What are 'true italics'?

13

Comments

  • Ray LarabieRay Larabie Posts: 676
    I feel like there was backlash against mechanical slanting in the 1990s up until recently as a reaction to application slanting and autoslanted typefaces that appeared in early DTP days. I think the association of mechanical slanting with cheapness is that's what fueled the shoehorning of sans serif italic affectations such as extra descenders, monocular a and g, looped e etc. Sometimes it worked but other times it was a style clash with the upright. Now I can look back at it and it seems like a silly fad. I think a similar kind of thing is happening now with optical slanting vs mechanical slanting. Not too long ago, I would make a technical grotesque like a DIN and optically slant it because mechanical slanting is consider lazy. But now optical slanting for some typefaces looks wrong to me. The are situations, DIN for example, where a mechanical slant looks better than an optical slant. Has anyone else noticed this?
  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 994
    The big difference comes with sans serif.  It used to be normal for a sans "italic" to be slanted roman.  Now, that is looked upon with a turned up nose.  People reading the original Univers knew exactly what it meant when they saw slanted text--they knew it functioned immediately as italic.  Why do we need hard and fast rules on such things? Nomenclature is different than function.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,193
    Indeed.

    Quite apart from letter shape, one interesting development of the didone italic in the mid 19th century was its similar weight and width to the roman. In comparison, the older styles and the transitionals had narrower italics that were lighter in weight. 

    Also, the more flourished letters (notably v and w in Baskerville, and some of its caps) were outmoded.


  • The big difference comes with sans serif.  It used to be normal for a sans "italic" to be slanted roman.  Now, that is looked upon with a turned up nose.
    Well, to be fair, it used to be normal for a sans "italic" to be a slanted roman plus optical corrections. I believe the simple slanted roman per se has never been terribly common, apart from faux italics created by operating systems.

    Those are a somewhat different animal, as the operating systems seem to apply approximately a 20° slant for faux italics, while real italics tend to have half as much slant, but also have at least optical corrections, and usually some structural differences.

    As long as the optical corrections are present, and there’s no two-story italic a, I am not bothered by slanted romans. Perhaps call them modified slanted romans. The slanted two-story a just looks awful to me, though.  :)

    I am seeing a faux italic while entering this, for extra amusement. Oh, and the last revival I worked on has a modified slanted roman for an italic... but still has a two-story a, which bugs me no end. Oh well!
  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 994
    Thomas, I assumed that the slant would be optically corrected.  The Univers metal type I used to use and set was optically corrected. I do LOVE the 2 story a though in Univers and many other well done sans. What I am talking about is the need for some people to make absolute definitions of what something should be whether it works or not.  I doubt very much that you and I [as well as many others] would agree on what works or not but I would never discourage anybody from trying whatever they like even if it sounds crazy to me.  I am talking about original designs, Revivals are a totally different story.  If a person sets out to do a revival, then they are more bound to reflect the original. What I hate are the type rules that are like "NEVER wear white after Labor Day" and just  seem like they were written by control freaks.
  • Hrant H. PapazianHrant H. Papazian Posts: 932
    edited October 9
    One of my favorite font stories:
    Treacy's Arrow typeface was originally released with a slanted-Roman for an Italic. Eventually that was replaced with a "true" Italic. Well, his customers went into an uproar! They wanted the original back. He ended up providing both.
  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 1,239
    edited October 9
    Tom,
    Well, to be fair, it used to be normal for a sans "italic" to be a slanted roman plus optical corrections. I believe the simple slanted roman per se has never been terribly common, apart from faux italics created by operating systems.
    In Type 1 days, some fonts that used the PostScript slant operator for italics. I remember when Linotype sent me the Type 1 Helvetica fonts as source materials for Linotype Helvetica (later Helvetica World), I was surprised to open the italic fonts in FontLab and discover the actual glyph outlines were upright.
    _____

    On the subject of 'true italics', I don't think italics need cursive letter construction, but I do think they can benefit from employing single-storey a and g, which can of course have non-cursive construction even in upright type, as Futura demonstrates. This hybrid approach seems to me under-utilised.
  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 140
    While I've noted myself that the usual practice with italic versions of sans-serif typefaces is for them to be slanted versions of the normal version, some of the comments here on this issue have inspired even myself, merely an interested layperson in this field, to say "Whoa!".

