Being a specific form of art, typography has always been coherent with the general progress of art and cultural growth of humanity. This is why the history of western typography reflects the development of art in Europe to a considerable degree. The epoch of Roman Empire, Renaissance, Baroque, and the art of Industrialization period – we can track the traces of each stage of art development in the design of particular typefaces, born during a respective period of time. In fact, the whole history of western typography has always been about the development of new trends, and the revival of ancient techniques of writing and lettering designs.

The below article aims at providing key facts from the history of western typography supplied with modern font examples, which could represent and illustrate the font styles, specific for each stage of typography development.

Today thanks to the rapid development of computer technologies and digital fonts, a new chapter of western typography history is being written. Along with multiple modern fonts, reflecting the modern art ideas, such as graffiti or 3D effects, many font designers still do their best to give new life into ancient scripts, developing professional fonts based on old typography rules and classical typefaces, which have already withstood the test of time.

Modern terminology explains typography as the art or technique, which deals with arranging type, type design, and glyphs appearance. Since this craft had different courses of development in Asian region and in Europe, it is a commonly accepted approach to differentiate Western typography from that formed in other places of the world.

At the dawn of Western Typography

Middle of the 15th century is usually associated with the dawn of the Western typography as the systematic craft. Though the design or appearance of letters had been evolving during many centuries before, it was in the 15th century, when the first types, fonts, and typefaces appeared, owing largely to the rapid development of movable type printing.

The first typefaces, which appeared in Europe, such as D-K type (around 1455) for the first book printed in Europe, had distinct gothic blackletter traits. Bensch Gothic font can now be used to show how those first fruits of Western typography looked like. Later under the influence of typographic traditions and trends in Italy new typefaces were presented: Bastarda, fraktur, rotunda, and Schwabacher. Those typefaces featured distinctive professional design with structurized and highly organized glyphs. Modern computer fonts Stonehenge Regular, Breitkopf Fraktur, Typographer Rotunda, and Schwabacher mimic the appearance of the mentioned medieval typefaces.

Bensch Gothic

Bensch Gothic free font

Stonehenge Regular

Stonehenge Regular free font

Breitkopf Fraktur

Breitkopf Fraktur free font

Typographer Rotunda

Typographer Rotunda free font

Schwabacher

Schwabacher free font

Old Style Types during Middle Ages

The design of inscriptional capitals, found on Roman buildings, formed the background for the next step of Western typography. Structurally appropriate design, angled stresses, contrasting strokes, and serifs became the characteristic features of the traditional typefaces ever developed by Western typography artists.

By the end of the 15th century a Roman type was formed thanks to the works of Nicolas Jenson, Francesco Griffo, and Erhard Radolt. Nowadays, the representatives of Roman typeface family, for example Justus Roman, Grandesign Neue Roman, GalileoFLF-Roman remain among the most popular typefaces, widely used in multiple practical applications.

Justus Roman

Justus Roman free font

Grandesign Neue Roman

Grandesign Neue Roman free font

GalileoFLF-Roman

GalileoFLF-Roman free font

Typography during the Renaissance

The epoch of Renaissance brought a new style of writing, known as “cursiva humanistica”. The slanted glyphs design gave birth to a wide range of Italic or cursive typefaces. A great contribution to the development of Western typography was made by Claude Garamond. He developed the typefaces, known as “Canon de Garamond” and “Petit Canon de Garamond”, which became the prototype for modern Garamond style fonts, such as Apple Garamond, SGaramond Regular, and others.

Apple Garamond

Apple Garamond free font

SGaramond Regular

SGaramond Regular free font

Transition to Modern Style

The 17th and 18th centuries introduced new trends in Western typography: the letters received greater contrast between thick and thin strokes, bracketed serifs turned into fine almost straight lines, and the stressing became vertical. William Caslon, Johann Fleischmann, and John Baskerville made notable contributions to the development of the so-called transitional Roman typefaces. Caslon-Bold, Dustismo Roman Bold, Sanskrit Roman Bold Italic fonts inherit the best traits of this particular tradition in western typography.

Caslon-Bold

Caslon-Bold free font

Dustismo Roman Bold

Dustismo Roman Bold free font

Sanskrit Roman Bold Italic

Sanskrit Roman Bold Italic free font

Western Typography in 19th-20th century

Due to the rapid development of industries in the 19th and 20th century, typography again made a significant step forward. Though experts say that this period was not marked with any novelties in the typefaces design, great progress was made in terms of typographic technology. After the invention of lithography in 1796, typography was popularised over a wide range of applications from newspapers to posters and advertisings.

Modern days of Western Typography

With the appearance of personal computers at the end of the 20th century, a new round of western typography has begun. Now, font designers are no longer limited with the specifications of the metal types, a new font or typeface can be designed in a relatively easy way with the help of specialised computer applications or font editors. Computer fonts are now widely used by every user of personal computer, which gave the push to the appearance and growth of the huge free font repositories in the Internet, such as Fonts2u, where anyone can find a great variety of digital fonts, download them and use in personal documents or designing projects.