Are printed specimens just fun objects or do they really help sell type?

I always thought printed paper specimens are beautiful things and, as a typographer, I love designing them, studying them, criticizing them, and admiring the work that goes into creating them. As a graphic design student, I loved collecting them.

Realistically, they are expensive to produce and a lot of work to design, though. For those of you who BUY fonts, how do you make your decision? I am willing to guess that you decide online, not based on a specimen you might have received. From those of you who sell fonts over big platforms like MyFonts, FontShop, & co ... did making a printed specimen ever directly help sales? Better yet, do any of you still use the big FontBook?
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  • Kent LewKent Lew Posts: 905
    Or downloadable specimen PDFs? (Typedesigners don’t like these too much anymore but I can tell you that print designers do : )

    Yes! What the heck has happened to PDF specimens lately? Seems like hardly anyone makes them for new releases. I can understand not producing printed specimens except for special circumstances; the cost is quite prohibitive. But I, for one, always look for a PDF. And I am always disappointed when one seems not to be available. Online testers are not a substitute, IMO.


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  • Or downloadable specimen PDFs? (Typedesigners don’t like these too much anymore but I can tell you that print designers do : )
    Oh yes! I forgot about those. Yeah, this is what I provided with my last release. But I have no way of measuring whether this helped. I guess they are a good solution. These super fancy new mini-websites seem to offer almost too much tweaking options (which is fun, but a little gimmicky unless you need to check how a specific word looks in that typeface), and as a designer, sometimes I just need to see a well designed piece of text in use black on white on a paper, without having to design it myself.
  • PabloImpallariPabloImpallari Posts: 544
    edited August 2015
    But I have no way of measuring whether this helped
    Adding a discount coupon to the Pdf? Just an idea
  • Nina StössingerNina Stössinger Posts: 151
    edited August 2015
    What Indra said, but in addition, I will say that when selecting typefaces for (long, printed) text – for instance for a book – I have been very happy to consult actual offset printed samples, as the impression one gets from a laser printed PDF is only very approximate, especially regarding color/weight and texture. From an offset printed sample and (in the next step) my own PDF layouts it is much more possible to “extrapolate” what the actual result can look and feel like. So in such situations, having a printed sample will likely increase my chances of licensing the typeface.
  • I collect every type specimen I come across. I love them. They're also a wonderful way to show paper and ink (as in the highly illustrative House Ind specimens with French Paper Co.) But I would say that it's probably worth it to ensure it's really, really well-designed. A badly designed or boringly designed specimen is going to hinder sales more than help. Re: PDF specimens, I appreciate that FontBureau provides them, but I do wish they weren't so templated, and employed more interesting graphic design.
  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,371
    I appreciate that FontBureau provides them, but I do wish they weren't so templated, and employed more interesting graphic design.
    Does that mean you are more likely to purchase a font that has better graphic design in the sample?  I agree that I am more likely to pay attention to a well designed specimen but I would buy type based on the quality of the type.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,737
    Diana, I don‘t think there are many type buyers here at Type Drawers.

    However, warming to the subject, may I say that my foundry continues to publish the occasional printed piece—primarily for the goody bags of type and design conferences.

    I don’t bother to try and figure out what effect they have.

    I also take out ads in Eye magazine and Slanted, from time to time.

    I continue to produce downloadable PDFs for each Shinntype release, at the 8½" x 11" size, as my primary market is North America.

  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,371
    I also use those specimens to show art directors and other not-as-type-savvy designers the versatility of a typeface.

    Good point!
  • Stephen ColesStephen Coles Posts: 899
    edited August 2015
    Micro/mini/brochure sites dedicated to a particular typeface or collection can be effective, but I think printed objects often stick in the human memory in ways that online promotion does not. More than once, while trying to recall interesting new typefaces, I immediately thought of the specimens I got in the mail or conference goodie bag, rather than any particular website. I imagine this is even more true for someone who isn’t as obsessive about following foundries online.
  • @Veronika Burian Totally! It's the ephemera that's actually not that ephemeral!
    collections of type specimens are a nice piece of history :-)
  • Re: PDF specimens, I appreciate that FontBureau provides them, but I do wish they weren't so templated, and employed more interesting graphic design.
    I love interestingly designed specimen, but I think bland, templated specimen are actually more useful to evaluate a typeface and compare it with others. It may be ideal if a specimen contains both interesting and bland pages!
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,737
    edited August 2015
    I’ve always been fascinated by type specimens as a literary form, when they become a kind of concrete poetry.

    Alphabets to Order by Alastair Johnston of Poltroon Press is a brilliant treatise on this genre in the 19th century.

    I addressed the subject in my specimen for FF Oneleigh of 1999 (which was printed), including a short essay on page 2.
  • attarattar Posts: 209
    edited August 2015
    At Production Type, each printed specimen includes an essay (there are also simple black-on-white PDF specimens available for each typeface so as to make print runs before buying, which is a distinct thing). I'm told that the people who buy the printed specimens are dominantly not those who buy the fonts: they are people who like nice objects connected to design, or e.g. design students that seek information on the subject that the specimen tackles (it includes an exhaustive synthesis on their subject and also provides a bibliography for further research).
    For the foundry, I think they're not just cool objects to produce but they also help reaching more people.
  • Stephen ColesStephen Coles Posts: 899
    edited August 2015
    the people who buy the printed specimens are dominantly not those who buy the fonts

    But these people are often influencers for those who do buy fonts.

