Stem Weight Evolution

I see that fonts designed in recent years particularly for newspaper and magazine use, but not only, have heavier stems compared to fonts designed 20 or more years before. Why is that?


  • Another thing, We heard a lot as we were outfitting news publications with fonts for PostScript 1992-04, that their readerships were aging. Older people seem to like bolder text.
  • Dave, have you ever had customers with younger readers request lighter versions of fonts?
  • I can't speak about now, but historically stem weights have changed, getting lighter or darker depending on typographic trends and changes in foundry/printing technology. In general, improvements in technology tended to make things lighter (harder press beds, smoother paper, pump-fed casters, pantographic engraving, photo-typesetting, hd screens) and social/cultural influences made them heavier (advertising, revivalism, legibility studies, designers).
  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 2,069
    Antialiased rendering favours heavier stem weights, because this is the primary means by which good stroke density can be achieved in greyscale and colour subpixel environments. Lighter stems will tend to grey-out or fuzz-out.
  • Interesting observation Jackson, but is that more true of hairline weights than stem weights?
  • edited January 2014
    It's more true, or at least way more important, in hairlines and fine details, yes.
  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 2,069
    edited January 2014
  • James, we have never had a customer with younger readers request lighter versions of fonts.

  • Would be nice to see a chart like for this changing over time :)
  • Patrick GriffinPatrick Griffin Posts: 61
    edited January 2014
    Most older text fonts digitized during the gold rush of the 1990s were sourced from film type, itself sourced from drawings originally made for metal production. Drawings for metal text faces were made with ink spread in mind, so everything sourced from them (the drawings) ended up being too light.

    This was an infamous issue with many classic Linotype and Monotype faces digitized in the 1990s — most of which remain too light to this day.
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