    It's not as if all sans-serif typefaces are the same. Helvetica isn't Futura, and neither of those is Gill Sans. Since there are very different styles of sans-serif typeface, for some of them, optical correction is necessary for the italic, and for others its benefits will be limited; for some of them, single-story a and g will be appropriate, and for others, those modified letterforms will be out of place. (As noted, in the case of Futura, they wouldn't be a modification.)

    There isn't one best way to italicize a sans-serif typeface, although there can certainly be examples of typefaces that were italicized the wrong way for that particular typeface.

    Since sans-serif doesn't necessarily mean monoline, one could even reach further. While a slanted italic was still appropriate even for Optima (which isn't, perhaps, strictly sans-serif), I would not categorically exclude the possibility that a sans-serif typeface could be designed to resemble conventional Roman serif typefaces to such an extent that a cursive italic would be the appropriate match for it.
  • The are situations, DIN for example, where a mechanical slant looks better than an optical slant. Has anyone else noticed this?
    Can't speak for other designers, Ray, but I did a squarish modular technical sans (Center) and found almost every optical correction I tried made the italic look worse. In the end, the italic I released was almost pure mechanical slanting, with just a bit of tweaking on a few items like the bowl of /a.
  • Optical corrections are highly overrated.
  • Optical corrections are highly overrated.
    You should apply for work at contemporary Swiss foundries.
  • That was tongue in cheek, hhp-way.

  • Ben BlomBen Blom Posts: 200
    On the subject of 'true italics', I don't think italics need cursive letter construction, but I do think they can benefit from employing single-storey a and g, which can of course have non-cursive construction even in upright type, as Futura demonstrates. This hybrid approach seems to me under-utilised.

    I would say that this hybrid approach is over-utilized in sans serif fonts. Why?

    In the serif tradition, italics usually have a cursive construction, and usually differ significantly from the corresponding upright. A serif italic “a” is usually single-storey, unlike a serif upright “a” which is usually double-storey. In the original sans serif tradition, italics usually look like the corresponding upright, except for being slanted (with or without optical correction). In this original sans tradition, both an italic and upright “a” are usually double-storey.

    Mixing traditions can generate interesting hybrids, but some hybrids are not a good idea. The introduction of a single-storey “a” in a sans italic, is not a good idea, because it reduces the font’s legibility—due to its similarity to “o”. (Because of the usual cursive construction of a serif italic, its “a” and “o” are dissimilar enough to prevent such a reduction of legibility.)

    In the last 25 years or so, marketeers, educators, opinion leaders, or fashionistas, spread the new gospel of the sans italic “a”: a sans italic “a” should be single-storey—otherwise the font in question is inferior and not a real italic. However, in a sans, a single-storey “a” is not a benefit, but a disadvantage.

    Comparison between Futura Oblique and Avenir Oblique:

  • Hrant H. PapazianHrant H. Papazian Posts: 932
    edited October 12
    Ben Blom said:
    In the serif tradition, italics usually have a cursive construction, and usually differ significantly from the corresponding upright.
    Let's fix that too.
  • Ray LarabieRay Larabie Posts: 676
    When the sans italic has zigzag rhythm, the single storey a makes sense. Let's say the upright looks like Helvetica where the n shoulder connects to the stem near the top. In the italic, the n shoulder is more angular and connects near the bottom of the stem. If the rest of the italic letters follow that zigzag classic italic pattern then of course a single storey a might be appropriate. But if the letterforms are essentially slanted uprights, having those anomalous changes to a few letters looks wack. And as Ben said, harder to read.

    I think the practice of replacing the a with, essentially a truncated d, slanting and optically correcting the result is very much a 2000s type of look. If think if anyone's reading this thread in the 2030s, they're already starting to see this italic style used for nostalgic purposes.

