Matthew Carter has been refining his design for Alisal for so long, he says, that when he was asked to complete the design for the Monotype Library, it was almost as if he were doing a historical revival of his own typeface. The illusion even extended to changes in his work process: although he now does all his preliminary and final drawing on screen, the first trial renderings of Alisal were done as pencil renderings.
Alisal is best classified as an Italian old style design. Originally created between the late 15th and mid-16th centuries in northern Italy, the true Italian old styles were some of the first roman types. They tend to be the most calligraphic of serifed faces, with the axis of their curved strokes inclined to the left, as if drawn with a flat-tipped pen or brush. These designs offer sturdy, free-flowing and heavily bracketed serifs, short descenders, and a modest contrast in stroke weight.
Alisal has nearly all the classic Italian old style character traits, plus a few quirks of its own. It is calligraphic in nature, with more of a pen-drawn quality than faces like Palatino or Goudy Old Style. It is more rough-hewn than either Goudy’s Kennerley or Benton’s Cloister, and is generally heavier in weight than most of the other Italian old style designs. One place where Alisal makes a clean break with traditional old style designs is in the serifs. While sturdy and clearly reflecting pen-drawn strokes, Alisal’s serifs have no bracketing and appear to be straight strokes crossing the main vertical.
Like Caslon or Trajanus, Alisal is a handsome design when viewed as a block of copy. Ascenders are tall and elegant, and serve as a counterpoint to the robust strength of the rest of the design. Alisal is available as a small family of roman and bold with a complementary italic for the basic roman weight, providing all that is needed for the majority of text typography.