Not all that long ago, because of technical drawbacks, you could almost count all the well-crafted Arabic fonts on two hands. Fortunately, recent developments in font-creation software are making Arabic type design easier and more accessible. We are starting to see type families with a wide range of weights and a variety of proportions and stylistic sets. Additionally, an increasing number of type foundries offer beautifully designed bilingual Arabic and English fonts that cater to the needs of the bilingual Arab world.
Creating bilingual fonts can be daunting, not only because of the reading direction (left-to-right versus right-to-left) but also because of the way the scripts behave: Arabic letters need to connect, changing forms as they appear in various positions in the word; most letters need to be designed with at least four variations. Arabic does not have stylistic concepts such as uppercase or italics, which makes designing a bilingual typeface an exciting challenge.
29LT Baseet Slanted, designed by Pascal Zoghbi (29Letters), Ben Wittner, and Swiss Typefaces, is a great example of this new state of affairs. It was published in 2016 to join the Baseet family — a monolinear Arabic typeface accompanied by a monospaced Latin family designed for Contemparabia. The standard Baseet was originally published in 2011 and republished in 2016 following some upgrades.
Baseet Slanted, and many other slanted Arabic fonts, are now being offered because designers who work in a bilingual context continually ask for them; they are having a hard time stylizing the Arabic text to formally match the equivalent Latin. Usually, the Arabic equivalent to italics is bolded or underlined. However, many designers use slanted versions of Arabic fonts to make the text appear formally “identical” to the italicized Latin, a practice that is usually frowned upon by Arabic language experts. 29LT’s decision to name Baseet Slanted “Slanted” rather than “Italic” stems from the simple fact that the stylistic concept of italics does not exist in Arabic.
The structure of the standard Baseet is based on vertical, horizontal, and diagonal lines. Its beautifully round open counters and curved edges give it a contemporary feel, making it popular among cultural institutions. Baseet Slanted was almost entirely redrawn based on Eastern Kufic, which is a clever approach, because this traditional Kufic style is drawn with the pen inclined to the left, making the text seem like it is in motion. The font works beautifully for text and display. The Arabic and Latin are drawn to work with one another, complementing each other’s existence side by side without competing.
Baseet Slanted is a well-crafted, charming, and energetic typeface with eight styles designed to accompany the eight weights in the standard Baseet. The Arabic includes a range of ligatures, elegantly positioned vocalization (diacritic) marks, and an extended character set covering Arabic, Farsi, and Urdu.
29LT offers a variety of Arabic fonts to bilingual designers who work with Arabic and Latin scripts. Their approach to creating fonts based on Arabic calligraphic styles and lettering concepts while maintaining compatibility with its Latin counterpart is praiseworthy. I always look forward to their contributions. I hope to see more designers proposing unique typographic solutions in bilingual typefaces that are not merely Arabic translations of the Latin fonts, but rather solutions that make Arabic fonts great companions to their Latin counterparts.
Salem Al-Qassimi is the Founder and Principal of Fikra Design Studio and an Assistant Professor of Design at the American University of Sharjah (AUS). He studied Multimedia Design at AUS and earned an MFA in Graphic Design from the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). Al-Qassimi founded Fikra Design Studio in 2006 — a multidisciplinary design studio that specializes in bilingual (Arabic and English) graphic design and typography.