    Also: the looped e, f with descender, monocular g (when the upright g is binocular), superfluous tails, shorter hooks on f and j. I used to do these types of italic hacks because I saw it done in popular fonts in the 2000s...figured that what I was supposed to do. But it is wack to the nth degree.
  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 140
    Ben Blom said:
    In the serif tradition, italics usually have a cursive construction, and usually differ significantly from the corresponding upright.
    Let's fix that too.
    Although slanted Roman is generally regarded as inferior, it certainly is true that it has no fundamental problems with legibility, and it can "work".

    However, that isn't enough to get me to agree that the traditional preference for the cursive type of italic is something that needs "fixing". What people are used to is what is most readable, for good or ill.

    But while I can't endorse a call to change the preference or the default choice, I'm happy to agree that it's beneficial to experiment with alternatives, so that more choices become available to typeface designers.
  • The issue with conventional (= overly cursive) Italics isn't readability, it's that since they "differ significantly from the corresponding upright" they inescapably convey a very different message than the Roman, which the person who chose that Roman presumably wants to convey.
  • Ben BlomBen Blom Posts: 200
    edited October 12

    In the serif tradition—defining both uprights and italics to be part of the same font family, while having little or no family resemblance, is a weird “act of history”. Still, I consider this tradition to be a very respectable one. However, this doesn’t mean it should be a model for other traditions.

    Another example of an unsuccessful mix of traditions (Verb):

  • Hrant H. PapazianHrant H. Papazian Posts: 932
    edited October 12
    If people didn't want Italics to send a different message from Roman, they would just use Roman. The flavor of the Italics is part of the flavor of a serif typeface. A bad Italic is a good reason to reject a serif typeface for a project.
    The best "flavor" suitable for an Italic is simply to mark emphasis, not to appear more informal, organic, fluid, etc. Because the emphasized word doesn't necessarily need that; in fact it's likely to backfire, because what it probably does need is to maintain the mood of the Roman, since that's what the designer explicitly chose.

    A good reason to reject a serif typeface for a project is that it has a primadonna Italic that doesn't know its job. Considering why people generally hit the Italic button, that is what's a bad Italic.

    The best way to view this Aldine shotgun wedding of expediency is as an accident, so we avoid it in the future.

    Christian Thalmann said:
    it would greatly impoverish and cheapen a serif typeface.
    There is a deeper, functional richness than this garish, shrill thing we've simply grown complacent towards.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,193
    And we haven’t even discussed capitals yet.

    Of course, “true” italic capitals are exactly the same as the roman, which is how Aldo Manutio and Carl Dair did it! https://www.fontspring.com/fonts/shinntype/dair/dair-67-italic

    Bruce Rogers, on the other hand, was not averse to setting great swaths of text almost entirely in swash capitals.
  • Christian ThalmannChristian Thalmann Posts: 966
    edited October 12

    The best "flavor" suitable for an Italic is simply to mark emphasis, not to appear more informal, organic, fluid, etc. Because the emphasized word doesn't necessarily need that; in fact it's likely to backfire, because what it probably does need is to maintain the mood of the Roman, since that's what the designer explicitly chose.
    For some applications, a «primadonna Italic» is exactly what the designer wants. If not, there are certainly plenty of serif fonts with quiet Italics close to their Romans (such as Traction, as it happens).

    In any case, a little bit of objective informality and humanism is expected in a serif Italic simply by force of habit and does not have the «shrill, garish effect» (a classical Hrantian hyperbole) you mention on most readers. Cochin Italic is a different thing entirely, of course.
  • Hrant H. PapazianHrant H. Papazian Posts: 932
    edited October 12
    Christian Thalmann said:
    For some applications, a «primadonna Italic» is exactly what the designer wants.
    Yes, everything is useful sometimes; but "what the designer wants" is exactly Art, versus Design, that leads to affectations such as "upright Italic". Now, if a client commissions such an attribute, that's Design. But as a default for an Italic, cursiveness is an impoverished romanticism.
    In any case, a little bit of objective informality and humanism is expected in a serif Italic simply by force of habit
    Type designers are the front line in correcting that nasty habit.
  • But as a default for an Italic, cursiveness is an impoverished romanticism.
    I disagree. Cursiveness is no more inherently weird than bicamerality, old-style figures, or serifs.

