Type Concepts

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1. Rotalics

The Rotalic (also known as rotational italicisation — to sound posh), was an idea developed by Filip Tyden in 2007; the name is a simple portmanteau of “rotated” and “italic”. Rather than oblique type in which the letterforms are distorted, rotalicised letters are individually tilted to a certain degree, lending them some strong and distinct typographic rhythm. These letters can either be tilted backwards or forwards, but forward rotalicisation is more widespread.

The most prominent example of this new-fangled concept is perhaps GT Haptik, a typeface based on blindfolded recognition of letters, created by Swiss foundry Grilli Type. Although it looks gimmicky at first, I believe rotalicisation is a creative invention. And it’s especially useful when you want to add emphasis when your mouse is hovering over a link. Besides, rotalic fonts remind me of the cubic house in Rotterdam.

Other rotalicised fonts:

Another font offering rotalicisation is “strokeWeight“, inspired by low-quality computer graphics. It comes in a variable format (more on that later!). Oh, and another is called Valnera, by C-A-S-T. It might look like an average serif at first, but the more extreme weights/styles cross into the rotalicisation territory. Interestingly, the foundry lables these styles as “Random” styles. Quite cool! I also learned that rotalicisation doesn’t mean each glyph must be rotated to a uniform angle. Some can can slant backwords, others forwards. Theoretically, a font can be tilted 180° and it can still be considered a rotalic. But again, you might as well just rotate the text box.

Rotalicised letters will probably require more effort in terms of kerning, but I think it’s worth it. I’d really like the rotalic to be a standard option in all fonts! By right youc should be able to manually rotalicise a font, but hey — let’s keep the designers busy!

  • Colourful poster with large-size rotalic type
  • Rotalic Garamond Specimen

2. Chiselled Type

More than just a rebellion to the bézier, chiselled typography has become quite a thing. Some say it is a mix between past and present because the angled forms make the letters look as if they were from the Stone Age, although the font itself is made on digital software. Whatever it is, it looks rather quirky and has a delightful flavour. While the common conception is that chiseled type is used mainly in displays, it can work really well when set in text, too (like Covik Sans).

Some examples of chiselled type inculde the display face Minérale by Thomas Huot-Machard, Cedar from XYZ Type (a work-in-progress), Mazius (which has an option for a more calligraphic italic) and Avara, both open-source fonts (which mean they are free!). And not forgetting more historical fonts, I would add in Gill Facia, designed by the Eric Gill in 1932 for Monotype.

3. Variable Fonts with a custom axis

Although variable fonts are being used on websites more than ever, it’s still quite rare to see typefaces with a custom axis, at least in the mainstream area — that is, Google Fonts or other open-source font vendors.

One example I like is Cheee, which offers a good range of variation between different styles. This typeface features a yeast axis and gravity axis — the “yeast” axis alters the “plumpness” of the font, while the “gravity” axis determines how much the font is “dripping”. Sadly, the temperature axis was dropped in later versions during early development and testing on Future Fonts. But I guess the designer had good intentions in doing so — what seems as icing on the cake may sometimes be unnecessary.

A handy video for a quick tour of Cheee’s variable typographic extremes. Created by the designer of the typeface, James Edmonson.

This font is paid, however, as with most of the fonts featured below, which drives me to another point: the lackadaisical up-taking of new technology on web font giants such as Google Fonts. Hence I hope that more web-hosting services will unveil new variable fonts with unique axes rather than just the plain “weight” or “italic” axis. Okay — perhaps I’ve gone a bit too far. Sometimes, too much custom-axis trickery will lower our appreciation for such fonts and some fonts just don’t need a custom axis. But, where applicable, variable fonts with custom axes can pack a punch.

One refreshing new open-source font is the Recursive project, led by Stephen Nixon (it can be found on Google Fonts here). It shape-shifts between brushy and mono-linear forms, which challenges the common perception of the monospace being monotonous. Another one is titled “CoronaFaceImpact”, which shows the effects of lockdown in a funny and creative way; this single-glyph font can be found on GitHub (I doubt it will be released on Google Fonts anyway). I think it’s a great parody of variable font tech, but it also symbolises the effects of Covid-19 on our everyday lives.

