology (and working ceaselessly), James has created a staggering collection of font families featuring numerous variations in weights, widths, alternate character sets and glyphs suitable for text in pretty much any language you’ll encounter.


His foundry, name, Terminal Design, comes from typographic nomenclature for the “terminal” or precise end of a stroke. Not satisfied to simply provide resources for nearly any conceivable designer’s task, James has assembled and published a definitive resource and a respectful nod to a lost tradition. Redeeming a classic format, the Terminal Design Type Catalog, eloquently executed by Charles Nix, of Monotype, presents character sets, one-line showings and particularly useful text settings in the tradition of great book design. As if this were not sufficient, the catalog concludes with appendixes of display and text parings and is indexed by x-height, stylistic set and type family. 


Finally, for those of us who sometimes have a difficult time distinguishing one font from another, present company included, there is a fascinating section called earmarks. As explained by Mr. Montalbano: “The details of a serif font—the shape of the apex on an A, the serif structure, the size and placement of the jot on an i, the leg of an R, the tail of a Q—are the subtle but essential characteristics that help us discern and choose faces. In the pages that follow, these typographic moments are put under the microscope for your investigation and comparison.”


A rich and useful resource? The Zen of typography or both? You decide.