    For someone so vehemently opposed to the Latinization of other scripts, you sure seem strangely intent on erasing Latin's idiosyncrasies.

  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 140
    The best "flavor" suitable for an Italic is simply to mark emphasis, not to appear more informal, organic, fluid, etc.
    That is a valid point.

    But it's also true that because people are used to the kind of italics we have with Roman typefaces, a sloped one instead will convey a message that isn't wanted; it will remind them of certain badly drawn typefaces that happen to have such italics.

    But I think we're getting into a completely different debate here: whether the function of the type designer is to serve Art and educate the public, or whether it is to do what his customers want and put food on the table. I would like to submit that there's only one answer to that question, and that's to do at least a little of both; if a balance is not found, either one fails to serve Art because what one does is forgotten in obscurity, or one turns a creative endeavor into drudgery and even prostitution.
  • Christian Thalmann said:
    Cursiveness is no more inherently weird than bicamerality, old-style figures, or serifs.

    For someone so vehemently opposed to the Latinization of other scripts, you sure seem strangely intent on erasing Latin's idiosyncrasies.

    There are indeed many things to improve (not erase). We can each pick some battles (the [mis]alignment of OS nums happens to be another one of mine, but having more than one case and serifs are both blessings) and not merely perpetuate problems for ideological or material convenience.

    BTW, just like cursiveness, Latinization has its place. Just not as a default.
  • Hrant H. PapazianHrant H. Papazian Posts: 932
    edited October 12
    John Savard said:
    because people are used to the kind of italics we have with Roman typefaces, a sloped one instead will convey a message that isn't wanted; it will remind them of certain badly drawn typefaces that happen to have such italics.
    There is a point to that. But I think laymen are fundamentally not like us there. Observe how often they h-flip the "A" for example*. Also, it's part of our duty to accept some discomfort for the sake of long-term improvement.

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/48413419@N00/15937797580/in/pool-altcontrast/
    But I think we're getting into a completely different debate here: whether the function of the type designer is to serve Art and educate the public, or whether it is to do what his customers want and put food on the table. I would like to submit that there's only one answer to that question, and that's to do at least a little of both; if a balance is not found, either one fails to serve Art because what one does is forgotten in obscurity, or one turns a creative endeavor into drudgery and even prostitution.
    Conceded.
  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 1,239
    I don't at all insist that an italic needs to be cursive, although that's certainly a) valid and b) historically the source of italic. The point to me is that italic is a secondary style — not secondary in the sense of subordinate — used for a number of aspects of textual differentiation and articulation. As a secondary style, I would say that the primary characteristic of italic is that it shares a similar weight and texture — and hence spatial frequency — to the roman style, so can be incorporated into blocks of roman text without either drawing the eye or forcing a change in spatial frequency tuning, as using bold as a secondary style would.

    So in terms of this characteristic, a sloped roman or an italic are both viable typographic options for a secondary style in the roles that 'italic' performs. But note my terminology: I don't say that a sloped roman is a viable italic, because I consider a sloped roman to be a thing in itself, not an italic. And when I refer to 'italic' with the quote marks, I refer to the typographic roles traditionally taken by italic, not to the style of type fulfilling those roles (remember that on typewriters, those roles were regularly fulfilled by underlining). And when I refer to viable typographic options I mean just that: options in the design and layout of text, in which context sloped roman and italic might not be alternative nominal italics found in different typefaces, but things that are both useful. [Somewhere around here I have an English translation of an Iranian novel set in my early Manticore typeface, which uses both italic and sloped roman — the latter mechanically slanted so suffering some distortions — for different aspects of the text, alongside the primary roman style.]

