I came across Xavier Dupré‘s FF Absara when designing a logo that required a specific feel and a large number five. I happened to have a single weight that FontFont offered up for free on their site and the sample worked so well, I ended up licensing the whole family. Now that I’ve had a chance to work with it for a bit, it turns out that I enjoy using Absara the way I enjoy a good port wine. Port’s not always the appropriate drink, but I find savoring a glass to be so delicious and enjoyable that it almost doesn’t matter whether I’m matching it to the moment or the food. And it hasn’t let me down yet. Absara hasn’t let me down yet either.
FF Absara is a forthright serif family that successfully combines two typo-cultural heritages. FontShop (who released Absara last year under their FontFont label) describes the family as: “a typeface of French proportions, but its shapes take their cues from the Dutch style: less polished, more direct.” It’s a compelling and exciting blend. Absara is a thoroughly contemporary family that has enough integrity to set blocks of text, but enough character and quirk to catch the eye and enliven a layout.
Within this family, Dupré’s very distinct but well orchestrated designs create a visual harmony enriched with theme and variation. The robust and gregarious bold weight loudly heralds the text and richly proclaims its intentions, while the lighter weights hold the softer tones with progressively more restraint. The weights transition smoothly and proportionally from thin to regular to medium, but the bold’s higher visual contrast stands a bit further apart from the group. This visual difference helps the bold perform as a strong titling or headings face with little effort. The progression of the stroke weights is visible in the stacked comparison above.
The italics achieve their own heightened visual contrast with Dupré’s “idiosyncratic” designs. They move in rhythmic and chiseled cuts and turns, evoking the cadence of the hand with a crisp and contemporary manner (this would be the Dutch influence, presumably). They beautifully balance their distinctive voice and harmony within the rest of the family. I enjoy the italic designs so much I find myself wanting to enlarge them and let their designs dominate the viewer’s attention in a layout.
My only misgivings about Absara come from the thin weight, which I’m still getting acquainted with. Most of what endears Absara to me is in the heavier weights. The thin seems spindly to me and the features Dupré’s design seems to celebrate elsewhere seem flat or absent. I’ll never begrudge a type designer for designing more weights and more options (“Paging Mr. Lew, I’m begging you for a Whitman bold italic.”), but I’ve yet to get comfortable with this weight. Perhaps with time.
While we’re on the subject of more options, there is more to the FF Absara family. All of the weights and variations have a sans companion. FF Absara Sans seems to have a stronger Dutch influence. I found myself immediately thinking of Martin Majoor’s FF Scala Sans and a few others. Many of the idiosyncrasies in the serif family are calmed down and smoothed out. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that the sans could play the secondary role (typically reserved for the serif in a layout hierarchy) without much effort.
Overall, Absara pulls my eye to its sometimes “totally bizarre” characters and makes me savor even the most simple typographic contrasts because it injects such energy and life into these variations that I just can’t stop myself. These strengths are both a blessing and a curse, as Absara sings in such a fantastic array of confidently unique forms that it can’t help but demand more attention than some typesetting situations allow. This family will most likely require a strong but subtle hand in more constrained settings, particularly when using the heavier weights, but the rewards will surely be more than worth the effort.
So drink up!
Chris Rugen lives in Philadelphia, where his wife and daughter endure his longstanding fascination with type's unique role in culture and communication. He splits his time between his home and NYC, working as a Design Director at Columbia University.