Because we just can’t get enough of this variable font mania, here’s a list. While not exhaustive, these are just a few of my favourite variable fonts:

  • Whoa: A dizzying 3D illusion. Warning: This font might cause some browsers to crash! Proceed with caution, please. (Paid)
  • Labil Grotesk: Comes with a fun stability axis. (foundry page: here) (Paid)
  • Haki: A blocky display sans. (Free but not open-source)
Haki promotional image extracted from Behance.
  • Tweak Display: Comes with an axis that can change the sense of movement (Paid)
  • Parppadelle Party: A colour font which takes advantage of contextual alternates. Foundry’s page: here. You can also customise the colour of the font. If you want to buy it you’d have to be a club member though. (Paid)
  • Daffy: A quirky geometric sans. (Donationware)
  • Rocher Colour: A coloured version of the original Rocher Series. Do try out the colour customiser within the website (load times can be slow though)! (Open-source)
Rocher Colour specimen from the foundry’s website.
  • Variable Poo: The world’s first variable colour font, which shows a poo emoji). Disgusting, yet satisfying! (Open-source)
  • GT Flexa A wonky grotesque with exaggerated inktraps (Paid)
Courtesy Grili Type.

Although I agree that adding a variable axis is quite laborious since there are no ready-to-use computer scripts to lighten the work, the user of the font will be relieved that they don’t have to worry about stuff like “demi-condensed ultra-light italic plus small-caps”. Font-making software is getting more and more advanced. But alas. Variable fonts are just starting to gain momentum and some browsers are hindering the globalisation of this file format. My favourite font website is probably v-fonts.com, which contains a wellspring of variable fonts, including OpenType SVG colour variable fonts. I must add too, that that’s where most of the fonts I selected in the above list came from. If I had to pick two foundries which are leading in terms of variable fonts — one open-source, one commercial — it would have to be Etcetera Type Co. and DJR respectively. Another nice website is Very-Able-Fonts, which is the brainchild of another variable-font-savvy type foundry called Underware. It houses a miniature yet growing collection of variable fonts.


I find emotional type very interesting as such fonts communicate emotions in a non-verbal manner, such as joy, disgust, fury, tiredness, sadness, and perhaps annoyance. I know — almost all fonts can do the same job and this is an extremely broad category, but I have only put in typefaces with a specific aim: to translate the human factor into a feasible digital typeface. I know only of two typefaces which demonstrate this, and you can see the two later on. But back to the topic.

I think “emotional” typefaces are probably related to everyday emoticons, but they have a small functionality as they are still chiefly expiremental. For example, an annoying company has to send emails with emojis below the cut-off point and get whitelisted by the (admittedly dumb) spam filter, because they probably have no choice and can’t use emotion-conveying type, since no system fonts currently have that many “emotions”. System fonts were naturally born to be flawed drama actors.


A demo video showing how the font can be used. It’s strange, however, that the video’s version contains all Uppercase and Lowercase characters. The designer porabably didn’t want to make everything thing open-source.

The first font I’d like to share is Emotional Type, an open-source typeface by a university graduate. It’s a terrible name, but it stays true to it’s intentions. The character set is just enough to cover the words “Emotional”, but this typeface is still very fun to expermiment with. The website claims that the font has a bond with the default typeface of the text message, [which] in this study is SF San Francisco”, and strives to explore alternative ways to express emotion in a text other than with icons, e.g., emojis or emoticons, while still controlling the level of formality.” It comes in a variable format too, hence making the font fun to animate (CSS or Drawbot should probably do fine). That’s probably the best part of Emotional type, in my opinion (who doesn’t love variable fonts? They’re simply magical).

The second typeface which I know of is Faro. It is a versatile type system and has two different “emotions” or styles — lucky and sad. The “Sad” style slopes select characters downwards, giving the illusion of sadness. The “Lucky” style, on the other hand, attempts to bring up these terminals to convey a lighter, more energetic look. However, I won’t suggest using it as a body font even though the foundry has a special “text” style because the reader won’t bother distinguishingthe details at small sizes.

A simple diagram. The letters in red are some of the characters that were visibly changed. I like how the designers flipped over the bowl (the small circle lying on the baseline of the typeface) of the “a” in both styles.


These few concepts seem worthy and I fervently hope to see more of such typefaces, although too much is a bad thing. From chiselled type to variable fonts to rotalics to emotion-conveying type systems, these fun concepts prove to us that the typographic world is a vast one. Chiselled type creates an air of sophistication, rotalics created a steady rhythm, a custom axis to a variable font makes it much more unique, and so-called “emotional” typefaces can strike a chord with readers with their immediate connotations behind them.

Published by Thomas Rettig


One thought on “Type Concepts

  1. By the way, I have seen some fonts that seemingly have italics, but the italics look like rotalics, somehow. The typeface your reading right now embarrassingly demonstrates this with its flawed italics. November edit: I changed the body text font to Source Serif Pro. More economical. Plus the italics are more spicy.

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