    The use of secondary styles in textual differentiation and articulation isn't limited to Latin or even to European script typography. Lots of text traditions around the world have developed conventional systems of mixed styles, and not all of them differentiate the same kinds of information or use a formal/cursive construction distinction. Notably, though, simply slanting one style to create a secondary style does not seem to have been a common practice anywhere. Why? Because from a design perspective slant is not an after-effect applied to a form, it is part of the making of a form, and it influences other aspects of the form, such as horizontal compression, modulation patterns and axis, etc..
  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 140

    BTW, just like cursiveness, Latinization has its place. Just not as a default.
    My position is that I agree with you that there's no need to Latinize Armenian, but I disagree with the idea that Cyrillic letterforms should go back to what existed before Peter the Great.

    The Cyrillic letter shapes are sufficiently closely related to those of the Latin alphabet and of Greek, at least in the upper case, that the whole Latin alphabet apparatus of typefaces, lettering styles, and script styles really belongs as naturally to the Cyrillic script as to the Latin script.

    The traditional Armenian typeface often appeared either entirely in italics, or with the lower case in italics - slanted italics, not cursive. Instead of simply accepting yours as an outsider's perspective, I suppose one could (hopefully, in jest) try to make the claim that out of revenge for Latinization, perhaps this proposal for italics is an attempt to Armenianize the Latin script!

    In the typesetting of mathematics, occasionally the capital letters from Fraktur are used as symbols. Also, script - the default Spencerian kind - is sometimes used for certain purposes. This is perhaps a function of what happens to be lying around the printing office in any case, so as to avoid delays or extra expense as new characters are cut and cast.

    First, the Aldine press typeset entire books in italics so as to save space, and allow the printing of inexpensive compact editions. (Presumably, if they knew better back then, they would have come up with something like Corona.)

    Then this alternate typeface that they happened to have lying around got used for emphasis as an alternative to letterspacing - which is what was used before, and then continued to be used with Fraktur.

    And so we see in typefaces like Caslon and Baskerville that the italics are much narrower than the Roman.

    That needed fixing, and it got fixed.

    I've felt that there is a mismatch in the conventional serif typefaces for Greek between an upper case that looks much like that of Roman and a highly cursive lower case. Given the history of Greece, the proper development of Greek typography was interrupted, and Porson Greek was developed by people who didn't speak Greek as their own language, but who wanted something useful for studying the classics, the New Testament, and for use in mathematical formulas. So it's plausible that it could be flawed.

    The Latin script, on the other hand, has been in the hands of a number of wealthy and powerful nations, and enjoys dominance. Which means that its users haven't been denied the opportunity to develop it according to their preferences. And there are subtle differences between English, French, Italian, and Polish typography which would seem to serve as evidence that there has been the opportunity to try out different approaches.

    Right now, slanted italics for Roman typefaces most commonly occur under two particular circumstances: typefaces designed by people who are native speakers of Chinese or Japanese, or printing done digitally where slanting the letters to make an italic saves having a second typeface template present. So they have a bad reputation.

    None of this really negates your point that the use of a different script form as a basis for italics brings in extraneous context.

    At one time, again, for convenience in limiting the number of fonts a printing shop would have to buy, a Scotch Roman might have used a Clarendon as its boldface instead of a bold version of the same typeface. Looking at the bold versions of, say, Baskerville and Times Roman, though, even though in both cases there are definite changes making their bold versions different from what you would get due to, say, double-printing with offset, as was done to make bold with daisywheel printers once upon a time, the differences are much less than are the case with italics.

    Thus, I think you could have a point in an abstract sense, even if, in the concrete world of existing script users and their ingrained preferences, there is both limited opportunity for change and limited urgency for change.
  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 1,239
    edited October 13
    The traditional Armenian typeface often appeared either entirely in italics, or with the lower case in italics - slanted italics, not cursive.
    No. Traditional Armenian formal text style included slanted letters. That doesn't make it italic in any sense of that word: it isn't derived from models of chancery cursive construction, it isn't performing any of the secondary differentiation or articulation roles of italic in Latin typography, and it ain't from Italy.

    It makes no more sense to describe traditional slanted Armenian letters as italic than it does to describe traditional slanted Tamil letters as italic. These are distinct scripts with their own textual cultures.

    Frankly, I don't think the term italic should properly be applied beyond Latin, even to related secondary styles in Cyrillic and Greek, and do so only for convenience and in context of making font families with nominal Italic fonts.
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