Graphic designers occasionally feel the need to incorporate a handwritten look into their work. These days, the first thing many of them do is look for a font to do the job, when what they really need is actual handwriting. That’s why I usually redirect these folks to lettering artists, not typefaces.
Still, there are cases when type is required. Content that is dynamic or variable — web text, video games, translatable text, customizable print on demand — calls for type. In these situations, if you really want to emulate pen on paper, there’s no excuse not to use type that does the job convincingly. By now, as OpenType celebrates its 20th anniversary, OT awareness and aptitude have matured to the point that this has become a familiar refrain: when drawn and programmed well, feature-rich fonts can simulate the irregular but natural flow of human writing. They can avoid repetitive lettershapes and mechanically consistent strokes. They can deliver typography from the regimented, cold, digital, and static.
Alexandra Korolkova and Alexander Lubovenko understood this when they designed Aphrosine. The necessary contextual forms and alternates for effective handwriting emulation are all there, and the samples look persuasive. But it’s not just the technical tricks that give Aphrosine its authentic look. Its legitimacy stems from imperfections, a willingness to follow the unpredictable path of the pen, while retaining just enough readability to prevent it from being those scribbles that only the writer can read.
As you’d expect from ParaType, the fonts cover most European languages, West to East. (I don’t know many other designers I’d trust to make this kind of script work in Cyrillic.) Also impressive: the family’s three “weights” are actually completely unique typefaces derived from different pen nibs.
Aphrosine probably won’t sell well. Its antiquated style won’t be nearly as popular as the myriad contemporary scripts that fill bestseller charts. And there still aren’t many reasons to use a font like this when a calligrapher would be better. That’s why I admire ParaType for taking this on. It’s a gutsy, arduous, thankless task that could only come from pure love of craft — of writing and of font making.
A version of this review first appeared on the Identifont Blog on May 6, 2016.
Stephen Coles publishes Typographica and Fonts In Use, writes for type foundries, and consults with various organizations on typeface selection. He is author of the book The Anatomy of Type, and serves on the board of the Letterform Archive. He lives in his girlfriend’s home in Berlin and his cat’s home in Oakland.