By Ilene Strizver
The forceful visual presence of blackletter typestyles evolved from the early handwritten forms of liturgical writings and illuminated manuscripts. Blackletter was an elegant solution to a tricky design problem: parchment was precious and economy of space was vital, but the text also had to have sufficient oomph to hold its own against the spectacular illustrations surrounding it.
Blackletter also gets credit for inaugurating the whole technology of type. It was used to set the Gutenberg Bible, the first book printed with moveable type.
Blackletter typefaces, sometimes referred to as Gothic or Old English, are characterized by a dense black texture and highly decorated caps. The lowercase consists of narrow, angular forms with dramatic thick-to-thin strokes and serifs. They are highly stylized, yet legible.
Some blackletter fonts are authentic revivals, such as Fette Fraktur and Old English. Some, like Crusader or Blackmoor, have a distressed texture that suggests the passage of centuries. Lucida Blackletter offers a simplified, modernized interpretation of the style.
These medieval-looking typefaces have a surprising array of contemporary uses. They can express the creepy and magical in book covers, posters, CD packaging, movie titles and Halloween graphics. They also exude gravitas in diplomas, award certificates and historical graphics. While originally used for text, blackletter typestyles are best saved for dramatic headline and display usage.
- Editor’s Note: Ilene Strizver, founder of The Type Studio, is a typographic consultant, designer and writer specializing in all aspects of typographic communication. She conducts Gourmet Typography workshops internationally. Read more about typography in her latest literary effort, Type Rules! The designer's guide to professional typography, 3rd edition, published by Wiley & Sons, Inc. This article was commissioned and approved by Monotype Imaging Inc.