Skip to main content

FF Scala® Sans

By FontFont

Martin Majoor
FF Scala: a perfectly equipped font family group, for more than just text setting
In the mid-1980s, Martin Majoor worked as a designer for the Vredenburg Music Center in the Dutch city of Utrecht. At that time, one of the relatively new DTP systems was available to him. However, none of the only 16 installed PostScript fonts could satisfy his professional demands for text setting. He did not have any old style figures, for example, or small caps or ligatures. Majoor decided to compensate for this lack with his own font, Scala. The font was released in 1991 as the first real text font from the newly formed FontShop. A few years later, a sans companion was added and subsequently the font became a continuously growing super family. Today, FF Scala®, FF Scala® Sans and the ornamental font FF Scala® Jewel are available as well-equipped OpenType fonts, and not only for text setting.

FF Scala Sans
The sans serif variant, which appeared a few years after the FF Scala, not only opened up new applications for the font, but also increased greatly the popularity of the Scala family.
Martin Majoor did not simply remove the serifs from FF Scala, however. He revised every single character. The most striking result is the reduced stroke width, adapted to a sans. All the same, the characteristic, sharp forms reminiscent of a fountain pen remain in FF Scala Sans. The same applies to the dynamic forms of the italic, which are similar to the Antiqua cursive, unusually diverse and energetic for a sans.
In addition to the two Regular and Bold weights, which harmonize with FF Scala, Majoor also designed the leaner Light and the bolder Black, each with a matching italic. The Condensed styles are also included for the upright, middle weights, familiar from the Antiqua, as well as the hand pictograms.

This graceful sans serif humanist font may have a recent design history, but its roots go all the way back to the late 1700s. The FF Scala Sans’ font is a companion font to the FF Scala’ font, both created by Dutch designer Martin Majoor in the early 1990s. They were designed for the Vredenberg Music Center, a concert hall in Utecht in the designer’s native Netherlands. The name Scala refers to the famous Teatro alla Scala, a beautiful and very famous theatre in Naples Italy that was first designed and built in 1776. It has been home to many famous performers including opera singer Maria Callas, orchestra conductor Arturo Toscanini and ballet dancer Rudolph Nureyev.

FF Scala Sans History

The old style FF Scala Sans font began in 1990 when its original FF Scala font was designed for the Vredenberg Music Center by Martin Majoor. Designer Majoor explains that the name was informed by the fact that he was designing it for a concert hall and that the font itself has its roots in the same time period that the Teatro alla Scala was built, the late 1700s. He points to the first vertically-stressed typefaces, those of designer P.S. Fourneir as his principle influence on the design of the FF Scala.

The font was designed with the concept that the new digital design technologies would open up novel possibilities for font design. This first version was released by FontShop International as their very first serious font and was soon followed up in 1993 by FF Scala Sans to give designers a sans font in companion to the original FF Scala font.

When discussing the design philosophy behind the two fonts, Majoor explained that what he wanted to create was the basic principle of “two typefaces, one form principle” that he felt was central to all font design. The FF Scala Sans font was designed by basically cutting off the serifs and lowering the contrast. The addition of the FF Scala Jewel, a decorative variety of all capitals that was released in 1997 rounded out the family of fonts.

The FF Scala family includes Regular, Italic, Bold, Bold-Italic, Condensed, Bold-Condensed. The FF Scala Sans family includes Regular, Italic, Bold, Bold-Italic, Condensed, Bold-Condensed, Light, Light-Italic, Black, Black-Italic, Scala Hands. FF Scala Sans is the first ever sans serif font with italic small caps.

Popular for books, FF Scala in all three fonts styles (Scala, Scala Sans, and Jewel) was used in the publication of Mechanical Brides: Women and Machines from Home to Office by Ellen Lupton and Design Writing Research: Deconstruction and Graphic Design by Ellen Lupton and J. Abbott Miller. It was also used as the titling for the type specimen publication 5 Dutch Designers by Just van Rossum in 1990.

Because of the initial concept of the font design for a music gallery, the font has been adopted by many players in the European art world, among them noted British designer Tony Arefin who used it in publications for East London’s Chisenhale Gallery. In media publications, the most notable is the use of both the FF Scala and FF Scala Sans fonts in the second highest circulation newspaper in Netherlands, Algemeen Dagbland. I was also used as a font for one of the credit lines in the film “Thank You For Smoking”.

In addition, the official Dutch airlines, DLM uses all three FF Scala fonts for its logo and all of its literature. In another type of transportation use, the Los Angeles Metro uses Scala for all of its signage.

Sans Serif