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By Linotype

Hermann Zapf
Optima was designed by Hermann Zapf and is his most successful typeface. In 1950, Zapf made his first sketches while visiting the Santa Croce church in Florence. He sketched letters from grave plates that had been cut about 1530, and as he had no other paper with him at the time, the sketches were done on two 1000 lire bank notes.
These letters from the floor of the church inspired Optima, a typeface that is classically roman in proportion and character, but without serifs. The letterforms were designed in the proportions of the Golden Ratio. In 1952, after careful legibility testing, the first drawings were finished.
The type was cut by the famous punchcutter August Rosenberger at the D. Stempel AG typefoundry in Frankfurt. Optima was produced in matrices for the Linotype typesetting machines and released in 1958. With the clear, simple elegance of its sans serif forms and the warmly human touches of its tapering stems, this family has proved popular around the world. Optima is an all-purpose typeface; it works for just about anything from book text to signage. It is available in 12 weights and 4 companion fonts with Central European characters and accents.
In 2002, more than 50 years after the first sketches, Hermann Zapf and Akira Kobayashi completed Optima nova , an expansion and redesign of the Optima family."

In 1950, Zapf was researching Italian typeface design at the Basilica di Santa Croce, in Florence, and happened upon an ancient Roman gravestone that would have been missed by most tourists and casual observers. The letters cut into the gravestone were unusual in that they lacked the traditional serifs. These delighted Zapf and appealed to his classic sense of design. The problem was that he had run out of drawing paper just prior to finding the gravestone. As a result, the first sketches for Optima were made on a 1,000-lire bank note.

Zapf worked on the design, refining character shapes and proportions for two years before he turned final drawings over to Stempel’s master punchcutter, who made the first test font. This was in 1952; however, because making fonts in metal was much more complicated and time-consuming than making fonts using current digital tools, it wasn’t until 1958 that Optima was made available as handset metal fonts. Matrices for the Linotype® typesetter took even more time and these were not made available until two years later.

True to its Roman heritage, Optima has wide, full-bodied characters – especially in the capitals. Only the E, F and L deviate with narrow forms. Consistent with other Zapf designs, the cap S in Optima appears slightly top-heavy with a slight tilt to the right. The M is splayed, and the N, like a serif design, has light vertical strokes. The lowercase a and g in Optima are two-storied designs.

Encyclopedia Britannica®, 1989, Vol 29, p. 1028
Alphabet Stories by Hermann Zapf. RIT Cary Graphic Arts Press. 2007

Optima can be set within a wide choice of line spacing values, from very tight to very open. For example, Zapf once created an exceptionally lovely and highly readable book using Optima set nine on 24 point.

Optima also benefits from a wide range of letterspacing capability. The design can be set quite tight, with spacing as established by Linotype, or even letter spaced. If there are any guidelines, Optima should be set more open than tight. It’s not that readability is affected much when Optima is set on the snug side; it’s just that the unhurried elegance and light gray color created by the face are disrupted by letters that are set too tight.

Optima is not the first serifless roman typeface. The Stellar typeface, designed by R. Hunter Middleton for the Ludlow Typograph Company in 1929, predates it by several decades. This face, however, makes a stronger calligraphic statement and was limited to display usage.

In 1960, José Mendoza drew the Pascal™ typeface for the Amsterdam type foundry – a design that clearly was influenced by Zapf’s earlier work. Other newer designs that pay homage to Optima are the Mentor™ Sans face, by Michael Harvey, and the Augusta™ Cursiva design, by Jean-Renaud Cuaz.

Perhaps one of the most notable uses of the Optima typeface is on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. for the etching of the names of veterans into the wall – meant to last as well as be read.

Optima is used to convey classic ideals as well as current trends. For example, it is used by skin care giant Estée Lauder as its official typeface design. Optima is also used by the Traveller™ science fiction role-playing games.

Optima is the company logo for the British retailer, Marks & Spencer, which also uses the typeface on administrative computers in their stores. Notable media coverage includes the use of Optima in John McCain’s campaign for the 2008 U.S. presidential election.

Humanistic Sans
Sans Serif
#13 in Best Sellers