by Ilene Strizver
Condensed typefaces may be narrow, but this broad category of type styles has a wide range of uses! Condensed faces are available in both text and display designs, across a diverse spectrum of personalities and functions.
Many of these compact styles include the words “condensed,” “compressed” or “narrow” in their names. This is most often true when the condensed face is part of a type family, or when it’s a companion to a non-condensed version, such as Plantin and ITC Forkbeard, both with companion Condensed versions. There are also many stand-alone condensed designs whose names don't include these descriptors at all, such as ITC Roswell, Compacta and Wanted.
Condensed typefaces are indispensable when space is at a premium, since they allow more words to fit into tight quarters. This is often essential when setting copy for newspapers, directories, annual reports and CD liners. Display copy can also benefit from condensed faces: a headline set in a condensed typeface can usually be set at a larger size, making its message stronger and more eye-catching. Condensed faces can help increase the impact of book covers, magazine headlines, and posters, as well packaging for CDs and DVDs.
Even when saving space is not a primary factor, condensed typefaces are often chosen on their own design merits. Their lean proportions make them appear more stylish and sophisticated than their wider counterparts.
When using a condensed typeface, make sure to keep readability and legibility in mind, as some ultra-condensed designs become difficult to read in large blocks of text. Remember, too, that condensed typefaces need less word spacing than their wider cousins. If the default word spacing is much more than the width of a lowercase ‘n’, you can tighten it up using the settings in your design application.
One warning, though: don’t use your computer to condense a type design. This distorts character shapes and ruins proportions. Stick to true-drawn condensed designs – there are so many to choose from!
- 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, 4th edition, published by Wiley & Sons, Inc. This article was commissioned and approved by Monotype Imaging Inc.