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FF Beowolf & FF BeoSans OT
Typeface Review

FF Beowolf & BeoSans OT

Reviewed by David Berlow on March 5, 2008

Remember when there was no OpenType, anywhere? Before there was a web? Before grunge? Before there were 100,000 free fonts or 10,000 “fontographers”?

Type90, a conference on typography, was held in England back then, and a Dutch designer/teacher asked if I might be interested in an apprentice, or two. Remembering only Amsterdam, from a trip there in the mid-1970s, I was slightly leery, but I expressed interest, and I’ve known the teacher and his former students, ever since.

The late ’80s and early ’90s, saw a gulf between “various parties” over how one should make fonts; digitize artwork, print the result, edit the artwork, and then re-digitize it? This method assured the input artwork matched the output artwork. Or, just design the font on the screen, maybe digitizing from artwork, maybe not, but eventually, considering only the relationship between, the font data one saw on the screen during design, and, the output of the font data to some kind of suitable print device. This method assured that the output could be digitally and interactively designed.

Well, needless to say, my new Dutch “apprentices” showed up with a third method; with data in the font enabling barely controllable randomization of the output. This method assured the input would not match the output and that the output could not be completely designed. The intentionally random font was born, and was roaming around in my studio. After letting each apprentice make my Laserwriter cry for its motherboard, I taught them what I could, about output that could be designed. And Beowolf, as it became called, faded into a typo-technical dream-time, waiting for the united motherboards of planet earth, or something, to lighten up!

OpenType, and much bigger and tougher motherboards have now opened the gates to dream-time, and Beowolf, has sprung back into the world, with a friend, BeoSans! Besides being nicer to printers, this new pack of Beo have not shed the better graphic attributes of the original. The composer now has a choice of discrete styles to choose from, making it possible to control the shagginess in print vs. online, or text vs. display use, or to combine the various styles into solid, soft or hard, typography. With 1,000s of alternates as well, the new Beo are as close to achieving the original idea of randomization as nearly any composer can expect today.


David Berlow entered the type industry in 1978 as a letter designer for the respected Mergenthaler, Linotype, Stempel, and Haas typefoundries. He joined the newly formed digital type supplier, Bitstream, Inc. in 1982. After Berlow left Bitstream in 1989, he founded The Font Bureau, Inc. with Roger Black. In 2007, Berlow was a recipient of the SOTA Typography Award.

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Typographica is a review of typefaces and type books, with occasional commentary on fonts and typographic design. Edited by Stephen Coles and designed by Chris Hamamoto. Founded in 2002 by Joshua Lurie-Terrell. Relaunched in 2009 by Coles and Hamamoto.

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