  • I love interestingly designed specimen, but I think bland, templated specimen are actually more useful to evaluate a typeface and compare it with others.

    What I find useful in any (print/web/PDF) specimen is if they show a realistic combination of styles such as continuous text with some words or sentences in italic/corresponding bold weights/small caps.

    Many ‘templated’ PDF specimens fail to show this. They show strictly one style each, and it doesn’t help the buyer judge how the styles in a typeface work together.

    We started producing printed specimens in 2011, and we see our recognition grow since. But as Veronica says it is hard to say how it directly relates to font sales.



  • I think “templated” specimens really mostly make it easy to compare the typeface with others that use the same template – ie, if you’re trying to decide between various offerings from the same foundry. If that’s not the case (which in my personal experience has been more frequent), and you’re looking at different templates, you might as well be looking at individual layouts -- which could be better at individually presenting the typeface in an ideal way.
  • Alex VisiAlex Visi Posts: 132
    Found this thread while thinking about whether PDF specimens (the ones which show all possible sizes and weights etc.) are needed at all and if so – for what. And I’m surprised nobody mentioned just the number of clicks on the Download Specimen button on the website, which would be super easy to measure, and to some degree even relate to purchases, if an email is requested. Could anyone share some data or thoughts on that now? I think it’s still an interesting topic :smile:
  • André G. IsaakAndré G. Isaak Posts: 559
    edited September 1
    Laura Worthington (for example) usually provides links to her .pdf specimens on MyFonts.com, but I've noticed that quite a few type designers have nice .pdf specimens available on their own sites, but don't provide links to these on resellers like MyFonts.com. If such specimens do increase sales, designers should probably considering linking to them as widely as possible.
  • Back in the day, printed specimen sheets also helped sell paper. It's possible that partnering with a paper salesperson night prove mutually advantageous.
  • A specific subset of people really want/need PDf specimen, but they will not make your typeface sell well on their own. It’s just an additional tool for certain designers to see and test the typeface before buying.
  • I buy fonts, Latin fonts, though I have made some in the past. The Hebrew fonts I use, which appear in much of my work, I make myself.

    For us book designers—or anyone who handles lengthy texts—seeing text types put through their paces is essential for deciding on type purchases. We need to judge a type’s range of usable sizes, how it justifies in typical line lengths, how its color reacts with various leading, and most importantly get a sense of its internal spacing. A word space set to an inappropriate width can ruin one’s view of the whole thing, though it can be fixed easily. It has to be seen in print, and while I respect Nina Stössinger’s point of view, I feel it is possible to make a judgment based on laser prints made from PDFs—if you have the right kind of laser printer with real Adobe PostScript, one which you know from experience will deliver a result that is a reasonable predictor of how the type will look in offset printing. (I currently use a Xerox 6510.) Such specimens may be boring to some, but it’s what they need to be. 

    Why make text fonts if you don’t show how they perform in texts? Indra is quite correct: print people want to see specimens. In the world of text, function supersedes style—which is not to say that style doesn’t matter, but to try to sell a text type in the same way one sells a display type is a serious mistake. Some potential buyers won’t take it seriously, they’ll pass it by. For me, at least, it is even more true for sans serif types than for, say, Old Style types. Perhaps it’s because there’s less to catch my eye in just a small number of letters. There are also too many of them—more than anyone can digest. Sites like MyFonts simply don’t work for text types, unless you’ve come to buy something you saw in print elsewhere.

    These decisions cannot be made online, neither can they be made from cleverly designed printed pieces or PDFs that don’t show paragraphs and full pages. Book designers might not be the most prolific buyers of fonts, but if use is measured in linear meters, we are the most prolific users.

  • Back in the day, printed specimen sheets also helped sell paper. It's possible that partnering with a paper salesperson night prove mutually advantageous.
    I gather there is a long tradition of paper companies and type designers having co-marketing arrangements. I think entire books and specimen books have sometimes been sponsored by paper companies.

    I am trying to think of one calligraphic type designer in particular, who passed away at least 5 years ago, maybe 10?….
  • Craig EliasonCraig Eliason Posts: 1,162
    I gather there is a long tradition of paper companies and type designers having co-marketing arrangements. I think entire books and specimen books have sometimes been sponsored by paper companies.

    I am trying to think of one calligraphic type designer in particular, who passed away at least 5 years ago, maybe 10?….
    Doyald Young?
  • Craig EliasonCraig Eliason Posts: 1,162
    Online typetesters themselves won't obviate the need of somebody who wants to evaluate text fonts, but free trial fonts might. The latter are admittedly more of a hassle to convert into text than a ready-to-print pdf, but offer the benefit of complete customizability. 
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