Essay Text specimen

Typeface Review

Essay Text

Reviewed by Gerry Leonidas on March 19, 2015

Essay Text is an anachronism and an antidote. It provides an excellent counter­argument to the speculative superfamilies that overwhelm specimens these days: it is unapologetic about doing a few things well (rather than many, in an above-average way at best). It also serves as a reminder that informed, controlled contrast in documents does not require nine equidistant weight variants — and, by implication, questions how strongly typography features in the deliber­ations of many contemporary type designers.

This enforced lack of typographic complication can be transformative for the text. Eschewing the Bold makes using this typeface more than a typographic decision: it becomes an integral element of the editorial process, placing restrictions on authorship. (This is not as heavy-handed as it sounds: text editors today are increasingly channeling typewriters, through plain interfaces with a single typeface and no styling.)

It reminds of pre-digital times, when typefaces for continuous reading offered just two options other than the regular, and typeface choice assumed a full understanding (and some degree of control) of the final output environment. To drive the point home, Essay Text renders absolutely terribly on low-resolution printing, and all screens other than retina-class devices. Give it high resolution, though, and the clunky blobs coalesce into graceful extrusions of tense, organic forms; the subtle deviations from rectilinear angles counteract the overdue allure of Cartesian point alignments, and show a whole class of explorations in typeface design that — I am willing to wager — we will witness much more of in the coming half-decade.

In this way, Essay Text takes complexity and explor­ation of forms away from the level of the family comp­osition to the level of the line of text, with panache: the ampersands, section marks, and fleurons are little sparkles of typographic fun. A minus point? It could do without the outdated affectations of ligatures, and certainly the twee ‘c’- and ‘s’- combinations.

Gerry Leonidas spends his days talking and writing about type and typography. Mostly at the University of Reading.


  1. Kevin says:

    This is a lovey typeface with an old-fashioned feel. It draws just a hint of attention to itself in the text, but that minor distraction fades after reading a line or two. The lack of a Bold is an interesting design choice. I’ll be adding this to my collection soon.

  2. Mads D. says:

    I, for one, love every detail of this typeface — even its ligatures, the standard ones as well as the discretionary ones. I did not hesitate to buy it because its texture is so organic and natural, yet the feel of it is very sophisticated. Its italic version is breathtakingly beautiful. I am so happy to have this in my font library. I will be keeping an eye on Ellmer Stefan.

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